- Georgette Chen
- Lotus Symphony
- Oil on canvas
- 58 by 144 cm.; 22 3/4 by 56 1/2 in.
- Executed in 1962.
Private Collection, Singapore
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– Alev Oguz, The Painter’s Key
Georgette Chen’s mastery of composition has established her as a female pioneer in Nanyang art history. Chen pursued her art education at the Academie Colarossi and Academie Biloul in Paris, and was trained by the Russian artist Podgoursky. Through out her childhood Georgette traveled extensively. Notable destinations included Paris, New York, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Influenced by Modern Art Movements of the West, she was largely inspired by the formal elements of the fin-de-siecle movement, otherwise known as Post-Impressionism. In 1985 she was bestowed a Cultural Medallion honoring her legacy as one of the most inspirational Nanyang artists in Singapore. Georgette’s success as an artist was further solidified when one of her works was acquired by the prestigious Musee du Jeu de Paume in Paris. Following this, Georgette Chen participated in several exhibitions both in Europe and Asia, and was admired for her artistic precision and understanding of colors and tones.
It was not until the 1960s that Georgette’s works echoed the influences of the Post-Impressionist and Fauvist movements. During this period, the artist favored pastels as her choice of medium, applying the colors in a very stylistic and distinct manner within the pieces. Her works from this period marked a transitional course in the artist’s development. Georgette’s dexterity in establishing strict, yet harmonious compositions, paired with her application of lines and colors, created a unique ambience within the canvas. It has been said of her works that, “rhythms of the scene (are) conveyed through a variety of brushstroke techniques and color rendition”1.
The artist once said about her works: “I like painting from nature. The traditional Chinese technique does not suit me… I like working outdoors. When I have decided upon the particular aspect of a landscape I wish to depict, [the] painting is then executed often entirely on the spot”2. At first her observations are focused on the development of the composition, and an exploration of her surroundings. Then she composes the shapes, colors and texture of the subject. The process is reminiscent of the ordering of instruments that make up an orchestra, for the artist often “[compared] drawing to the notes and time in music” 3, emphasizing the importance of artistic intuition in both fields.
Georgette’s keen awareness of her surroundings highlighted the artist’s ability to fully appreciate the natural environment, and faithfully render this world on the canvas. This imitation of nature was also evident in the intimate rendition of Albrecht Dürer’s pure mastery of Great Piece of Turf (1503) (Fig. 1).
Painted in the garden, Lotus Symphony is imbued with a strong sense of time and place. The painting evokes a sense of tranquility and escapism. The composition is punctuated with lotuses of varied shapes and sizes, their stems weaving elegantly in different directions. Paired together the lotus’ positions form a rhythmic volume, and evoke a tempo of nature’s harmonious sonata. Similar to musical notes found in a symphony, each lotus flower, leaf and dried seed cup, expresses its own significance that mirrors the gestures of a conductor’s baton.
Georgette was always very particular about her brushstrokes and selection of colors. “Her brush strokes between 1950 and 1960 were even more calm and between 1960 and 1970 she…turned more to charcoal and pastels. This period showed her works giving more attention to the changes in details. This can be seen in her paintings of tropical fruits and in particular her lotus, which on close examination show great, details in color and forms. At a distance, they radiate serenity and warmth. Such attainment in art is truly one of excellence,” said Tan Tee Chie4. Subtle traces of Georges Seurat’s luminosity and Paul Cézanne’s vigorous brushstrokes are evident in her works. Rather than applying light-and-shade in the work, the brushstrokes in Lotus Symphony create a depth through the use of color-relations. This technique combined with the backdrop of the piece creates an intensity and complexity that is evident throughout the painting.
Georgette Chen’s painting encapsulates creativity and provides inspiration to its viewers. The Buddhists believe that the lotus represented achievement and spiritual enlightenment. The lotus also symbolizes wisdom, compassion, divinity and purity of the soul. By combining Western techniques with Eastern themes the artist has composed a classical masterpiece. Featured prominently this season, the monumental Lotus Symphony is not only a magnificent work that was created at the peak of Georgette’s career, but is also the largest painting by the artist to ever appear at auction.
1Constance Sheares, Pioneer Artist of Singapore: Georgette Chen Retrospective 1985, Nanyang Museum Art Gallery, Singapore, 1985, p. 6
2Gerald Chew, Biography of Georgette, http://www.achamchen.com/new_page_43.htm, 1999, Internet.
3Tan Tee Chie, Pioneer Artist of Singapore: Georgette Chen Retrospective 1985, Nanyang Museum Art Gallery, Singapore, 1985, p. 12-13
4 Refer to 3