In celebration of Singapore’s 50th anniversary of independence, The Private Museum is proud to present Influences and Friendships: A Chua Ek Kay Estate Collection. This special body of works offers a glimpse into Chua Ek Kay’s lesser-known art collection of prominent artists and friends, with 21 artworks in Chinese ink and Calligraphy, Oil and Woodcarving that reflects the inspirations and artists that influenced Chua in his artistic practice.

Highlights include Huang Binhong’s landscape painting paying its homage to the 10th century painter Juran, one of the great Master artists of early Chinese monumental landscape paintings. Huang Binhong (1865 – 1955), a painter and art theorist, was one of Chua’s biggest influences. Inspired by the endless possibilities of ink, Chua fervently explored the extent of his brushworks. The collection of works traces Chua’s Shanghai School lineage from Wu Changshuo (1844-1927), Wang Ge Yi (1897-1988) and Fan Chang Tien (1907-1987), and a combination of monk artists, Lingnan School and Chua’s contemporaries.

Through the visions from these artists and friends, the viewer is able to reach into the window of his art practice. The intertwining of creativities from around the world allowed Chua to create his inimitable style that incorporates a balance of both Western and traditional.


Artists’ Biography

Chen Wen Hsi (1906 – 1992)

Born in Guangdong, China, the late Chen Wen Hsi was a first generation Singaporean artist known for his avant-garde Chinese paintings. Proficient in both Oil painting and Chinese ink, Chen has received the Public Service Star (1964), ASEAN Cultural and Communications Award (1987) and Meritious Public Service Award (Posthumous) in 1992. Chen works are widely collected by public boards and private collectors, which includes the National Gallery Singapore, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum and the National Art Gallery in Malaysia.


Dong Shou Ping (1904 – 1997)

Dong Shou Ping was an artist whose art was closely associated with the fate of ink painting in 20th century China, one that was intertwined with cultural campaign tumult including the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Dong was one of the artists Zhou Enlai praised and after the Cultural Revolution, became a celebrated ink master in the rebirth of ink painting in the late 1970s. Dong was also a highly respected art expert and authenticator and conducted lectures on art history and connoisseurship in Japan and Hong Kong.


Fan Chang Tien (1907 – 1987)

Born in Guangdong, China, Fan is an influential Chinese-Singaporean ink artist. Fan studied in the Shanghai Xin Hua Art College under the tutelage of Wang Geyi and was a second-generation disciple of the grandmaster of the Shanghai School of Painting, Wu Changshuo. Continuing the tradition of the Shanghai School, Fan went on to teach Chua Ek Kay, Tan Siow Aik and other important Singaporean artists.


Venerable Hong Yi (1880 – 1942)

Born in Tianjin, China, Hong Yi was a painter, calligrapher, seal cutter and art educator. Li studied at the Tokyo School of Fine Art in Ueno Park where he specialized in Western painting and music. Upon returning to China, Li went on to become an influential art education and later became the first Chinese educator to use nude models in his painting classes. In 1918, he was ordained as a monk; taking up his Buddhist name, Hong Yi. After entering monkhood, Hong Yi practised only calligraphy, developing a simple and unadorned, yet unique style.


Huang Bin Hong (1865 – 1955)

Born in Zhejiang, China, Huang was a Chinese literati painter and art theorist. Huang was part of a generation of artists who modernized traditional brushwork and their fresh approach to composition. Renowned for his powerful brushwork, Huang became known by the sobriquets Huang of the South and Qi (Bai Shi) of the North. Huang has been the influences of many second-generation Singaporean artists, which include Chua Ek Kay and Lim Tze Peng.


Pan Shou (1911 – 1999)

Born in Fujian, China, Pan Shou was a leading figure in Chinese calligraphy and literature in Singapore. Trained in both kaishu (regular) and xingshu (running), Pan was also well versed in the archaic scripts of Qin, Han and Wei dynasties. In 1985, Pan was awarded the Gold medal at the Salon Artists Francais by the French Government in recognition of his artistic works; other accolades include the Cultural Medallion (1987), Meritorious Service Medal (1994) and ASEAN Cultural Medal (1997).


Pu Hua (1830 – 1911)

Born in Zhejiang, China, Pu Hua was a Chinese ink painter and calligrapher from the Shanghai School of painting in the late Qing Dynasty. Renowned for his depiction of bamboos, he was known to many as 蒲竹, loosely translated as Bamboo Pu. Pu was also widely regarded as one of the Four Talents of the Shanghai Style in the late Qing Dynasty alongside Xu Gu, Wu Chang Shih and Ren Bo Nian.


Qi Liang Yi (1923 – 1988)

Born in Xiang Tan City of Hunan Province, Qi is the fifth son of influential Chinese Painter, Qi Bai Shi (1864 – 1957). He started learning Art from his father in 1944 and was a graduate from the Pu Ren University majoring in Art. In 1957, he became an art teacher in the Beijing Dong Cheng Primary School, China. Qi was the vice president of Beijing East Painting Research Centre.


Shi Hu (b. 1942)

Born in Hebei, China, Shi Hu is an internationally renowned Chinese artist who is most widely known for his Abstract Avant-garde style of painting. Shi Hu’s distinct style draws inspirations from the colors of the exotic culture and wildlife during his tours to Africa in 1978. His paintings have been exhibited worldwide in Jakarta, Taipei, Hong Kong and Switzerland.


Venerable Song Nian (1911 – 1998)

Born in Jiangsu, China, Song was a highly regarded Chinese painter, calligrapher and Buddhist monk. Song received tutelage from renowned Southern calligrapher Xiao Tui’an and was well versed in poetry, calligraphy and painting. Song’s paintings are collected by many international institutions which include the Singapore Art Museum, National Palace Museum Taiwan and his calligraphies were presented as gifts to luminaries such as Japanese Emperor Hirohito and Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and other political leaders.


Tan Choh Tee (b. 1942)

Tan Choh Tee is a second generation Singaporean Artist known for his impressionist-style oil paintings of still life and landscapes. Tan graduated from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts where he studied under pioneer artists such as Chen Wen Hsi and Liu Kang. The Cultural Medallion recipient has exhibited at major international institutions, which include Klockner – Humboldt, Deutz A.G. Museum, Germany, Avant Garde Art Centre, Taiwan and the Korean National Cultural Research Organization.


Tan Siow Aik (b. 1948)

Born in 1948, Tan is a Singapore based Chinese ink painter from the Shanghai School of Painting. In 1963, Tan sought tutelage under influential Chinese ink painter, Fan Chang Tien. His works were exhibited internationally at the University of Adelaide, Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Australia and in Beijing, China. Tan was also the previous president of the Hua Han Art Society in Singapore.


Tang Yun (1910 – 1993)

Born in Zhejiang, China, Tang Yun was a highly regarded Chinese ink painter and educator. Tang taught at the Xinhua Art Academy and was appointed the dean of the Chinese Painting Department at the Shanghai Fine Art Training School in the late 1930s. Tang was known for his use of traditional painting techniques, which he modernized and incorporated into lively works that were characterized by their focus on the natural environment. In 1999, the Tang Yun Art Museum was established in commemoration of him in Hangzhou, China.


Tsue Ta Tee (1903 – 1974)

Born in Beijing, China, Tsue was a calligrapher and art educator. Skilled in many calligraphic styles, such as kaishu (regular), lishu (clerical), caoshu (cursive), xingshu (running) and zhuanshu (seal). Tsue furthered his research of Chinese Calligraphy and Oracle Bone Inscriptions at the British Museum in 1953. Tsue has exhibited his works regionally in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore. Tsue’s students include renowned calligraphers in Singapore such as Yong Cheong Thye and Goh Yao Kee.


Wang Ge Yi (1897 – 1988)

Born in Jiangsu, China, Wang is one of the paragons of the Shanghai School of painting, Haipai Masters. Started out as a disciple of Wu Chang Shuo, Wang was versed in poetry, painting, calligraphy and seal carving. Wang has exhibited extensively in numerous international exhibitions in Japan, England and Germany. Wang also taught at the Xin Hua College of Art in Shanghai, whose students include Chen Wen Hsi, Fan Chang Tien, Liu Kang and others who later became Singapore’s pioneer artists.


Wu Chang Shuo (1844 – 1927)

Born in Zhejiang, China, Wu was a central figure in Chinese painting in the late Qing Dynasty. Wu has been regarded as the forerunner in the use of “Western Red”; a tone of red introduced from the west and is largely responsible for rejuvenating the genre of Flower-and-bird painting. Wu influenced the trend in painting that belonged to a Chinese artistic movement known as the Shanghai School of painting. Widely regarded as the grandmaster of the movement, Wu’s disciples included, Wang Geyi, Wang Yiting, Zhu Wenyun and Pan Tianshou.


Xu Dong Lin (b. 1951)

Born in Jiangxi, China, Xu is an established contemporary Chinese artist known for his dream-like depictions of architecture and landscapes. Graduated from the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, Xu is currently the President of Jiujiang Art Association and the Director of Jiangxi Oil Painting Art Committee in China.


Yu Long Sun (1895 – 1991)

Born in Zhejiang, China, Yu was a calligrapher and art educator. In 1923, Yu arrived in Singapore and taught in the Chinese High School for over 20 years. Yu’s calligraphy has been exhibited extensively in the region, including Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore. Yu has also exhibited alongside Xu Beihong in India.


Zhao Shao Ang (1905 – 1998)

Born in Guangdong, China, Zhao was a renowned Lingnan painter and art educator. In 1930, Zhao founded the Lingnan Art Studio in Guangzhou and later re-established the studio in Hong Kong in 1948. Zhao was accorded professorship at the National Central University and the National Art Academy in China. Zhao was awarded the gold medal at the Brussels ‘Guangzhou (1930) and had exhibited internationally in Paris, Rome, Hong Kong and the USA. Zhao’s works are widely collected by public institutions such as Hong Kong Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, USA and the Ashmolean Museum, England.


The Art Collection of Chua Ek Kay

by Kwok Kian Chow


Apart from two exhibitions organised by the Singapore Tyler Print Institute and The Private Museum, there have not been any major solo exhibition on Chua Ek Kay’s paintings since the artist’s passing in February 2008. This is because the Chua family wanted some time for a fuller research and overview on Ek Kay’s life and art before more exhibitions are presented, notwithstanding the multiple requests for staging exhibitions on Chua Ek Kay’s art. While we wait patiently for the upcoming major Chua Ek Kay exhibition at the National Gallery Singapore, the current special presentation at The Private Museum on the art collection of the artist has very special meaning. It contributes to a richer understanding of the artist, in this case not through his own works, but through the works of other artists Ek Kay collected.

The works in the collection provide a further insight into the creative world of Chua Ek Kay, and the intimacy of the personal domain of the artist studio by way of the artists and artworks that were kept close to Ek Kay. These works must have assumed great significance in Ek Kay’s own creative universe. The artist’s relationship with these works must have been one of dedication, constant dialogue, and inspirations for new ideas. They also form an art historical framework for the artist, in his personal engagements in the various genealogies and challenges of modernity and contemporaneity in ink expression. In this article I will focus my discussion primarily on the Chinese artists in Ek Kay’s collection, so as to draw a broader link to art history in an extended geographical scope beyond, rather than within, Singapore. This should serve as a component of the broader research on Chua Ek Kay.

I will begin with the two calligraphy works on Chua Ek Kay’s studio name Rong Zhai by Dong Shouping (1904-1997) and Tang Yun (1910-1993). Both calligraphy works dated 1992 as Dong Shouping signed off stating his age as 88 years old, and Tang Yun at 82 years old. The character rong comes from the phrase yourong naida 有容乃大which may be translated as ‘with tolerance there is magnanimity’. The word rong also means ‘contain’. My preference is to understand rong as revealing generosity or nobility of mind or character. This will bring the meaning more in line with the literati tradition in Chinese aesthetics, to which Ek Kay subscribed. The artist’s studio name rong therefore means the broadmindedness or generosity more so than tolerance and forgiving. To ‘contain’ is also interesting as we speak of the artist’s art collection: the content of Ek Kay’s studio. Just as Ek Kay attempted artworks in multi-media beyond just ink, and his keen interests in a broad spectrum of aesthetic ideas from literati, postmodernism to Southeast Asian regionalism, his art collection also included works in mediums other than ink. Zhai means studio.

Lin Zexu (1785-1850), the renowned Qing official who stood firm against the smuggling of opium into China wrote the notable couplet incorporating yourong naida, 海纳百川,有容乃大;壁立千仞,无欲则刚 (The ocean encompasses waters from a hundred rivers, its enormity attributable to its generosity; the cliff stands tall at a thousand ren, its strength owing to its resoluteness). This is to cite a more recent usage of the phrase. The earliest usage is found in Shangshu, the historical text from the pre-Qin period.

Dong Shouping was an artist whose art was closely associated with the fate of ink painting in 20th century China, one that was intertwined with cultural campaign tumult including the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Dong was one of the artists Zhou Enlai praised and in the latter part of his career, after the Cultural Revolution, became a celebrated ink master in the rebirth of ink painting in the late 1970s. Dong was also a highly respected art expert and authenticator with Rongbaozhai gallery and publishing house, and had lectured on art history and connoisseurship in Japan and Hong Kong.

Tang Yun, another highly regarded artist in China, a Hangzhou native who taught at the Xinhua Art Academy in Shanghai from late 1930s to early 1940s, and possibly met Singapore pioneer artists Chen Wen Hsi (1906-1992), whose work Herons is also in the Chua Ek Kay art collection, and Liu Kang (1911-1904) who were both affiliated with Xinhua prior to their residency in Singapore. The Tang Yun Art Museum, opened in 1999, is sited by a lake side near the West Lake in Hangzhou.

It is interesting to note that Tang Yun had written Ek Kay’s studio name rongzhai in the conventional Chinese epigraphical manner inscribing the characters from right to left, while Dong Shouping’s was from left to right, a ‘modern’ way. It was a great privilege for Ek Kay to have artists of Dong Shouping and Tang Yun stature to inscribe his studio name for Ek Kay during the early 1990s.

Chua Ek Kay had the highest regard for Huang Binhong (1865-1955) as a painter as well as an art theorist. Apart from the writings of the 17th century painter Shitao whose dictum ‘method-less method’ Ek Kay subscribed to, Huang Binhong’s art theories had the greatest influence on Ek Kay. ‘Method-less method’ was for Ek Kay a philosophical or conceptual tenet. Conversely, Huang’s theories offered formal (as in ‘form’) strategies for Ek Kay. In the Huang Binhong work in Ek Kay’s collection, a landscape with a colophon stating its homage to the 10th century painter Juran, one of the greatest masters of early Chinese monumental landscape paintings. Huang’s text speaks of Juran’s rendition of the clouds and mists as ‘floating’ in the void areas within the composition and surpassing all previous depiction of the same subject. The said Huang Binhong painting, which has a horizontal composition, differs from Juran’s usual vertical format, smooth-edged physical forms and soft brushwork. Huang’s brushwork is calligraphic and layered to induce a broad range of rich tonality. Ek Kay was inspired by Huang in his own accentuation of the extent of density and dark tone in the brushwork.

It was through Huang Binhong’s art and theory that Ek Kay realised the limitless possibilities of ink. Huang represented a historical turn towards formalism in ink painting. Ek Kay noted that he came across Huang Binhong’s writings somewhere in the ‘mid-term’ during his learning of the Shanghai School art. Ek Kay noted: “if I did not have a certain level of foundation in painting, I would not be able to fully understand and accept those theories; however, throughout the years, these theories were always with me, and I began to understand, little by little, Huang’s use of brush and ink, as well as his paintings and theoretical discussion on the subject.” On a gradation scale of moistness in ink Ek Kay had pushed it to the extreme, and this was not without references to Huang Binhong’s emphasis, on the need to look purely at the formal level of ink expression. The Huang Binhong painting in the Chua Ek Kay collection would have been of utmost importance to him.

Chua Ek Kay had in his art collection a work of his teacher Fan Chang Tien (1907-1987), and of the teacher of his teacher, Wang Geyi (1897-1988). Although practically all of the Singapore pioneer artists of Chinese descent migrated here from Southern China, it was in Shanghai that most of them studied art. This is one key reason why the primary stylistic lineage in ink painting here is attributed to the Shanghai School. One of the paragons of the Shanghai School was Wu Changshuo (1844-1927) whose calligraphy Ek Kay had in carving on wood. Fan Chang Tien was arguably the most important mentor who taught practically the entire group of prominent ink painters of Chua Ek Kay’s generation. Fan Chang Tien studied ink painting under Wang Geyi at the Changming Art Academy, which specialised in ink painting, in Shanghai in the 1920s. Wang later praised Fan to have exceled in scholarly pursuit, literature and multiple forms of art including seal-carving in the citation with the compliment 一炉冶合诗书画 (smelting in one pot – the poetry, the calligraphy and the painting). Such was the literati ethos Ek Kay immersed himself in, and so were the collection of the carving on wood of Wu Changshuo calligraphy, and the works of Wang Geyi and Fan Chang Tien significant to him.

While Ek Kay’s own practice found its stylistic lineage in the Shanghai School, he also had two fabulous works by the (Guangdong-based) Lingnan School artist Zhao Shao’an (1905-1998), whose important collection is currently housed in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. The Lingnan School had been influenced by Western representational art and Japanese Nihonga. Its aestheics also drew a link to the writings of Okakura Kakuzo through the Tokyo sojourn of Lingnan School’s founders Gao Jianfu and Gao Qifeng in the early 1900’s. Though not as pronounced as the Shanghai School, the Lingnan School also had a presence in Singapore. Gao Jianfu exhibited in Singapore in 1930. Ek Kay would have found the two works by Zhao Shao’an, who was Gao Jianfu’s student, close to his aesthetic outlook as they both carry the inscriptions of another of Shitao’s famed lines 我之为我自有我在 (I am myself as within me my individuality resides).

Another Chinese artist who went to Japan even earlier than Gao Jianfu in the early 1900’s was Li Shutong (1880-1942), who became equally well-known in cultural history by his Buddhist name after his ordination – Hong Yi. Ek Kay had a carved bamboo couplet of Li Shutong’s calligraphy. They are lines from the Huayan (or ‘flower ornament’) Sutra, which was based in turn on the Avatamsaka Sutra. The Huayan is regarded as the cornerstone of Chan (Zen) Buddhism and the intellectual zenith in the Chinese adaptation of Buddhism from India. On top of being an influential art and music teacher in the 1910’s, Li Shutong was also a painter, calligrapher, musician, dramatist, poet and lyricist who famously wrote the lines in Songbie ge (Farewell Song) based on the 19th century music composition of John Ordway.

Li Shutong had an indirect link with Singapore through his mentee and friend Guangqia (1990-1994), who from 1952 was the abbot of the Longshan Temple in Singapore. Another important artist and also one of the first in China to have written a book on Western art history was Feng Zikai (1898-1975), whose life-long project 护生画集 (Drawings on the Preservation of Life) was a drawing series in six volumes. The series which was created during 1930’s to 1960’s was widely known in the Chinese cultural and also the Buddhist circle in Singapore. Feng was closely affiliated with Li Shutong and Guangqia. In making comparisons between Western and Chinese art, Feng Zikai advocated the need to go beyond drawing connectivity merely at the level of visual arts. Feng noted, for instance, that the fundamental concept of ‘perspective’ in Western art was located more in the realm of literature rather than in painting in China. The abovementioned circle of monks who were highly knowledgeable in the humanities, music and art also pointed to an important dimension of Singapore art history to which Ek Kay found his intellectual affinity.

There was much overlap between the cultural, religious and educational spheres. In addition to the Chen Wen Hsi work in Ek Kay’s collection, there was also the calligraphy work of another Singapore based scholar-monk Songnian (1911-1998), calligrapher Tsue Ta Tee (1903-1974) as well as the poet and calligrapher Pan Shou (1911-1999), the founding secretary-general of Nanyang University who also took on the role of the university’s vice chancellorship. Pan Shou began his academic and journalism career as a Qing scholar, and was an editor with Lat Po in Singapore in the early 1930s. He became a teacher and principal at the Chinese High and other schools in Singapore before returning to China in the 1940s. In 1949 Pan Shou returned to Singapore and became actively involved in the setting up of the Nanyang University. Highly respected as a senior scholar and calligrapher upon his retirement, his calligraphy was much sought after not only in Singapore but also in the global Chinese cultural circle. Chua Ek Kay hosted Pan Shou who visited Rongzhai.

I will conclude my discussion of the above selected works in the Chua Ek Kay art collection by invoking a well-known painted portrait of the 14th century literati painter Ni Zan (1301-1374). This portrait painting in ink and light colours in the collection of the Palace Museum in Taipei is often regarded as an archetype of portrait of artists in China. Ni Zan who became recognised as one of the ‘Four Great Masters of Yuan’, is seated in front of a screen with a landscape painting mounted on it. Ni Zan is holding a brush and a piece of paper in a studio setting with art and antique collection. The Ni Zan protrait carries a colophon by Zhang Yu (1283-1350) but the artist of the protrait is not known. In art history, it was during the Yuan Dynasty when the calligraphic form became the dominant xieyi literati brushwork. The calligraphic style also allowed individualistic and personalised expression. In the Ni Zan portrait, we see the identity of the artist further enunciated through the artist’s collection. The mounted painting , the three-legged ding vessel and a brush rest in the shape of mountain peaks amongst other objects all carry important cultural signification.

While Ek Kay’s art collection did not amount to a painted self-portrait, the constituents of the collection do to a large extent represent a sense of art history and sources of reference and inspiration for the artist. If collectively the works in the collection projected an identity, it would have been one of active dialogues between these works and Ek Kay’s own works. As we await new exhibitions on Chua Ek Kay’s works to be mounted, the artist’s art collection helps pave the way to a contextual understanding of his art practices.


Kwok Kian Chow is a writer, curator and museum consultant. He was the founding director of the Singapore Art Museum and of the National Gallery Singapore. He has published extensively on Singapore, Southeast Asian and Chinese art history.


[1] Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Re-visiting Chua Ek Kay: A Tribute to the Ink Master, Singapore, 2010.

[2] The Private Museum, Old Campus Revisited: A Chua Ek Kay Collection of the Catholic High School, Singapore, 2012.

[3] Chua Ek Kay and the current author wrote on the development of ink painting in Singapore. Chua Ek Kay and Kwok Kian Chow, A Perspective on the Development of Ink Painting in Singapore, Journey of Ink, National Museum, Singapore, 1993.

[4] See Michael Sullivan, Art and Artists of Twentieth Century China, University of California Press, 1996, pp. 145, 241.

[5] In Commemoration of Tang Yun,, accessed 25 April 2015.

[6] Manuscript of Chua Ek Kay’s response to a set of questions by Zhu Qi, undated handwritten manuscript, circa 2006.

[7] Wu Changshuo took the xieyi literati painting to new heights by integrating new brushwork and design sensibilities through archaic epigraphic calligraphic tradition and everyday subject matter in the city setting.

[8] Hsu Yu Yin, A Study of Master Guangqia (1901-1994): Transnational Teaching of the Dharma and Cultural Exchange in the 20th Century, M.A. Thesis, National University of Singapore, 2013; 于凌波Yu Lingbo, The Venerable Guangqia,, accessed 25 April 2015.

[9] (Entry on) Pan Shou, Singapore Infopedia,, accessed 25 April 2015.

[10] Discussed in David Ake Sensabaugh, Fashioning Identities in Yuan-Dynasty Painting, Ars Orientalis, v. 37, p. 127, 2009.



Opening Reception
Saturday 1 August 2015, 11am
Guest of Honour: Mr. Hsieh Fu Hua
Chairman, National Gallery Singapore







Catalogue Launch
Saturday 15 August 2015, 11.30am





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