Ong Kim Seng's art sells for $130,540

The artwork titled Nepal (above) by Singapore pioneer artist Ong Kim Seng (left).
The artwork titled Nepal (above) by Singapore pioneer artist Ong Kim Seng.PHOTOS: SOTHEBY'S, ST FILE
The artwork titled Nepal (above) by Singapore pioneer artist Ong Kim Seng (left).
The artwork titled Nepal by Singapore pioneer artist Ong Kim Seng (above).PHOTOS: SOTHEBY'S, ST FILE

The acrylic on canvas painting, titled Nepal, went under the hammer at a Sotheby's Hong Kong auction and was sold to an Asian private collector

Singapore pioneer artist Ong Kim Seng, 72, set a new personal record when his work was sold for HK$725,000 (S$130,540) at a Sotheby's Hong Kong auction on Monday.

The acrylic on canvas painting, titled Nepal, fetched Ong his highest price in an international auction. It was sold to an Asian private collector.

Ong, who was president of the Singapore Watercolour Society for 10 years, is better known for his watercolour works.

Two were sold at the same auction - Tong Kang for HK$37,500 and Nepalese Scene for HK$87,500.

The self-taught artist has also garnered multiple accolades, including the Cultural Medallion in 1990 and seven awards by the American Watercolour Society.

Speaking to The Straits Times, the Singapore-based artist says he was not even aware that his works were going under the hammer.

Nepal, which measures 1.7m by 3m, was completed in 2009 and was sold in Singapore in 2010 or 2011, he says.

His works of a similar scale tend to sell for a maximum of about $40,000.

"Of course I'm very happy that I can achieve this record, especially as a living artist," he says. "This was a big work and I put a lot of concentration and thought into all the details."

The painting is based on a street scene in Bhaktapur, a city in Nepal. Ong is fond of the country and had visited it yearly in the early 2000s.

The work sold for double the pre-sale estimate of auction house Sotheby's after a contest involving about five bidders.

Mr Mok Kim Chuan, head of the modern and contemporary South- east Asian art department in Sotheby's, says Ong's larger format works, especially those on canvas, "are not often seen in the open market".

"The scarcity of the work, of course in addition to the quality of the work, attracted interest and participation, with collectors wanting to seize the opportunity to acquire the work from one of Singapore's key artists," he adds.

Ms Ma Peiyi, senior curator at Artcommune gallery in Singapore, which represents Ong, says this record price does not come as a surprise.

"Ong is a versatile artist capable of more than just beautiful watercolour landscapes," she says, adding that his big canvas works are especially popular in the Indonesian market.

The record for the most expensive work for a living Singaporean artist belongs to artist Tan Swie Hian, 74. His ink on rice paper work, Portrait Of Bada Shanren, was sold for $4.4 million at a Beijing auction in 2014.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2017, with the headline 'Ong Kim Seng's art sells for $130,540'. Print Edition | Subscribe