|Born||Chang Li Ying
(Chinese: 张荔英; pinyin: Zhāng LìYīng)
|Died||15 March 1993 (aged 86)
Art Students League of New York
|Known for||Oil painting|
|Awards||1982: Cultural Medallion (Visual arts)|
Georgette Chen, born Chang Li Ying (Chinese: 张荔英; pinyin: Zhāng LìYīng) was a Singapore painter known for her Post-Impressionistic styled oil paintings at the turn of the 20th-century. She was a forerunner of the visual arts in Singapore, who contributed to the birth of the Nanyang art style in Singapore. Georgette Chen, also joined Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 1954 as a teacher and lecturer until her hospitalisation. Georgette Chen was also the first lady teacher at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), and also the only one schooled in Paris, France.
Chen was born the fourth of 12 children - 10 girls and 2 boys - in Zhejiang Province, China, in 1906. Her father 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 allowed her children to speak only in Mandarin at home, while Mr Chang often brought his family along in his regular trips to China to support Sun's revolution, and to ensure that his children would never forget their own cultural identity.
Being born into a privileged life, Chen 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 Parisian city every day. Chen 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, knowing that artists starved and would not succeed in their lifetime.
Chen 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. In 1930 Chen married Eugene Chen and traveled in China with her husband. Chen was Eugene's second wife after the death of his first wife, Agatha Alphosin Ganteaume.
That was also the year Chen submitted her artwork for selection to the Salon d'Automne exhibition in Paris for the first time, and her work was accepted. 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.
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 gave 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 recently discovered by Lee. 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. Apart from donations 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.
In popular culture
In 2007, playwright Ng Yi-Sheng's musical Georgette was staged by Musical Theatre Ltd.
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.
- Sheares, Constance (1989-02-17). Khong, Roger, ed. Georgette Chen (transcript). (Reel 1). Singapore: National Archives. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- Sheares, Constance (1989-02-17). Khong, Roger, ed. Georgette Chen (transcript). (Reel 2). Singapore: National Archives. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- Juniper, Foo (1996-03-20). "Bouquets for two pioneer artists". Singapore: Straits Times Life!. p. 18.
- "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.
- Kan, Geraldine (1994-06-14). "Georgette Chen works donated to art museum". Singapore: Straits Times. p. 21.
- "Other beneficiaries". Singapore: Straits Times. 1994-06-19. p. 21.
- Martin, Mayo (20 June 2014). "Georgette Chen to get a graphic novel". MediaCorp. TODAY. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
- Martin, Mayo (20 June 2014). "Rui En meets Georgette Chen". MediaCorp. TODAY. Retrieved 14 September 2014.