Chen Wen Hsi (1906 – 1991)
Chen Wen Hsi was born in 1906, Guangdong, China. In pursuit of higher education, at the age of 20 Chen moved to Shanghai and enrolled in the Shanghai College of Art, and subsequently transferred to Xinhua Arts Academy the following year. Upon graduation in 1929, Chen returned to Guangdong to teach art in primary and secondary schools before he left for Southeast Asia in 1948. Prior to his travel, Chen had already established an art practice back home. He first arrived in Vietnam to exhibit his works before continuing his trip to Singapore in 1949 to stage a solo exhibition. It was in Singapore where he crossed path with his peers, Chen Chong Swee and Liu Kang, from Xinhua Arts Academy. Chen eventually settled in Singapore and was invited to teach at Chinese High School and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, from 1949 to 1968 and 1950 to 1959 respectively. Chen was among the four artists who embarked on the notable five-month-long field trip to Bali, Indonesia in 1952 in search of a unique Southeast Asian artistic expression.
Mostly known for his ink paintings of animals, particularly gibbons – his artwork is honoured on the back of Singapore’s $50 note. As a lover of nature, the artist sought to create his own artistic vocabulary that would replicate the characteristic and movement of the creatures he observed. Chen had reared various animals including gibbons, egrets and peacocks in his Kingsmead Road home, which is now listed as a historical site. In 1964, Chen was awarded Public Service Star and was conferred the ASEAN Cultural and Communications Award in 1987. Chen passed away in 1991 and was posthumously awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in Singapore in 1992.