Lim Cheng Hoe

1912 - 1979

Singapore

Lim Cheng Hoe | 林清河 (b. 1912, Xiamen, China; d. 1979, Singapore) was a first generation watercolour painter whose peers included Cheong Soo Pieng and Chen Chong Swee. He is best known for his depictions of the Singapore River and kampong scenes.

Lim did not receive a formal education in art. Between 1930 to 1932, while at Raffles Institution, he learnt art from Richard Walker, the first art inspector of schools in Singapore. He continued painting from 1932 to 1935 at Walker’s Saturday art class, while he was working at the Public Works Department. Thereafter, Lim continued to teach himself art by reading widely on art history, criticism and techniques, and experimenting with new ways to paint.

Lim painted directly from his subjects outdoors. From the 1930s to the late 1960s, Lim led The Sunday Group, consisted of artists and amateurs, on painting excursions. Participants of the group included Cheong Soo Pieng and Chen Chong Swee, and younger artists Thomas Yeo and Ong Kim Seng.

Lim painted actively from the late 1940s, and the years between 1955 and 1965 were considered Lim’s golden period. During this time, he focused on portraiture in watercolours and pastels, and developed a more abstract expression of his landscape works. 

Lim was a founding member of the Singapore Watercolour Society (established 1969), and was credited for the amalgamation of local interest in watercolours. He strongly influenced watercolourists Ong Kim Seng, Leng Joo Wong and Loy Chye Chuan.

Although he died in 1979, Lim’s legacy continued to be celebrated. The Singapore Watercolour Society exhibition in tribute to Lim (1980) was followed by The Lim Cheng Hoe Retrospective at the National Museum Art Gallery (1986), and a group exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum (2000).