A migrant from Guangdong Province in China, and first arriving in Penang in 1932, Chen Chong Swee was an important figure in the early development of modern art in Southeast Asia, and in Singapore. His contemporaries were the illustrious Cheong Soo Pieng, Liu Kang, and Chen Wen Hsi, all lecturers at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore at the time. Together, they made a historic expedition to Bali in 1952 in search of inspiration, and helped pioneer the distinctive Nanyang style of painting. Using Eastern, as well as Western artistic styles and aesthetics to depict uniquely Southeast Asian subjects, the assimilation of these different styles and subjects mirrored the process of adjustment and adaptation of these migrant artists to their new environment.
Representative of the Nanyang style, Chen's paintings convey the tropical landscape and flavor of the Southeast Asian region. The use of white space to render the cascading water in Waterfall is reminiscent of the aesthetics of Chinese ink painting, while the use of blues and greens to highlight the surrounding foliage are akin to the style of European watercolour painting. Chen's connection to nature, and love for his new home was readily apparent in his work, and it was this steady dedication to his art that endeared him so greatly to his students and peers.