VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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Portrait of Madam Wellington Koo
2013-00575
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

This portrait of Mrs Wellington Koo tells the story of a Peranakan woman who was the embodiment of a remarkable cross-cultural life. Whilst the painting portrays her in Western dress, she is a product of a mixture of influences. She had an extraordinary life as the daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Southeast Asia and as wife of a Chinese diplomat, travelling all around the world and interacting with a vast array of people of great importance. She was a symbol of the cosmopolitan nature of wealthy Peranakans during the early 20th century and their embrace of the West. A portrait of her also reflects the prominent place that Peranakans had in shaping the societies they were a part of.

History of the Object
The subject of this portrait is Mdm Wellington Koo née Oei Hui-lan (1899-1992). Madam Koo was the daughter of wealthy sugar and shipping businessman Oei Tiong Ham of Semarang, Java. She was one of his 26 acknowledged children and reportedly his favourite. In 1920, she married Chinese diplomat Wellington Koo, who became ambassador to France, Britain, the United States and the United Nations. Madam Koo occupied multiple worlds, as was the case for many Peranakans. She grew up in Semarang and Singapore where she lived in European-style mansions and attended Christian mission schools. She also became one of the first Asian women to be featured in European fashion and style magazines. As seen in this portrait, she wore haute couture, as well as the cheongsam and sarong kebaya. The portrait evokes an atmosphere of romanticism, grace, and elegance: it is at once timeless (in its courtly glamour) and very modern in the fasionable cut of the gown and the sophistication of the fabric.

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Type
Painting 
Materials
Oil on canvas 
Measurements
H197 x W100cm 
Creator name
Charles Julian Theodore Tharp 
Creator date
1878–1951 
Where it was made
London, United Kingdom 
Geography
United Kingdom 
Time period
AD 20th century ~ AD 20th century 
Creation date
1921 
Function
This is a portrait of Madam Wellington Koo née Oei Hui-lan, the daughter of Indonesian Peranakan shipping and sugar tycoon Oei Tiong Ham and the wife of Chinese diplomat Wellington Koo. 
Acquisition
 
Copyright
Peranakan Museum, Singapore 
Acknowledgements
Jackie Yoong, Maria Khoo Joseph 
Owner
Peranakan Museum, Singapore  
Museum
Peranakan Museum, Singapore 
Credit line
Gift of Lim and Tan Securities Pte Ltd in memory of Johnny and Nancy Lim 

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