Part of a painting of a party scene by renowned Singapore artist Chua Mia Tee. His signature and the year of composition can be seen in the top left hand corner
Part of a painting of a party scene by renowned Singapore artist Chua Mia Tee. His signature and the year of composition can be seen in the top left hand corner

Some time ago, a colleague from CapitaLand Singapore brought my attention to some works of art and decorative items in a store. They were placed there when the former ANA Hotel was demolished to make way for CapitaLand's The Nassim, a luxurious boutique development comprising 55 luxury homes.

An Exciting Discovery

Among the items were seven oil paintings, each bearing a signature that read “M. T. Chua”, and the figure “80”. They depicted most vividly various parts of a hotel – its function room, cafeteria, swimming pool, guest room, etc – all presented in the realist style. Could they be the work of veteran Singapore artist Chua Mia Tee, painted in 1980? If so, we would certainly want to include them in CapitaLand’s art collection, but not before they were restored for they looked dull and showed signs of wear and tear with paint chipped off in places. Art restoration is a process of stabilising original artwork and integrating repairs to preserve the artist’s creative intent.

We were extremely delighted to receive confirmation that Mr Chua was indeed the artist behind these art pieces. We were put in touch with Dr Chua Yang, his daughter, to explore if the artist himself could do the restoration for us. Dr Chua responded most warmly to the request. She shared that she could remember those paintings, and could even recall going with her father to view the hotel at the time of the project.

“I was commissioned by the hotel to do these paintings for its 1981 calendar,” said Mr Chua, showing me the very calendar that he has kept all these years. At that time, the hotel was known as Century Park Sheraton as captured in one of the paintings, and this name was printed on the cover of the calendar. “I went around the building to see and feel the spaces, took photographs, and executed the paintings in my studio," Mr Chua added.

An Authentic Restoration

I met Mr Chua and his wife, artist Lee Boon Ngan, both silver-haired and kind and loving, in their comfortable home-cum-studio. I was surrounded by beautiful art pieces by both artists in their spacious living room: family portraits, scenes of faraway lands, koi fish that seemed to move in shimmering waters, flowers so fresh looking that one could almost pick them from the canvas; all brilliantly executed. I was delighted when Mr Chua said he could personally restore the paintings for us, at a token fee.

But when we subsequently made arrangements for Mr Chua to do the job, Dr Chua indicated it was not possible as her dad was very busy during that period. Later we read that he was conferred the prestigious Singapore Cultural Medallion, and immediately understood that he must have been busy with press interviews and making preparations to attend the ceremony. We felt truly happy for him to receive this accolade at the age of 84.

Finally, we found a suitable time to transport the seven paintings to Mr Chua’s place. He greeted them as if they were old friends, surveying and studying each one carefully and lovingly. In a week or so, we had them back – well before the one-month timeframe we had mutually agreed on. Mr Chua did such a good job that each piece now looks as if it has just been painted. Gone are the blemishes and the dullness, and the paint still looks wet – thanks to a fresh coat of varnish applied. Everything has suddenly come alive, and there is no question about the authenticity of this exercise — for the artist himself personally did it, whatever he executed must have matched his own artistic intent.

A New Lease of Life

Where can these rejuvenated paintings be displayed? The options are aplenty – at The Pitstop, CapitaLand’s staff lounge at Capital Tower to spark conversations among colleagues; at The Nassim to give a hint of the site’s history; and more. Best of all, Mr Chua has given us the artist’s license to create new names for these seven paintings. With that, they will no doubt have a new lease of life.

This article is contributed by Mr Francis Wong Hooe Wai.