Masterpieces in the National Collection get their video close-ups

Drying Salted Fish by Cheong Soo Pieng
Drying Salted Fish by Cheong Soo PiengIMAGE COURTESY OF NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD
National Language Class by Chua Mia Tee
National Language Class by Chua Mia TeeIMAGE COURTESY OF NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD
Wounded Lion by Raden Saleh
Wounded Lion by Raden SalehIMAGE COURTESY OF NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD
Self Portrait by Georgette Chen
Self Portrait by Georgette ChenIMAGE COURTESY OF NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD

Art lovers are looking forward to the National Gallery's opening in November as the National Collection, comprising some 8,000 works, will finally come back into the public's eye. 

But some of the Gallery's most prized pieces are already starring in an online video series titled My Masterpiece. The series will feature 12 works, each accompanied by an eclectic bunch of personalities speaking about their impressions of the works.

MediaCorp actress Joanna Peh kicked off the online campaign in January with Chua Mia Tee's Epic Poem Of Malaya and since then, the lineup has featured celebrity chef Willin Low and entrepreneur Elim Chew. These arty ambassadors, invited by the Gallery's staff and friends to take part in this programme, were given a list of artworks, from which they chose  a favourite to talk about. 

Here is a rundown of the series so far and a short introduction to each of the featured works. 

1. Joanne Peh on Chua Mia Tee's Epic Poem Of Malaya 

Singaporean painter Chua Mia Tee was born on Nov 25, 1931 in China's Guangdong province but became one of Singapore's best realist painters.  His vivid early canvases which deal with nationalistic themes are his most recognisable works. This 1955 painting depicts a dramatic outdoor gathering of students, each with a different expression, with a dynamic leader is an example of his social and political consciousness. He was awarded the Cultural Medallion on Oct 16 this year. 

2. Willin Low on Fernando Amorsolo's Marketplace During The Occupation 

Fernando Amorsolo is an important Filipino painter, known for his skills in portraiture and landscapes. This World War II work, painted in 1942, is characteristic of his skill in depicting light and shadow, and is one of his many works during the Occupation which documented the experiences of ordinary people under the rule of the Japanese army. 

3. Edwin Thumboo on Chua Mia Tee's National Language Class 

Another one of Chua's famously nationalistic works. This 1959 painting of a class of Chinese students learning Malay inspired local theatre group spell#7 to explore issues of language, ethnicity and nationality in a play of the same title in 2008. 

 4. Anthony Chen on Georgette Chen's Self Portrait 

Painter Georgette Chen is in the spotlight this year. There was a three-part television biopic starring actress Rui En as the unconventional painter and she will be among the cast of characters highlighted in Nanyang, The Musical, an upcoming production at the Singapore International Festival Of Arts. This 1946 Self Portrait was displayed briefly at the National Gallery's recent Naked Museum night, and is an alluringly enigmatic work. It was painted just after the war and a few years after the death of her husband Eugene Chen. 

5. Kumar on Raden Saleh's Wounded Lion 

Indonesian painter Raden Saleh's piece is dated in the 1830s. A recognised talent who travelled through art circles in Dresden, Coburg and Paris, he earned praise for his realistic depictions of animals and battlescenes. 

6. Elim Chew on Lee Man Fong's Self Portrait  

Painter Lee Man Fong was born in Guangzhou on Nov 14, 1913, grew up in Singapore and moved to Indonesia. He was part of the influential Nanyang school of art, whose practitioners blended a distinctly Southeast Asian sensibility and settings with Western techniques. This undatedwork is a rare self portrait by the artist who preferred to paint rural Indonesian scenes and animals. 

7. Olivia Lum on Cheong Soo Pieng's Drying Salted Fish 

This is perhaps the best known work by Cheong Soo Pieng, another Nanyang school pioneer, because it is featured on the $50 dollar note. This 1978 work in Chinese ink demonstrates the artist's skill in traditional Chinese ink techniques while its Southeast Asian scene is typical of the Nanyang school's characteristic blending of East and West. 

8. Suhaimi Yusof on Liu Kang's Artist And Model 

Liu Kang, who was born in China in 1911, is another pioneering artist of the Nanyang School. Artist And Model, painted in 1954 after the Nanyang artists' landmark 1952 Bali study trip, encapsulates the group's approach to art. In the strong colours and simple outlines one can see the influences of Western artists such as Matisse and Gauguin while the setting is obviously Southeast Asian, with the languid sarong-clad model and rattan furniture. 

9. JJ Lin on Lee Wen's Journey Of A Yellow Man: No.11: Multi-Culturalism

The first contemporary art work to be featured in this series, performance artist Lee Wen's Yellow Man was created in response to the racism and stereotyping he encountered in London when he was studying art and design at the City of London Polytechnic. In the piece, Lee Wen emphasises his ethnicity by covering himself in yellow pigment. The work became his breakthrough piece, earning him attention and accolades in the performing arts world. Read more about his Yellow Man journey here