The Colonial Period in South East Asian art began as the Western powers began colonizing the region. The Portuguese were the first Western colonial power in South East Asia, establishing themselves in Malacca, as early as the 16th century. Despite their successful commercial trading outposts, they left little artistic legacy. Dutch were early colonizers in Indonesia in the 17th century through the East India Company, and centered on Batavia they left behind a strong tradition of portrait, landscape and village scene painting. The British followed in the early 19th century, settling in Singapore, Malaysia and Burma, but left little artistic tradition behind. Around the same period the French occupied Indochina, where they were active sponsors of the arts and left a fine series of art schools and traditions. During or after World War II most colonial powers lost their control over their Asian colonies, when the Colonial Art period came to an end.
Art works in the colonial era were highly influenced by European style of realism, impressionism and expressionism. Paintings consisting of landscapes, portraits and daily village scenes during this pre-photograph era were frequently the only representations of life in South East Asia for audiences in Western Europe. Artists were originally all European, but as artistic institutions were established and South East Asians were trained in the West in the late 19th century, indigineous artists began to emerge.