Earl Lu Ming Teh (Dr) (b. 15 September 1925, Hong Kong–d. 2 September 2005, Pisa, Italy), was considered one of Singapore’s most prominent art patrons and philanthropists.1 A medical surgeon by profession, Lu was a keen art collector and served on several institutional boards to help promote visual arts and art education in Singapore.2 An artist in his own right, Lu was known for his paintings of roses which he often presented for sale at fundraising exhibitions.3
Lu was the only son of four children. His father was a banker and mother a homemaker.4 Lu spent his childhood in several places: Hong Kong; Klang, Malaysia; Shanghai, China; and Singapore. When Lu came to Singapore at age 13, he studied at St Andrew’s School, but his studies were interrupted by World War II (1942–45).5 Lu subsequently sat for his GCE ‘O’ levels in India, where he and his family had fled to by boat, two weeks before Singapore fell to the Japanese.6
In 1952, Lu graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery degree from the University of Sydney in Australia. In 1961, he become a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (in England and Edinburgh) and in 1962, a Fellow of the Academy of Medicine Singapore.7 He moved into private practice when Yeoh Ghim Seng invited him to join his medical practice in the 1960s.8 Apart from his practice as a general surgeon, Lu lectured part-time at the University of Singapore (now National University of Singapore) for 26 years, and volunteered at St Andrew’s Mission Hospital for many years.9 In his mid-40s, Lu joined the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as a volunteer and helped set up the first SAF field hospital.10 According to the eulogy delivered by Prof Tommy Koh at Lu’s memorial service in 2005, Lu was the first surgeon to perform an operation at the field hospital in 1974.11
Quest for art
Aside from his surgical skills, Lu was known for his love of the visual arts. He was an avid collector of Chinese and Southeast Asian ceramics and paintings, having already started collecting art as a student, although all he could afford then were prints and photographs. His appreciation of fine art started early, as a child living in a home surrounded by Chinese porcelain and brush paintings that both his father and grandfather had collected.12 Lu knew that these antique heirlooms would be his one day, so he started learning painting in 1956 to understand and deserve this inheritance. He engaged Singaporean pioneer artist Chen Wen Hsi as his tutor.13
Lu was not known to hoard his art collections and most were donated to various institutions, including the National University of Singapore Museum, LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts and the Asian Civilisations Museum. Of note is his valuable 200-piece collection of Southeast Asian pottery dating from the 9th to 15th centuries, which he donated entirely to the Singapore Art Museum in the 1990s.14 He also donated key artworks by Singapore’s pioneer artists to LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts (now known as LASALLE College of the Arts) in 1986, and continued to be involved with the institution as it grew over the next two decades.15 The college named the art gallery housing these artworks the Earl Lu Gallery in honour of his donation, which provided the foundation for the development of the college’s art collection.16
Lu was equally generous with his knowledge of art: as founding chairman of the Singapore Art Museum, his foresight led to the museum acquiring many 20th-century Southeast Asian works.17 According to Koh, this collection may have become the largest among the world’s museums at the time of Lu’s passing.18 For his services to the nation, Lu was appointed a justice of the peace in 1989, and received the Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Star) in the 1995 National Day Awards.19
Lu gave up his surgical practice in 2003 but passed away soon after. He had fallen ill on a painting trip to Italy and died of pneumonia, 13 days shy of his 80th birthday.20
Houseman, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, Australia.
Medical officer (tuberculosis), Chest Hospital, Blue Mountains, Sydney, Australia.
Lecturer in anatomy and embryology surgery, University of Sydney, Australia.
Lecturer, anatomy department, University of Malaysia, Singapore.
Lecturer in physiology for candidates of the Royal College of Surgeons of Australia, Singapore.
External examiner in anatomy and physiology, National University of Singapore.
Consultant surgeon, Yeoh Clinic, Singapore.
Consultant surgeon, Earl Lu Clinic, Singapore.
1967–1972: Trustee, National Theatre Trust.22
1972–1973: President, Society of Chinese Artists.23
1972–1978: Member, Singapore Medical Council.24
1972–1991: Volunteer medical officer with the SAF, retiring as lieutenant-colonel.25
1976: Honorary president, Society of Chinese Artists.26
1984–1986: President, Southeast Asian Ceramic Society.27
1989–: Justice of the Peace.28
1990–: Member, United Overseas Bank Art Committee29
1992–1999: Founding chairman, Singapore Art Museum.30
2003: Member, LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts board of directors.31
1994–2000: Arts advisor, National Arts Council.
2000–2005: Chairman, Istana Art Collection Advisory Committee.32
1985: Commendation Medal (Military Gold).
1986: LaSalle-SIA Award for Distinguished Service to Arts Education.
1995: Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Star).
1997: Montblanc de la Culture award.
1971: Fundraising exhibition at Victoria Memorial Hall for St Andrew’s Hospital.34
1991: Days of Wine and Roses fundraiser at Allan Art Gallery, Singapore, for Ayer Rajah Day Care Centre.35
1992: An exhibition of paintings by Sir Roy Calne and Dr Earl Lu at Raffles City Convention Centre, Singapore, for the Liver Transplantation Programme in Cambridge and in Singapore.36
1994: Rhythm & Vitality Art Exhibition and Sale, Empress Place Art Gallery, Singapore, for the Asian Women’s Welfare Association Teach Me programme.37
1998: Exhibition at Alliance Francaise du Singapour.38
2001: Father and Son, an exhibition of paintings by Dr Earl Lu and Paul Lu at Alliance Francaise de Singapour for the Alliance Francaise Building Fund.39
2002: A Feminine Rose exhibition at Valentine Willie Fine Art, Kuala Lumpur.40
2005: Earl Lu @ 80: Beyond the Golden Mean, posthumous tribute exhibition at Art Forum Gallery, Singapore.41
Wife: Norma Phyllis Yin, a Chinese Australian.
Sons: Mark, Paul, Peter and Stephen.
Grandchildren: Shawn, Anne Marie, James, Ellen and Timothy.
1. Peter Lu, “A Tribute to Earl Lu,” SMA News, 37, no. 10 (Otcober 2005): 49–51 (Call no. RSING 610.95957 SMAN); David Chew, “Farewell, Old Friend,” Today, 9 September 2005, 60. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Michelle Chin, Earl Lu @ 80: Beyond the Golden Mean (Singapore: Art Forum, 2005), 45–46. (Call no. RSING 759.5957 LU)
3. Sarah Li, “Coming Up Roses,” Straits Times, 20 April 1992, 12; Hong Xinyi, “Lu’s Roses Live On,” Straits Times, 9 September 2005, 4; Yeo Kim Seng, “Roses are Red… and Pink, Purple and Blue,” Straits Times, 20 July 1989, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Hong, Lu’s Roses Live On”; Colin Cheong, “The World, His Classroom,” Straits Times, 15 November 1992, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Geoffrey Pereira, “Where Brush and Scalpel Meet,” Straits Times, 10 September 1989, 23; Cheong, “World, His Classroom.”
6. Cheong, “World, His Classroom.”
7. Pereira, “Where Brush and Scalpel Meet”; Nexus Information Sources, Medical and Health Services Directory (Singapore: Nexus Information Sources, 2000), 72 (Call no. RSING 362.10255957 MHSD-[DIR]); Earl Lu, oral history interview with Lee Liang Chian, 15 March 1996, MP3 audio, 28:00, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001752)
8. Earl Lu, oral history interview with Lee Liang Chian, 23 May 1996, MP3 audio, 29:50, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001752); “President, PM at Dr Yeoh’s Funeral,” Straits Times, 8 June 1993, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Pereira, “Where Brush and Scalpel Meet”; “If You Look at Prices, You’re Looking at Wrong things,” Straits Times, 18 March 1997, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Chin, Earl Lu @ 80, 45.
10. “130 Help to Set Up First Field Hospital,” Straits Times, 26 March 1980, 13 (From NewspaperSG); Low Kar Tiang, Who’s Who in Singapore (Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, 2000), 175. (Call no. RSING 920.05957 WHO)
11. Tommy Koh, “A Tribute to Earl Lu,” in The Tommy Koh Reader: Favourite Essays and Lectures (Singapore: World Scientific, 2013), 465. (Call no. RSING 327.5957 KOH)
12. Parvathi Nayar, “Love It, and Pass It On,” Business Times, 24 September 1999, 34. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Susan Tsang, “Private Practices,” Business Times, 18 January 1992, 21; Parvathi Nayar, “Painter and Patron of Singapore Arts Earl Lu dies, Aged 80,” Business Times, 9 September 2005, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “If You Look at Prices”; Nayar, “Painter and Patron of Singapore Arts.”
15. Nayar, “Painter and Patron of Singapore Arts”; Charles Merewether, ed., Inside the Collection (Singapore: Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, 2012), 7–11. (Call no. RSING 709.5957 INS)
16. S. Jin, “Reconnecting the Past: Notes on an Art Collection,” in The Next Chapter: Forays into Lasalle’s Permanent Collections, ed. Teo Rofan, Daphne Ang and Syed Muhd Hafiz (Singapore: Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, 2009), 7. (Call no. RSING 709.5957 LAS)
17. National Heritage Board, Annual Report 95/96 (Singapore: National Heritage Board, 1996), 10 (Call no. RCLOS 363.690605957 SNHBAR-[AH]); Koh, “A Tribute to Earl Lu,” 465.
18. Koh, “A Tribute to Earl Lu,” 465.
19. Tan Ee Sze, “Justices of the Peace to Help Ease Wedding Queues,” Straits Times, 4 June 1989, 20; “Those Honoured This Year,” Straits Times, 9 August 1995, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Koh, “A Tribute to Earl Lu,” 464; Hong, Lu’s Roses Live On.”
21. Chin, Earl Lu @ 80, 45; “130 Help to Set Up First Field Hospital”; Earl Lu, oral history interview, 23 May 1996.
22. National Theatre Trust (Singapore), Annual Report 1967 (Singapore: Nationa Theatre Trust, 1967), 1. (Call no. RCLOS 792.095957 NTTSAR-[AR]); National Theatre Trust (Singapore), Annual Report 1972 (Singapore: Nationa Theatre Trust, 1972), 3. (Call no. RCLOS 792.095957 NTTSAR-[AR])
23. Foo Mei Shan 符玫珊, Zhong hua mei shu yan jiu hui liu shi zhou nian shu hua ji中华美术研究会六十周年书画集 [Art 60: in commemoration of the 60th anniversary the Society of Chinese Artists] (Singapore: Chinese Art Research Association, 1995), 23–24. (Call no. Chinese RSING 759.95957 ART)
24. “Three GPs for Better Balanced Medical Council,” Straits Times, 15 July 1972, 3 (From NewspaperSG); Singapore Medical Council, Annual Report 1978 (Singapore: Singapore Medical Council, 1979), 3. (Call no. RCLOS 610.69095957 SMCAR-[AR])
25. Low, Who’s Who in Singapore, 175; Chin, Earl Lu @ 80, 45.
26. Foo Mei Shan, Zhong hua mei shu yan jiu, 23–24.
27. “Past and Present Presidents,” Southeast Asian Ceramic Society, accessed 30 August 2016.
28. Tan, “Justices of the Peace to Help”; Chin, Earl Lu @ 80, 46.
29. Jaime Ee, “The Collector’s Privilege,” Business Times, 17 July 1993, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “Singapore Leaders Mourn Earl Lu’s Death,” Straits Times, 10 September 2005, 4 (From NewspaperSG); . National Heritage Board, Annual Report 1999/2000 (Singapore: National Heritage Board, 2000), 11 (Call no. RCLOS 363.690605957 SNHBAR-[AH])
31. R. Fly, “President’s Message,” in LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, Annual Report 2003/2004 (Singapore: LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts, 2004), 3. (Call no. RCLOS 700.7105957 LSCAAR-[AR])
32. “Singapore Leaders Mourn Earl Lu’s Death.”
33. Chin, Earl Lu @ 80, 46; Xinyi, “Lu’s Roses Live On”; “Dr Earl Lu, Associate,” Straits Times, 9 October 1998, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
34. Ong Choo Suat, “Creating Art Through Accidents,” New Nation, 25 September 1971, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
35. “6 Artists Help to Raise Funds for Aged,” Straits Times, 18 March 1991, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
36. Li, “Coming Up Roses.”
37. Susie Wong, “Eclectic Selection, But Some Promising Works,” Straits Times, 26 March 1994, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
38. “Brush Painter Is Quick on the Draw,” Straits Times, 22 April 1998, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
39. Sian E. Jay, “Lu and Behold,” Straits Times, 26 February 2001, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
40. D. Maheshwari, “Alluring Display of ‘Feminine Rose’,” New Straits Times, 13 August 2002, 7. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
41. Nayar, “Painter and Patron of Singapore Arts.”
42. “Ex-Colony Student to Wed in Sydney,” Straits Times, 7 March 1952, 5; Chew, “Farewell, Old Friend”; “Obituary: Dr Earl Lu Ming Teh,” Straits Times, 10 September 2005, 29. (From NewspaperSG)
The information in this article is valid as at October 2018 and correct as far as we are able to 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.