Even if you haven’t heard of Georgette Chen (1906-1993), her evocative portraits and vibrant still-life paintings will easily strike a chord with any viewer. And that’s the magnetism of the late painter, who is one of Singapore’s most celebrated modern artists.

A forerunner in the Nanyang art style, which can be defined as a seamless blend of Eastern and Western painting techniques, she was a keen observer of her surroundings—recreating remarkable scenes from Singapore’s diverse cultures and beyond. Art students in the Lion City might also be privy to the fact that Georgette is the first lady teacher at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and also the only one schooled in Paris, France during her part-time stint as both teacher and administrator from 1954 to 1980.

Credits: National Gallery Singapore

In conjunction with National Gallery Singapore’s fifth anniversary, the museum will present Georgette Chen: At Home in the World from November 27, an exhibition showcasing 69 of the artist’s prominent art works, along with 74 archival materials that will offer an intimate glimpse into her life. As the first major retrospective of her art in two decades, the exhibition will delve into her body of work, spanning the time she spent in Singapore, Malaysia, China, the USA, and France.

Credits: National Gallery Singapore

Arranged into nine thematic sections across two galleries, the extensive exhibition documents her fascination with people and their personalities via heartwarming portraitures, her love for the rambutan fruit through whimsical still-life paintings, as well as her keen observation of the dynamic coastal landscapes, among others.

Credits: National Gallery Singapore

A key work from her time in Singapore includes “Malay Wedding”, an oil on canvas painting that displays the lively atmosphere, along with the harmonious use of colours on the subjects’ clothing. Another charming piece is “East Coast Vendor”, which was created during a trip she made to the coast of Malaysia in 1960. It highlighted the mother-child bond between the subjects and showcased cultural details like batik clothes and headscarves.

A particularly beautiful piece is the “Lotus Symphony”—her only panoramic work, which saw her observing the blooms over three weeks in her friend’s garden, so as to capture the lotus flowers from every lighting condition and angle.

Credits: National Gallery Singapore

In the second gallery, one observes the gradual shift in her painting style and composition, to one that is more introspective but no less vibrant and dynamic. Case in point; “Vegetables and Claypot”, a still-life painting likely completed during World War II where both Chen and her husband Eugene Chen were under house arrest in Hong Kong. There, she continued to paint but turned her attention to objects within reach.

Her paintings, which wonderfully capture the daily slice of life, create a sense of comfort and familiarity that anyone can relate to.

More information here.

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