Chen Wen Hsi was born in Guangdong, China, in 1906. At a young age, Chen showed a keen interest in art. At age 20, he left Guangdong to pursue his passion at Shanghai College of Art and later Xinhua Arts Academy. During college, he met fellow pioneer artists of Singapore, Liu Kang, Chen Ren Hao and Chen Chong Swee. In 1948, Chen moved to Singapore and became an art teacher at The Chinese High School and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts between 1949 and 1968. In 1952, with his three colleagues, Chen embarked on a landmark trip to Bali to portray the beauty of Southeast Asia.
Chen loved animals. As a child, he would relish observing the animals in his village–watching sparrows in the air and geese waddle. The artist was well-versed in Western and Chinese painting, though his forte was in Chinese brush painting. Gibbons were one of Chen’s favourite subjects, which he later became known for. His images of gibbons highlighted his attention to detail and his ability to capture these animals’ playful and vibrant energy. The back of the Singapore 50-dollar bill features another piece of Chen’s depiction of majestic gibbons.