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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Singapore
    Christie’s, Hong Kong, 25 May 2013, Lot 15
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    For Singaporean artist Cheong Soo Pieng, the opportunity to spend two years in Europe from 1962 to 1963 under the patronage of Singaporean magnate Dato’ Loke Wan Tho precipitated an unprecedented rupture within his art as he embraced abstraction. This bold foray into abstraction can be traced to Cheong’s persistent desire to develop and innovate new forms of expression within his art that would place him in dialogue with global art movements as well as the specificity of his context.

    Nature’s Expression is an evocative example of Cheong’s work from this seminal period. Rendering the background in undertones of red and yellow in thick, short strokes, Cheong creates texture and dimension within an otherwise flattened picture plane. The foreground is accentuated with thick and confidently modulated black paint in an application that draws immediate correlation with techniques of traditional Chinese ink painting. Achieving a successful assimilation of the elegance of Eastern sensibilities of ink paining within the medium of oil, the work achieves in presenting a transcendent rendering of the traditional subject of landscape.

    While in Europe, Cheong resided mainly in London, and was able to behold in person masterpieces of impressionism, cubism, surrealism, and abstract expressionism that he had previously only studied and ruminated upon through images in books and catalogues. Beyond the walls of the museum, Cheong also encountered the work of Chinese artists who had been living in Europe, such as Zao Wou-Ki and Sanyu, and had developed a new path of modernism and abstraction through melding of Eastern and Western aesthetic sensibilities. Notably, Cheong exhibited a selection of abstract works in the same vein as the present lot, Nature’s Expression, in a solo show at the Redfern Gallery on Cork Street in London in 1963, where Zao Wou-Ki’s also exhibited in the same year.

    Born in Xiamen, China in 1917, Cheong was exposed through his education at the Xiamen Academy of Fine Arts as well as the Xin Hua Arts Academy in Shanghai, to the fundamentals and techniques of Western oil painting, as well as traditional Chinese ink painting. However, it was not until his arrival in Singapore in 1946, that Cheong began to freely experiment primarily within the medium oil. Cheong found himself unmoored from the environment in China that necessitated a strict adherence to formal and academic styles of painting, and within an entirely different landscape. He became quickly immersed in the community of migrant Chinese artists in Singapore and began teaching at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts alongside figures such as Liu Kang, Chen Wen Hsi. As a prominent figure within the Singapore art scene, Cheong’s subsequent stylistic experimentations including his interest in abstraction would come to influence the development of modern art in Singapore.

    Cheong can hence be regarded as a simultaneously reactive and reflexive painter, in close conversation with the context of his environment while retaining a stylistic character that he constantly sought to challenge and refine. Across artistic experiments and ruptures which include early works filtered through the language of cubism, as well as his well-known renderings of stylised female figures within idyllic tropical landscapes, Cheong’s works display a persistent adherence to Chinese aesthetic philosophy and a sensitivity towards composition and line. His sojourn to Europe in the 1960s served as a catalyst for new modes of expression within the integrity of his visual language. Producing a limited number of works while in Europe, Nature’s Expression serves as a rare and important testament to this pivotal moment within Cheong’s career.

Property of a Distinguished Southeast Asian Collector

19

Nature’s Expression

1963
signed and dated 'Soo Pieng [in Chinese] 1963' lower right; further signed, titled and dated '"NATURE'S EXPRESSION" Soo Pieng 1963' on the reverse
oil on canvas
101.5 x 153 cm. (39 7/8 x 60 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1963.

Estimate
HK$1,500,000 - 2,000,000 
€168,000-224,000
$192,000-256,000

Sold for HK$1,625,000

Contact Specialist
Jonathan Crockett
Deputy Chairman, Asia and Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Asia
+852 2318 2023

Isaure de Viel Castel
Head of Department
+852 2318 2011

Sandy Ma
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2025

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 25 November 2018