Georgette Chen breaks auction record for pioneer S'pore artist with S$2.47mil durian painting

Georgette Chen's Still Life With Big Durian (c. 1965) is currently the most expensive painting by a pioneer artist in Singapore to sell at auction. - CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LIMITED 2023

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): For the third time in less than a year, painter Georgette Chen (1906-1993) has broken her own auction record.

More impressively, her Still Life With Big Durian (c. 1965) has set a record price for a pioneer artist from Singapore.

The work sold for HK$14.29 million (S$2.47 million) at the 20th and 21st Century Art Evening Sale by auction house Christie’s, which was held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on May 28. The final price exceeded its lower pre-sale estimate by almost three times.

This new record inches ahead of the previous high of $2.31 million set by Chen Wen Hsi’s Pasar (Market) in October 2013.

Georgette Chen’s new record is more than 40 times higher than when the same work last sold at auction in 1998 for $60,000, according to data from online art brokerage Artsy.

In August 2022, Chen broke her then auction record when Boats And Shophouses (c. 1963 to 1965) sold for $2.02 million at Sotheby’s. Three months later, Still Life With Rambutans, Mangosteens And Pineapples (c. 1960s) sold for $2.3 million at Christie’s.

Evelyn Lin, deputy chairman and co-head of the 20th- and 21st-century art department for Christie’s Asia Pacific, acknowledges Chen’s popularity among collectors. She says that Still Life With Big Durian was selected for auction because “what are her most signature artworks? The tropical fruits. And what is the most signature tropical fruit? It’s the durian”.

In the 46cm by 55cm work, Chen captures the textures of a large durian, mangosteens and rambutans in her impressionistic style that established the Cultural Medallion recipient as a major artist in the Nanyang school of painting.

Dr Bridget Tracy Tan, 50, director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Arts & Art Galleries at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, says that “the relative rarity of available works, the assured style and high standard of Georgette Chen’s artworks in general and the growing affluence of buyers interested in her work” all contribute to the high sale price.

Dr Tan adds that Chen’s record-breaking streak highlights how “the works of Singapore pioneer artists such as Chen, along with Cheong Soo Pieng, for example, have managed to break into the auction market and remain saleable for long enough to track trends of fluctuations and value appreciation”.

Notably, interest in Chen’s work has been growing since a major retrospective, Georgette Chen: At Home In The World, was held at the National Gallery Singapore from November 2020 to September 2021.

Chen’s work was one of 14 auction records set at the Christie’s sale, which achieved a combined total sale of HK$1.24 billion.

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