Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
Cow Series no. 10
Cow Series no. 10

With its bold, strong colours, the rural scene captured in Cow Series no. 10 is charged with a liveliness that is markedly different from the gentle languor that typically characterised Nanyang-style landscapes. The uplifted faces of Nai Tong’s farmer and wife  have a quiet dignity, as they go about their labour.  The artist’s use of the vibrant  colour red for both the farmers and their prize cow at the centre of the herd has a unifying effect, suggesting the idea of man and nature in harmony. The farmers’ 'phoenix’ (squint) eyes  are a recurrent feature of Nai Tong’s figurative painting style, the shape of the eyes signifying his subjects’ deep contemplation while in the midst of labour.

Oil on canvas
80.5 × 80 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Tew Nai Tong
About Tew Nai Tong

Tew Nai Tong (b. 1936, Klang – d. 2013, Kuala Lumpur) has been hailed as “perhaps the last matinee idol of the old Nanyang style” by art critic Ooi Kok Chuen. Nai Tong graduated from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) in 1958 and, as was customary for many NAFA graduates then, pursued further studies at the École des Beaux-Arts in France. At NAFA, he had focused on making sketches and watercolour paintings of landscapes, but his focus shifted in France towards making figurative oil paintings. Upon his return in 1969, he joined the Malaysian Institute of Art as a lecturer. Nai Tong’s paintings can be found in the collections of the National Art Gallery of Malaysia, the Sarawak State Museum, and the Singapore Art Museum. 

Further Readings
  • Kok Chuen, Ooi. “Nanyang Style: Bygone Dreams of Paradise? (Recent Conversations with NAFA Alumni”. In Narratives of Malaysian Art vol. 1, edited by Nur Hanim Khairuddin and Beverly Yong, 71–76. Kuala Lumpur: RogueArt, 2012.  

  • Supreme Master TV. “Acclaimed Malaysian Painter Tew Nai Tong: Bridging Cultures with Art.” Filmed interview with Tew Nai Tong from 2009.

Learning Section
  • Describe the figures in the painting. How are they dressed? What are they doing? Where are they going? What kind of people do you think they are? What is their relationship with each other? Describe the animals in the painting? Has the artist chosen to show them as individuals? How is each one different?

  • A lot of Malaysian artists have made artwork about rural life. Can you find other examples in the collection? Why are artists fascinated by life in a rural setting? Would you prefer to live in the country or the city?