Lot 1051
  • 1051


400,000 - 600,000 HKD
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  • Cheong Soo Pieng
  • Midnight Sun 
  • Signed in English and Chinese, and dated 61; Signed in English, titled, numbered 56 and dated 1962 on the reverse
  • Oil on canvas
  • 76.5 by 61 cm; 30 1/4  by 24 in. 


Private Collection, Singapore


This work is in good overall condition as viewed. There is evidence of wear and loss to the edges of the canvas. Upon close inspection there is hairline craquelure at areas of thicker impasto and a small paint loss at the lower left edge of the work. Examination under ultraviolet light reveals signs of restoration primarily on the upper half of the work. 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.

Catalogue Note

A lyrical, mesmerizing symphony of golden hues, Midnight Sun by Cheong Soo Pieng illuminates itself from within – held sublimely aloft by its incessant internal dialogue between abstraction and landscape. Executed in 1961, the very year Soo Pieng left his teaching post at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts to devout himself entirely to his art, Midnight Sun exemplifies the clarity and force of the artist’s vision: to dissolve the silos between Eastern and Western schools of thought and achieve a fresh visual vernacular.By applying generous amounts of paint with a palette knife, the work exhibits shifting dabs of colour that emerge and recede into each other. A horizontal plane divides a serene sky and a dense foreground, as the cloudy silhouette of a cosmic form floats above the skyline. The artist’s ready experimentation of thick textures alongside swashes of fluid ink-like drips, manifests a complete union of Eastern and Western painting techniques, which he continues to hone throughout his career. In October that same year, Soo Pieng embarked on a pivotal trip to Europe which eventually culminated in solo exhibitions Frost & Reed Gallery (London), Redfern Gallery (London), and Galerie Schoninger (Munich).

Exquisite and deeply meditative, Midnight Sun is part of a series of works that developed alongside Soo Pieng’s ink paintings and precluded the lyrical abstract series that became fully fledged in the mid-1960s. However, the work is far more than an example of a transitional, experimental phase, rather it exemplifies an assuredness in the maestro’s painting technique. Soo Pieng’s method is at once uninhibited and restrained. The quivering geometric shapes that connote illuminated windows and angular building roofs form a mosaic of harmonious energy. Yet, the looseness of his dark washes, derived from Chinese calligraphy, sees Soo Pieng give into abandon as he allows paint to drip down the canvas. Lingering between a complete embrace of an abstract expressionist style and the early Cubist tendencies of the artist’s 1950s works, Midnight Sun is truly revealing of the artist’s versatility.

Well celebrated as one of the seminal first-generation Singapore artists. Cheong Soo Pieng was renowned for his pursuit of constant innovation. A leading figure in the Nanyang Art movement, Soo Pieng held strongly to his roots even as he radically delved into the practices of avant-garde movements and artists in Europe. When the Chinese artist Xu Beihong called for the modernisation of Chinese art traditions through Western mediums, Chinese artists, including those who migrated to Southeast Asia, began confronting the issue of integration. The Amoy-born Soo Pieng was among the first few who managed to marvellously render the light, fluid effect of ink through oil paint – a much thicker and opaque medium. Traversing between two mediums of distinct characteristics, the artist was able to manifest a wholly new formal language.

In Midnight Sun, Soo Pieng captures light in myriad ways and imbues the canvas with the quiet, solitary mood of a deep evening. Painting the sky in a warm umber brown, the artist suggests the misty calm of an autumnal night that still retains the soft golden glow of the town below. A blurry, cloud-like moon hovers at the centre of the composition, its precarious forms are created by scrapping off layers of oil pigment to reveal the white of the canvas. As a source of light, the moon emerges from the minimal background, personifying a cosmic force that calls the dark night into slumber.

The romance of Midnight Sun lies in the subtle revelations of human life seen in the foreground that anchors the overall composition. Shifting geometric yellow, blue, light brown and maroon shapes underscore Soo Pieng’s relentless fascination with Cubism yet are characteristic of Paul Cezanne’s or Egon Schiele’s townscapes. Viewing roofs, windows or homes lit from within from a unique vantage point, the artist is able to capture the quiet activities of a deep night in a simple yet captivating manner.

Midnight Sun holds weight as an important piece of evolution in Soo Pieng’s artistic prowess as he successfully captures the harmonious relationship between abstraction and landscape. A lustrous, magnificent expression of a moment in time, the work speaks to his expertise in creating synergy between his heritage and new art movements. Midnight Sun is a rare and wonderful mosaic of harmonious energy, presenting Cheong Soo Pieng’s bold ambitions to redefine the avante-garde in Southeast Asia.