Georgette Chen

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Georgette Chen
simplified Chinese: 张荔英; traditional Chinese: 張荔英; pinyin: Zhāng LìYīng
Liangyou 057 cover Zhang Liying.jpg
Portrait of Zhang Yuying from The Young Companion, 1931
Chang Li Ying

October 1906
Died15 March 1993 (aged 86)
EducationAcadémie Colarossi
Academie Biloul
Art Students League of New York
Known forOil painting
Eugene Chen
(m. 1930; died 1944)
Awards1982: Cultural Medallion (Visual arts)

Georgette Chen, born Chang Li Ying (Chinese: 张荔英; pinyin: Zhāng LìYīng) was a Singaporean painter known for her Post-Impressionistic styled oil paintings at the turn of the 20th-century. She was a pioneer of the visual arts in Singapore, who contributed to the birth of the Nanyang art style in Singapore. Chen also joined the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 1954 as a teacher and lecturer until her hospitalisation. She was also the first woman to teach Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), and also the only one schooled in Paris, France.


Chang was born the fourth of 12 children - 10 girls and 2 boys - in Zhejiang Province, China, in 1906. Her father Zhang Renjie (Chang Sen Chek), was an antique dealer with businesses in Paris, London, and New York City. He was also a supporter of Sun Yat-sen, and provided financial support to Sun's revolutionary cause. Though living in the West, the Chang couple was deeply rooted to their Chinese heritage. Mrs Chang only allowed her children to speak in Mandarin at home, while Mr Chang often brought his family along on his regular trips to China to support Sun's revolution, and to ensure that his children would never forget their own cultural identity.[1]

Born into a privileged life, Chang was exposed to art at a young age. For most of her life in Paris she would either be painting at home, visiting museums, or roaming around the city every day. Chang attended high school in America, and studied art at the Art Students League of New York for a year in 1926. She felt that Parisian life suited her better, and in 1927 she returned home to study at the Académie Colarossi and Académie Biloul in Paris. Though her parents provided financial support for her art education, they never fully accepted her decision to become a full-time artist, believing that artists would struggle to succeed financially in their careers.[1]

Chang met Eugene Chen, a Chinese diplomat and a friend of Sun Yat-sen. He was an arts and music lover who deeply appreciated Chen's aspiration to become a professional artist.[2] In 1930 Chang married Eugene Chen and traveled to China with her husband. She became Chen's second wife after the death of his first wife, Agatha Alphosin Ganteaume. The same year, Chen submitted her artwork for selection to the Salon d'Automne exhibition in Paris for the first time, and her work was accepted.[3] When the Sino-Japanese War broke out, the couple was imprisoned. Eugene Chen died in Shanghai in 1944, towards the end of World War II.[3]

Chen was awarded the Singapore Cultural Medallion in 1982. She died of complications from rheumatoid arthritis on March 15, 1993, at Mount Alvernia Hospital after an 11-year struggle with the ailment. Mr Lee Seng Gee, Chairman of the Lee Foundation was appointed as the executor of the Georgette Chen Estate. In April 1994, Chen's house on Siglap Plain was auctioned for S$2.8 million. The money raised from the auction was given to the Georgette Chen Arts Scholarship for art students managed by the National Arts Council. A collection of Chen's paintings were stowed away in two rooms of her home, and subsequently discovered by Lee.[4] In June 1994, Lee donated the 53 newly discovered paintings to the Singapore Art Museum (SAM). This brought a total of 104 paintings by Chen to be found in the museum collection.[5] Apart from donations from the sale proceeds of her house, sales from Chen's personal investments of stocks and shares were also used to fund a new building for the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO), as well as for community welfare projects for the local Malay community, and to the Practice Theatre Ensemble (founded by Kuo Pao Kun) to support Chinese theatrical art in Singapore.[6]

In popular culture[edit]

In 2007, playwright Ng Yi-Sheng's musical Georgette was staged by Musical Theatre Ltd.

In 2014, National Gallery Singapore published Eisner-nominated comic artist Sonny Liew's graphic novel, Warm Nights Deathless Days: The Life of Georgette Chen.[7]

Channel NewsAsia produced a three-part docudrama starring actress Rui En as Georgette Chen. The English-language series that was also adapted into Chinese, aired on Channel NewsAsia, MediaCorp Channel 5 and MediaCorp Channel 8 in April 2015.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sheares, Constance (1989-02-17). Khong, Roger (ed.). Georgette Chen (transcript). (Reel 1). Singapore: National Archives. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
  2. ^ Sheares, Constance (1989-02-17). Khong, Roger (ed.). Georgette Chen (transcript). (Reel 2). Singapore: National Archives. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
  3. ^ a b Juniper, Foo (1996-03-20). "Bouquets for two pioneer artists". Singapore: Straits Times Life!. p. 18.
  4. ^ "S$2.8M from sale of artist's house may be used for scholarships for art students". Singapore: Straits Times. 1994-06-14. p. 21.
  5. ^ Kan, Geraldine (1994-06-14). "Georgette Chen works donated to art museum". Singapore: Straits Times. p. 21.
  6. ^ "Other beneficiaries". Singapore: Straits Times. 1994-06-19. p. 21.
  7. ^ Martin, Mayo (20 June 2014). "Georgette Chen to get a graphic novel". MediaCorp. TODAY. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  8. ^ Martin, Mayo (20 June 2014). "Rui En meets Georgette Chen". MediaCorp. TODAY. Retrieved 14 September 2014.