Lim Cheng Hoe was a pioneering watercolourist in Singapore and one of the founders of the Singapore Watercolour Society. Unlike some of his contemporaries from the Nanyang group who were educated in Chinese art and aesthetics, Lim was Western educated and essentially a self-taught artist. His watercolour techniques and style had a great influence on the development of many artists in Singapore.
Lim was born in Xiamen, China, and moved to Singapore with his parents when he was seven years old. Following his move to Singapore, Lim was enrolled in Raffles Institution where he was taught by Richard Walker, then the art inspector of schools. In 1930, when Lim was 18 years old, his submission in a design and painting class was judged as the best entry and won a prize. Inspired by the accolade, Lim decided to pursue his interest in art.
Walker was so impressed by Lim that he proposed drafting a letter to the Royal College of Art in London for Lim to pursue his art education overseas. Lim did not accept the offer as it was beyond his family’s financial means.
Lim worked as a clerk at the Public Works Department (PWD) while attending Walker’s weekend art classes from 1932 to 1935. In 1936, Lim was appointed as chief clerk of the PWD and continued to work there until his retirement in 1966. 
Lim was a self-taught painter. Through self-study, practice and experimentation, he developed his own style and managed to get his works exhibited and sold. Lim often painted outdoors and was passionate about painting landscapes; trees and rivers were his favourite subjects. Lim was known to be very energetic and committed in his search for views and scenery for his works. He placed great emphasis on accuracy in his works and was known to spend hours painting outdoors to get the composition right.
Lim did not produce any works of art during the Japanese Occupation (1942–1945) and only resumed his artistic activities in the late 1940s. Lim was very productive during this time, and major stylistic developments in his work emerged. An example of Lim’s post-war paintings is Riverside Kampong (1947), which attempts to capture a distant scenic view.
The years between 1955 and 1965 have been hailed as the golden period of Lim’s creative life. He conveyed his feelings about man’s relationship with the environment by using watercolours expressively. Art critic T. K. Sabapathy noted that Lim’s consistency in his artistic efforts allowed him to produce works that were “complete expressions of their author’s mind”.
During the 1950s, Lim devoted much time to portraiture in watercolours and pastels, examples of which include Old Woman (1955) and Samsui Woman (1955). These simple yet expressive works reveal the artist’s sensitivity towards the sitter’s mood.
In the 1960s, Lim’s style in his landscape works became increasingly abstract with the use of limited colours to create vibrant scenes through a variety of brushstrokes. Some of Lim’s key works during this time include Fort Canning Gateway (1959), Full Speed (1962) and Misty Morn at Singapore River (1963).
The Sunday Group
From the 1930s up to the late 1960s, Lim was part of and became the unofficial leader of the informal gathering of painters called the Sunday Group.
The Sunday Group was made up of artists and amateurs from diverse backgrounds who shared a passion for watercolour painting. They would gather at locations such as the Singapore River, Merdeka Bridge and Chinatown to paint and exchange ideas. They also explored painting kampong (Malay village) and seaside landscapes.
Sometimes, established artists like Cheong Soo Pieng and Chen Chong Swee would join the Sunday Group’s painting sessions. Later in the 1950s, prominent artists like Thomas Yeo and Ong Kim Seng would also spend time with the group to hone their painting skills.
Many young artists who joined the Sunday Group remembered Lim as an approachable and humble mentor who was always willing to give advice and encouragement to them.
In 1980, the Singapore Watercolour Society sponsored an exhibition of Lim’s works at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
A major retrospective of Lim’s work entitled The Lim Cheng Hoe Retrospective was held posthumously at the National Museum Art Gallery in 1986. The exhibition featured works from the private collection of Lim’s family. This retrospective attempted to provide a comprehensive account of Lim’s achievements through 260 pastels and watercolour paintings that were created between 1934 and 1973.
Another retrospective of Lim’s paintings from the 1950s and 1960s was held in August 1988 at the Orchard Point exhibition hall.
In 1994, Lim’s paintings were featured as part of Window on Singapore, a touring exhibition organised by the National Arts Council (NAC) that travelled to China and Hong Kong.
Some of Lim’s paintings were represented at the Singapore Art Fair in 1992 and the Tresors Art Fair in 1994.
In 2000, Lim’s work was showcased as part of an exhibition, The Landscape in Southeast Asian Art: Exploring the Themes of Landscapes in Paintings, Sculpture and Installations, held at the Singapore Art Museum.
Lim’s watercolour, The Estuary (1970), was featured in the inaugural exhibition, Installing Memory, of the Jendela gallery at the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay in 2002. The exhibition featured works by various artists that centred on the theme of the Singapore River.
Lim’s works were exhibited at the Art Expo Malaysia 2011 alongside works of art from around the world. In 2012, Lim’s paintings were featured as part of group exhibitions held at the artcommune gallery (Early Singapore Art: 1st and 2nd Generation Singapore Artists Watercolour Exhibition), and INS’ Art International (Christmas 2012 Art Exhibition – Pioneer V Contemporary).
Riverside Kampong (1947) – Watercolour on paper.
Samsui Woman (1955) – Pencil on paper.
Picnic on the Beach (1955–60) – Watercolour on paper.
Fort Canning Gateway (1959) – Watercolour on paper.
Full Speed (1962) – Watercolour on paper.
Low Tide at Changi (1962) – Watercolour on paper.
Singapore River (late 1963) – Watercolour on paper.
Lim was a founding member of the Singapore Watercolour Society in 1969. He also received the National Day Long Service Medal that year. In 1972 and 1974, Lim was awarded the National Day Art Exhibition Certificate.
In 1992, the Singapore Philatelic Bureau launched a set of four stamps showcasing the artwork of four local artists: Lim, Georgette Chen, Poh Siew Wah and Lee Boon Wang.
Lim’s eldest son, Lim Hock Ann, held an exhibition of his own work in 2012.
Lim died in Changi General Hospital on 3 September 1979.