For a nation with an 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 known works from this period show a strong influence of the Impressionism and Realism school ofEuropeand 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 theFrenchPaintingSchool at the end of 19th century.

Binh Van (Reciting Poem) – 1905, Oil (Source A)

Indochina School of Fine Arts

(Truong My Thuat Dong Duong)

The Indochina School of Fine Arts was more than being the first institution provided art training to artists and artisans inViet Nam. 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 asRome(1932),Milan(1934), Bruxelles (1935) andSan Francisco(1937). The Indochina School of Fine Arts closed its doors in 1945 whenViet Namgained independence fromFrance. The school reopened in 1946 as the Hanoi College of Fine Arts as it exists to the present days.

Nguyen Phan Chanh (1892-1984), was determined to find a way to improve the tradition method of Chinese silk painting. His technique on silk with half tones and subdued contours, creating an atmosphere of serenity and mystique, and maintaining the typically pure Vietnamese inner emotion. The warm dark browns, the main colour of the dress of the peasant ofNorth Viet Nam, wrapping in soft contours, emanating the innocence of the simple minded soul of the rustic folks.

Choi O An Quan – 1931, Silk (Source A)

Dinner on Harvest Day – 1960, Silk (Source B)

To Ngoc Van‘s (1906-1954) “Trua He” (An Afternoon in Summer, 1943), “Thieu Nu va Hoa Sen” (Lady and the Lotus Flowers, 1943), “Thieu Nu va Hoa Hue” (Lady and the Lilies, 1943, Oil) are recognized as the greatest of Vietnamese modern paintings. His paintings are marked by lively colours, voluminous figures, and skillfully and artistically depict human beings which daring and delicate, modern and at the same time traditionally Vietnamese.

Farmers Working – 1953, Water Color (Source B)

Two Young Girls and a Child – 1944 , Oil (Source A)

Mai Trung Thu‘s (1906-1980) subjects were women, children and daily life under Vietnamese conceptions. His silk paintings show a strong influence of Oriental styling and folk art.

Reunion – No Date, Oil (Source A)

Lady from Hue, 1934, Oil (Source B)

Le Van De (1906-1966): Graduate of the first entering class of the Indochina School of Fine Arts and later had additional training inParis. His silk paintings were well known abroad.. He was the director of Gia Dinh School of Fine Arts in the South during the 50 and 60’s.

Young Girl by a Bare Wooden Sofa – 1934, Silk (Source A)

Nguyen Gia Tri (1908-1993) is a distinguished master in lacquer painting with an elegant style and his unique ideas about the mysterious, metaphysical nature of this material.

Chua Bach Mon – No Date, Laquer (Source B)

Abstract – 1968, Laquer (Source A)

Tran Van Can (1910-1994) engaged in social affairs and art training. A virtuoso in oil, lacquer, and silk painting with realistic, lyrical style.

Jeunes Filles chez elles – Lacquer (Source G)

Em Thuy – 1943, Oil (Source A)

Washing Hair – 1943, Wood Print (Source B)

Le Thi Luu (1911-1988) perfected dedicate style in classical technique. Women and children were subjects on her silk paintings.

Mother and Child – No Date, Pastel (Source A)

Luong Xuan Nhi (b. 1913) impregnated Vietnamese spirit in a gentle and defined style.

A Young Women – 1938, Graphite (Source A)

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