2 artworks Mr Lee Kuan Yew agreed to in 1980s

His condition: No exhibition in his lifetime; both were donated to state

IN THE early 1980s, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was persuaded to have a sculpture and oil painting of him done, but he agreed only on condition that they not be exhibited in his lifetime.

Both artworks were donated to the state, according to a Straits Times report in August 1983.

When queried, the National Heritage Board yesterday disclosed that the bust is currently in Parliament House but has not gone on public display.

The painting, it added, is part of the National Collection, and the board is looking into what to do with it.

The widow of Mr David Marshall, who was part of the group of Singaporeans who commissioned the pieces, said that she was keen to know more about the pieces. "I know the bronze sculpture was done and paid for by a group of private donors including David," said Mrs Jean Marshall, 88, whose husband was the first chief minister in Singapore's pre-independence days.

It was Mr Marshall, then Singapore's ambassador to France, Spain and Portugal, who sourced the artists for the project.

The bronze bust of Mr Lee was by British sculptor Sydney Harpley. Three of his works - Girl On A Swing, Girl On A Bicycle and Lady On A Hammock - can be found at the Botanic Gardens.

The painting was by American artist Marion Pike, a prominent portrait artist whose subjects included former US president Ronald Reagan, French fashion designer Coco Chanel and Pope John Paul II.

It was reported that Mr Lee had first said "no" to the artworks being made, but relented after being urged that he owed it to future generations of Singaporeans.

In 1983, Mr Harpley was given five sittings at the Istana where he had to catch Mr Lee at work, holding ministerial meetings or hosting working lunches.

As Singapore's first Prime Minister moved around, the sculptor, then 56, followed him with his board and clay.

"He was amenable, never awkward, and both humorous and interesting. A truly amazing man!" he said then. "We talked a lot, and this gave me a feel about him which helped shape my subject."

When Mr Harpley asked Mr Lee where he intended to exhibit the slightly larger-than-life light bronze bust, he replied: "I will leave it to my successor to decide."

However, Mr Harpley, who died in 1992, did get Mr Lee's go-ahead for a replica to be exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in August 1983.

For the painting, one of the conditions was that he would not actually sit for Ms Pike.

So every morning for two weeks in December 1981, she was at the Istana between 11am and 3pm when he would be there. He had ministers with him for lunch and the way he questioned his guests gave her an insight into his dynamism, she said when interviewed by The Straits Times then.

"It was a very difficult job. I had to paint more an idea of Lee Kuan Yew than a complete photograph," she said.

Ms Pike said of her portrait of Mr Lee, which measures about 150cm by 100cm: "If I had made several pictures of him I might have done one in profile - it's such an interesting one. But I think his eyes are so intelligent and that was what I was trying to get... It was the look, the 'regard'."

Retired judge Amarjeet Singh, who also worked as a partner in Mr Marshall's law firm, hopes the two pieces will be put on display.

The National Museum of Singapore has already extended its exhibition on the life and work of Mr Lee because of the immense public interest.

Said Senior Counsel Singh: "I think the artworks, if available, will be timely and well-placed in the National Gallery Singapore."

vijayan@sph.com.sg