On our way back home from Australia I discovered paintings of Singapore by Lim Cheng Hoe (1912 – 1979) at the National Gallery. His watercolours are captivating. They have a sense of confidence and spontaneity that is the sign of a true watercolourist.
I love finding the work of an artist I wasn’t aware of before, and in this case, there is so much to inspire me. I did a bit of research on this fascinating artist who is well-known in the art world of Singapore. Although he discovered his love of art while at school, Lim Cheng Hoe could not afford to become a full time artist. He spent his working years employed as a clerk and painted in his spare times. On Sundays he could be found painting with a group of fellow artists at the Singapore river and other popular plein air locations around Singapore. From all accounts he was always welcoming and greatly encouraging towards newcomers to the group. He had a reputation for sharing his knowledge generously, and is possibly best known as one of the founders of the Singapore Watercolour Society.
His paintings on exhibition
The National Gallery is a set in the old Supreme Court building and is well worth a visit. Staff are incredibly helpful and keen to offer information about the exhibitions. Photographs are permitted, as long as they are taken without flash. I was therefore able to take photographs of the paintings I felt gave a good feel for Lim Cheng Hoe’s style which I have used in this post. The only issue is the fact that in some paintings, there is a visible reflection of the gallery lights, for which I apologise. All paintings in this post are watercolours by Lim Cheng Hoe.
His love of plein air painting was legendary and his painting kit quite simple. By today’s standards, he achieved a huge amount with very little.
Lim Cheng Hoe – perfecting watercolour
Always dissatisfied with his work, he invested a huge amount in perfecting his art. He would often going back to the same place a number of times to paint the same scene in different ways. One method he employed to challenge himself was to paint one version in landscape orientation and another in portrait.
His dramatic skies were masterful and he was not afraid to let the watercolour merge and blend on the paper, sometimes even leaving the marks of rain or blooms to become part of the final work.
His use of colour could be bold and dramatic at times.
Many of his paintings showed his ability to use soft wet-in-wet technique to evoke the atmosphere
True to the maxim that more of the watercolour is created before a brush touches paper, he placed a lot of emphasis on composition, and long after his fellow artists had started painting, he would still be walking around to find the perfect spot from which to paint the scene.
Diaries were as important as the paintings themselves. He was a meticulous taker of notes and documented every day in the closely written pages of his diaries.
This, written when he was just 18 years old, records events of his daily life. Apparently, he made meticulous records of events and of his painting sessions at the river.
The discovery of Lim Cheng Hoe has been a highlight of my trip and I will be looking out for more of his work from here on.
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