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Visual Arts

Lim Tze Peng

Second-generation Nanyang style artist best known for his Chinese ink paintings


Published: 12 Oct 2016

Time taken : >15mins

Build your foundations step by step the hard way, then you will be able to express yourself freely later […] Inspiration doesn’t come from within naturally, it emerges from unceasing practice and hard work

Lim Tze Peng is a second-generation Nanyang style artist best known for his spirited Chinese ink paintings of old Singapore, particularly of old Malay kampongs, Chinatown and the Singapore River. In a six-decade art practice, the ex-school teacher and self-taught artist has developed a significant body of work—comprising oil, Chinese ink and, most recently, reinvented calligraphic paintings—that reveals the artist’s development from a realist painter to an expressionist artist of tremendous vigour while painting an emotive and subtle narrative of Singapore’s history as experienced by the common man. In 2003, he received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to visual arts in Singapore.

Born on 28 Sep 1921 in Singapore, Lim Tze Peng taught himself to paint as a young boy. Passionate about his hobby, he practised painting with great diligence, creating still lifes rendered in watercolours and oils. He was educated in Chung Cheng High School, and went on to become a teacher at Sin Min School, a primary school then located in Pasir Ris, in 1949. In 1951, he became the principal of Sin Min School and remained so until his retirement in 1981. Throughout his educational career, Lim pursued his passion for art relentlessly.

As a young man, Lim went on excursions around Singapore and painted landscapes. He particularly liked depicting Malay kampongs, which he continued to paint until they gradually were replaced by other urban developments. He then turned his focus to old residential ethnic buildings in the city and rushed to make many paintings of them when government plans to demolish those were made public.

He progressed onto the medium for which he has become renowned—Chinese ink—painting initially in the traditional style. Although he made several trips within the Southeast Asian region from the ’60s onwards to gain inspiration, resulting in several lush paintings of Balinese and Thai verdant landscapes, it was the scenes of his home country, Singapore, that most inspired him.

In the two decades following Singapore’s independence, the rapid urban development and renewal of the island nation meant that much of its villages, old buildings and landmarks were removed. During this time, wanting to preserve the sights of a rapidly disappearing Singapore, Tze Peng made many paintings depicting scenes of early Singapore. He painted streetscapes, riverscapes, kampong scenes, Pulau Ubin and other scenes, capturing the colour and spirit of everyday life in Singapore during its early nation-building years. He also made many paintings of Chinatown and the Singapore River in the late ’70s and early ’80s just before their redevelopment. Today, these paintings possess great poignancy for their portrayal of beloved landscapes and ways of life now lost.

Although there were more than 20 years between his first solo exhibition in 1970 and his second solo showing in 1991, Lim participated in many group exhibitions during the ’70s and ’80s around the world in Russia, the UK, France, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Brunei. After his retirement from the teaching profession in 1981, he devoted himself to his art practice and began to gain recognition for his impressive output.

Lim’s works in the ’90s and 2000s showed a developed mastery of Chinese calligraphy—his newer calligraphic works featuring classical Chinese poems were strikingly bold. His landscape paintings also began to move away from his previous realist approach to a more contemporary expressionist style. Although they remained rooted in the Chinese ink tradition, they boldly reinvented tradition, introducing spots and splashes of vibrant colour to the traditional monochromatic colour scheme, featuring a fresh spontaneity in its brisk application of the Chinese calligraphic stroke.

Lim has received recognition for his art, receiving the 1977 Special Prize at the Commonwealth Art Exhibition, UK. In 2003, he received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to visual arts in Singapore.

His works have been exhibited in solo exhibitions in Singapore and China and group exhibitions around the world to acclaim. His works have been lauded, especially in China, for their unique reinvention of the Chinese calligraphic stroke and ink painting as well as their highly spirited and emotive expression.

Lim held a solo exhibition Tze Peng in Bali at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts that ran from April to May 2012, featuring 50 paintings of Bali, Indonesia made over 30 years. In July 2012, he held another solo exhibition Lim Tze Peng’s Solo Exhibition: Black and White, at Ode To Art Marina Bay Sands Gallery. Featuring a new series of more than 20 paintings of Singapore made over the past 12 months that hark back to his early years of traditional Chinese ink painting, the exhibition revealed the strong hand of an artist confident of his identity and energised by a passion for art and life.

In April 2013, Lim held a solo exhibition 攀登 The Journey at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.

In July 2014, the Lim Tze Peng Gallery was officially opened at Lim's alma mater, Chung Cheng High School (Main), by Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong. Lim donated over a hundred of his paintings, of which close to a hundred are exhibited in the gallery.


28 Sep 1921

Born in Singapore.

1949 to 1950

Teacher, Sin Min School.

1951 to 1981

Principal, Sin Min School.


Received Pingat Pentadbiran Awam (Public Administration Medal).


Solo exhibition, Singapore.


Received Special Prize, Commonwealth Art Exhibition, UK.

Participated in Royal Overseas League Exhibition, UK.


Participated in Singapore Historical Monuments Exhibition, Singapore.

Participated in Singapore Artists Group Exhibition, Moscow, Russia


Participated in Fifth Festival of Asian Art, Hong Kong.


Received Pingat Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Medal), Singapore.

Participated in Singapore Calligraphy Exhibition, Singapore.


Participated in Seventh International Artists Art Exhibition, Taiwan


Participated in Eighth International Artists Art Exhibition, Taiwan.

Participated in ASEAN Art Exhibition, various ASEAN countries


Participated in Three-man Art Exhibition, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan.


Participated in Salon des Artists Francais, Grand Palais, Paris, France.

Participated in NAFA Lecturers Art Exhibition 88, Singapore.


Participated in New York Art Expo 89, New York, USA.

Participated in 1st Bru-Sin Art Exhibition 89, National Museum Art Gallery, Brunei.

Contemporary Art in Singapore: Where East Meets West, Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam; Deutsche Bank AG, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Nuremburg; Mannheimer Kunstverein, Mannheim; Federal Republic.


Participated in International Chinese Calligraphy Exhibition, Seoul, South Korea.


Solo exhibition, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.

Participated in International Chinese Calligraphy Exhibition, Beijing, China.


Participated in Tze Peng by Himself, Art in Asia, Singapore Art Fair 1993, Shenns Fine Art Gallery, Singapore.

Participated in CAP III Inkscape, Singapore Artist Directory Exhibition , Empress Place Museum, Singapore.


Solo exhibition Moments by Lim Tze Peng, Takashimaya Gallery, Singapore.


Solo exhibition Meeting Places in Fleeting Spaces, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore


Participated in Singapore Art Society 50th Anniversary Exhibition, Singapore.


Participated in 65th Anniversary Exhibition of The Society of Chinese Artists, Singapore.


Received Cultural Medallion for contributions to visual arts in Singapore.

Solo exhibition Tze Peng, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore.


Participated in Crossroads: Collective Works of Second-Generation Artists, National University of Singapore Museum, Singapore.


Participated in The Society of Chinese Artists 70th Anniversary Commemorative Exhibition, Singapore.

Participated in Style & Imagination: Art in the Nanyang Academy, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore.


Participated in Highlights of Southeast Asian Collection, National University of Singapore Museum, Singapore.

Apr 2012 to May 2012

Solo exhibition Tze Peng in Bali, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore.

Jul 2012

Solo exhibition Lim Tze Peng’s Solo Exhibition: Black and White, Ode To Art, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.

Apr 2013 to Jun 2013

Solo exhibition 攀登 The Journey, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.

Jul 2014 to Jul 2014

Lim Tze Peng Gallery officially opened at Lim's alma mater, Chung Cheng High School (Main), by Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong. Lim donated over a hundred of his paintings, of which close to a hundred are exhibited in the gallery.


TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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