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.