Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
By the River
By the River
c. 1950s

This batik work depicts a serene river scene in the Malayan countryside. In this work, we can see how Teng combined the traditional indigenous craft of  batik with the compositional style of Western paintings, ​to depict romantic and idyllic scenes from his new homeland. A girl rowing a sampan is framed by the branches of a sparse tree while, in the distance, a figure in a bullock cart is depicted in the warmer tones of early daybreak. It captures the expansiveness of the countryside and the  traditional  way of life there, as exemplified by the bullock cart and sampan. A layer of batik crackle gives texture to the sky and river and repeats, on a micro scale, the spidery branches of the trees.

58 × 43 cm
c. 1950s
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Chuah Thean Teng
About Chuah Thean Teng

Chuah Thean Teng (b. 1914, Fukien, China — d. 2008, Penang) is nationally acknowledged as the “father of batik art”,  being the first in Malaysia to use batik as a fine art medium. He was celebrated by influential art patron Frank Sullivan as having developed “a key Malaysian artistic expression” during a time when the newly-independent nation was searching for a cultural identity to represent itself. Chuah trained briefly at the Xiamen College of Art in China. In 1936, he moved to Penang, where he opened a commercial batik factory producing sarongs; it was here that Chuah began his experiments with batik painting. Due to the patronage he received among the wealthier Anglophile classes in Malaysia, he was able to exhibit his work at the Commonwealth Institute in England in 1959, and was the first Malaysian to be honoured with a retrospective by the National Art Gallery in 1965. A second retrospective was held by the Penang State Art Gallery in 1994. Many of his works, along with the works of his three sons and two grandsons, can be found in the family-run Yahong Art Gallery in Batu Ferringhi, Penang.

Further Readings

Learning Section

  • Describe the composition of this artwork. What do you see in the foreground? What is in the middle ground? What about the background? What is the focal point of the artwork? How does the artist draw our attention to this focus?

  • Imagine this artwork was a scene from a film. What kind of film would it be?Who is the girl in the boat? Where is she going and why? Is the other figure important in the story? Does she know them? What has just happened? What will happen next?