First- and second-generation Singapore artists shine at 33 Auction's spring sale

The top sale of 33 Auction's spring sale, held at the Grand Hyatt on Sunday (June 21) afternoon, went to Sorting The Day's Catch, a rare oil painting by Singaporean pioneer artist Chen Wen Hsi which sold for $170,000.
The top sale of 33 Auction's spring sale, held at the Grand Hyatt on Sunday (June 21) afternoon, went to Sorting The Day's Catch, a rare oil painting by Singaporean pioneer artist Chen Wen Hsi which sold for $170,000. PHOTO: 33 AUCTION

SINGAPORE - First- and second-generation Singapore artists had a strong showing at 33 Auction's spring sale of Asian and South-east Asian works at the Grand Hyatt on Sunday.

Out of more than 140 lots that the fine arts auction house put under the hammer, the work which fetched the highest price was Sorting The Day's Catch, a rare oil painting by pioneer local artist Chen Wen Hsi, who is best known as one of those who formulated the Nanyang style combining modern Western painting techniques with tropical subject matter and Asian sensibilities.

The post-Impressionistic painting of fishermen by the sea sold for $170,000 to a bidder by phone.

Other highlights included A Seated Sarawak Lady (1956) by first-generation Singapore artist Cheong Soo Pieng, which sold for $60,000, and Blissful Joy (2001), an oil painting by second-generation local artist Tay Bak Koi which sold for $38,000, above its estimated value of $26,000 to $36,000.

The brightly-coloured works of Indonesian artists Affandi and Srihadi Soedarsono also fared well. An oil painting by each of them sold for $120,000 a piece.

However the tawny tones of paintings by Widayat, a pioneer artist in post-independence Indonesia, failed to attract the expected attention. All four Widayat paintings in the spring sale sold for a few thousand dollars less than their estimated value. The most expensive of these, Factory Workers (1976), sold for $55,000, below its estimated value of $60,000 to $90,000.

In general, most of the pieces in the auction sold for a few thousand dollars less or occupied the lower end of their estimated value.

Mr David Fu, director of modern and contemporary Asian art at 33 Auction, says this is indicative of a weakened art market.

"The art market is not so strong at the moment, and collectors overall have become more selective. They are only going for really, really good pieces or works they can't find in primary arts markets, such as the early pieces of Singaporean artists who fared well at auction because these pieces are not commonly found in art galleries".

Bucking the trend was Black Tulips, Black Umbrella (1989), an early work by the important Chinese contemporary artist Yu Hong, which ignited an intense telephone bidding war between mainland Chinese collectors.

Estimated at $40,000 to $50,000, bids for the portrait of a woman dressed in black against an understated gray and teal background, escalated quickly before the work went under the hammer for $140,000, triple its estimated value.

It was the biggest surprise of the afternoon, a sale Mr Fu attributed to the artist's current popularity in China and the early provenance of the work.