Singapore Day #6: Brush with art @ National Gallery Singapore

National Gallery Singapore

Impressionist paintings had shadows in the winter landscapes painted blue instead of the conventional black – this was a discovery for us as we visited the National Gallery on the last day of our Singapore sojourn. The National Gallery is housed in two historic buildings – the City Hall and the former Supreme Court. As mentioned in the first post, we were pleasantly surprised, when we got a 25% off on the entry tickets as we flew in on the regional carrier SilkAir. The gallery also provided free audio guide.

We started off with the City Hall building and there was a special exhibition titled – “Century of Light”, being held there, till 11 Mar 2018. This is also where we spent most of our time and hence had to rush past the remaining exhibitions. “Siapa Nama Kamu?” meaning “What is your name?” is another exhibition showcasing Art in Singapore since the 19th century. “Between Declarations & Dreams” is an exhibition of Art of South East Asia since the 19th century. Since we had just half a day, the Century of Light was the highlight of the day.

The Century of Light brought together two exhibitions of art from the 19th century. One titled “Colours of Impressionism” consisted of  masterpieces from The Musee d’Orsay, a museum in Paris which houses the largest collection of impressionist paintings. The exhibition had paintings from Monet, Renoir and others. The second one was called “Between Worlds” and showcased paintings of Raden Saleh and Juan Luna, famous artists from Indonesia and Philippines respectively.

As laymen to art, we had to depend on the introductions and descriptions provided to appreciate and understand the works of art. Below is an excerpt from Colours of Impressionism……

“ Impressionism is a style of painting associated mainly with French artists of the late 19th century such as Manet, Monet and Renoir. Impressionists painting seeks to recreate the artist’s of viewer’s general impression of a scene. Beginning with the radical use of black by the painters in the 1860s, the exhibition moves through the Impressionist’s new techniques of capturing light, to a series of white snow landscapes and their innovative blue shadows.

Black played an important role in French painting during the 1850s and 1860s. Gustave Courbet believed that black and earth tones best represented the real world and the lives of ordinary people. This was in opposition to the bright artificial colours of paintings preferred by the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris for inclusion in its annual Salon. Artists of the mid 19th century adopted black to take portraiture to new heights. The dominant hue of suits worn by the emerging middle class, black was seen as a symbol of modernity, the colour of everyday life.

The depiction of snow was highly valued by the Impressionists during the 1860s and 1870s. Rendering a snow landscape meant taking on the challenge of capturing the subtle gradations of light and monochromatic reflective blanket of snow and conveying its delicate nature in paint.

Gustave Courbet’s vast winter scenes in which shadows were painted blue instead of the conventional black had a great influence on the Impressionists’ snow landscapes. In the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, the blue and violet shadows in the snow landscapes drew the attention of critics and is some cases their condemnation. The artists were influenced by the wide circulation of writings on the theory of colours – which proposed that the yellow-orange light emitted by the sun requires that the shadows be blue or violet to follow the law of complementary colours. “

The exhibition titled Between World showcased paintings of Raden Saleh and Juan Luna, famous artists from Indonesia and Philippines respectively and are acclaimed as national heroes. Below is an excerpt on their lives…..

“ While born four decades apart and distinctly different in their styles and subject matter, both Raden Saleh and Juan Luna mastered European techniques and conventions of oil painting. Raden Saleh lived in Netherlands, Germany and France, became renowned for his Oriental images of animal hunts and fights and enjoyed patronage of several royal families. 

Juan Luna lived in Spain, Italy and France, where his dramatic history paintings and gritty realist work found significant success in national exhibitions. Both artists returned to their home countries and were impacted by the anti-colonial movements and uprisings……”

It was a good half-day and sadly we had come to the end of our stay in Singapore.  We hope to come back again soon to cover all the parts we missed.


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