The Arts Space (Season 2): Impressions of Nature

The Arts Space at Level 8 of the National Library has been re-imagined as a space that brings to life our rich collection from books and photographs to artworks and poems. Inspired by the painting, “The Couple” by acclaimed Singapore artist Tan Swie Hian, the Arts librarians have set out to create a multi-purpose space – physical and virtual, collaborative and contemplative – that not only evokes a cosy reading corner with recommended reads but a curated space for displays and exhibitions.

A fly-through video of Season 2 display.

Impressions of Nature marks season two of the Arts Space thematic display of paintings from our collection. Having explored Singapore’s built streetscapes in the first season, we return to nature through three trails: Across the Lands, For the Love of Flora and Second Nature. Explore the beauty and moments in nature as captured by artists, poets and performers this season, from Nov 2018 to April 2019 at the Arts Space @ Level 8. Read on to find out more and to discover home-grown paintings, artists, poems and a host of other resources.

With imperial expansion, growth of scientific and anthropological research as well as expeditions, there was a rise in visual documentation of distant lands. In addition to early photographs, European or colonial perceptions of 19th century Southeast Asian landscapes can also be found in sketches, scientific illustrations and paintings.

Artistic representations of such “faraway places” were commonplace in establishing idyllic visions of imperial landscapes back in their home country. With Singapore functioning as a port of call in the 19th century, many travellers visited the colony, capturing their impressions in writing, prints and painting. On display are a selection of prints which include printmaking methods such as engraving, etching, aquatints and lithography.


About the printmakers
Amongst the different types of printmakers, lithographers also played an important role in reproducing artistic impressions in books for wider distribution and recording. Vincent Brooks, Hullmandel & Walton, and Ackermann & Co. were some of the famous firms in Paris and London that lithographed, published and printed prints of Singapore. Ackermann & Co., for instance, was the leading publisher of colour-plate books and decorative prints, selling compilations and illustrations for accompanying publications at its shop, The Repository of Arts in London.

Another important figure in the development of British lithography was Charles Joseph Hullmandel (of Hullmandel & Walton) who patented the method of printing tonal effects drawn on stone. Lithographers either worked with artists or were artists themselves, like French lithographers Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot and Leon Jean-Baptiste Sabatier who had worked with Louis Le Breton (1818 – 1866), a distinguished maritime artist, to reproduce his 1839 Rade de Sincapour, prise de la maison du Gouverneur (Malaisie). Charles-Nicolas Lemercier (1797 – 1859), who did the printing of this lithograph was a painter of historical scenes and landscapes and also collaborated with other artists like Barthélemy Lauvergne (1805 – 1871), a French marine painter who came to Singapore on a French expedition in 1830. Other examples of lithographers who produced prints on Singapore are Eugen von Ransonnet, J. West Giles, William Spreat and G.S. Madelay.

Below is a selection of related resources available from the NLB catalogue or the Internet. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list.

On Subject Matter

  • Kwa, C. G., Heng, D. T. S. and Tan, T. Y. (2009). Singapore, a 700-year history: From early emporium to world city . Singapore: National Archives of Singapore. .
    Call no.: RSING 959.5703 KWA
    Delving into Singapore’s history prior to Raffles’ arrival in 1819, this publication argues and expands the narrative of Singapore’s past: from a thriving early emporium due to early globalised trade to a flourishing harbour and port under the Johor-Riau sultanate and up till today’s status as a global city.


  • Low, S. Z. (ed.) (2016). Artist and empire: (En)Countering colonial legacies Singapore: National Gallery Singapore.
    Call no.: RSING 758.9941 ART
    This exhibition publication includes essays on Singapore and Southeast Asia’s art historical development and the British Empire. It includes discussions on exhibiting at Tate Britain and National Gallery Singapore, as well as the shifting debates on the notion of “empire” from Asia.


  • McAlpin, S. (1997). The landscape palimpsest: Reading early 19th century representations of Malaya. Australia: Monash Asia Institute
    Call no.: RART 704.94365951 MAC
    This paper maps the history of early 19th century British landscape paintings of Malaya. In particular, it provides insights as to how the ‘colonial eye’ sees and records foreign landscapes in this region. A painting of a fishing village in Singapore circa 1865 found in plate 26.


  • Wong, H.S. (2010). Singapore through 19th century prints & paintings. Singapore: Editions Didier Milllet..
    Call no.: RSING 769.499595703 WON
    This volume of more than 100 prints and paintings offers a telling glimpse of Singapore through the eyes of 19th century travellers. They not only highlight some of the oldest records of Singapore’s past but also the island’s most vibrant and human visions of years gone by.

On Style

  • Devon, M. (2008). Tamarind techniques for fine art lithography. New York: Abrams.
    Call no.: RART 763 DEV
    This book covers all facets of fine art lithography, from setting up a workshop of any size to pulling a successful edition. It offers complete, illustrated step-by-step instructions for all techniques in use today as well as up-to-date health and safety information in creating lithography


  • Domenico, P., Tabanelli, M.R., Adhemar, J., & Culverwell, G. (1983). Lithography: 200 years of art, history & technique. Secaucus, NJ: The Wellfleet Press.
    Call no.: RART q763 LIT
    The 250 lithographs, which are in black and white as well as in colour, illustrate important and also eye-opening examples of this art form. This book also provides an insightful history of lithography, its evolution and the relationship between the printer and the artist.


  • Vicary, R. (1977). The Thames and Hudson manual of advanced lithography. London: Thames and Hudson.
    Call no.: RART 763.028 VIC
    The techniques involved in lithography are discussed including “transferring, gouache, the use of paper plates, photographically prepared images, mixed media print, embossing, three-dimensional prints and many others.”


  • Voyages in Southeast Asia: Paintings, drawings & aquatints, 1750-1930.(199-?). (2007). London: Yu-Chee Chong Fine Art.
    Call no: RSING 759.959 VOY
    This book contains a pictorial record of the landscapes, flora and fauna and way of life of the Dutch East Indies, Malaya and the Philippines. These records were preserved in a number of art forms such as chalks, engravings, oils, watercolour and pencil, and watercolour and white gouache.

On Artists



  • Kriz, K.D. (1997). The idea of the English landscape painter: Genius as alibi in the early nineteenth century. New Haven (USA): Yale University Press.
    Call no.: RART 758.10942090344 KRI
    The author “critically examines the emergence of the Romantic concept of the landscape genius, arguing that it was a category produced by critics, painters, and the public in opposition to other ways of thinking about the artist in the period around 1800. Kriz studies the way in which the application of paint was thought to represent the character of the artist and of particular forms of Englishness.”


  • National Museum (Singapore). (1983). Singapore re-discovered: A visual documentation of early Singapore. Singapore: National Museum.
    Call no.: RSING 769.4995957 SIN
    Published in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name, this book features a selection of paintings, prints and postcards that form an important visual record of old Singapore.


The beauty of flora has inspired poets, composers and artists across the ages. Flowers blossomed into one of the most popular subject matter for the visual arts. This is evident from depictions of botanical elements in ancient art such as Egyptian ceramic-ware, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings through to the contemporary art of today.

A familiar sight in our garden city’s landscape is the bougainvillea: a popular tropical and sub-tropical ornamental flower that adorns Singapore’s roads and overhead bridges. The common colours of the flowers are magenta or purple, while other hues include pure white to rich crimson. On display are paintings which celebrate the vivid hues of tropical flora by Singapore artists, Eng Tow and Lim Tiong Ghee.


About the artists
Eng Tow (1947 – )
Eng Tow (b. 1947, Singapore) is noted as one of Singapore’s most outstanding local female artists of the 1980s. Her early career which revolved around textiles won her critical acclaim in the United Kingdom and Singapore. She first studied art at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and then headed to England for further studies. Eng began her artistic career working on textile art before moving to mixed media collage, paper pulp work and more recently to bronze-cast sculptures. Eng Tow has a personal interest and passion for nature, which is reflected in her works.

Lim Tiong Ghee (1955 – )
A self-taught artist renowned for his signature abstracts and collages, Lim Tiong Ghee (b. 1955, Singapore), prefers abstraction in his portrayal of landscapes and tropical flowers. He has painted numerous landscapes since the 1970s. In his Tropical Plant series, the growth of plants is re-created on canvas. Aside from collages, Lim has also worked with mixed-media and watercolour. He has won several accolades for his works, including the Category Winner (Representational), UOB Painting of the Year Competition in 1984 with his watercolour painting Reflection, and UOB Competition’s Top Award for his wrapping paper collage, From the Turtledove, in 1989.

Below is a selection of related resources available from the NLB catalogue or the Internet. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list.

On Subject Matter

  • Barnard, T.P. (2018). Nature’s colony: Empire, nation and environment in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Singapore: NUS Press.
    Call no: Available as eBook on NLB Overdrive
    The Singapore Botanic Gardens, established in 1859, became a World Heritage Site in 2015. This publication explores the history of the long-established botanical garden and delves into its “scientific politics and politics of Singapore society during its many transformations”.


  • Biodiversity Heritage Library. (2018). Biodiversity Heritage Library. Retrieved October 20, 2018 from Biodiversity Heritage Library’s website:
    Read about Singapore’s natural and botanical history from NLB’s digitised collection of books that have been added to Biodiversity Heritage Library’s online holdings. Titles include famed British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace’s 1874 publication of The Malay Archipelago, The Land Of The Orangutan And The Bird Of Paradise.


  • Chan, D.(2017). Flower power: The meaning of flowers in Asian art. San Francisco, CA : Asian Art Museum
    Call no: RART 700.464213 ASI
    Focused on six historically celebrated flowers – lotus, plum blossom, cherry blossom, chrysanthemum, tulip and rose, this book unravels the meaning behind these blooms in Asian art.


  • Humphrey, S.J. (2018). Botanical art with scientific illustrations. Ransbury (UK): The Crowood Press.
    Call no: Available as eBook on NLB Overdrive
    This ebook highlights the commonalities found in botanical and scientific illustration, such as meticulous observations, crucial composition and the need to be precise in rendering the accuracy of colour. Practical advice on techniques, recording, framing, storing and promotion of one’s own artwork is also given.


  • Simblet, S. (2010). Botany for the artist. London: Dorling Kindersley.
    Call no: RSING 743.7 SIM
    Siblet’s detailed botanical illustrations show how an understanding of plant structures can inspire the reader to draw it themselves. Chapters include a brief history on botanical drawings and drawing of different parts of the plant such as stems, leaves and flowers.

On Style

  • Baldwin, A. (2009). Creative paint workshop for mixed-media artists. Beverly (US): Rockport Publishers.
    Call no: Available as eBook on NLB Overdrive
    This workshop-style book “explores a wide variety of innovative and experimental paint techniques” for “stunning visual impact and texture for many types of work.”


  • Brommer, G. F. (1994). Collage techniques: A guide for artists and illustrators. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications.
    Call no.: R ART q702.812 BRO.
    This book presents collage within the context of a wide variety of materials, including washi and watermedia; “stained, prepared, and found papers; photographs; and fabric and fibres.


  • Harris, P. (2005). Painting nature: Discover the delightful details of nature. Cincinnati: North Light.
    Call no.: RART 751.4 HAR.
    The author shows how nature can be observed accurately and allow one’s knowledge to give life and credibility to their paintings, regardless of one’s their artistic style.


  • Harrison, H., Grasdal, P., & Atkinson, J.L. (2004). Collage sourcebook: Exploring the art and techniques of collage. Hove: Apple.
    Call no.: RART 702.812 COL
    This book is “filled with step-by-step projects and instructions for various collage techniques.” It also highlights some of the works of prominent collage artists.

On Artists

  • National Library Board. (2014). Eng Tow: Artist. Retrieved 21 October, 2018 from NORA.
    Although well-known as a textile artist, Eng Tow is also internationally recognised for her research in special art, most notably the area of washi.


  • Eng, T. (c1992). Reflections: Works by Eng Tow. Singapore: Deutsche Bank (Singapore).
    Call no: RSING 759.95957 ENG
    This book leads the reader “through the stages of her artistic developments, describing at the same time the central message” of Eng Tow’s work. Her works “not only reflect sensory impressions of nature and landscape, but also the experiences gained from them.”


  • National Library Board. (2016). Eng Tow. written by Adlina Maulod. Retrieved October 21, 2018 from Singapore Infopedia.
    Eng Tow has been lauded as one of Singapore’s most outstanding local female artists of the 1980s. She began her career as a tapestry artist working with different textiles but later ventured into other art forms such as printmaking and papermaking. Her works have received critical acclaim both locally and overseas.


  • Fluid expressions of the sea and marine life. (1987, March 24). The Straits Times, p.21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
    This article describes the essence of Eng Tow’s exhibition in 1987 in which she featured 24 of her most recent works based on the theme Dari Laut (From the Sea).


  • National Library Board. (2009). Lim Tiong Ghee. written by Nurhaizatul Jamila Jamil. Retrieved October 21, 2018 from Singapore Infopedia.
    Lim Tiong Ghee began as a watercolourist before moving to acrylic and collage. A self-taught artist, he has exhibited extensively and views painting as a medium to portray the quotidian. He gained critical acclaim when his collage, From the Turtledove, won the top award at the 8th UOB Painting of the Year Competition in 1989.


Artists make the invisible visible through their impressions of nature, capturing movements and colours of the natural world. Using nature as a source of inspiration, abstract works of art offer interpretations and revelations of nature’s structures and colours. Abstract art, or non-objective art, tends to be non-representational, with form and colour being the focus of such art works. The semi-abstract works displayed have their basis in natural forms such as the lalang or the leaves from a tree, simplifying them, “without destroying their identities”. The quiet nature of the wind runs through these artworks, captured by the movement of bold strokes by the artists.


About the artists
Lim Tiong Ghee (1955 – )
A self-taught artist renowned for his signature abstracts and collages, Lim Tiong Ghee (b. 1955, Singapore), prefers abstraction in his portrayal of landscapes and tropical flowers. He has painted numerous landscapes since the 1970s. His Seabreeze series of 10 artworks capture the different moods of the sea and land. Aside from collages, Lim has worked with mixed-media and watercolour. He has won several accolades for his works, including the Category Winner (Representational), UOB Painting of the Year Competition in 1984 with his watercolour painting Reflection, and UOB Competition’s Top Award for his wrapping paper collage, From the Turtledove, in 1989.

Abdul Ghani Hamid (1933 – 2014)
Abdul Ghani Abdul Hamid (b. 1933, Singapore – d. 2014, Singapore) was an award-winning writer, poet and artist. Writing primarily in Malay, A. Ghani Hamid, as he was commonly known, had hundreds of poems, short stories, essays, newspaper articles and plays to his name. As a painter, he participated in more than 60 exhibitions since 1950. He was a founding member of Angkatan Pelukis Aneka Daya (APAD, or Artists of Various Resources) and the recipient of three prestigious literary awards: Anugerah Tun Seri Lanang (1998), Southeast Asia Write Award for Malay Poetry (1998) and the Cultural Medallion (1999). In 1978, his collection of poems, written between 1973 and 1978, was translated into English and published under the title, Breezes. Continuing with this nature-inspired theme, his fifth solo exhibition was titled Breeze ’89, while his sixth solo exhibition was named Breeze 2000. His series of abstract paintings, Lalang, were the most famous in his body of work.

Prabhakara Jimmy Quek (1955 – )
Prabhakara Jimmy Quek (b. 1955, Singapore), is an artist known for his keen interest in spirituality, with Buddhist tenets greatly influencing his works. Notions of change, impermanence and inter-relational nature of things are often reflected in his paintings. He signs his paintings with “Prabhakara”, the Sanskrit word for ‘source of light’. He has held 11 one-man art exhibitions and participated in more than 80 group art exhibitions in Singapore and abroad. Quek’s earlier works depicted nature in “its wild and picturesque state”. Beginning to Rejoice and Celebrating with Nature are two of his best-known works from this earlier period. While Quek is an abstract painter, he uses figures to create colour, form, line, composition, texture and shades. He has won numerous awards for his art, such as the third prize in the National Art Competition (1974) and the first and merit prize in the IBM Art Award competition (1988).

Below is a selection of related resources available from the NLB catalogue or the Internet. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list.

On Subject Matter


  • Nair, M. (2018). Vital possessions: Poems. Singapore: Ethos Books.
    Call no.: RSING S821 NAI
    Vital Possessions is Marc Nair’s ninth book of poetry that arose out of the Gardens by the Bay residency in 2015. This collection of poetry contemplates the city-dwellers relationship with nature and natural spaces.


  • Nature Society (Singapore). Nature Watch. Singapore: Nature Society.
    Call no.: RGEN 508.5957 NW, PublicationSG
    This is the quarterly magazine of Nature Society (Singapore) featuring articles for nature lovers everywhere. The society is dedicated to the appreciation, conservation, study and enjoyment of the natural heritage in Singapore, Malaysia and the surrounding region.



  • Pang, A. (200?). Patience. Retrieved 21 October, 2018 from NORA.
    This poem by Alvin Pang traces the life of a man who studied and observed nature since he was a child.

On Style


  • Horton, J. (2007). Painting landscapes in oils . United Kingdom: Search Press.
    Call no.: RART 751.45436 HOR
    The reader is taken through all the stages of landscape painting, from making and preparing one’s own canvases to producing large-scale paintings. It also provides six, clear step-by-step demonstrations explaining how to paint various landscapes, including trees and foliage, seas and beaches.


  • Kleeblatt, N.L., Berger, M., & Balken, D.B. (2008).  Action/abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976 . New York: Jewish Museum.
    Call no.: RART 709.730747471 ACT
    Abstract paintings of some artists have revolutionised the art world in the 1940s and 1950s and “continue to inspire passionate arguments” to this day. Moreover, this book provides a “sharp new focus on a pivotal art movement” and “presents extensive commentary on the two most influential critics of postwar American art, Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg.”


  • Moszynska, A. (1990). Abstract art. London; New York: Thames and Hudson.
    Call no.: RART 709.04052 MOS
    An overview of abstract art within various political and cultural contexts, Moszynska’s publication is a good introduction for anyone who has an interest in the history and evolution of this style.


  • Stewart, D. (2015). Botanical art with scientific illustrations. Cincinnati: North Light Books.
    Call no: Available as eBook on NLB Overdrive
    The artist shows how one can use a combination of pastel and acrylic to achieve unique results. It also guides the exploration of the use of colour theory in abstraction and the use of underpainting to bring structure and depth to one’s art.

On Artists

  • National Library Board. (2014). Abdul Ghani bin Abdul Hamid (1933 – 2014). written by Nureza Ahmad & Shah Alam bin Mohd Zaini. Retrieved 21 September, 2018, from Singapore Infopedia.
    Abdul Ghani Abdul Hamid was an award-winning writer, poet and artist. As a painter, he had participated in more than 60 exhibitions since 1950. He was a founding member of Angkatan Pelukis Aneka Daya (APAD, or Artists of Various Resources) and the recipient of three prestigious literary awards: Anugerah Tun Seri Lanang (1998), Southeast Asia Write Award for Malay Poetry (1998) and the Cultural Medallion (1999).


  • Nanda, A. (2014, April 15). Prominent writer a Renaissance man. The Straits Times, p.2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
    Article on the life and career of Abdul Ghani Hamid, including his contributions to art and Malay literature.


  •  Graphic artist on the job. (1985, March 3). The Straits Times, p.2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
    This article describes Lim Tiong Ghee’s work as a graphic artist when he was employed by the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), the forerunner of MediaCorp. It also discusses his approach to his craft, which was mainly done in watercolour back then.


  • U-H, Cheah. (2002, July 6). Tributes to nature.The Straits Times, p.15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
    This article discusses the works of two Singaporean artists, Goh Beng Kwan and Lim Tiong Ghee. It includes a discussion of Lim Tiong Ghee’s Seabreeze series of works and how they “capture different moods of sea and land”, as well as the styles involved.


  • Quek, P. J. (1998). Prabhakara: Recent paintings. Singapore: Prabhakara Jimmy Quek.
    Call no.: RSING 759.95957 QUE
    Published in conjunction with the 1998 art exhibition by Quek at the Alliance Francaise de Singapour, this book includes an essay by Constance Sheares on Quek’s journey as an artist.


  • Sasitharan, T. (1990, May 25). Images of the flux..The Straits Times, p.8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
    A review of Quek’s third solo exhibition The Spirit of Nature, which describes his works as “images of the flux of experience, both perceptual and psychological”. It also discusses the meditative quality of his abstract landscape works.


The information in this resource guide is valid as November 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2018.

Written by Nadia Ramli