Georgette Chen



Georgette Chen Li Ying, born Chang Li Ying (b. October 1906, Zhejiang, China1­–d. 15 March 1993, Singapore)2, was one of Singapore’s pioneer artists who established the Nanyang style of painting.3 Known for her still lifes and portraits in oils,4 Chen was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 1982 for her outstanding achievements and contributions to art in Singapore.5

Early life
In her research into Georgette Chen’s life in 1997, Jane Chia, then a senior lecturer in the Arts Division at the National Institute of Education, uncovered Chen’s marriage certificate of 1930 that stated she was born in Zhejiang, China, in October 1906. At the time of her research, the common belief had been that the artist was born in Paris, France, in 1907, but Chia found no birth record to either confirm or refute this. Chen had on different occasions, stated her place of birth as France or China, and her year of birth as 1906 or 1907. Since the marriage certificate was an official document witnessed by the Chinese Consul General, it was highly likely that Chen was born in Zhejiang in 1906.6

 
The daughter of a businessman who dealt in Asian art and antiques, Chen lived a privileged life in her early years, travelling throughout China, Paris and New York. She attended art classes at the Art Students League in New York between 1926 and 1927, and later studied art at the Académie Colarossi and Académie Biloul in Paris.7

In 1930, Chen married her first husband, Eugene Chen Youren, the Chinese Foreign Minister. This was also the year that the first of her art works was accepted for exhibition at the Salon d'Automne in Paris.8 While her early works, such as "Coast of Brittany" (circa 1930) and "Landscape" (circa 1930–33) were rendered in a style similar to the Realist and Barbizon schools of art, many of her subsequent works created in the latter part of her life were influenced by late 19th century and early 20th century Post-Impressionists and Fauvists such as Maurice Utrillo, Paul Cezanne and Vincent van Gogh.9

Key exhibitions
In 1937, Chen’s work was exhibited at two major exhibitions in Paris: the Palace of Painting as part of the Paris World Fair, and the Women Painters Exhibition. Residing mostly in Shanghai during the 1940s, Chen held exhibitions there during this time, including two solo exhibitions, one at the Metropole Hotel in 1943 and another at the Alliance Francaise in in 1947.10 In the 1930s and ’40s, she produced many still life paintings and portraits of her husband, Eugene Chen. His portraits were executed in a style reminiscent of the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh.11 During the Sino-Japanese War (1937–45), the couple was kept under house arrest. Eugene Chen’s health deteriorated during this time and he passed away in 1944.12


In 1947, Chen married her second husband Ho Yung Chi, the former aide to Eugene Chen. In 1949, she and Ho returned to Paris where she exhibited at the Salon d'Automne and the Galerie La Licorne. In 1951, the couple moved to Penang, and in 1953, following her divorce from Ho, she relocated to Singapore. In Singapore, Chen exhibited her works at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce (1953) and the Singapore Art Society (1954).13

Later works
Chen taught art part-time at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts from 1954 to 1980.14 Her paintings from 1949 onwards displayed her maturity as an artist. She produced monumental still lifes, figure compositions and local landscape paintings, which established her standing as an artist.15 Chen’s Western-style training and her use of local subject matter placed her as a Nanyang Style artist, a style characterised by its hybrid art form combining Asian themes and Western art techniques.16 Paintings such as “Mosque in Kuala Lumpur" (1957) and “Singapore Waterfront" (1958) showed her skilled draughtsmanship, compositional mastery and sensitivity to the atmospheres and rhythms of the scene using a variety of brushstroke techniques and colours.17


In 1982, Chen was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Art.18 She died at the Mount Alvernia Hospital on 15 March 1993, after a long battle with rheumatoid arthritis.19



Author

Ruth Creamer



References
1. Chia, J. (1997). Georgette Chen. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING q759.95957 CHI)
2. Pioneer S’pore artist dies. (1993, March 17). The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chia, J. (1997). Georgette Chen. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, pp. 60, 64. (Call no.: RSING q759.95957 CHI)
3. Pioneer S’pore artist dies. (1993, March 17). The Straits Times, p. 21; Sabapathy, T. K. (1993, March 19). First lady of artThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR); Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. (2016). Georgette Chen Liying. Retrieved 2016, August 5, from Tribute.sg website: https://www.tribute.sg/artist-profile-georgette-chen-liying
4. Ministry of Community Development & National Museum. (1985). Georgette Chen retrospective, 1985. Singapore: National Museum, pp. 3–4. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 CHE.G); Chia, W. H. (1982). Singapore artists. Singapore: Singapore Cultural Foundation and Federation Publications, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 SIN); Sabapathy, T. K. (1993, March 19). First lady of artThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 167. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR); Honoured for spending half a life-time in the arts. (1982, October 30). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Chia, J. (1997). Georgette Chen. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING q759.95957 CHI); Captivating portrait of a pioneer Georgette Chen. (1997, April 12). The Business Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Chia, J. (1997). Georgette Chen. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, pp. 17–26. (Call no.: RSING q759.95957 CHI)
8. Chia, J. (1997). Georgette Chen. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, pp. 26, 63. (Call no.: RSING q759.95957 CHI)
9. Ministry of Community Development & National Museum. (1985). Georgette Chen retrospective, 1985. Singapore: National Museum, pp. 5–10, 13–14, 16. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 CHE.G); Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. (2016). Georgette Chen Liying. Retrieved 2016, August 5 from Tribute.sg website: https://www.tribute.sg/artist-profile-georgette-chen-liying; Sabapathy, T. K. (1985, November 8). Everyday world of experience and senses. The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Sheares, C. (Interviewer). (1988, November 2). Oral history interview with Chen, Georgette Liying [Transcript of MP3 Recording No. 000956/6/1, pp. 6–7]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
10. Chia, J. (1997). Georgette Chen. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, pp. 37–38, 63. (Call no.: RSING q759.95957 CHI)
11. Chia, J. (1997). Georgette Chen. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, p. 34. (Call no.: RSING q759.95957 CHI); Ministry of Community Development & National Museum. (1985). Georgette Chen retrospective, 1985. Singapore: National Museum, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 CHE.G); Captivating portrait of a pioneer Georgette Chen. (1997, April 12). The Business Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Chia, J. (1997). Georgette Chen. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, pp. 36–37. (Call no.: RSING q759.95957 CHI)
13. Chia, J. (1997). Georgette Chen. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, pp. 17–26, 37—41, 46, 63–64. (Call no.: RSING q759.95957 CHI)
14. Chia, J. (1997). Georgette Chen. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, pp. 49, 59. (Call no.: RSING q759.95957 CHI)
15. Ministry of Community Development & National Museum. (1985). Georgette Chen retrospective, 1985. Singapore: National Museum, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 CHE.G)
16. Pioneer S’pore artist dies. (1993, March 17). The Straits Times, p. 21; Sabapathy, T. K. (1993, March 19). First lady of artThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. (2016). Georgette Chen Liying. Retrieved 2016, August 5, from Tribute.sg website: https://www.tribute.sg/artist-profile-georgette-chen-liying; Sapapathy, T. K. (2015). Modern art in Singapore: Pioneers and premises. In R. F. L. Lee. (Ed.), Art hats in Renaissance City. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, pp. 105–112. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 ART)
17. Kwok, K. C. (1996). Channels & confluences: A history of Singapore art. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, pp. 64–67. (Call no.: RSING 709.5957 KWO)
18. Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 167. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR); Honoured for spending half a life-time in the arts. (1982, October 30). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Pioneer S’pore artist dies. (1993, March 17). The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chia, J. (1997). Georgette Chen. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, pp. 60, 64. (Call no.: RSING q759.95957 CHI)



Further resources
Chen, G. & Singapore Art Museum. (2008). Memoirs, Georgette Chen [electronic resource]. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum.
(Call no.: RSING 759.95957 CHE)

Chen Wen Hsi [and] Georgette Chen [videorecording]. (1987). Singapore: Ministry of Community Development.

(Call no.: RSING 759.95957 CHE)

Cheong, K., et. al. (2008). Georgette Chen, Cultural Medallion Recipient 1982 Visual Arts [videorecording]. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum for National Library Board, in collaboration with National Arts Council Singapore.
(Call no.: RSING 759.95959 GEO)

Chionh, S. Y., Sheares, C. & Zainal, M. (1985). Georgette Chen [videorecording]. Sl.: sn.

(Call no.: RSING 759.95957 GEO)

Ho, J. (1997, April 5). Old age fears spurred her to paint more. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Liew, S. (2014). Warm nights, deathless days: The life of Georgette Chen. Singapore: National Gallery Singapore.
(Call no.: RSING 741.595957 LIE)

Ministry of Community Development & National Museum (Singapore). (1985). Pioneer artist of Singapore [videorecording]. Sl.: sn.
(Call no.: RSING 759.95957 PIO)

Musical Theatre Limited (Singapore). (2007). Georgette the musical. Singapore: Musical Theatre Limited.
(Call no.: RSING 792.642095957 GEO)

National Gallery Singapore. (2016). The worlds of Georgette Chen. Retrieved August 5, 2016, from the National Gallery Singapore website: https://www.nationalgallery.sg/see-do/highlights/the-worlds-of-georgette-chen

National Library Board. (2016). Georgette Chen. Retrieved August 8, 2016, from NORA

The art of Georgette Chen. (1962). Her World, 3(8), 36–37.

(Call no.: RCLOS 052 HW)



The information in this article is valid as at 2002 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Award winners--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists>>Cultural Medallion Recipients
Award winners
Artists--Singapore--Biography
Women painters--Singapore--Biography
Chen, Georgette, 1907-1993--Biography
Arts>>Painting>>Oil painting