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.