Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
The Women
The Women
c. 1950s

The Women by Malaysian modern artist Yong Mun Sen is a picture of golden fertility. Warm shades of yellow bathe the sky in the same light as the two central figures and the bundles of rice they are harvesting. The fields beyond the women stretch far  into the horizon, suggesting a bountiful harvest. The women are depicted with chiseled muscularity. One of them looks slightly older than the other: perhaps they are mother and daughter, in line with the painting’s theme of fertility. 

Yong Mun Sen is mostly known for his outdoor watercolour paintings depicting the coastal landscapes of Penang, where he spent most of his life, but he was also a master with oils. His watercolours drew on his training in traditional Chinese ink painting, and he is often affiliated with the Nanyang style of the mid-20th century. In contrast, his oil paintings were influenced by Western Post-Impressionists such as Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh. Unlike his more serene and impersonal watercolours, this painting reflects the artist’s admiration of the honest labour of these two women farmers, toiling under the scorching sun . Mun Sen himself had to resort to farming for survival during the  Japanese occupation of Malaya.

Oil on board
43 × 53 cm
c. 1950s
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Yong Mun Sen
About Yong Mun Sen

Yong Mun Sen (18961962) was one of the earliest modern artists in Malaysia. Born in Kuching, Sarawak, he was later sent to Dabu county in Guangdong Province, China, to study Chinese ink painting and calligraphy. Upon his return to British Malaya, he spent a few years travelling between Singapore and Penang. In Penang, he opened what was likely the first photo studio on the island, Tai Koon Art Studio on Chulia Street, and founded one of the island’s earliest art societies, the Penang Chinese Art Club. Later, in Singapore, he had a hand in founding the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 1938. He has come to be known mostly for his plein-air watercolour paintings of the scenic beauty and charm of Penang’s coastal life. Over the years, he has been honoured with a few retrospective exhibitions in the Penang State Art Museum and Gallery and the National Gallery of Malaysia. 

Further Readings

Learning Section

  • Yong Mun Sen's painting is monochromatic. This means that one colour is dominant. What is the dominant colour in this artwork? Why did the artists choose this colour? What does that colour symbolise? How would it change the artwork if he had chosen a different colour?

  • Look carefully at the women in the painting. What kind of life do they have? Are they happy with their lives? What is their relationship?  What clues does the artist give us to answer these questions?

  • Yong Mun Sen’s painting shows people at work in rural Malaya at the beginning of the 20th Century. How does it differ from the life of people working in contemporary Kuala Lumpur? Draw or paint a picture which shows someone working in modern day Kuala Lumpur. Respond to Yong Mun Sen's monochromatic style but choose a colour that represents today's working life.