CHEN WEN HSI (1906-1991)
CHEN WEN HSI (1906-1991)
CHEN WEN HSI (1906-1991)
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CHEN WEN HSI (1906-1991)

Nets Drying

CHEN WEN HSI (1906-1991)
Nets Drying
signed ‘C WEN HSI’ (lower right)
oil on canvas laid on board
91 x 107 cm. (35 7⁄8 x 42 1⁄8 in.)
Painted circa 1950s
Christie’s Singapore, 1 October 1995, lot 681
Private Collection, Asia
Dr Chen Siew Min (ed.), The Old & New Gallery, CHEN WEN HSI, Singapore, 1987 (illustrated, fig W-5).
The Old & New Gallery (ed.), Grand Art Co. Ltd, PAINTINGS BY CHEN WEN HSI, Kaohsiung, 1991 (illustrated, p. 15).
Singapore, National Museum, 1982
Beijing, China Fine Arts Museum, 1987
Taipei, Museum of Fine Arts, 1990
Kaohsiung, Arts and Crafts Centre, 1991

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

Christie’s is honoured to present Nets Drying at auction for the first time. Hailing from a prominent and important Asian private collection, the painting also bears an exceptional exhibition and publication history. The oil paintings of Singapore pioneer artist Chen Wen Hsi are considered some of the most rare, experimental and expressive works from his artistic career.

A student at the Xinhua Academy of Fine Art in Shanghai prior to his arrival in Singapore in 1947, Chen trained rigorously in the rules and aesthetics of traditional Chinese ink painting. Oil painting was for Chen, a radical departure and blank slate upon which he could freely experiment with modern styles of Western painting. The interpretation he offered to the art world was significant and paved the way for what we now know as the ‘Nanyang’ (Southeast Asian) style.

Throughout Chen’s oeuvre, he not only painted vibrant scenes of both the natural topography of the land, but also the spirit of its people, their diverse cultures and livelihood, the latter more so after the 1950s. The 1950s marked an important turning point for the artist, whose initial forays into the oil medium shifted from realist renderings of the ‘Nanyang’ (Southeast Asia) landscape to an increasing interest toward abstraction and expressionism in his art.

Nets Drying is a hallmark of Chen’s unique visual language comprising Eastern and Western artistic sensibilities. The present lot explores Chen’s exegesis of abstract painting in the depiction of fishing nets drying amidst a lively fishing village scene, at the time still popular around the rural regions of Southeast Asia. Though Nets Drying depicts a quintessential landscape that was also a favourite amongst the artist’s contemporaries (such as Cheong Soo Pieng and Liu Kang), Chen reimagines this simple scene in an impressive and original format.

Employing visible brushstrokes of thick, unblended paint in his illustration of the water body that dominates the composition, Chen breathes a rhythmic vitality into the scene, complimented by a vibrant colour theory that fuses the exuberance of tone in Western painting with a lively landscape inspired by the tropics. With vivid hues and a striking composition so beautifully catalogued in multiple tomes celebrating the artist’s prolific and innovative artistic practice, Nets Drying captivates the viewer with cerulean green waters boldly layered in clear gestural strokes as swoops of cobalt and navy blue in strong linear lines demarcate the form and shape of hanging nets laid out to dry on wooden poles. A fishing boat or two lingers in the background, providing glimpses of a Kelong (traditional wooden house on stilts) rendered in tones of pale green and brown, floating quietly at the end of a day’s work.

In his lifetime, Chen won three awards for recognition of his service to society, had a teaching career of almost three decades, and conducted close to 40 solo exhibitions in seven countries. His ability to comprehend the values and merits of differing ideologies led to him forming a distinct visual style of his own that assimilated only the best qualities of the masters before him, reflecting his explorations into abstraction while expressing the vivacity of his own experiences living in Nanyang.

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