U Ngwe Gaing

U Ngwe Gaing (1901 – 1967)



Major painter of the Rangoon School in the post-WWII period. From Dawei. Studied under Ba Ohn, Phe Aung, 
Ba Sein, then Ba Nyan for three years. Master of many media with wide range – historical traits, landscapes, still life. Painted in a realist style with impasto technique and strong Burmese color scheme. Traveled in England 1952 to copy Burmese art treasure in V&A and perhaps other museums. Received highest award for arts in Burma.

(Source: Burmese Painting - A Linear and Lateral History, Andrew Ranard, 1994)

Wilipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ngwe_Gaing  

U Ngwe Gaing’s battle scene paintings


During World War II and the Japanese occupation in Burma, the Burmese Defense Army formed a Military Painting Department and U Ngwe Gaing was given the honorary rank of Major with the duty of recording WWII military engagements in paintings. He visited actual battlefields where he sketched battle scenes in watercolor on the spot, and later added an oral record explaining the battle scenes in detail. Once the Department agreed on the sketches, he would work on the paintings in oil. After the end of WWII which was followed by Burmese Independence in 1948, U Ngwe Gaing was urged by the government to paint historical works to commemorate the country’s independence.  During this period, following the death of U Ba Nyan, U Ngwe Gaing became Burma’s leading artist.  


After returning from England in 1953, U Ngwe Gaing was given a monthly government stipend of 1000 Kyats and offered accommodation in a government apartment located near Manaw Hari Road which was managed by the Rangoon Municipal Office. Although he had to pay rent and other expenses, living in such an apartment was quite a status symbol in those days. The apartment also came with a car garage. Because he never owned a car, the garage later became his art studio and informal classroom where he taught a number of painters. He did not use any chairs or easels in this studio garage and painted on the floor. The war painting below depicting a battle scene of Burmese resistance fighters shooting WWII Japanese soldiers was completed during this period. The painting was kept in U Ngwe Gaing’s private collection and owned by the family. 

From the mid 1950s to the end of his life in 1967, U Ngwe Gaing rarely faced financial hardship, in contrast to his early career. He became prolific in oil and sold his works to private collectors.


U Ngwe Gaing’s Paintings and Golden Valley Art Centre


Golden Valley Art Centre (a.k.a. GV) was established in December 1987 as one of the first private galleries in Yangon to provide a space for the artist community to exhibit their works and exchange ideas and experiences. The founding members of GV included the owner U Peter Myint Lwin, his wife Daw Zeyar Thinn and fellow painters many of whom were the students of the late master U Thein Han and artist U Lun Gywe.


In 1989, the South Korean Ambassador and his wife purchased two U Thein Han paintings through GV. GV owner, U Peter admitted that this sale, one of the earliest sales of an old master painting in Myanmar since the socialist era (1961 to 1988), made him appreciate the value of paintings by the old masters from Myanmar. The Korean Ambassador and his wife later organized the first Myanmar art show in Seoul in 1989 which displayed some old master paintings.  Since then, the public gradually recognized the value and beauty of Myanmar’s old master artists and the demand for Myanmar masters’ paintings soon escalated. 


Around 1992-93, a daughter of U Ngwe Gaing visited GV and began exhibiting her father’s paintings at the gallery which included his watercolor paintings, battle scene sketches and war scene paintings including the oil work of a Burmese resistance attack on Japanese soldiers (cited above) from the family’s collection. GV kept this painting for over a year before it was eventually sold to a South Korean collector in 1994.  In early 2014, the painting was resold to a Singaporean collector through GV.


In 1995, General Kyaw Win, an acquaintance of GV, brought back one of U Ngwe Gaing’s paintings of the Buddha image from England. Secretary One General Khin Nyunt gave orders to create posters and calendars with re-prints of this painting for fundraising to renovate the Dhamayarzika pagoda in Bagan. The then Myanmar government paid compensation to U Ngwe Gaing’s family for the reprint of this painting. General Khin Nyunt and his staff visited the family and made a donation of 300,000 Kyats.  This visit was broadcast nationwide in Myanmar.

Banana Plant and Wife’s Portrait


GV exhibited another masterpiece by U Ngwe Gaing – a beautiful still life of a banana plant. The painting was a favourite of U Ngwe Gaing’s and his family.  To prevent its sale, the artist deliberately painted his wife’s portrait on the back of the painting.


U Ngwe Gaing’s daughter was keen to keep the painting as it was the last portrait of her mother in the family’s private collection. Unfortunately, as she became seriously ill and later hospitalized, the family had little choice but to sell the painting to pay for the hospital bills. A Japanese businessman living in Yangon then bought the painting in the late 1990s. This work was the last painting owned by U Ngwe Gaing’s family.  Shortly after the sale, the daughter passed away.  GV gallery eventually lost touch with U Ngwe Gaing’s family including his son who suffered from hallucinations due to malaria which he contracted in Myitkyina, Kachin State when he was working as a teacher there.




Burmese Painting - A Linear and Lateral History, Andrew Ranard, 1994

Interview of U Peter Myint Lwin by Nemu Abe (17 January 2014).

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