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Art What!: Georgette Chen’s artistic legacy lives on with Google Doodle

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the legacy of Georgette Chen, a first-generation Singaporean painter and one of the pioneers of the “Nanyang” art movement. She is known for her exceptional oil paintings and is considered a trailblazer for art in Singapore.

Born in 1906 in the Chinese province of Zhejiang, Chen was educated in Paris and New York, where her father was an antique dealer, and was exposed to art from a young age. In 1927, Chen returned to Paris where she furthered her studies at the Académie Colarossi and Académie Biloul. 

On this day in 1930, Chen had two of her paintings selected for exhibition at the annual Salon d’Automne, a showcase of innovative 20th century painting, famous for displaying the work of artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Paul Cézanne. In this same year, Chen married Eugene Chen Youren, and resided primarily in Paris, while making trips to China, Hong Kong, Japan and the Straits Settlements. 

When war with Japan broke out in China in 1937, Chen continued to paint both still lifes and portraits, and her reputation as an artist grew during this period. After the war, she returned again to Paris, where she exhibited at the Salon d’Automne and the Galerie La Licorne, and at The Asia Institute, New York, in 1949. She relocated to Penang to teach, and in 1953 finally moved to Singapore, where she was among the generation of Chinese-born artists who emigrated to Singapore to join the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, where she taught for 26 years and contributed significantly to visual art education. She also helped found the Nanyang style of painting – an experimental style that combined Asian subjects and themes with Western styles and techniques. Chen She became renowned for her refined brushwork, which infused her paintings with a dreamlike quality.

Chen devoted her time to contributing to the Singapore artistic community as an artist, educator, mentor and arts administrator. In 1982, she was awarded the prestigious Cultural Medallion for her contributions to visual arts in Singapore. A solo exhibition of 172 works was held at the National Museum Art Gallery in Singapore in 1985, and in 1986, this exhibition travelled to the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which was attended by Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first prime minister of Malaysia. Chen was also the administrator for the Lee Foundation Fund for the Encouragement of Local Talent in the Fine Arts and on the council of the Singapore Arts Society. 

“Georgette Chen believed that her role as an artist was to represent not only the times she was living in, but also life’s multiple perspectives, which is clearly reflected in her art,” said Ben King, Country Director for Google Singapore. “Beyond being a prolific artist and a significant figure in Singapore’s art scene, Georgette Chen also dedicated her time to teaching and nurturing the next generation of artists at NAFA, and through today’s Google Doodle, we are proud to honour her and share her inspiring story with the rest of the world. Her works are also available to view on Google Arts and Culture, a platform where we look to preserve and bring the world’s art and culture online so that it’s accessible to anyone, anywhere.”

Dr Eugene Tan, Director at National Gallery Singapore said, “With an artistic career spanning Europe, North America and Asia, Georgette Chen’s impact on the visual arts in Singapore continues to influence generations of local artists. As the custodian of the largest collection of Chen’s works, National Gallery Singapore had the recent honour of staging her first major retrospective in two decades, titled Georgette Chen: At Home in the World, to introduce our audiences to her extraordinary paintings and critical artistic contributions. We are glad that Google Doodle is celebrating Chen’s legacy and spotlighting her story on such a global platform. We hope that more people find inspiration in Georgette Chen and that this sparks greater interest in the vibrant art histories of Singapore and Southeast Asia.”

You can find out more about her legacy and works here on Google Arts and Culture. For social postings, please feel free to use the hashtags #googleartsandculture #georgettechendoodle

To see the actual doodle, visit google.com or google.com/doodles.

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