Tan Swie Hian

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Tan Swie Hian
TAN Swie Hian.JPG
Born (1943-05-05) 5 May 1943 (age 77)
EducationThe Chinese High School
Current Hwa Chong Institution
Alma materNanyang University
Current National University of Singapore
Known forContemporary ink and wash painting

Tan Swie Hian (simplified Chinese: 陈瑞献; traditional Chinese: 陳瑞獻; pinyin: Chén Ruì Xiàn; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Tân Suī-hiàn) is a Singaporean multidisciplinary artist known for his contemporary Chinese calligraphy, chinese poetry and contemporary art sculptures found in Singapore and many parts of the world.

Early life[edit]

Born in Indonesia, Tan migrated to Singapore circa 1946. He grew up with a fluency in Chinese and Malay language, and went on to study English and French at the Nanyang University.[1] He began his career life as press attaché for the French Embassy in Singapore, after graduating with a degree in English literature from the University. While working as an attaché he continued pursuing his passion for art. His first foray into the Singapore arts scene was with his first collection of poetry writing titled The Giant in 1968[1] and held his first art exhibition at the National Library on Stamford Road in 1973. He also converted to his faith to Buddhism in that year; his newfound spiritual experience outweighed his passion for the arts that made him give up painting for the next four years. It was only when the-then French Embassy cultural attaché Michel Deverge threatened to end their friendship if he didn't pursue his art again, that Tan resume painting. Deverge went on to organize a successful exhibition of Tan's new creations at the Gauguin Museum in Tahiti.[2] After 24 years with the Embassy Tan left his position to pursue art full-time.


Since his first poetry collection The Giant in 1968, Tan went on to publish 35 publications of poetry, essays and stories. In 1978, Tan was conferred the Chavalier de I'Ordre des Arts et Lettres by French Government for his initiatory Chinese translations of works by Beckett and Romanian writer Marin Sorescu. In 1987, he was awarded the Cultural Medallion in Singapore. In 1998, he won the Marin Sorescu International Poetry Prize in Romania.


Tan has been recognised as Singapore's most expensive artist after he sold his oil-and-acrylic painting, When the Moon is Orbed, for approximately S$3.7m at an auction in Beijing in 2012.

In October 2014, Tan completed a painting of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his late wife Kwa Geok Choo entitled A Couple. The painting, which took Tan five years to complete, was partially damaged by a fire in 2013. It depicts Lee and Kwa in their youth, is based on a 1946 black-and-white photograph of the couple in Cambridge University, and incorporates in its background Tan's poem written in memory of Kwa. Tan said, "I've always felt [Madam Kwa] was a great woman who, despite her intelligence and capability, was also a humble and dedicated wife." A Couple was purchased by art collector Wu Hsioh Kwang.[3]


In 2012, fellow Cultural Medallion recipient Yeng Pway Ngon, the Chinese-language novelist, was ordered to pay $10,000 in damages and $20,000 in costs to Tan. Tan had accused Yeng of libelling him in a 2005 letter which the latter had sent to The Straits Times and the National Arts Council.[4]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Tan Swie Hian: Renaissance man (Singapore)". Huayinet: Chinese Overseas Databank & Research. Archived from the original on November 22, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-25.
  2. ^ Tan, Hwee Hwee (2003-07-14). "Artistic Enlightenment". Time. Retrieved 2008-11-28.
  3. ^ Ang, Benson (27 October 2014). "Damaged portraits of Mr and Mrs Lee completed". Singapore Press Holdings. The Straits Times. Retrieved 27 October 2014.
  4. ^ Tan, Corrie (1 May 2013). "In good books". Singapore Press Holdings. The Straits Times. Retrieved 28 January 2015.