Auction Debut of Exceedingly Rare Georgette Chen Portrait Leads Bonhams Southeast Asian Modern and Contemporary Art Sale on 6 October 2020

Important works by some of Southeast Asia's most established modern and contemporary artists, such as Georgette Chen, Liu Kang, Cheng Chong Swee, Ng Eng Teng and Chaichana Luetrakun will be offered at Bonhams Southeast Asian Modern and Contemporary Art sale on October 6 in Hong Kong.

Headlining the sale is The Sam Sui Worker (estimate: HK$1,200,000–1,800,000), a fresh-to-market portrait by arguably the most important female artist in Singapore's history: Georgette Chen. Born in Zhejiang, China to an illustrious family and with a childhood steeped in cultural exposure in Europe and America, Chen was a true cosmopolitan of the 20th century. Nowhere is her deep cultural sympathy better seen than with The Sam Sui Worker, one of the artist's finest portraits depicting the iconic female manual labourers who migrated from Southern China to Southeast Asia around early to mid-20th century.

Featured on the canvas is a humble woman with a wrinkled, weather-beaten face in front of a verdant background. Her sun-seared hands and her only worldly possession – a jade bangle – represent grit, labour and industry, attributes that migrants like her all embodied. Georgette Chen is the only female artist among the pioneers of the Nanyang Style, a significant art movement practiced by migrant Chinese painters in Singapore in the 1950s. Acquired directly from the artist and kept under an Australian private collection since, this work will come to auction for the first time in our Hong Kong sale.

Also fresh to the market is Liu Kang's Ni Pollok (estimate: HK$200,000–300,000), a plein air pastel portrait of the wife of Bali-based Belgium painter Adrian-Jean Le Mayeur. A renowned Legong dancer often portrayed as an exotic and romantic subject, Ni Pollok exudes a different charm in this work, appearing both composed and relaxed. A set of rare photographs ¬– taken by the artist himself and now unveiled by his family – offers us a glimpse into the very day this work was created on 30 June 1952. Much like in the pastel portrait, Ni Pollok was found sitting in a bamboo chair among the Nanyang masters, during their visit to her and Le Mayeur's home.

Untitled (Kampung Woman) (estimate: HK$70,000–100,000) by Chen Chong Swee (1910–1986) captures a loving scene of motherhood in a village. Chen was among the first Southeast Asian artists to render their native landscapes with Chinese ink and brush. In this work, Chen's brush transforms the otherwise everyday moment into a poetic composition, where the viewer is encouraged to be silent as the mother rocks her baby to sleep.

The sale also features a series of works exploring the themes of urbanisation, including Untitled (estimate: HK$80,000–120,000) by Ng Eng Teng (1934–2001), the 'Grandfather of Singapore Sculpture'. Growing up at a time in Singapore without any sculptors, Ng was encouraged by his mentor Georgette Chen to further his studies in the United Kingdom. His experience abroad ignited a career dedicated to sculpture through the medium of industrial ciment fondu. Juxtaposing the motif of growth against a worry-ridden face, Untitled reflected Ng's feeling of uncertainty towards the rapid urbanisation and modernisation of a newly independent Singapore in the 1960s and 1970s.

Chaichana Luetrakun's (b. 1991) Waterscape II, (estimate: HK$35,000-45,000) depicts the inevitable crisis of waste around the globe. Offering a bird's-eye view of a seascape of man's hubris and its rapid multiplication, the work warns us of the looming threat of our own making.

Chua Ek Kay's (1947–2008) Chinatown Street Scene (estimate: HK$100,000-150,000) celebrates the mundane, ordinary scene from Singapore's streets as they underwent modernisation throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Preview and bidding will be done in accordance with the latest government guidelines. This includes the option, when necessary, of a 'behind-closed-doors' auction, where an auctioneer will be present on the rostrum, and bids will be accepted in the following formats: online, on the phone, or by leaving an absentee bid.

Highlights will be on view at Helutrans ArtSpace in Singapore from 25 to 27 September 2020 by appointment, alongside an exhibition of works by collectors from the Southeast Asia region. All highlights will also be available for viewing online at Bonhams.com as well. The preview and exhibition are jointly presented by Bonhams and Chubb Insurance Singapore Limited – the insurance partner of Bonhams in Singapore.

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