Ngwe Gaing

U Ngwe Gaing, photograph. Source: Pirica Art Centre

U Ngwe Gaing was born in Myeik, Burma (now, officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar), in 1901 and raised in Dawei, always having an accent typical of Myeik. He was a painter and an artist who worked in watercolor and oil, producing masterpieces in both mediums.

Ngwe was initially self taught but later refined his technique, the impasto style in oil, under the tutelage of various respectable artists; U Ba Ohn, when U Ba visited Dawei. U Pho Aung, a disciple of U Ba Sein, when U Pho opened an art shop in Dawei, which was later managed by Ngwe when U Pho returned to Yangon, and finally, by the revered U Ba Nyan when he came back from England in 1930.

Ngwe Gaing is said to have had a very frank and friendly, yet serious demeanor, with an eagerness and passion for art.

Self Portrait, U Ngwe Gaing. Source: Wikimedia Commons

After the death of his mentor, U Ba Nyan, U Ngwe was recognized as the next master artist of Burma and he went on to receive the title of “Alinga Kyaw Zwa” in 1953. A title that has been awarded to only one other Burmese artist: Saw Maung.

A Buddhist procession to Ananda Pahto Temple, Bagan, Burma, oil on board, U Ngwe Gaing. Source: Micheal Backman ltd.

The work of Ngwe was based mostly around still lives, scenery and portraits, with battle scenes when the Japanese army occupied Burma during World War II. U Ngwe was offered an honorary rank of major in the Military Painting Department of the Burmese Defense Army and he was to record the war action in his art. He would first make watercolor drafts after visiting the battlefields and then, if they were approved by the brass, he would make the oil versions.

Man with Shotgun, charcoal on paper, U Ngwe Gaing. Source: Artnet

The work of U Ngwe is realist with a loyal and determined faithfulness to the scene in reality, and as such translated to the canvas. He made still lives that were as real as they could get and were acknowledged as some of the best by the Golden Valley Art Centre, One of which was the still life of a banana plant. This particular painting was loved by Ngwe and his family and not intended for sale yet. To ensure this, Ngwe painted a portrait of his wife on the back of the still life as a preventive measure. But later when his wife fell ill, the family had little to do but sell the work to pay for the hospitalization. It was sold to a Japanese businessman in Yangon in the late 1990s, according to the Pirica Art Centre.

Still Life with Fish, oil on canvas, U Ngwe Gaing. Source: MutualArt

After the end of World War II, U Ngwe was commissioned by the government to immortalize in paint, sites of history and other significant landmarks in honor of the country’s independence.

Untitled (Maha Bandula Park in Yangon with Independence Monument, Sule Pagoda and Yangon City Hall), 1948, Mixed media (goauche and oil on hardboard), U Ngwe Gaing. Source: Artnet

Traveling widely in Burma, he painted and sketched portraits and scenes of ordinary people and places as life went by. The documentation of the ethnic peoples of Burma was a project he embarked upon during this period. A project of which the afore shown “A Buddhist procession to Ananda Pahto Temple” was part of.

In the Market, oil on canvas, U Ngwe Gaing, 1952. Source: Artnet

Through his versatile, vast body of work, Ngwe gained repute and fame as a man of ability and technique, with painters, artists and other students flocking to his studio, just as they used to for his teacher Ba Nyan. The students sought instruction, knowledge and expert insight, by the provision of which Ngwe was able to influence and guide an entire generation of artists, many of whom went on to become masters of their own accord.

His work is displayed in many a gallery, exhibition centre and museum. The most notable being the Shan State Museum, the Singapore Art Museum and The National Museum in Yangon.

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