Chen Wen Hsi is one of Singapore’s most beloved artists, a part of the pioneering first generation of Singaporean artists that helped create and define the Nanyang style of painting.
Dr Ling Zhu, Specialist in Asian Works of Art said “He was proficient in both traditional Chinese ink painting and Western oil painting. His style of painting was highly grounded in tradition and at the same time heavily borrowed from Western ideas and concepts. After his passing in 1991 his works have continued to be highly sought after, fetching high prices in various auctions across the world.” The work titled ‘Pasar (Market)’ created in 1950 still holds the record at $1.4M having sold in Hong Kong in 2013.
Chen Wen Hsi was born in Baigong in Guangdong province, China in 1906. In 1948, at the age of 19, his decision to become a professional painter caused a head-on clash with his uncle and guardian so he left for Singapore.
In the tradition of Chinese classical art, Chen Wen Hsi paints landscapes, flowers and animals, including Gibbons, squirrels, carp, cranes, chickens and sparrows. He has become known as one of the world's most talented finger painters - an ancient Chinese art, done with the side of the thumb, thumbnail and tip of the index finger, which only masters of the Chinese brush dare attempt. Thought of as the culmination of art because no material tool interposes between the artistic impulse and its expression.
Chen’s works have been featured on Singapore stamps, commemorative ingots as well as EZ-link cards and currency. The gibbons in his painting “Two Gibbons Amidst Vines” appear on the reverse side of the S$50 banknote in the portrait series of the Singapore currency.
The three paintings on offer in our 08 November Fine Asian Works of Art auction were given to the vendor, Mrs Valerie Stevenson, a painter and art teacher who studied Chinese painting with Chen Wen Hsi in 1975 whilst living in Singapore, attending a painting class given by the artist at his home.
Mrs Stevenson recalls meeting the artist “I was fortunate enough to be one of Chen Wen Hsi’s students. I had moved to Singapore with my husband and wanted to learn the art of finger painting. I continually knocked on his door and happily for me after a number of refusals, he finally took me in. I spent many happy hours watching the master at work, he had little English and I had little Chinese, but we got along famously. He often gave away the paintings to his students as presents.” She continued, “I am sorry to see them go, but I have decided it is time for someone else to look after them, I hope they will cherish them as much as I have.”
The two lots are accompanied by a newspaper clippings from The Sunday Nation, dated 31st August 1975, which features a photograph of Chen Wen Hsi with the present painting, surrounded by his Western and Chinese students. Mrs Stevenson can be seen in the picture.