Commissioned for the Straits Room at the landmark Fullerton Hotel in Singapore, Jimmy Ong imagines the Singapore Lady Sophia Raffles (1786 - 1858), wife of Sir Stamford Raffles (1781 - 1826), founder of Singapore, saw during her visit there.
Born Sophia Hull in 1786 to T.W. Hull of Co. Down, she became the second wife of Raffles in 1817 during his return to London to be knighted by George IV, the Prince Regent of England. Her journey to Singapore with Raffles after their marriage was her first trip to the region.
Little is known of the elusive Sophia, except through secondary sources such as paintings and anecdotes. But we do know that she was a partner in Raffles' ventures in Singapore, and was instrumental in publishing his biography - 'Memoir of the life and public services of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, f.r.s. & c. particularly in the government of Java, 1811-1816, and of Bencoolen and its dependencies, 1817-1824; with details of the commerce and resources of the Eastern archipelago, and selections from his correspondence' - in 1830, four years after his death.
Ong transposes the bold, effervescent style seen in his figure drawings to this landscape, as well as retaining his favoured charcoal-on-paper medium. First begun in the winter of 2000, Ong abandoned the work halfway because he felt that it was not large enough. It was later reworked and completed in the spring of 2001.
This monumental landscape depicts a lush, tropical landscape, littered with evidence of a bustling mercantile trading port in the distance. The view is on elevated land, at the mouth of the Singapore River towards the sea.
The numerous small figures dotting the foreground are drawn in his distinctive style of complex contraposto and raw, almost masculine strength. Even the tropical flora and fauna that is oftentimes given a feminine treatment is given a masculine virility in Ong's drawing
At times, Ong's charcoal takes on an almost brush-like effect. The monochromatic palette is reminiscent of Chinese ink paintings, and the tonal variation effected by the charcoal looks remarkably like ink.