An Oriental painting discovered in a Midlands school sparked a fierce international bidding battle at auction – and smashed its estimate to smithereens.
The colourful abstract oil painting by Singaporean artist Cheong Soo Pieng was found tucked away in storage at Ashby School in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, by Hansons Auctioneers. Signed by the artist and dated 1960, their experts immediately knew it was something special.
Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons, said: “Cheong is an artist celebrated for the part he played in developing modern art in Asia. As soon as our auction catalogue went live, interest was strong from the Far East. Even so, the ensuing auction battle exceeded expectations.”
Three phone bidders battled against online competition to send the price sky-rocketing away from the painting’s £1,000-£1,500 guide price. The hammer finally fell at £25,000 with the lot secured by a phone bidder from the Far East. The total price paid with buyer’s premium was £34,600.
Charles said: “This painting had been lying dormant for many years, a hidden gem sleeping in storage on floorboards. It was given as a gift to the school many decades ago and, despite some flacking paintwork, soared to success.
“It sparked an international bidding battle because Cheong Soo Pieng pioneered the Nanyang art style, an art movement practised by migrant Chinese painters in Singapore from the late 1940s to 1960s. It was a driving force in the development of modernism in art in Singapore.
Cheong Soo Pieng; his abstract oil painting
Cheong, the youngest of seven children in Amoy, China, studied art at the Xiamen Academy of Fine Art in 1933. In 1936 he graduated and attended the Xinhua Academy of Fine Art in Shanghai for further studies. However, his education was cut short with the breakout of the Sino-Japanese War. The school was destroyed by Japanese invaders in 1938.
Cheong returned to his alma mater to teach art, and pursued his painting passion in watercolours due to scarcity of oil paint materials. In 1942 he held his first solo watercolour exhibition.
In 1945 he left China for Hong Kong and relocated to Singapore in 1946 where he became a lecturer at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts for the next 20 years.
In 1955 Cheong, along with five other artists, was invited to showcase his artworks in England at an exhibition opened by the Duchess of Kent. In 1962, the Government of Singapore awarded him the Meritorious Service Medal. He died on July 1, 1983 due to heart failure.
The Cheong Soo Pieng painting was sold on July 1, 2021 at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire. To find out more, or to arrange a free valuation, please email Head of Fine Art Isabel Murtough (pictured above): [email protected].
Hansons is inviting entries for its September 24 Derbyshire Fine Art Auction.