Georgette Chen Li Ying, born Chang Li Ying, was a Singaporean artist known for her still-life and figure/landscape portraits in oil. She also worked with other mediums such as watercolour and pastels. Although the location and year of Chen’s birth had been disputed, it is generally agreed that she was born in 1906 in Zhejiang Province, China. She passed away in Singapore in 1993.
Georgette Chen, Self-Portrait (1946).
Gift of Lee Foundation, Collection of National Gallery Singapore. Digital image retrieved from PictureSG.
Chen experienced a cosmopolitan and transcontinental life, traversing nations such as China, France, and the United States for much of her life and moving to Singapore permanently around 1953, after which she started teaching at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA). She acquired Singaporean citizenship upon Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in 1965.
In recognition of her achievements, Chen was awarded the Cultural Medallion (Fine Art) in 1982. A retrospective exhibition was held in her honour at the National Museum in 1985, wherein over 170 of her works were displayed. Chen passed away in 1993 at the Mount Alvernia Hospital. Chen’s legacy in the Singaporean cultural imaginary is evidenced in the multiple creative works inspired by her—playwright Ng Yi-Sheng’s musical, Georgette: The Musical, staged for the 2007 edition of the Singapore Arts Festival by Musical Theatre Limited; illustrator Sonny Liew’s Chen-inspired graphic novel published in 2014; and the series of docudramas based on her life commissioned by the National Gallery of Singapore in 2015.
An exhibition titled Georgette Chen: At Home in the World, the first museum retrospective of the artist in more than 20 years, is currently being staged at the National Gallery Singapore (from November 2020 to September 2021), where some of her key works are displayed alongside archival material.
This guide provides resources for those who are keen to know more about Georgette Chen’s artistic practice. You can also visit catalogue.nlb.gov.sg to search for more resources. This resource guide was first authored and updated by Ng Su May, Heirwin Mohd Nasir, and Jason Yan. It was last updated in December 2020 by Luke Chua, a Manager at the National Library, Singapore.
|Chia, J. (1997). Georgette Chen. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum. Call no.: RSING q759.95957 CHI
A detailed and comprehensive biographical account of Chen’s artistic career and life from childhood to death; it incorporates multiple sources, many of which, from photographs and personal correspondences, are reprinted in the book. Chia discovers that Chen was probably born in Zhejiang, China, instead of Paris as previously and popularly assumed. Also includes a compilation catalogue of Chen’s major exhibitions between 1963 and 1994 as well as secondary material such as radio transcripts on her first husband’s death.
|National Museum of Singapore & Ministry of Community Development. (1985). Georgette Chen retrospective, 1985. Singapore: National Museum of Singapore. Call no.: RSEA 759.95957 CHE.G
Published in connection with the 1985 retrospective exhibition on Chen, which displayed over 170 of her works. Contains a biographical timeline, a reading of her works and artistic development (divided into three periods, in relation to her life), a guide to assessing her oeuvre, and a catalogue of her works.
|Lee, J. (2018). The artist speaks: Georgette Chen. Singapore: National Gallery Singapore. Call no.: 741.595957 ART
Prefaced with an introduction by Joanna Lee, this book showcases selected texts and materials from Chen’s archives alongside her paintings to provide a more nuanced understanding of her life and practice.
|章星虹 [Zhang, X. H.]. (2016). 《星洲星光：现代旅人手记》[Starlight in Singapore: The notes of a modern sojourner]. 新加坡：八方文化创作室. Call no.: RSING Chinese 959.57 ZXH
This book includes three essays (pp. 77 – 106) on Georgette Chen that touched on her life in Malaya and Chen as an art educator through materials such as oral history interviews and graduation magazines of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
|Low, S.W., Horikawa, L., & Scott, P. (Eds.). (2016). Reframing modernism: painting from Southeast Asia, Europe and beyond. Singapore: National Gallery Singapore. Call no.: 759.9590904 REF
The 2016 exhibition of the same title featured Chen’s works from the collection of Centre Pompidou in France. This accompanying catalogue includes an essay on the development of Chen’s works in relation to her time in Paris and the various artistic movements that influenced her.
|刘抗 [Liu, K.]. (1981). 《刘抗文集》[Essays by Liu Kang]. 新加坡: 教育出版社. Call no.: RSING Chinese 709.2 LK
This anthology of Liu Kang’s essays includes multiple separate references to Chen, namely his 1953 essay, “The art of Georgette Chen,” (张荔英的艺术, pp. 38 – 40) on his impressions of Chen at their debut meeting in Paris, an appraisal of her tentative ventures into pottery, and a reproduction of her Portrait of Eugene Chen (1940), and his 1960 article, “Nurturing new life in the gravel bed of the river” (沙河沙硕·孕育新生, pp. 234 – 237) where he evaluates Chen’s painting techniques. English translations of the two essays can be found in Liu, K. & Ho, H. Y. (2005). Re-connecting: Selected writings on Singapore art and art criticism. Sabapathy, T. K. & Cheo, C.-H. (Eds.). Cheo, C.-H. (Trans.). Singapore: Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore. Call no.: RSING 709.59570904 LIU.
|Tan, B. T. & Ng, S. (2015). Lives of the artists, a Singapore story: The Cultural Medallion and visual arts, 1979–2015. Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Commissioned by the National Arts Council and supported by the Ministry of Culture, Communication, and Youth). Call no.: RSING 709.5957 TAN
A volume that recognises recipients of the prestigious Cultural Medallion and hence, a means to chart and take stock of Singapore’s cultural and artistic trajectory to date. Identifies Chen, who received the award in 1982, as an artist interested in the dichotomy between relativism/particularism and universalism in art; a short sub-chapter on her includes a brief biography, a consideration of her aesthetic sensibilities, and some reproductions of her works, from Coast of Brittany (c1930) to Punjabi Man (1971).
|连士升 [Lien, S. S.]. (1955). 品评张荔英 [Comments on Georgette Chen’s art]. 《南行集》[Travels in the South] . 新加坡: 南洋商报, 页34 - 38. Call no.: RCLOS Chinese C814.3 LSS
Lien Shih Sheng (连士升), a contemporary of Georgette Chen and editor of Nanyang Siang Pau, features the characteristics of Chen’s paintings in this article. Lien first gives a brief account of the impression that Chen and her works gave him and highlights the wide range of subjects found in Chen’s paintings. This article also includes analysis of Chen’s works under the subjects mentioned.
|何和应 [Ho, H. Y.]. (1990). 《美术论衡》[Art criticism]. 新加坡: 新加坡美术馆. Call no.: RSING Chinese 709 HHY
Two articles, namely “The current art scene in Singapore (1960’s)” (现阶段的新加坡画坛（1960年代）, pp. 26 – 28) and “Nanyang style” (南洋风格, pp. 137 – 140) in this anthology comment on Georgette Chen’s art style. An English translation of the article, “The current art scene in Singapore (1960’s)” can be found in Liu, K. & Ho, H. Y. (2005). Re-connecting: Selected writings on Singapore art and art criticism. Sabapathy, T. K. & Cheo, C.-H. (Eds.). Cheo, C.-H. (Trans.). Singapore: Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore. Call no.: RSING 709.59570904 LIU.
|Singapore Art Museum. (1994). Pont des Arts: Nanyang artists in Paris, 1925-1970. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum. Call no.: RSING 759.95957 SIN
An exhibition presented by the Singapore Art Museum exploring the influence of French art education on Singapore artists. Curator of the exhibition, Yeo Hoe Koon, mentions that it was due to Chen’s influence that many of her students in the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts decided to further their art education in Paris. The essays in this catalogue are published in English and Chinese translations.
|Dysart, D. & Fink, H. (Eds.). (1996). Asian women artists. Roseville East, New South Wales: Craftsman House (in association with G+B Arts International). Call no.: RART 700.920825 ASI
This edited volume of essays constitutes a larger feminist politics that endeavours to retrieve and recuperate Asian women artists from their historically and persistently marginal(ised) position in art history and art criticism. Chen is mentioned alongside Chng Seok Tin and Han Sai Por in Jane Chia’s essay, “Trouble at hand,” on Singaporean women artists; colour reproductions of Chen’s Portrait of Eugene Chen (c1935) and Mooncakes with Green Pomelo (c1965) are included.
|Musical Theatre Limited, Singapore. (2007). Georgette: the musical. Singapore: Author. Call no.: RSING 792.642095957 GEO
Programme for Georgette: The Musical, based on and inspired by the life of Chen—presented by Musical Theatre Limited in collaboration with the Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay for the 2007 edition of the Singapore Arts Festival. The musical was written by Ng Yi-sheng, directed by Lee Yew Moon, executively produced by Stella Kon, and starred Seong Hui Xuan as the eponymous character.
|Liew, S. (2014). Warm nights, deathless days: The life of Georgette Chen. Singapore: National Gallery Singapore. Call no.: RSING 741.595957 LIE
A short creative biography of Chen’s life dramatised via the graphic novel tradition by Singapore-based comic artist and illustrator Sonny Liew.
|Foo, A. & Lee, K. (2009). Georgette’s mooncakes. Singapore: Ethos Books. Call no.: JRSING 428.6 FOO
A children’s illustrated book that uses Chen’s oil painting, Still Life: Moon Festival Table (c1965-68), as a point of entry to creatively induct children into aspects of Singaporean heritage such as the Mid-autumn Festival, observed by the Chinese community, and Peranakan culture. Includes a short three-column introduction to Chen, as well as four plates featuring her works at the end of the narrative.
陈张荔英 [Chen, G.]. (1943). 艺术的点滴 [Bits and pieces of art]. 《杂志》[Miscellany], 1943年第11卷第3期，页98。Retrieved from 中文期刊全文数据库（1911 ~ 1949）[Chinese Periodical Full-text Database (1911 ~ 1949)]。Retrieved 2020, December 9 via NLB’s eResources website. (myLibrary ID is required to access this article.)
In this article, Georgette Chen explained that she was particularly attracted to paint landscapes and people (especially the lives of the common people) in her works. She had explored the techniques of the different schools and realised that she could not follow just any one of them. To Chen, it was important to use various colours and techniques so as to paint works that could truly represent the era that they lived in.
Ho, J. (1997, April 5). Old age fears spurred her to paint more. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Relates Chen’s career to her life in general, such as how her post-retirement financial concerns motivated her artistic production in later years. Reports on the 1997 retrospective exhibition on Chen, including the 112 works and personal effects on display.
Lim, C. (1985, November 10). A lifelong passion for everyday objects. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
An in-depth evaluation of Chen’s aesthetic persuasions and recalibration of European (Post-) Impressionist art in both form and content—the everyday article and artefact. Includes an appreciation of certain pieces across her career, from Oysters and Wine (c1930s) and Coconuts and Chillies (1973) to chart her artistic development.
Kan, G. (1994, June 14). Georgette Chen works donated to art museum. The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Announces the donation of some 53 works by Chen, which were found in her home after her death by the executor of her estate, to the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), thus bringing up its collection of Chen’s works to 104.
女画家张荔英底性格·生活·艺术 [The character, life and art of female artist Georgette Chen]. (1943). 《杂志》[Miscellany], 1943年第11卷第3期, 页99 – 101. Retrieved from 中文期刊全文数据库（1911 ~ 1949）[Chinese Periodical Full-text Database (1911 ~ 1949)]. Retrieved 2020, December 9 via NLB’s eResources website. (myLibrary ID is required to access this article.)
Based on an interview with Georgette Chen, this article narrates how Chen obtained her inspiration for her works from daily life and gives an overview of the artworks displayed in Chen’s exhibition in Shanghai in May 1943.
Pioneer S’pore artist dies. (1993, March 17). The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Reports on Chen’s death at age 86 from rheumatoid arthritis. Hails her as a pioneer in the Singaporean art scene and as an instrumental member in Nanyang-style painting.
Rasul, J. J. (2007, June 8). Portrait as an artist as a young woman. Today (Singapore), p. 54. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Reports on Ng Yi-Sheng’s musical, Georgette, for the 2007 edition of the Singapore Arts Festival’s Five Foot Broadway musical fringe festival prior to its showing. Includes quotes from Ng.
Sabapathy, T. K. (1985, November 8). Everyday world of experience and senses. The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Reports on Chen’s 1985 retrospective exhibition at the National Museum Art Gallery at length. Includes a biographical timeline and a brief but concise appraisal of her oeuvre in terms of her artistic sensibilities, and her preferences in genre and subject material.
Sabapathy, T. K. (1993, March 19). First lady of art. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
A tribute to Chen following her death recognising her artistic achievements, her life, and her career as both fine-art painter and mentor.
Teacher who turned geese into swans. (1993, April 2). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Tribute to Chen, who passed on recently, by former student Patricia Kennison, who commemorated her nurturing, encouraging, and engaging personality.
Chia, J. (1999, Autumn). Georgette Chen (1906-1993), a Pioneer Artist. Feminist Studies, 25(3), 670-677. Retrieved 2020, December 9 via NLB’s eResources website. (myLibrary ID is required to access this article.)
Chia’s essay recuperates Chen as a feminist figure of empowerment in a time when the art world was male-dominated insofar as women were marginalised by the inimical conditions that impeded them from practicing art professionally. In the elaboration of her project, Chia also considers the recurring motifs, subject material, and formal strategies characteristic of Chen’s oeuvre.
Low, Y. (2015, October 1). Becoming professional artists in postwar Singapore and Malaysia: Developments in art during a time of political transition. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 46(3). Retrieved 2020, December 9 via NLB’s eResources website. (myLibrary ID is required to access this article.)
This paper considers the implications of socio-economic, historical, and political conditions on post-imperial Malaya’s cultural life and artistic development in the interim, interstitial period between the collapse of British colonialism and the formation of the Malaysian and Singaporean nation-states, arguing that art of that period can be located within the exigencies of modern(ist) nation-building. Chen is recognised and briefly referenced as a Malayan artist.
Siew, S. (2019). Georgette Chen: Artist Extraordinaire. BiblioAsia 15(2), 10-15.
This article looks at Chen’s artistic practice by focusing on the many letters she wrote throughout her life, thereby providing new insights and perspectives on her works, as well as her emotions and thoughts on relocating to Malaya and eventually Singapore.
The Esplanade Co Ltd. (2016, October 12). Offstage: Georgette Chen Liying. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
Includes an overview of Chen’s life and artistic practice, as well as images of her artworks and archival photographs.
National Gallery Singapore. (1906-1993). Georgette Chen Archives. Retrieved December 1, 2020, from National Gallery Singapore’s online catalogue of the Gallery’s Resource Centre.
Catalogue record of Chen’s archives which was deposited with the National Gallery Singapore. The archive contains 976 letters and nearly 4,000 items.
National Gallery Singapore. (2020). Georgette Chen: At Home in the World, 27 Nov 2020 – 26 Sep 2021. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
Accompanying website for the exhibition of the same title at the National Gallery of Singapore, containing various resources, videos, and information about the artworks exhibited.
National Library Board. (2002). Georgette Chen, written by Creamer, Ruth. Retrieved December 1, 2020, from Singapore Infopedia.
An Infopedia resource that concisely chronicles Chen’s life and artistic practice, as well as major exhibitions held.
Images and Audio-visual materials
Sheares, C. (Interviewer). (1988). Oral history interview with Chen, Georgette Liying [Accession No. 000956]. Singapore: National Archives of Singapore.
Six reels amounting to about three hours of running time on Chen which provide an in-depth introduction to and elaboration of her life and career, including her formal education at various art institutions, Parisian exhibitions, relocation to Singapore, and time at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. Transcripts are available for five of the reels.
Yusof Ishak Collection. (1963, September 19). Puan Noor Aishah interacting with artist Georgette Li Ying Chen (left) and other guests at a Malaysia Day reception at Istana Negara [Image of photograph], [Online]. Retrieved March 7, 2016, from the National Archives of Singapore.
The Worlds of Georgette Chen. (2015) [Accession No. 2015008937 and 2015008947]. Singapore: Mediacorp Pte Ltd. Available at the National Archives of Singapore.
The docudrama on Chen’s life titled The Worlds of Georgette Chen was commissioned by the National Gallery Singapore and produced by Channel NewsAsia. Mediacorp artiste Rui En stars as the eponymous character.
Chen Wen Hsi & Georgette Chen. (1987). [Videotape]. Singapore: Ministry of Community Development. Call no.: RSING 759.95957 CHE
45-minute video chronicling Chen’s artistic development/maturation throughout her career; footage also includes the opening ceremony and a survey of her 1985 retrospective exhibition held at the National Museum Art Gallery.
They made a difference (星期二特写: 先贤异彩). (2002). [Videotape]. Singapore: Television Corporation of Singapore. Call no.: RSING Chinese 959.57 THE – [HIS]
A special series in Mandarin that features Chen, amongst other iconic/historical Singaporean figures such as Zubir Said and Lee Kong Chian, for her endeavours in enriching and advancing the cultural and artistic scene in Singapore.