An Ode to Singapore – Lim Cheng Ho: Painting Singapore


The name Lim Cheng Hoe will ring a bell for those familiar with the local art scene. Lim was a famous watercolour painter, considered as one of the key pioneer Singaporean artists. And if you are a fan of his works, you’d be glad to learn that National Gallery Singapore is currently an exclusive reveal of its latest exhibition, Lim Cheng Hoe: Painting Singapore. 

One may wonder: what sets Lim apart from other local artists? Lim actually cultivated his keen interest in visual art despite not receiving formal tertiary art education, certainly an admirable feat. He mastered the craft of painting through reading publications such as Artist, International Studio and also through social interaction with other watercolour artists, which led to the formation of the “Sunday Painters”, a group of artists who would gather on Sundays to paint the Singapore landscape.

Lim was also known to join a group of artists at the Wesley Church on weekends for indoor studio sessions with live models. His full-time job as a clerk did not deter him from pursuing his artistic passion and honing his skills, eventually allowing him to carve out a rich legacy as one of the co-founders of the Singapore Watercolour Society.

Pictured above is a Samsui woman: Lim painted portraits and used them to hone his painting skills

Lim was especially dedicated towards plein-air (outdoor) painting, and many of his works depict the transient effects of light and weather on Singapore’s changing landscape over the span of the 1930s to 1970s, which will resonate in the hearts and minds of many locals. Many Singaporeans, especially those who grew up in the 50s and 60s, may recognise the iconic Singapore River scene depicted in Lim’s watercolours. Painted in 1962, Lim successfully captures the time when the Singapore River was vibrant and bustling, before the rowing boats were removed from the river.

Lim’s watercolour painting of the Singapore River in 1962.

More watercolour renditions of the Singapore River back in the 60s, capturing and freezing the moments in time.

Lim’s kampong paintings capture the nostalgia of early Singapore, bringing one back to the simpler days, before Singapore’s transformation to the bustling metropolis she is today. By the 1960s, picturesque villages had begun to make way for urban development. These developments fuelled Lim’s nostalgia and attraction towards kampongs and contributed to his urgency to capture the disappearing kampong landscapes before Singapore’s skyline changed forever. Lim visited kampongs in Punggol, Changi and Bedok, among many others and would sit for hours, capturing the kampongs with his careful brushstrokes.

This work depicts the view of a rustic kampong village hut

This exhibition allows one to experience Lim’s art intimately through the inclusion of some of his diary excerpts, which reveal Lim’s thoughts and intentions behind his paintings. Apart from capturing the changes in Singapore’s landscape, Lim’s art also captures the things that remained the same throughout the years.

Rigs, cranes and other modern construction machinery captures Singapore in the throes early independence and rapid modernisation

The exhibition presents a comprehensive view of Lim’s art drawing works and artefacts from a variety of sources, including the artist’s family, private lenders and various public institutional collections. Lim’s artwork brings out the local identity of Singapore strongly, which will definitely interest locals and tourists alike.

Lim Cheng Hoe: Painting Singapore opens from 2 August 2018 to 9 June 2019. For more information, visit the National Gallery Singapore website.

What: Lim Cheng Hoe: Painting Singapore exhibition

Where: National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew’s Road, Level 4, Singapore 178957

When: 2 August 2018 to 9 June 2019; Saturday to Thursday – 10am to 7 pm, Friday – 10am to 9 pm


About Author

Jia Min is a 20-something who is passionate about trying new things and relaying her honest thoughts and opinions to whoever might stay to listen.

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