GEORGETTE CHEN (1906-1993)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more
GEORGETTE CHEN (1906-1993)

Still Life with Durians, Mangosteens and Rambutans

GEORGETTE CHEN (1906-1993)
Still Life with Durians, Mangosteens and Rambutans
signed ‘CHEN’ (lower left)
ink and watercolour on paper
43.5 x 59.5 cm. (17 1⁄8 x 23 3⁄8 in.)
Private Collection, Asia (acquired directly from the artist)
Special notice
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Lot Essay

Christie’s proudly presents Georgette Chen’s Still Life with Durians, Mangosteens and Rambutans, the first still life on paper by the artist to ever be offered at auction. A study of the oil painting of the same name, this work is a testament to the technical mastery of the artist, considered as one of the finest oil painters of the 20th century in Southeast Asia, and displaying exceptional virtuosity of watercolour technique.

Still Life with Durians, Mangosteens and Rambutans reaffirms Chen’s fascination with exotic fruits. Having spent time in both Malaya and Singapore, Chen was introduced to tropical fruits that are native to Southeast Asia, and that would be immediately recognisable to local inhabitants, but strange and exotic to foreign eyes. Employing Western Impressionist techniques Chen mastered throughout the years she lived in France and the United States, Chen’s Still Life artworks are an embodiment of the marriage between Eastern subject matter and Western techniques.

In Still Life with Durians, Mangosteens and Rambutans, Chen’s arrangement of the fruits brings across a sense of liveliness through the loose display and opened fruits. The use of a mix of firm and gentle lines give character to the fruits, as the warm colours employed fills them with life and energy

In this work, Chen brings out the intrinsic and extrinsic values these exotic fruits hold in Southeast Asia. Durian, known for its spiky appearance and strong and arguably foul smell, is very well liked by locals, with some naming it the King of Fruits. With the use of soft strokes and gentle colour in contrast with the strong outlines and sharpness of the spikes, Chen brings across the lovingness and attachment locals have to their King, yet also shows the foreignness and sometimes menacing appearance of the spiky thorns. The crisp green leaves contrast with the thorny nature of the rambutans and reaffirms the textural quality of Chen’s work. Alongside the woven basket holding the rambutans, there are varying moods between the structured and freeness in the display of fruits suggesting that in-between moment of fruit freshly picked off the tree that is in the process of being prepared to be eaten.

Regarded as the most prominent female artist of her time, Chen was the only female pioneer within the Nanyang style of art alongside notable Singapore artists Liu Kang, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi and Cheong Soo Pieng. Throughout her well-respected career, Chen participated in major exhibitions in France and held shows in New York, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Between 1954 and 1980, Chen devoted her time at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts to arts education where she mentored young art students. Chen’s contribution to Singapore’s art scene was recognized when she was awarded the 1982 Cultural Medallion, Singapore’s highest arts accolade honouring artistic excellence, contribution and commitment.

Throughout her prolific career, Chen’s works have touched and inspired people with her artistic capabilities of bringing to life a spark within everyday subjects. Her works continue to benefit young budding artists through the founding of the Georgette Chen Arts Scholarship under the National Arts Council and Chen’s estate continues to contribute to community welfare projects, the Council of Women’s Organisations and the Practice Theatre Ensemble.

A work that is testament to the technical mastery of the artist, as well as the intuitive ability to capture and convey the oft inexpressible moments of contentment and comfort, Still Life with Durians, Mangosteens and Rambutans is an exceptional piece. Expressing an appreciation for the minutiae of everyday life in the geometric weave of the basket, the plump flesh of the open fruit, and the softly resting leaves of the bunch of rambutans, Chen deploys her command of painterly technique and composition to a quintessentially local subject.

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