Cover Tan Swie Hian (Photo: Yang Gallery)

Going once, going twice...These Singaporean artworks have been known for breaking international and local records for auction prices, and the appreciation for local art has never been greater since

When people hear about Singapore, they most often associate the country with business, technology, economy and science. This is not the case these days with our burgeoning art scene that is cultivated by the emergence of local artists and their magnificent works of art.

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While the local art scene was previously overshadowed by other sectors of Singapore society, Singaporean artists and their oeuvres are gaining traction internationally and locally as their outstanding artworks are being auctioned off at exorbitantly high prices.

This is undeniably a huge milestone for the local art community and the larger cultural-scape of Singapore as the extremely high auction prices for Singaporean artworks show a greater international recognition and appreciation for our local art, which in turn highlights a larger awareness for Singaporean art and culture amongst foreigners and locals alike.

These most expensive Singaporean artworks ever sold reflect a changing cultural landscape in the country and the positive potential of the Singapore art scene.

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Tan Swie Hian’s ‘Portrait of Bada Shanren’

Singaporean artist Tan Swie Hian broke the record for the most expensive work sold at an auction by a living Singaporean or South-east Asian artist in the 2014 Poly Auction in Beijing with his ink-on-rice-paper work titled Portrait Of Bada Shanren—which sold for $4.4 million. He outdid himself when this ink painting beat his auction price of his oil painting When The Moon Is Orbed—which was sold at the same auction in 2012 for a record $3.7 million.

The popularity of the higher-priced ink painting amongst Chinese art collectors not only highlight a Chinese affinity to ink paintings, but it also gave the artist and Singapore Overseas Chinese art greater recognition in China. In reacting to the milestone event, the artist told The Straits Times, “This has come as a complete surprise. It is certainly a rare honour to be recognised in China which is emerging as the global art centre. My art has been embraced by collectors there who continue to support me.”

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Aw Tee Hong’s ‘Singapore River’

In 2019, Singaporean artist Aw Tee Hong set a personal best for himself when his painting of the Singapore River was sold for $198,000 at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong. The untitled oil on canvas painting came from a private collection in Singapore and it went for sale at the Sotheby’s Hong Kong Modern & Contemporary South-east Asian Art Day Sale auction in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Aw is the artist behind The River Merchants bronze sculpture in Raffles Place and he is known for using a variety of media in his works—such as oil and acrylic, watercolour, Chinese ink, charcoal and sculptures. He is also famed for capturing fast-vanishing cityscapes in his work, which reflects a perspective of the artist bearing witness to Singapore’s drastic transformation throughout the years.

His insightful artistic direction take pride in the locality and history of our young nation, and it has, in turn, gained the curiosity and interest of the world with regards to Singapore’s nostalgic past and the arduous struggle for success.

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Tan Swie Hian’s ‘When The Moon Is Orbed’

The famed artist Tan Swie Hian also held a previous record in the 2012 Poly Auction where his oil painting When The Moon Is Orbed was sold at for a record $3.7 million, a record at the time in Southeast Asia. This was his first piece of artwork to be sold in China and it immediately propelled him to fame as the most expensive living artist in Southeast Asia.

As a multidisciplinary artist who has broken barriers with his innovative art pieces that mix the East with the West and has drawn wealthy buyers to bid on his works, he draws a lot of inspiration from Buddhism, spirituality and Chinese art and culture to create his culturally significant pieces. The combination of the Western brush strokes with Chinese fable in this painting shows an eclectic and universal worldview that the artist adopts.

See also: 7 Of The Most Expensive Watches Ever Sold At Auction