Vietnamese lacquer works date back more than 2000 years. Lacquered items found in ancient tombs in Vietnam, date as far back as the 3rd and 4th centuries B.C. These lacquer works were handicrafts and household decorative items.
In 1925 the Fine Arts University, then named École Superieure des Beaux-Arts d’Indochine, was found in Hanoi by Victor Tardieu, a classmate of Matisse, when the French ruled Vietnam. The French therefore introduced Western paintings and techniques into Vietnam. During that time the traditional lacquer technique was applied to paintings, thus creating a new genre of art. The birth of lacquer paintings was a specially important landmark of the development of Vietnamese fine arts - and it's very uniquely Vietnam. The father of Vietnamese Lacquer paintings is Nguyen Gia Tri (1908-1993). Tri was Ecole’s student. Many of his paintings are national treasure and only displayed in Vietnam.
The lacquer paintings in those early years were quite traditional in expressing scenes of natural beauty. During the 80's and 90's, young artists rejuvenated "the old art" and introduced innovative experiments to create paintings with more complex texture and mix of colours. There are common features to all lacquer paintings, however each artist has different ways and techniques of using lacquer to create the art works, and many of those details are known only to the artist himself.
The entire process of making lacquer paintings requires careful attention and patience. The traditional process requires at least two months and is quite complex. Traditionally, lacquer comes in three colors- brown, black and vermilion. Artists also use a new technique called chiseling, which gives a richer mix of colors and an apparent sense of size and distance.
Lacquer paintings are created on wood. The wood (normally plywood) is covered with a layer of lacquer resin mixed with clean earth. A piece of cloth is then covered and glued to it by several layers of the mixture, each of which requires a few days to dry. This makes the board very strong. The last layers are are pure lacquer, done repeatedly and again require time to dry. Lacquer is dry only in humid air with no wind and in the presence of water vapour. This board is then smoothed with sandpaper and polished to a very smooth black surface with a brilliant luster.
Once the board is prepared, the artist begins to give expression to his imagination. He draws the outline and applies color one by one so as to let each coating dry slowly. Buffing is a very importance stage in creating lacquer painting as the finesse is in this step. This is done with great care and skill as the colours will be revealed through this process. Polishing is the final step and this add a brilliant shine to the surface of the painting.
Through the years Vietnamese artists innovatively applied different materials such as ashes from plants, crushed eggshells, gold and silver to beautify their works. Such patient, laborious work and unique skills required could be the reason for the growing popularity and demand of Vietnamese lacquer paintings these days.
"The Simplicity" by master lacquer artist Thanh Chuong
VIETNAMESE SILK PAINTING
Silk paintings first appeared in Vietnam in the third century AD. In the old days artists used natural colours and a silk painting could last a thousand year. The golden age of silk painting in Vietnam was in the early 20th century when those of the first generation of students at the Indochine Fine Art College in Hanoi -École des Beaux-Arts d’indochina, rose to fame (artists Tran Van Can and Nguyen Tuong Lan were well recognised not just at home but internationally). In the modern day Vietnamese silk artists use watercolour and acrylics and also different techniques. They follow the career not just because of their love for silk painting, but also for their determination to preserve and develop the fine art form that plays an important part of Vietnam’s cultural heritage.
A silk artist normally has intimate knowledge about his medium as choosing the right silk reflects the aesthetic of the artwork. Quality of silk comes from the quality of cocoons and weaving process. This knowledge helps the artist to exploit the finesse and elegance of the silk to get a desired effect when creating his work of art. Our silk paintings were created through the steps described below.
Preparation: Our artist carefully choses the material - raw silk, and stretches it on wooden bars. The artist then uses a broad base brush to moisten the silk with water. This helps the canvas to attain a brilliant smooth and flat surface once dry.
The artist now scans the sketch over using pencil, and starts creating the artwork with several layers of colours. During the whole process the artist keeps the silk moist by brushing water to the canvas and waits for it to dry before creating another layer. This step is the most time-consuming, requires skill and patience.
Once satisfied with the colours, the artist starts his line creation. He may also takes this time to consider the effect of the colours created. Silk art has its own stylised characteristics, so this step requires special expertise and experience. This is when the artist creates the artwork to be unique and distinctively his own. It is also the most important step.
Painting on silk is like dyeing silk - many layers of colours must absorb into the fibre of the silk. The artist normally uses watercolour. The painting’s expressiveness is revealed by the finesse and smoothness of silk. The artist’s delicate strokes and block colours lively mingle together to bring out the vibration and vitality of the painting. The final step sees the artist put the silk artwork on canvas using rice paste. Some artists may prefer leaving silk on stretcher bars as a finished artwork.
"Sleeping Beauty" by Bui Tien Tuan
Painting by Vietnamese artist auctioned for USD1.4 million at Christie's Hong Kong - breaking the records
Painting by Vietnamese artist auctioned for USD1.4 million at Christie's Hong Kong - breaking the records
On 26 May 2019, several lots of Vietnamese paintings put on auction at Christie's Hong Kong. Amongst 38 paintings auctioned, the highest price attained for and oil painting by artist Le Pho (1907 - 2001), titled "Nude". It was estimated for 6m Hong Kong dollars but sold for HK$10,925,000 (1,398,179 USD). The second highest bid was for To Ngoc Van's silk painting "Disillusionment", at US$1.168 million. To Ngoc Van is the late father of artist To Ngoc Thanh (https://www.hanoiarthouse.co.uk/to-ngoc-thanh.html). A lacquer painting by master artist Nguyen Gia Tri (1908-1993) auctioned for equiv. US$120,000. Tri had several paintings auctioned at Christie's and Sotherby's, and his lacquer painting "Mua Xuan Bac Trung Nam" is Vietnam's national treasure, being displayed at Ho Chi Minh City Fine Art Museum.
Most of artists were the first generation and students of Hanoi College of Fine Arts (École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine) and their paintings are sought after after by collectors.
"Nude", Le Pho, oil on canvas. Image: Christie's
"Les Désabusées" (Disillusionment), To Ngoc Van, ink and gouache on silk. Image: Christie's
Vietnamese painting sold for a record 1.2 million USD at Sotherby's
A painting by 20th-century Vietnamese painter Le Pho has been sold for nearly US$1.2 million at Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong in April 2017, setting a new record for the highest priced Vietnamese painting ever.
The painting, titled "Doi Song Gia Dinh" (Family Life) depicts an intimate family moment during a leisurely day. It features the image of a mother and child against a lively background of people on the move: the toddler rests his head on his mother’s lap, clutching her knee, while the woman rests her palms on the boy’s hands and head, tilting her head down in a nurturing manner.
The painting, completed using ink and gouache on a silk canvas, was finished somewhere between 1937 and 1939.
The auction was organised by Sotheby’s, one of the world’s most prestigious fine arts auction house, "Doi song Gia dinh" was sold for $1,172,080, shattering the previous record held by another of Pho’s paintings, "Nhin Tu Dinh Doi" (View From The Hilltop), which was sold for more than $844,000 in 2014.
According to art experts, the record price for a Vietnamese painter’s work is expected to place Vietnam’s fine art on the map and serve as a guarantee of quality at future international auctions.
“This is a crucial milestone, as it proves that somewhere in the corner of Asia, a Vietnamese painter has made his name known to the world,” said Ngo Kim Khoi, a Paris-based art appraiser.
“The sale also brings hope that Vietnamese paintings will be sold at higher prices in the future, which is generally how the market operates.”
Source: VOV, Tuoi Tre News and Sotherby's
Vietnam's 8 greatest artists
Nguyen Gia Tri (1908-1993)
Nguyen Gia Tri is named "the Father of Vietnamese modern lacquer", and one of the "Famous Four" of Vietnam modern art scene (Tri-Lan-Van-Can). Tri enrolled in the Ecole Superieure des Beaux Arts de l'Indochine in 1932. Tri used several mediums but his greatest works are lacquer, and considered Vietnam's national treasures. One of his larger works, "Vuon Xuan Tac Trung Nam" is displayed at the Fine Art Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.
To Ngoc Van (1908-1954)
To Ngoc Van is a prominent figure and expert of oil painting. He was the first cohort of the Ecole Superieure des Beaux Arts de l'Indochine, enrolled in 1926 and graduated in 1931. His work "Two Young Ladies And A Boy" ("Hai Thieu Nu Va Em Be") was recognised as national treasure in 2013. To Ngoc Van was awarded several medals for his contribution to Vietnamese art and culture, including Ho Chi Minh Prize. Streets in Vietnam's big cities were named after him.
Nguyen Tuong Lan (1906-1954)
Nguyen Tuong Lan is a pioneer in harmonising original pigment into his silk paintings. After graduation from the Ecole Superieure des Beaux Arts de l'Indochine, Lan worked in his studio in Hanoi and during this time he created several paintings of different mediums including silk, lacquer, oil. There are only few works by Lan left which are displayed at the National Fine Arts Academy in Hanoi.
Tran Van Can (1920-1994)
Tran Van Can is the Ecole Superieure des Beaux Arts de l'Indochine's student during the tenure of the French sculptor Evariste Jonchere. He is said to be influenced by Joseph Inguimverty, one of the college's teacher. Together with other two artists, Can co-wrote one of the first books in English on Vietnamese painters. One of his most prominent work, "Little Girl Thuy" ("Em Thuy") was recognised as National Treasure. Tran Van Can became Director of Vietnam College of Fine Arts (1955-1964) and served as general secretary of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association (1958-1983).
Nguyen Sang (1923-1988)
Nguyen Sang is one of the "Famous Four" (second generation) Sang-Nghiem-Lien-Phai who studied under Joseph Inguimberty, Nam Son and To Ngoc Van at the Ecole Superieure des Beaux Arts de l'Indochine (1925-1945). Sang joined the army in 1945 and most of his works portray Vietnamese people and their life during the war. Nguyen Sang's contribution to Vietnam's modern art in general and in lacquer art in particular is enormous. Nguyen Sang is also the painter who design Vietnam's first postage stamp and bank notes. He was awarded Ho Chi Minh's Prize.
Nguyen Tu Nghiem (1922-2016)
Nguyen Tu Nghiem is one of the "Famous Four" (second generation). He enrolled in the Ecole Superieure des Beaux Arts de l'Indochine in 1941 and won first prize at Salon Unique when an he was third year student there. He was a lecturer at Fine Arts College in Viet Bac and Hanoi. His main medium was lacquer, and later in life was guache and hand-made paper, Dzo. He was award Ho Chi Minh Prize for Art and Culture in 1996.
Bui Xuan Phai (1920-1988)
Bui Xuan Phai graduated from Ecole des Beaux-Arts d'indochina, now Vietnam Fine Arts University. Phai is famous for Hanoi Old Quarter paintings, expressed on the medium of oil. His works were close to the people's heart. Several of his paintings won regional and national awards, including international award (Leipzig) for illustration. He staged just one solo exhibition in1984 which was a great success.