Lot 1019
  • 1019

Georgette Chen

400,000 - 600,000 HKD
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  • Georgette Chen
  • Batu Ferringhi
  • Signed
  • Oil on canvas
  • 60 by 72.5 cm.; 23 1/2 by 28 1/2 in.


Private Asian Collection


Singapore, The Chinese Chamber of Commerce,  80 Works: Solo ExhibitionThe China Society Exhibition, September 1953


Jane Chia, Georgette Chen,National Heritage Board, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 1997, p.73


The work is in good condition overall, as is the canvas, which is clear and taut. Upon close observation, there is indication of light wear and handling around the edges of the work, along with one tiny area of paint loss on the top margin (middle cloud),and three pin-sized paint losses on the top right corner (palm leaves). Examination under ultraviolet light shows no sign of restoration. Framed.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Amongst the artists associated with the Nanyang art group that redefined Singapore’s modern art movement, Georgette Chen established her identity as a pioneering painter for introducing modernist ideas into the country’s existing creative paradigms. Her artworks were largely inspired by Post-Impressionism, for she studied and trained in Paris, and the European city and its artistic traditions had a lasting influence upon her oeuvre. Chen’s paintings may be separated into three distinct themes: still life, portraitures, and landscapes. The present work Batu Ferringhi is a classic piece from the artist, for seascapes were a favoured subject matter throughout her lifetime. Bodies of water enabled the artist to experiment with colours, and capture the natural temperament of her environment.

Though she worked with watercolours and pastels, it was her oil paintings that garnered the artist a place in Singapore’s art canon. This particular medium allowed her to embrace the thick brushstrokes and rich colour palette that were the hallmarks of Post-Impressionist painters. Paul Cezanne and Vincent Van Gogh were both key influences upon her paintings. Their creative philosophies and appropriation of certain colours, as well as application of lights and shadows, can be found within Chen’s own oeuvre.

The forties and onwards was a period that largely featured works depicting China, Hong Kong, and later Singapore where she relocated in 1954 and lived till her death in 1981. Tropical landscapes frequented the latter works, as well as still life portraits of fruits and flowers native to the Southeast Asian region. These paintings further cemented her role as part of the emergence of the Nanyang art movement. In the group Chen’s skills stood out amidst the likes of Cheong Soo Pieng, and Chen Wen Hsi, for it must be acknowledged that she was the only female artist amongst them. “I sometimes compare drawing with notes and time in music, to the grammar in language… it is the first step in [an individual’s] art training… Unlike talent, which is an inborn gift, this technique or knowledge does not come naturally but has to be learnt”, she said about her development as an artist.1

Chen’s outdoor works were created in real time with the influence of the natural landscape playing a key role in the shape of the paintings. The present work shows the beach from slightly above, as if the artist was perched on a balcony and gazing outwards to the scene at hand. This deliberate use of perspective, inviting the viewer into the intimacy of the moment, is also reminiscent of Cezanne’s landscape paintings. It can be construed that “the only realism in art is the imagination, [and only then] does the work escape plagiarism after nature and becomes a creation.2

It should be noted that the artist’s signature “CHEN” was a variant of her given name “Georgette Liying Chendana Chen”, however was also a reference to the Sanskrit word “Chendana” which means sandalwood3. She perhaps chose this name to symbolize herself putting down roots in Asia, for sandalwood is a tree native to the tropics. Therefore a keen naturalist and an active participant of the world around her, Chen’s paintings during the later part of her career provide a glimpse into Singapore’s burgeoning artistic identity. By adapting Post-Impressionist landscape and still life aesthetics into a Southeast Asian context, she transformed the country’s mode of creative expression. Her works reflected “…the life and times of a citizen of the world, who saw the innate beauty and value in the most common everyday objects and infused them with a life and vitality of her own.”4

Batu Ferringhi is a romantic depiction of the Malaysian seaside town of the same name. The palm trees and ocean are signature motifs from such subject matter found in her oeuvre, further complimented by the sky and distant mountains that lead the viewer’s attention to far away places of repose. As an artist with poetic tendencies, the present work is testimony to Chen’s understanding of the natural environment, with the artist’s choice depictions of water viewed as a visual metaphor symbolizing the cleansing and rebirth of the human spirit.

Cezanne once said, “All that we see disperses, vanishes… Nature is always the same, but nothing remains of it, nothing of what comes to our sight. Our art ought to give the shimmer of duration with the elements, the appearance of all its changes. It ought to make us taste it eternally.Such thoughts may be applied to Chen’s artistic ideology too.

1Jane Chia, "From Trouble At Hand: Singaporean Women Artists", ART and AsiaPacific, Vol. 2, No. 2, April 1995

2J.D. McClatchy, Poets on Painters: Essays On The Art Of Painting By Twentieth-Century Poets, University of California Press, Berkley, 1990, p. 267

3 Refer to 1

4Carol Lim, "A Lifelong Passion For Everyday Objects", The Strait Times, November 10 1985, Arts & Books, p. 3

5Refer to 2, p. 273