Self Portrait, Georgette Chen, Singapore, c. 1934, oil on canvas.
Gift of Lee Foundation, collection of National Gallery Singapore.
Georgette Chen played a critical role in the development of the Nanyang style. Born in China in 1906, Georgette Chen spent her formative years in Shanghai, New York and Paris, where she found success as an artist following formal training in art academies and regular exhibitions. After a brief stay in Penang from 1951-1953, Chen eventually settled in Singapore in 1953 where she taught at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts till her retirement in 1980. In recognition of her contributions to Singapore art, Chen was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 1982.
Painted possibly a few years after her works were selected for exhibition at the prestigious Salon d'Automne in Paris, Chen's Self Portrait reveals her strong and confident personality. Her piercing gaze engages the viewer in a direct conversation. Like her other portraiture works, she composed Self Portrait with an economy of means—soft dabs of colour to delineate the contours of her face and differentiate the shades of her facial complexion.
This is an extract from "The Singapore Story through 60 objects" written by Kennie Ting, Director, Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum & Group Director of Museums, National Heritage Board. Research for this article is supported by National Gallery Singapore. This article was first published in Cultural Connections Volume IV 2019 by Culture Academy Singapore.