(CHANG LI YING, Singaporean, 1906-1993)
Cattleya Orchid
signed 'Chen' in Pinyin (lower left)
oil on canvas
55 x 46 cm. (21 5/8 x 18 1/8 in.)
Sotheby's Singapore, 1 October 2000, Lot 108
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Eric Chang
Eric Chang




Georgette Chen ranks as one of the most distinguished Asian 20th century artists, not only for her post-impressionist artistic output which was highly consistent and varied little in stylistic development through her lifetime, but also for how her upbringing and adult life embodied the idea of a modern world painter of the century.

Born in Paris in 1907, Georgette Chen (Zhang Liying) was brought up in a cosmopolitan family environment by her father Zhang Jingjiang (Chang Ching-Chiang), a well-known republican revolutionary who played a major role in supporting Dr. Sun Yatsen's political career. She was educated in America, France and China as her family found themselves travelling around the world because of her father's work. Between 1926 and 1927, she attended the Art Students' League in New York, and quickly followed that up by exhibiting at the Salon d'Automne in Paris. In 1949, she was honoured with a solo exhibition at the Asian Institute in New York City, the first Asian woman artist to have been conferred this opportunity.

Married to the Trinidad-born overseas Chinese Eugene Chen (Chen Youren), the foreign minister of the Republic of China in 1930, she continued to lead a life that transcended countries, class and languages. Georgette Chen moved easily between high society and artists' circles, and together with her husband, crisscrossed Asia, Europe and America where she found artistic inspiration and exhibited.
Georgette Chen herself once observed 'I like painting from nature. The traditional Chinese technique does not suit me.' Acknowledging being a painter of the modern world, she was aware of her artistic heritage but also firm in seeking out her own identity as an artist of her time. After the passing away of her husband at the end of World War II, Georgette Chen looked east, settling in Singapore and teaching at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Art, in direct contrast to the other Asian woman painter, Pan Yuliang, who, like Georgette Chen, was also widely travelled but settled in Paris teaching at the ?cole des Beaux Arts.

One of the most distinctive characters of her work is the precision and clarity of her brushstrokes. Though she was familiar and admired the works of Cezanne and the French impressionists and post-impressionists, she also believed in the absolute control and rationality of painting. In her oeuvre, her still-life and portraiture stood out, especially her production after settling permanently in Singapore in 1954.

The present lot, Cattleya Orchid (Lot 122) bears the hallmarks of her approach beginning with the keen observation of the painted object for its details, the selection of a colour palette that is rooted in reality and yet bold and exuberant, and the application of her brush which is highly controlled and precise.

Georgette Chen kept a clean and orderly painting studio at her home in Siglap, and it played a big part in her artistic persona. She surrounded herself with commonplace but elegant painting subjects. In particular, she was drawn to the vibrancy and grace of painting flowers. Orchids, alongside lilies were the two favourite flowers she painted. She varied her paintings of orchids, painting phalenopsis, dendrobrium and vanda orchids in turn. Cattleya orchid, commonly known as the king of orchid for its showy flowers that come in almost all varieties of colour, was a much rarer orchid species she painted.

Georgette Chen once wrote of Singapore as 'the island of perpetual summer' and it is almost definitely in Singapore that she consolidated her preference for the bold post-impressionist palette used here. Although she rarely dated her paintings, the present lot had most definitely been painted in Siglap, before being exhibited in Kuala Lumpur in 1961. With highly saturated colours, Georgette Chen shows the orchid it its glorious full bloom. Each colour is sensitively nuanced in its different tones and clearly delineated from each other, enlivening the painted orchid.