9 Modern and Contemporary Works of Art Transporting Us to Idyllic Paradise

9 Modern and Contemporary Works of Art Transporting Us to Idyllic Paradise

Ahead of Singapore’s Modern & Contemporary Art, our specialists select nine artworks offered in the auction to explore the theme of paradise in artistic creation.
Ahead of Singapore’s Modern & Contemporary Art, our specialists select nine artworks offered in the auction to explore the theme of paradise in artistic creation.

E arly June brings Modern & Contemporary Art in Singapore, which dazzles with visions of earthly paradise, inspiring peace, serenity and mystery. Sublime highlights include Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Sea of Okhotsk, Hokkaido (1989), a bronze sculpture from Ju Ming’s famous Tai Chi series, Lee Bae’s Issu du Feu 78-1 and Pang Jiun’s Frosty Red Maple Leaves of February (2020), where vivid, other-worldly reds float deliriously over redolent, verdant greens.

This auction also marks the first offerings by Sotheby’s in Asia under the implementation of the new fee structure, announced earlier this year.

Theo Meier, Nyoman Lumbang with Offering, 1944 | Estimate: 90,000 - 120,000 SGD

Theo Meier, Nyoman Lumbang with Offering, 1944

The present lot is the main image used on the poster for Paintings and Drawings by Theo Meier, held at the Embassy of Switzerland in Bangkok, 21 – 28 May 1963.

Theo Meier’s Nyoman Lumbang with Offering (1944) conjures up a tropical island idyll. The painting’s tranquility belies the wartime setting and Japanese occupation of Bali. Having visited Tahiti in 1932 prior to arriving in Bali, Meier’s artistic practice sees influences of Gauguin, particularly from the Post-Impressionist’s Tahitian paintings. In Nyoman Lumbang with Offering, Meier captures an important Balinese custom: in Bali, morning offerings, known as acanang sari, are a ritual of gratitude to the gods. The Swiss artist, once taught by Otto Dix, chronicler of the post Great War horrors of the Weimar Republic, made Bali his home from 1934 to 1955. This work is of particular significance and was the poster image of Meier’s pivotal exhibition at the Swiss Embassy in Bangkok in 1963, after the artist had relocated to Thailand.

Wu Guanzhong, Field Chrysanthemums, 1974 | Estimate: 1,000,000 - 1,500,000 SGD

Wu Guanzhong, Field Chrysanthemums, 1974

Handwritten letter from Wu Guanzhong regarding Field Chrysanthemums.

Wu Guangzhong’s Field Chrysanthemums (1974) are scented and steeped in dazzling, iridescent freedom. For many, paradise may be a destination, but it is also a state of mind. As Oscar Wilde once wrote: “With freedom, flowers, books, and the moon, who could not be perfectly happy?” This painting exudes the joy of a sunny day amidst flowers and wide, open spaces. Chrysanthemums – one of the “Four Gentlemen” in Chinese art – are spiritually symbolic, and specifically emblematic of Beijing. This painting coincided with new beginnings in China and a period of renewal and liberty in the artist’s life as he returned to the capital. This is a highlight of Wu’s oeuvre, and its inspirations are discussed in a personal letter the artist wrote to a friend. Field Chrysanthemums was exhibited in Singapore, Taipei and Hong Kong in “Spirit of East – Wu Guanzhong” in 1993.

During the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, I used oil paintings to paint from nature in the outdoors. I almost always painted on plywood, which was very difficult to come by at the time…. ….When I looked at this painting closely in 1993, I noticed that the style was overly subtle, so I decided to work on it further. I gave it a new tone, making it a work of collaboration between 1974 and 1993. Its creation spanned nineteen years, with a white signature from 1974 (scraped with a knife) and a red signature, in ink, from 1993, making it a very rare work from my creative career. My hope is that subsequent collectors will appreciate the specialness of this painting.
- Wu Guanzhong, 1993, notes upon completing Field Chrysanthemums

Roy Lichtenstein, Yellow Cliffs (Study), 1996 | Estimate: 680,000 - 1,000,000 SGD

Roy Lichtenstein, Yellow Cliffs (Study), 1996

Completed just a year before Roy Lichtenstein’s death, Yellow Cliffs (Study) (1996) incorporates the artist’s signature Ben-Day dots on sunny cliff faces. This work documents the last creative flourish of the great artist’s life: “Roy Lichtenstein: Landscapes in the Chinese Style” was exhibited at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts the following year. In the last two years of his life, Lichtenstein twice visited the storerooms of the museum to inspect the museum’s collection of Southern Song dynasty album leaves. His influences included 13th century Song artists Ma Yuan, Liang Kai, and Muqi. Yellow Cliffs (Study) is a fascinating insight into the workings of the artist, including notes and underdrawings as a witness to his creative process. Interest in Lichtenstein has never dwindled, and a retrospective of the artist is slated to open at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 2026, meanwhile on the occasion of his 100th birthday, the Albertina Museum in Vienna is currently hosting "Roy Lichtenstein: A Centennial Exhibition". The comprehensive exhibition showcases more than 90 paintings, sculptures and prints, including Treetops Through the Fog (1996) which hails from the same period as Yellow Cliffs (Study).

Le Pho, Marché aux fleurs | Estimate: 200,000 - 380,000 SGD

Le Pho, Marché aux fleurs

Celebrated Vietnamese artist Le Pho’s Marché aux fleurs embodies happy nostalgia, the pleasure of looking back on a remembered place or treasured memory from distance. Flowers and people appear in concert and blissful harmony, in a seraphic swirl of celestial yellows. As if garlanded from above, this floral heaven ascends in gentle spirals. Le Pho studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, living in the City of Light from 1937 until his death in 2001.

Affandi, Banyan tree, 1971 | Estimate: 160,000 - 250,000 SGD

Affandi, Banyan tree, 1971

Across diverse cultures and religions, the Banyan tree has come to symbolise knowledge, enlightenment and life itself. In Indonesia, it holds particular resonance, a component of the nation’s coat of arms, and an organic talisman of the unity of a diverse multi-lingual population. Affandi’s Banyan tree (1971) places the mighty ficus benghalensis at its dynamic, swirling heart. For the artist, the tree was a symbol he returned to repeatedly. Affandi would assemble young artists under the sheltering branches of Banyan trees to create dialogue, discuss artistic developments and foster community. On his canvas, Affandi applied the paint with his hands, an emotional, almost sculptural process which was a tactile celebration of the contours, valleys and peaks of paint itself. This is therefore a painting which is earthy, squeezed in human hands, yet elevated to the spiritual by the power of the Banyan tree.

Jeff Koons, Gazing Ball (Fragonard Young Girl Playing with her Dog), 2014-15

In Gazing Ball (Fragonard Young Girl Playing with her Dog) (2014-15), Koons presents a gazing ball symbolic of his hometown of York, Pennsylvania, where glass globes often ornamented suburban lawns or gardens. Embedding the ball into a painting by Fragonard, Koon constructs a portal between suburbia and the romantic past, specifically Fragonard’s Mädchen mit Hund (Girl with Dog) (c. 1770). The shimmering orb forms an incongruous, fascinating centerpiece which is the wellspring of a dialogue with art history. As a child, Koons’ father ran Henry J. Koons Decorators, which gave the young artist-in-the-making an insight into the role of décor in telegraphing upward social mobility. The blue gazing ball is a bond between the lavish interiors of a Fragonard drawing room and everyday human aspiration. This dichotomy of fine arts and the readymade, of the mass produced and the bespoke is a theme which the artist has investigated throughout his career, handsomely illustrated in this painting.

Fernando Zóbel, Los Cuervos, 1970 | Estimate: 200,000 - 380,000 SGD

Fernando Zóbel, Los cuervos, 1970

Born in Manila to Spanish parents, Fernando Zóbel was trained in the Philippines, Europe and America, graduating from Harvard University. By the 1960s, his artistic practice converging the literary traditions of Asia and the West garnered him major institutional success and recognition. Los cuervos (1970) was painted after his move to Spain and is a work of ethereal, amorphous beauty, depicting landscape through fleeting moments of memory. The flight of the eponymous crows is vividly speckled on the left, forming gentle intersections with the misty land and sky. Renewed interest in Zóbel has flourished further since the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid held a major retrospective titled “Zóbel. The Future of the Past” in 2022-23 bringing the artist’s works in dialogue with paintings in the museum’s collection.

Chu Teh Chun, Les météores, 1987 | Estimate: 350,000 - 520,000 HKD

Chu Teh Chun, Les météores, 1987

Les météores (1987) by the 20th century master of abstraction Chu Teh Chun combines heft, solidity and graceful movement, with the implied velocity of an object moving at pace through the heavens. The deep blue is the colour of the earth when viewed from space, a hue long associated with the eternal, a rich lapis lazuli shade of wealth, depth and beauty. Tawny browns, primary yellows and ochres tumble into the centre of the painting, suggesting elemental forces out of reach of human control. The Suzhou-born artist was a hugely influential figure in the French artistic milieu alongside other Chinese émigrés Zao Wou-Ki and Wu Guangzhong.

Cheong Soo Pieng, Satay sellers , 1958 | Estimate: 320,000 - 480,000 SGD

Cheong Soo Pieng, Satay sellers, 1958

Xiamen-born Cheong Soo Pieng was a driving force of Singapore’s renowned Nanyang style, and Satay sellers (1958) depicts the culturally significant love of eating outdoors, so cherished in the Lion City. It is a rare oil on canvas painting from Cheong’s early period, and larger in size relative to Cheong’s other works of this time. The sun-drenched rhythm of the tableau and the simple, angular shapes outlined in black call to mind Egyptian hieroglyphs, Cubism and Fauvism, and are emblematic of the Nanyang style. This is a sought-after period in Cheong’s oeuvre, with the artist’s two record sales at auction both for works stemming from the 1950s.

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