Art Detail | Ilham Gallery

In this still life composition, Georgette Chen depicts a formal yet unpretentious arrangement of disparate kitchen ingredients assembled together on a rattan table. Each everyday object depicted in the work acts as a cultural signifier that helps situate this captured moment within a local context. Strands of garlic hang next to the table balancing a traditional earthen pot of Chinese rice wine, a glass bottle, two daikon radishes and a basket of eggs. The grey background intermixes with an undertone of dull cobalt, a colour combination that the artist is often associated with. Painted in a subtle, sombre palette, the work presents an expressive rendition of the scene, demonstrating Chen’s delicate mastery of Western oil painting techniques in the treatment of local themes.

Oil on canvas
65 x 54 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Georgette Chen
About Georgette Chen

Georgette Chen (1906-1993) was born in Zhejiang, China. Known for her still life and portraits in oil, the prolific artist, painter and educator was part of the group of artists who pioneered the regional Nanyang style of painting. The daughter of a businessman who dealt in Asian art and antiques, she grew up living between China, Paris and New York. Between 1926 and 1927, she attended art classes at the Art Students League of New York and later studied art at the Academie Colarossi and Academie Biloul in Paris. In 1930, her works were exhibited for the first time at the prestigious Salon d’Automne in Paris, and later on in various major exhibitions in cities including Shanghai and Singapore. She moved to Penang in 1951 where she taught at Hang Chiang High School before relocating to Singapore two years later and taught part-time at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts from 1954 to 1981. In 1982, she was awarded the Singaporean Cultural Medallion for Art for her outstanding achievements and contributions to art in the region.

Further Readings

  • Emelia Ong, ‘The Nanyang Artists: Eclectic Expressions of the South Seas,’ Narratives in Malaysian Art Vol 1: Imaging Identities, e.d. Nur Hanim Khairuddin, Beverly Yong with T.K. Sabapathy, Kuala Lumpur: Rogue Art, 2012. 


  • A Brief History of Malayan Art,  Marco Hsu (translated by Lai Chee Kien), Millennium Books, 1999.

Learning Section

  • In this painting, Georgette Chen has taken the Western tradition of still-life painting and used it to represent her own culture. Describe what you see in the painting. What clues in the painting tell us that it represents a Malaysian home. What objects can you identify and what dishes do they make you think of?  Georgette Chen is of Chinese descent. Can you tell that from this still life?  What objects would you add to this still life to represent the other ethnic groups in Malaysia.

  • You are what you eat. What does this saying mean and do you agree with it? What does the food we eat and the way we eat it tell us about our identity? Could you create a still life from food in your kitchen which tells us about your heritage and identity? what would you include in your still-life?