Singaporean art has undoubtedly flourished in recent years, helped in large part by government funding, continuing immigration, and the regular art fairs that descend on Singapore throughout the year, as well as the hard work local galleries have placed on promoting local Singapore artists.
In this article, which we update roughly once per year, we highlight the most recognizable names in the Singapore art market. We rank order these based upon public auction record information and provide a view of how this compared to the prior year. Its important to say upfront that auction performance can be driven by many factors and whilst we use it here to provide additional data points that may be of interest to people, it isn’t necessarily there as a means to say one artist is better than another.
The article has now been updated with 2017 data points to provide comparison via 2016 performance.
Number 1 – Georgette Chen 张荔英 (1907 – 1992)
Auction Record: US$980,400 (occurred in 2013)
Average Auction Sales Price (2017): US$211,983
Georgette Chen, originally born Chang Li Ying was born in China, before relocating to Singapore. Being the daughter of a wealthy antique dealer she was educated in New York before moving to Paris to continue her arts education. Inspired by her surroundings, Georgette produced still lifes, portraits and landscapes from each phase of her life. She is widely heralded as having a significant impact on the burgeoning Nanyang school of painting over four decades, which led to her being awarded the Singapore Cultural Medallion in 1982.
As her works are very rarely sold via public auction, her average sale prices are significantly higher than any of the other Singaporean artists. 2013 was a particularly strong year, as 4 works were sold in auction for an average of US$552k including her current record sale price of US$980,400 for the work titled ‘Lotus Symphony’ which sold in Sotheby’s in Hong Kong.
You can view many of her works at the Singapore National Gallery
Number 2 – Cheong Soo Pieng 钟泗宾 (1917 – 1983)
Auction Record: US$825,600 (occurred in 2015)
Average Auction Sales Price (2016): US$75,589 (-2% vs. 2016)
Cheong Soo Pieng was originally born in China, before moving to Singapore in 1946 after a brief spell in Hong Kong. He was one of five founders of the Nanyang art style and is widely credited with driving the development of modernism in visual art in the early 20th century in Singapore.
His works are easily recognizable for his various depictions of the indigenous tribes of southeast Asia where he uses elongated limbs, torso and almond shaped faces and eyes in his works. He is primarily known for his oil paintings, but he has also completed a significant volume of watercolor works and some sculptures, but these tend to sell for much lower prices in auction.
Cheong Soo Pieng’s average sales price in auction started to rise rapidly from around 2011 and peaked in 2014 when his average auction sales price was over US$100k. Whilst 2015 & 2016 have seen his average price drop since the peak of 2014, there is still a huge amount of interest in Cheong Soo Pieng and given the poor state of the world economy in 2016 we believe the higher quality works are just being held onto at the moment.
When the market picks back up, expect to see higher quality, higher value sales of his works coming back through auction.
Number – Chen Wen Hsi 陈文希 (1906 – 1991)
Auction Record: US$1,419,000 (occurred in 2013)
Average Auction Sales Price (2016): US$24,136 (-42% vs. 2016)
Chen Wen Hsi, sometimes referred to as Chen Wenxi is one of Singapore’s pioneer artists and one of the five founders of the Nanyang painting style. Originally born in China, Chen Wen Hsi moved to Singapore in 1948 and taught at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (1951 – 1959). He was particularly famous for his representations of Egrets and Gibbons monkeys.
Between 1923 and 1992 he conducted 38 individual exhibitions of his work, covering Singapore, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong. Chen Wen Hsi is undoubtedly the Singaporean artist you will see most represented in a typical auction in Singapore and Hong Kong in particular, with 123 lots being sold in 2015, up from 73 in 2014.
His average sale price has observed strong growth from around 2013, in line with the price rises we see for many of the other 1st and 2nd generation Singaporean artists.
Whilst this is most certainly not the fault of Chen Wen Hsi, it should be noted that he is arguably one of the more copied Singaporean artists, which has led to some skepticism on occasion around the legitimacy of some works that bear his name. This may have an impact on his market rate in the future if collectors don’t wish to take the chance and lack the time to assess a pieces legitimacy ahead of the live auctions.
Number 4 – Liu Kang 刘抗 (1911 – 2004)
Auction Record: $116,100 (occurred in 2013)
Average Auction Sales Price (2016): US$22,631
Liu Kang was originally born in Fujian province, China but spent much of his early life in Malaysia. He studied art in Shanghai and Paris before moving to Singapore in 1942. He is famous for his Balinese-themed figurative paintings and was awarded the Public Service Star in 1970 by the Singapore government. He was honored further in 1996 with the Meritorious Service Medal.
He was also a founding member of the Singapore Art Society and is credited with supporting the development of the Nanyang style of painting.
Liu Kang has seen limited volumes of works placed in auction over the last 6 years, on average around 4 per annum, but when his works are in auction they’ve generally fetched a pretty consistent price of around $40-$45k USD. Whilst his average sales price showed decline in 2015 vs. 2014 this was driven primarily due to a record single lot sale of US$116,100 for the work titled ‘View of Arab Street’ which sold in Christie’s in Hong Kong.
Number 5 – Chua Ek Kay 蔡逸溪 (1947 – 2008)
Auction Record: $90,300 (occurred in 2015)
Average Auction Sales Price (2016): US$21,408 (+8% vs. 2016)
Chua Ek Kay has been hailed as the “bridge between Asian and Western art” with a unique painting style using Chinese ink on paper that demonstrated an ingenious blend of traditional Chinese painting forms with Western art theories and techniques.
Most of his works were themed of Chinatown street scenes, lotuses, and abstract works inspired by Australian aboriginal cave paintings.
Chua Ek Kay works began coming into auction around 2012 and have seen very strong growth through to 2015. Undoubtedly his average sales price in 2015 was bumped up by a record single sale of US$90,300 Its possible that his average sales price in 2015 is abnormally inflated as a result of 1 record sale for US$90,300.
Number 6 – Lim Tze Peng 林子平 (1923)
Auction Record: $83,784 (occurred in 2014)
Average Auction Sales Price (2016): US$16,748 (+69% vs. 2016)
Lim Tze Peng is best known for his Chinese ink drawings and paintings of Chinatown and the Singapore river during the early 1980s when urban redevelopment focused on these two areas. He won the cultural medallion in 2003, awarded by the Singapore government.
In line with many of the other Singaporean artists in this list, Lim Tze Peng started to see his auction record rise from around 2012, but his average sales price in auction has not really shown much growth since that time despite a record sale of US$83.7k in 2014.
Number 7 – Chua Mia Tee 蔡明智 (1931)
Auction Record: $62,840 (occurred in 2014)
Average Auction Sales Price (2016): US$15,627 (+68% vs. 2016)
Chua Mia Tee is best known for his oil paintings which depict Singapore’s vanishing traditional urban landscape, particular scenes from Chinatown and the Singapore river. He is also a much sought-after portrait artist who has painted several prominent businessmen and politicians in Singapore, including Singapore’s past and present presidents.
Chua Mia Tee saw excellent sales growth between 2011 to 2014 in particular, but 2015 saw his average sales price fall by around 27%, which has dropped a further 66% in 2016 before recovering slightly in 2017.
Number 8 – Tan Choh Tee 陈楚智 (1942)
Auction Record: $21,861 (occurred in 2017)
Average Auction Sales Price (2016): US$13,918 (+62% vs. 2016)
Tan Choh Tee was born in China, but migrated to Singapore in 1953. He studied at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts under the Nanyang style artists such as Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Wen Hsi and various other members of our Singapore artist list. He is known for his impressionist-style oil paintings that depict still life as well as landscapes from a bygone era in Singapore’s history. For his contributions to the local arts scene, Tan was awarded the Cultural medallion in 2006.
Tan saw his average sale price in auction rise sharply since 2013, with a particularly strong 2015 that included a record sale of US$15,718 and his best average sales price to date. As with many of the artists on our list, there is still limited quantity of works currently going through auction, so coupled with a slow 2016, where collectors are choosing to hold onto the best works, Tan saw his average drop 27% vs. 2015.
Number 9 – Chen Chong Swee 陈宗瑞 (1910 – 1986)
Auction Record: $25,148 (occurred in 2014)
Average Auction Sales Price (2016): US$11,730 (+0.4% vs. 2016)
Chen Chong Swee was a Singaporean water-colorist that belonged to the pioneering generation of artists driving the Nanyang-styled painting technique, at the turn of the 20th century. He was also one of the first artists in Singapore to use Chinese ink painting techniques to render scenery and figurative paintings of local and Southeast Asian themes.
Since 2012, when Chen Chong Swee works started to appear in auction we have observed good growth in his average sales price. As with many Singaporean artists, this peaked in 2014 at $14.6k USD although his number of works sold in auction remains very low as collectors continue to hold onto his works for now.
Number 10 – Tay Bak Koi 郑木奎 (1939 – 2005)
Auction Record: $61,920 (occurred in 2016)
Average Auction Sales Price (2016): US$7,641 (-26% vs. 2016)
Tay Bak Koi was an artist renowned for his portrayals of fishing villages, kampung scenes and urban landscapes. He specialized in oil and watercolor and his works have been exhibited extensively in Singapore and internationally. His style tended toward a blend of realism and fantasy, and he was known for his recurring stylized imagery of the buffalo in particular. In 1970, he was commissioned to produce 300 works for the Hilton Hotel in Singapore.
There isn’t an auction in South East Asia that goes by without works from Tay Bak Koi included, which has driven his average sales price up since 2011. Whilst his average price appears to have declined since the high of 2013, this is largely due to a 300% increase in the volume of lots sold in 2014 vs. 2013, with inevitably some of those lots bringing the overall average down.
2016 was a low year for many artists due to macro factors, and despite his average price dropping 11% vs. 2015, Tay Bak Koi did generate a new single record sale of $61,920 in 2016.
Number 11 – Fan Chang Tien 范昌乾 (1907 – 1987)
Auction Record: $19,350 (occurred in 2013)
Average Auction Sales Price (2016): US$3,503 (-67% vs. 2016)
Fan Chang Tien (范昌乾) is an artist true to the tradition of Chinese painting, belonging to the lineage of the Shanghai school of Xieyi painting, studying under the masters Wang Geyi, Wang Yiting, Pan Tianshou and others, who were disciples of Wu Changshuo, the renowned master of the Shanghai School of Painting.
Fan Chang Tien arrived in Singapore from China in the 1950s, bringing with him a fresh dimension of Xieyi painting. He is widely credited with inspiring a new direction and development for Chinese ink painting in Singapore teaching successful artists such as Ling Cher Eng (1940-1995), Nai Swee Leng, Lim Kay Hiong, Chua Ek Kay (1947-2008), Tan Oe Pang and Chen Kezhan.
His favourite subjects of bamboo and orchids are often depicted to express the values that he identifies with – the bamboo stood for fine gentlemanly qualities such as humility and integrity while the orchid emits elegant fragrance and embodies refinement and goodness.
The methodology employed to rank order each artist takes their average sales price in auction (US$) over the prior year, with rankings then based on the relative average sale price of each artist in descending order.