Vietnamese Silk Art
It can be said that the period of 1925-1945 is not only an early stage of Vietnam’s modern painting, but it is also a final one of French authority. Before a colony regime of French started, Vietnam nearly did not have any painting heritage.
Indochinese art school - born in 1925 in Hanoi – really opened a new way for the development of fine art of Vietnam, since then, sculptures and graphics; painting developed variably, inherited the national tradition and at the first time acquired the European art. The first headmaster of this school was Victor Tardieu- an artist, professor and Asian researcher. Its initial objective was training teachers of high schools in art and painting and teaching decorative industry, mainly technique of Western painting. However, Tardieu realized that the condition in colony destroyed the traditional fine arts, so he provided more artistic heritage into training program. This school itself born brilliant talents such as Bui Xuan Phai, Le Pho, Nguyen Phan Chanh… who created The Parisian school of Vietnam.
Painting on silk by Nguyen Phan Chanh
Oil-paint painting by Tran Van Can
In the pure aspect of painting, the first generation is considered to have been created real valuable works of art, whereas later on thanks to demand in struggling for independence, the art gave way to painting war, appealing to patriotism, hence the art followed socialist realistic line.
Refer to modern painting of Vietnam, we cannot forget reminding of painting on silk and lacquer painting, and the representative of painting on silk was the artist Nguyen Phan Chanh, who brought a series of famous paintings on silk into the world: “Choi o an quan” (1930), “Rua rau tren cau ao” (1931), “Em be cho chim an” (1931)… Painting on silk is a classical genre in the Orient, and its technique requires carefulness and meticulousness, hence it is suitable for the patient and careful artists only. Moreover, the materials as usual stipulates the topics, so it seems that silk can be suited only paintings of the nature, girl, mother, kid, vague scenery, warm family life,… and it is hard to suit topics of painting whose line of drawing expresses the contrast and the violent conflicts. This genre was also applied by Le Pho in the classical time, his style from 1934 to 1944 or 1945 was influenced by the painting style of The Tong dynasty, such as: “Nguoi thieu phu ngoi” (1934), “Chim ngoi” (1937) with a lissome light and flowing line of drawing, flat space, aplat, every having the same colors, sophisticated style of drawing. The paintings were both attractive due to a tender style of drawing and glacial because of using monochromatic color, creating unalloyed atmosphere, and it also reflected a solemn view of Vietnam’s society still mixing deeply the Khong Manh morality of the first century.
“Thieu phu” by Luong Xuan Nhi
“Thieu nu ben hoa hue” by To Ngoc Van
Lacquer painting of Nguyen Gia Tri
The paintings like “Me con” (1938), “Thieu nu va hoa lan” (1938)… later also brought in a refined style of drawing, harmonized both Oriental and Occidental art. Nguyen Phan Chanh, Le Pho together with another great names such as Le Van De: “Co dau” (1937), Luong Xuan Nhi: “Gia dinh thuyen chai” (1938), Mai Trung Thu: “Hoa nhac”, and some oil-paint paintings of Le Pho: “Chan dung thieu phu” (1935), To Ngoc Van: “Thuyen tren song Huong” (1935), Tran Van Can: “Em Thuy” (1944),… “Thieu nu ben Ho Guom” (1941), “Thieu nu ben cay phu dung” (1944) are lacquer paintings of the master Nguyen Gia Tri – an artist has full of passion of traditional materials, a “master” contributed to take lacquer of Vietnam to the position of artistic materials, and Joseph Inguimberty himself brought this material into training and studying program at Indochinese art school from 1927 – the French re-created this local tradition, gradually built up modern cultural characteristic of the Vietnamese. All brought about a tendency of creating of this time that was the reality mixing romantic tendency, Oriental philosophy harmonizing Occidental color, they did not reproduce Oriental- Occidental art estimatively but continued symphonic tradition of Impressionist, coordinated two styles, universe of human life. This made French painting and American later acknowledged the value of Vietnamese artists, they did not refuse the origin like modern Japanese artists: Nishimoura, Okamoto… were descended from the Parisian school at the same time, they acquired the European art based on inheriting national tradition.
The first stage of Vietnam’s modern painting is like the first precious style of drawing for the general view of fine arts of Vietnam, not only does it initiate the development of Vietnam’s painting but also containing the top of artistic value.
The Evolution of Vietnamese Art (Part III)
1954 – 1995
From socialist realism to after-war multiform tendency (source: Quang Phong)
Peace time started in 1954. At the moment of victory, only about 30 to 40 painters from all parts of the country returned to Hanoi. The Fine Arts College of Vietnam was set up to train new painters under the direction of Tran Van Can. This first batch of painters has continued to make up the framework of Vietnamese painting until today. They inherited, preserved and developed the fine traditions of Vietnamese realism.
In the meantime, on 31 December 1954, painter Le Van De set up the National Fine Arts College of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) with some of those graduated from the Fine Arts College of Indochina.
In 1957, under the instruction of the then Prime Minister, the Fine Arts College of Vietnam started to introduce degree courses to train artists in painting and sculptures. This College was set up under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture. On 29 January 1981, the Fine Arts College of Vietnam was transformed into the Fine Arts University of Hanoi.
From 1946 to 1975, Vietnamese paintings depict the characteristics of a country having undergone 30 years of struggle and experienced different stages: resistance, half-war half-peace, pervasive war country-wide and finally, total victory, unification and independence. It is noticeable that there had been no tranquility to paint nudes or still life, not even a romantic landscape.
Over the next 2 decades, in the 1970s and 1980s, many oil painters had chosen pumice lacquer or silk painting - this resulted in no significant breakthroughs in oil paintings from the first years after restoration of peace. In 1980, a review of the artistic values of the ancient painting made its appearance in Hanoi. In explaining the new trend in painting, external factors must be considered; the socio-economic development, the upheaval of global relations in the “open-doors” period, technological advancements, etc, exert a marked influence on the old customs. This, again, is not dissimilar to the modern tendencies of European art at the beginning of this century, in particular the group of Nabis which plead for a general tendency to a decorative mode with some rules: simplification, variation and going towards symbolization. Some are based on the conception of purely decorative aesthetics to make paintings according to the fundamental principals regarding the use of colours and composition.
The Evolution of Vietnamese Art (Part II)
1945 – 1954
Fighting for National Salvation (source: Quang Phong)
Awaken in the face of a new art, Vietnamese painters during 1925 – 1945 experimented and searched for a model in ancient or modern times, western or oriental. Beyond Classicism, they also explored the various Schools of European painting, fauvism, cubism, symbolism, expressionism, surrealism, futurism, abstractionism and many others. What was concluded was that those who could assimilate European painting and had the moral and material conditions would be capable of ensuring the continuation of the national art. To Ngoc Van, Nguyen Gia Tri, Tran Van Can, Nguyen Tien Chung, Luu Van Sin, etc, belong to this class of painters.
In 1945, The Revolution awakened the nationalistic and political consciousness among the Vietnamese painters, leading to a Movement to support Viet Minh in Hanoi. Hundreds of posters created by the artists filled the Municipal Theatre, attacking colonialists, imperialists, their henchmen, feudal mandarins, who exploited and oppressed the people.
A National Exhibition held in August 1946 gathered the works of various genres by the patriotic artists of Vietnam: oil paintings, pumice lacquer, water colours, wood cutting. The main theme was related to the struggle of Vietnam for a new life.
During the 9-year war of resistance against the French colonialism, Vietnamese artists ceaselessly manifested their sense of responsibility towards history. On 19 December 1946, the painters left Hanoi to go to Viet Bac, working in information and press organs, or joining brigades or mobile theatral ensembles to make coloured drawings and organizing exhibitions to appeal the nation to participate in the resistance, increase production and support the battle front.
In 1948, the 2nd National Exhibition was organized in a forest in Phu Tho Province, where about 100 pictures including silk paintings, wood engravings, propaganda drawings were displayed.
The 3rd National Exhibition was organized in 1951 in Chiem Hoa, in commemoration of the anniversary of the day of national resistance and to greet the 2nd National Congress of the Party. The exhibition was expectedly characterized by the exceptional place reserved for posters and political illustrations.
It is evident that most of the painters who had joined in the resistance were motivated by patriotism, not too different from France during the 2nd World War when all true painters such as Amblard, Raslitzky, Fougeron all stood among the “engaged”, living with the people, fighting together with the people until victory. By their works during the beginning of The Revolution and during the resistance, To Ngoc Van and Nguyen Sang will remain in the memory of the future generations.
The Evolution of Vietnamese Art (Part I)
1925 – 1945
The Fine Arts College of Indochina (source: Quang Phong, Quang Viet)
The first epoch of the history of Vietnamese paintings originated from the establishment of the Fine Arts College of Indochina in 1925. This College was created on 27th October 1924 with the approval of the then Governor General, Mr Merlin, on the suggestion of Mr Victor Tardieu to help Annamese artists recover the profound meaning and fundamental inspirations of their own tradition. Mr Tardieu, a famous French painter, subsequently became the Director (first Director) of the College. The College was parked directly under the Indochinese University.
On 5 October 1925, the College started to recruit students to create the conditions necessary to help promising students prepare for competitions and build their careers. By 1933, the College started its first Elementary Course; technical workshops for lacquer and chiseling were introduced in the following year.
In December 1943, the American Army bombed Hanoi during the 2nd World War; the College had to be evacuated into 3 localities – the Painting Faculty was relocated to Son Tay; the Handicrafts Faculty to Phy Ly and the Architecture/Sculpture Faculty to Dalat.
The Japanese coup to drive away the French on 9 March 1945 caused the eventual closure of the College.
Between 1925 and 1945, the College admitted 149 students, out of which there were 128 diploma graduates (118 in paintings and 10 in sculptures).
Vietnamese artists before 1925 had no clear idea of painting; they joined the College with a simple but earnest desire to paint beautiful things. Had it not for the infusion of the French arts and culture, Vietnamese paintings would have taken on the culture of another country. Whether it is a blessing, Vietnamese art was associated with the first ranking of the contemporary painting in the world.
The contents of the paintings from 1925 to 1945 were nature, human beings, landscapes, together with the life, customs and habits of the nation. Such moral and beauty of the Vietnamese contemporary society was visibly displayed by the painters’ soul and sentiments. They may come from a peasant meal, a working scene on the field, or the return to the farm. In a harmoniously structured composition, the images are arranged in a certain order. The walking movements are seen with the volumes of the human body, the palpitating life on the face, the light with its effects, all presented in different shapes and colours. This style was adopted by the first group of famous painters such as To Ngoc Van, Nguyen Gia Tri, Tran Van Can, Luu Van Sin.
History of Vietnam Art
For a nation with a history that goes back thousands of years, Vietnamese contemporary art is relatively young. It began a mere 75 years ago with a group of artists who were trained at the Indochina School of Fine Arts (Ecole des Baux Arts de l'Indochine) of Ha Noi. With their acquired training from French instructors, the artists of this inceptive period re-discovered the beauty of the native landscape saw through a Western lens. They romanticized life and the people and painted these subjects in an ambiance of innocence and dream. Many well knownworks from this period show a strong influence of the Impressionism and Realism school of Europe and are highly admired and sought for by art collectors.
In 1891, Le Van Mien (1873-1943), a young Vietnamese Confucian scholar, was considered as the gifted at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts, Paris . "Binh Van" (Reciting Poem), was one of the first important oil painting created according to the neoclassical painting method of the French Painting School at the end of 19th century.
The Indochina School of Fine Arts was more than being the first institution provided art training to artists and artisans in Vietnam. The school trained the first generation of artist that later established the modern era of Vietnamese art. During its 20 years of existence, the Indochina School of Fine Arts graduated a total of 128 artists in various disciplines. Many of these graduates were prolific painters and premiere artists of their time such as Bui Xuan Phai, Le Pho, Mai Trung Thu, Nguyen Gia Tri, Nguyen Phan Chanh, Nguyen Tu Nghiem, Nguyen Sang, To Ngoc Van, and Tran Van Can. Their work impressed many critics who praised the artists as the "Paris School of Viet Nam". Victor Tardieu, a French painter and accomplished teacher founded the Indochina School of Fine Arts in 1925. Its mission was to train Vietnamese artists to apply western techniques to their traditional art. At its opening in 1925, the school had only two faculties, painting and sculpting. Later the school added other faculties such as architecture (1926), lacquer (1930), jewelry craft (1933), ceramics (1934) and woodworking (1938). In the early 30's, the school introduced Vietnamese modern painting to the western world through many international fairs and exhibitions such as Rome (1932), Milan (1934), Bruxelles (1935) and San Francisco (1937)
Artists in Vietnam have had more restricted opportunities for showing new aesthetic tendencies or socially critical art than in most other countries. Re-emerging after decades of turmoil, the country has been busy rebuilding the damage from decades of war, surviving on aid from foreign nations. The Renovation literary movement in Vietnam , which began in 1986, has reached its peak and has not concluded yet. Lacquer practice has held a major role throughout the history of Vietnamese Art and particularly so, in 20th Century Vietnam, when a new approach, through color and form, was employed to develop this ancestral technique in order to promote it as an aesthete that is unique to Vietnam
For Vietnamese artists active during the early twentieth century, the positive representation of their own rich traditional arts inspired sensitive treatments of the Vietnamese identity. The question of identity became paramount and allowed artists to reassess their own cultural values as well as the cultural shifts within Vietnamese society. And within this explosion of creativity, Vietnamese artists responded to both traditional academic art concepts and the cultural initiatives of their own craft heritage.
Artists started to blend formal European styles with Vietnamese sensibilities and experiences, giving rise to distinct forms of cultural expression and as a result redrawing the boundaries of fine art. In this manner, artists like Nguyen Phan Chanh (1892-1984) were among the first to paint on silk using new techniques and styles that were alien to the traditional silk paintings, which traditionally had been purely decorative. Other renowned artists found a correlation between modern art styles and the traditional art of lacquer painting, creating works that moved beyond the styles and hues of traditional lacquer ware. The art of woodblock printing was also revived within this newly realized framework. And the merits of this new humanism, which was strongly influenced by the European impressionist and post-impressionist masters, were largely attributed to the pioneering spirit of Victor Tardieu.