About Chen Wen Hsi

Chen Wen Hsi (b. 1906) is among the most influential pioneer artists in Singapore’s history. Regarded as a first-generation artist, Chen was in the forefront of the Chinese avant-garde movement in Singapore during the 1950s. He was a member of a group of five prominent artists that founded the Nanyang style, a landmark in the art history of Southeast Asia.

A highly esteemed painter and art educator, Chen’s works have significantly shaped decades of creative development in the art community even prior to the establishment of Singapore as a sovereign nation. His endless inventiveness and creative excellence in Chinese painting have commanded the respect of the Chinese and the international art world.

Key Dates in History

1906 – Chen Wen Hsi is Born in Baigong, China.

1929 – Graduates from Xinhua College of Art, China.

1949 – Arrives and settles in Singapore.

1952 – Travels to Indonesia with fellow painters Cheong Soo Pieng, Liu Kang and Chen Chong Swee.

1953 – The group exhibits works from Indonesia trip. Exhibition paves the way to the creation of the Nanyang style of painting in Singapore.

1991 – Passes away at the age of 85 after suffering from an abdominal tumor.

Chen Wen Hsi Timeline

9th September, 1906Baigong, China

Chen Wen Hsi is Born

Chen Wen Hsi is born in Baigong, a village of some 300 people in Guangdong, China.


Begins Study of Art

Chen Wen Hsi moves to Shanghai to begin full time study of Fine Art at Shanghai College of Art. Enrolment either occurred in late 1926 or early 1927.


Transfers to Xinhua College of Art

Due to growing dissatisfaction with the quality of education at Shanghai Art College Chen Wen Hsi and other students transfer to Xinhua College of Art.


Graduates from Xinhua College of Arts

Chen Wen Hsi graduates from Xinhua College of Art and then returns home to Baigong.

1930 - 1940China

Teaching Art in China

Between 1930 – 1940 Chen Wen Hsi teaches art to students in primary and secondary schools in both Shantou and Jieyang.

1948 - 1949Moves to Singapore

Arrives in Singapore

Chen Wen Hsi plans a 3 month trip to Nanyang to seek his fortune. In 1948 travels by oil tanker from China to Vietnam where he holds an exhibition in Cholon, Vietnam a part of Ho Chi Minh City. By 1949 Chen has arrived in Singapore. Chen doesn’t originally intend to stay,..Read More


Teaching at Chinese High School

At the invitation of its then principal Mr Cheng Anlun, Chen Wen Hsi starts teaching at the Chinese High School. He remains a teacher until 1968.


Teacher at NAFA

At the invitation of its principal Mr Lim Hak Tai, Chen Wen Hsi starts teaching at Nanyang Academy of Fine Art (NAFA). The exact year is not well recorded, but its believed to be late 1950 or early 1951. He remains a teacher at NAFA until 1959.


Painting Trip to Indonesia

Chen Wen Hsi embarks on painting trip to Indonesia with Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Chong Swee, and Liu Kang. They visit Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung, Yogyakarta, and Bali. This trip would later bring the ‘Nanyang’ style of painting into Singapore culture.


Nanyang Style Born

Chen Wen Hsi, Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Chong Swee and Liu Kang present their group exhibition showcasing works from their 1952 trip to Indonesia. The exhibition is held at the British Council Gallery with each artist contributing around 20 works to the show. This exhibition was seen as a watershed moment..Read More


Awarded Public Service Star of Singapore

Chen Wen Hsi is awarded the Public Service Star of Singapore.


Retires from Teaching

Chen Wen Hsi retires from active teaching to concentrate fully on his painting.


Opens Old and New Gallery

Chen Wen Hsi opens his gallery at Tanglin Shopping Centre. Its called the ‘Old and New Gallery’ and remains open until 1993. During 1972 Chen’s painting Gibbons is used on $1 stamp as one of four local artists’ works featured in Singapore post stamp issue ‘Contemporary Art Series’.


Awarded Honorary Degree [NUS]

Chen Wen Hsi is awarded Honorary degree of Doctor of Letters, National University of Singapore (NUS).


Opens Chen Wen-Hsi Gallery

Chen Wen Hsi opens a new gallery called ‘Chen Wen-Hsi Gallery’ at the Singapore Handicraft Centre.


Awarded Gold Medal, Taiwan

Chen Wen Hsi holds an exhibition at the National Museum of History in Taipei, Taiwan. He is then awarded their Gold Medal.


Awarded ASEAN Cultural Ad Communication Award

Chen Wen Hsi is awarded the first ASEAN Cultural Ad Communication Award.

17th December 1991Singapore

Passes Away

Chen Wen Hsi Passes away aged 85 on 17th December 1991. He had been suffering from an abdominal tumour and passed away within a year of being diagnosed. He is survived by his wife Huang Jingzhuang and three sons Chen Siew Yui, Chen Siew Min, and Chen Siew Hong.


Awarded Meritious Public Service Award

Chen Wen Hsi is awarded the Meritious Public Service Award (Posthumous) in Singapore.


Two Gibbons on $50 Note

Chen Wen Hsi’s painting of two Gibbons amidst vines appears on the reverse side of the Singapore $50 note.


Coin Set & MRT Cards

Chen Wen Hsi’s painting of Two Gibbons are used on a minted ingot and coin as part of Lunar Monkey coin set issued by the Singapore mint. His Gibbons are also used on various Singapore MRT designs.