Luis Chan (陳福善)(1904-1995) was born in Panama. His father was a native of Panyu, Guangdong (廣東番禺). They moved to and settled in Hong Kong around 1910. He received his high school education in Queen’s College (皇仁書院).
Every day he read the South China Morning Post and he had a good command of English. He was fascinated by the Old Gothic fonts of the logo of the newspaper.
After leaving school, he worked in a law firm as a junior staff. Luis did not have formal learning in art education but he was highly assiduous and was mainly self-taught. He enrolled in a corresponding course in watercolour painting in England. He sent his works every month for the tutors to mark and comment. He soon mastered the technique and started en plein painting around his home in Wanchai, Causeway Bay and in the New Territories.
Luis was highly gifted. His art was appreciated by Mrs Shanton, the wife of the proprietor of the law firm. Mrs Shanton recommended Luis to join the Hong Kong Art Association where he met other artists. All the artists were westerners and Luis was the only Chinese. They had monthly meetings and an annual exhibition.
During the 1935 exhibition, a very well dressed gentleman approached Luis and they had a nice chat about fine art. After the gentleman left, Luis was told that he was Sir Andrew Caldecott (郝德傑爵士), the Governor of Hong Kong at that time. Sir Caldecott would like to purchase Luis’s works and asked Luis to send paintings to him for inspection. Out of 40 paintings, Sir Caldecott chose 4 and paid him $45 to $50 for each painting. It was a very high price at that time as a painting of Xu beihong (徐悲鴻) was sold for $35 to $40.
In 1935, Luis held his solo exhibition at the Gloucester Hotel, which was the first of its kind in Hong Kong. The opening ceremony was presided by Mrs Shanton and Mrs Caldecott. Eight pieces of his watercolour and oil paintings were purchased to hang in the lobby of the Government House.
Luis wrote art critics in English for the South China Morning Post. This enriched his art knowledge and his analytical skills. In 1950s to 1960s, he published a few books in fine art. The titles of several of his books are 國畫概論，素描的藝術，英文美術字帖，二十世紀繪畫的演變，陳福善的世界。
Until he was in his forties, Luis creations revolved around realistic landscape. His high skills earned him the reputation of ‘Watercolour King’ (水彩王). However, Luis believed that fine art should be creative and expressive. The form and style of painting should always change and evolve. From around 1962, at the age of 57, Luis boldly gave up practicing his long-renowned landscape paintings and began radical artistic experiments based on Cubism, Surrealism and Abstractism. He made good use of xuan paper (rice paper) which is highly water absorbent. Besides watercolours all other media including acrylic paints were used. His abstract paintings present fascinating kaleidoscope of all aspects of urban life.
Luis’s philosophy can be reflected in a pair of couplets hung in his exhibition. ‘過於傳統提防江郎才盡, 自由自在大可妙想天開。’. It can be translated as ‘Being too traditional may lead to exhaustion of talents. Free and unrestrained style can unleash unlimited creative prowess.’ Luis combined Eastern visual elements with that of the West and created highly colourful, ingenious and dreamlike art works.
Luis’ successful career saw his artworks being highly sought after and treasured worldwide.
Watercolour Paintings of Luis Chan
Oil Paintings of Luis Chan
On the back of the above painting is another landscape painting (unsigned).
Abstract Paintings on Paper
Inscriptions: 壬子春 陳 (square white seal:) 福善, (hand-drawn red seal:) LUIS CHAN 1972
This page was written in memory of my late father Dr N. S. Siu for introducing the art of Mr Chan to me.
I would also like to thank Professor P Lam for his continued guidance and advice.
夏令人(1983)，畫家陳福善，美術家 Artist 雙月刊，弟三十五期，58至61頁，美術家出版社
https://www.christies.com/zh/lot/lot-5445902 (Highly recommended for further reading)