Hanoi Fine Arts Museum


The Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi is housed in a building that once served as the French Ministry of Information. The structure and form is very classical, yet with oriental touches to the roof and other details.

The collection within the museum’s two wings ranges from ancient antiquities to contemporary art. The ground floor of the main wing houses the oldest artifacts. These include the sandstone sculptures of the Champa and Funan kingdoms. Among them is the elegantly carved Amitabha Buddha image, produced in 1057. Later works include a huge lacquered wood Boddhisattva sculpture with many arms, each of which once held a symbolic item, and dating from the sixteenth century.

In fact, I think one of the best reasons to visit the Fine Arts Museum is to see the evolution of lacquer as a fine art in Vietnam. As you proceed through the first floor of the museum, you’ll see an increasing refinement of the use of lacquer in sculptures. Some works show kings and queens of Vietnam depicted as Buddhist deities. One of the largest and most impressive works is the “One Thousand Eye, One Thousand Arm Guan Yin“. The Hindu styled sculpture carved in 1647 depicts the Chinese goddess with many arms on her body and backed by a large disk with what indeed looks like 1,000 hands carved into it.

The last rooms on the first floor contain lacquer Buddha images from the late eighteenth century. These are in several styles, with some showing extreme emaciation. Just outside these rooms is the stairway to the second floor.

The emphasis changes from sculpture to paintings on the second floor. In the early twentieth century, the works are very impressionist with oriental touches. Beginning in the late 1940s, the works begin to depict the heroic peasant, reflecting the growing interest in nationalism and the influence of communist ideology. Further rooms again display the development of lacquer in paintings. Lacquer is used in many ways in paintings. Sometimes, an image is etched into a thick lacquer panel. The etched area is then painted in with oils or other types of paint. In many other cases, the image is made up of many layers of color and lacquer, making an image that appears slightly three dimensional. Crushed eggshell is sometimes used to give a “cracked” finish to some paintings.

Once you’ve circled the second floor of the main building, you can move to the newer wing of the museum. An elevated walkway leads from the main building to the newer wing. There are some galleries lining the walkway selling art and souvenirs. The second floor of the new wing displays the costumes and decorative arts of Vietnam’s various ethnic groups. The first floor contains Chinese styled water-colors.


Address: 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street. It is just across the street from the back wall of the Temple of Literature,

Hours: open Tuesday to Sunday from 8:00 to noon and 13:30 to 16:30

Admission: 20,000 Dong (1.00 USD)

Note: no photography is allowed inside the museum, and bags must be checked in lockers located near the ticket booth

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