Liu Kang - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Thursday, December 3, 2020 | Phillips
  • The Liu Kang Family Collection

    Coming from the personal collection of the artist’s family, lot 221 is a striking example of a street scene in Malacca. It was painted in 1954 at the height of his career by Liu Kang, the Singaporean modernist painter whose influence in the establishment of the Nanyang style of painting in Singapore is unrivalled.


    Born in Fujian, China, and spending his formative years in Malaysia, Liu Kang returned to Shanghai after art studies in Paris at the age of 23 years old. He was hired by his mentor and cultural reformer Liu Haisu to teach at his alma mater - the Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts. When Liu moved to Malaysia in 1937, and consequently Singapore in 1942, he gained recognition for his artistic enquiry into the relationship between traditions, identities, Southeast Asian regionalism and his search for a new artistic language. He continued to contribute to the local arts scene as an educator. 


    The late 1940s and the 1950s were a critical time in Singaporean art, as the period marked the nascent rise of the Nanyang school of painting.Street Scene (Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, Malacca) Lot 221) was first drafted as a sketch by Liu Kang on a trip to Malacca, Malaysia, in 1948 and shows a vibrant scene outside the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, the oldest functioning temple in the country. It is also the same year that Chen Wen Hsi first landed in Singapore. Originally planning to stay no longer than three months, he was later convinced by Liu Kang and his fellow artists to stay and make Singapore his home. 


    Liu Kang’s preparatory sketch for Street Scene (Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, Malacca) dated 1948. Courtesy of the Liu Kang family

    This present painting by Liu was completed just two years after the famous Bali trip of 1952, when Liu, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi and Cheong Soo Pieng embarked on a field trip in search of a form of visual expression that was uniquely Southeast Asian. Whilst Liu is known for Matisse-like blocks of colour and bold outlines, which can be likened to batik and Chinese ink painting, Liu’s lifelong influences had been primarily founded on a quest to marry the influences from Europe and China, and adapting these early divergent stimuli from his early days became part of the quintessential character of Southeast Asian art.


    Through the two works (lot 222 and lot 223) by Chen Wen Hsi from this same collection, we take a rare glimpse into the intimate exchanges between Liu Kang and Chen Wen Hsi and their decades-long friendship since their first meeting as students at the Xinhua College of Art in Shanghai in the late 1920s. Chen was taught by renowned artists such as Pan Tianshou at Xinhua, where he became acquainted with Chen Jen Hao, Chen Chong Swee and Liu Kang, all of whom would later become Singapore's pioneering Nanyang artists and educators. 


    Chen Wen Hsi painting in his home, photographed by Liu Kang. Courtesy of the Liu Kang family

    These two artists were fundamentally influenced by traditional Chinese literati culture, in which artists commonly exchanged and gifted works to one another. Here, both paintings were gifts from Chen to Liu, as indicated by the inscriptions. Chen Wen Hsi learnt the technique of painting with his fingers in Shanghai, and employed this in A Pair of Gibbons (lot 222). Chickens and Sparrows Amongst Flowers (lot 223), completed towards the end of the artist’s long and fruitful career as indicated by the inscription which commemorates Liu’s golden wedding anniversary in 1987, showcases the sensitivity and maturity of Chen’s painting style. Both artists collaborated together in important group shows across Southeast Asia throughout the 1950s which showcased their contributions to the pioneering modern art movement in Singapore, and would go on to cement their legacies in the Nanyang School.

    • Provenance

      By descent from the artist to the present owner

    • Literature

      National Art Gallery, Liu Kang: Colourful Modernist, Singapore, 2011, p. 221 (illustrated)

Property from the Liu Kang Family


Street Scene (Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, Malacca)

signed and dated 'Kang [in Chinese] 54' lower left
oil on canvas
120 x 70 cm. (47 1/4 x 27 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1954.

Full Cataloguing

HK$280,000 - 480,000 

Sold for HK$604,800

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Associate Specialist, Head of Day Sale

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 4 December 2020