Syed Ahmad's painting fetches RM140,000 at auction

Farezza Hanum Rashid

KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal’s untitled oil painting was sold for RM140,000, the highest bid for artwork yesterday at the Malaysian and Southeast Asian Art Auction.

Presented by the Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers, the auction was held at Galeri Prima NSTP and featured 144 artworks.

Painted in 1958 at Kirkby, England, where Syed Ahmad was teaching at the Malay Teachers’ Training Centre there, the rare work was of a Malay woman clad in baju kurung, donning a coiffeured hair bun and showing off her hour-glass figure.

It was also one of Syed Ahmad’s earliest and best works.

The bidding for the painting started at RM70,000 and quickly escalated as it was the most anticipated piece in the auction among those present, and also those who bid online and via telephone.

Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers director Sim Polenn said the auction, which is held twice a year, was a good opportunity for art collectors to buy, not only good works, but also old and rare ones.

“These are considered national treasures as 85 per cent of them are by Malaysian artists.

“Some of these works are from collectors in other countries. So, it is good for local collectors to buy and bring local art back to the country,” he said.

The auction also featured artworks by Thai, Indonesian, Filipino and Vietnamese artists. 

The second highest bid went to artwork by contemporary feminist artist Eng Hwee Chu; an acrylic painting titled “Black Moon 13”, which was sold for RM60,000, exceeding the expected maximum bidding of RM55,000.

Produced in 1992, the 167cm-by-228cm painting on canvas depicted the soul-searching of the artist herself.

It had her as the progenitor in a flaming red nude body, denoting personal freedom although she was surrounded by a barricade in which her life events were re-enacted.

Other high biddings included Sabahan artist Awang Damit Ahmad’s “E.O.C” (Essence of Culture.)

It represented his world view, about striking a balance between the strange inter-dependence and perpetual battles between man and nature. 

Datuk Chuah Thean Teng’s batik painting, titled “Fruit Season”, was auctioned off for RM48,000. 

Chuah, who died in Penang in 2008, was credited as a pioneer of batik painting.

“Fruit Season” shows three women carrying a basket of fruits in an era where women began to industriously help out a growing nation.

Other works featured in the auction included Yusof Ghani’s “Topeng Series”, Eng Tay’s bronze sculpture “Stillness”, Sulaiman Esa’s important work “Unholy Print II” and Fauzin Mustafa’s “The Lost Horizon” series. There were also photographs, sculptures and contemporary artworks.

According to Sim, the Malaysian and Southeast Asian Art Auction will be held again at Galeri Prima NSTP in October.