Hundreds pay last respects to Chen Wen Hsi

The Straits Times | Dec 22, 1991
By: Goh Beng Choo

IT WAS a simple, rain-delayed funeral for a world-class artist, one which provoked much thought and sadness among those who knew and admired him.

At 4.30 pm yesterday, Mr Chen Wen Hsi, an internationally celebrated artist who died at age 87 on Tuesday, was buried at the Choa Chu Kang Christian Cemetery.

About 100 people came to take a last look at Mr Chen as he lay in a cherry wood coffin together with his favourite paint brushes, palette, ink stone and rice paper.

Among the relatives, friends and students present was Mr Lee Chi Rong, a museum director from Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan.

Said Mr Lee: "News of his death has saddened the art communities in China, Hongkong and Taiwan and brought on a spate of reports on his works."

Mr Lee is now trying to get people here interested in setting up a memorial foundation, and possibly a private museum, to honour him.

Among the hundreds of Mr Chen's students is Mr Peh Chin Hua, an MP for Jalan Besar GRC.

Mr Peh, who learned painting under Mr Chen from 1962 to 1965, recalled: "I was then a student of the Chinese High School. I was very interested in painting and had won several awards for my works. Mr Chen was particularly
encouraging. He even spent his own time guiding me at his house."

Brigadier-General (Res) George Yeo, Minister for Information and the Arts, had wanted to visit Mr Chen a month ago but the meeting was called off because Mr Chen was ill.

Then, on Tuesday morning, he had asked Professor Tommy Koh, Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large, to arrange a new date for the meeting, but was told that Mr Chen had died that morning.

"I was shocked and saddened by news of his death," said BG Yeo.

"His deep knowledge of the art of East and West and his successful synthesis of the two should be an inspiration to us all in Singapore."

Asked how he felt about the fact that Mr Chen was not given the Cultural Medallion Award, BG Yeo said: "When the Cultural Medallion Award was introduced in 1979, Mr Chen had already (in 1964) been given the Public Service Star by the President of Singapore in recognition of his artistic achievements. The Public Service Star was then deemed, and still is, a higher award than the Cultural Medallion. Thus it would not be appropriate to confer a Cultural Medallion Award on Mr Chen."

Mr Chen, a Teochew who came from Shantou, Guangdong, was one of Singapore's four first-generation pioneer artists. Two of them - Chen Chong Swee and Cheong Soo Pieng - are also dead. They are survived by Mr Liu Kang.

Laments Mr Liu, 81,: "My best memory of Wen Hsi was the painting trip the four of us took to Bali in 1952.

"Our joint exhibition celebrating that trip was considered a landmark event in the Singapore art world. Now all of my peers have passed away, I am feeling very sad.