Prosperity paintings

For hundreds of years, Vietnamese have bought special Tet paintings during the Lunar New Year season.

Dong Ho paintings like Ga dan ( Flock of chickens ) (L) and Lon dan ( Herd of pigs ) are two of the most sought after Tet paintings during the Lunar New Year holiday season

Vietnamese, both in the countryside and the cities, spend long days shopping for new goods to ring in the New Year during the Tet season, and they never fail to bring home a few festive paintings made especially for the holiday.

Tet paintings have long been a part of Vietnam’s holiday celebrations for the Tet (Lunar New Year) Festival, which begins on January 26 this year.

The traditional folk art – depicting scenes of everyday life, popular cultural heritage and symbolic animals – is believed to bring good luck and prosperity in the coming New Year.

Vietnamese say Tet paintings bring vitality to a home, ward off misfortune, sickness and evil and venerate traditional ways of life.

Painted to reflect the elegance and beauty of Vietnamese culture, the works symbolize everyday people’s aspirations for familial harmony, health, happiness and peace in the New Year.

“Tet paintings aren’t only decorative items for the house during the holidays, they’re also of great religious significance, celebrating spiritual values that Vietnamese have held dear for centuries,” says painter Thuy Phuong , a lecturer at the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts University .

Phuong says Vietnamese customarily give each other Tet paintings as gifts for the holiday, conveying wishes for a prosperous New Year prior to the festive occasion.

The traditions

The two most sought after kinds of Tet paintings are Dong Ho and Hang Trong paintings, each named after the place where they are made.

Dong Ho Village in the northern province of Bac Ninh , about 30 km east of Hanoi, has been known for its Tet paintings for at least 300 years.

Dong Ho works are woodblock paintings. Artisans carve their scenes on blocks of wood and then add a layer of wet paint on the block before pressing it to special do paper to create an image. They use just one color at a time, adding layer after layer as each one dries. Five to six colors are usually used for one image.

Dong Ho paintings portray peace and tranquility and reflect people’s dreams for a simple life.

Popular Dong Ho paintings include Chan trau (Herding buffaloes), Muc dong tha dieu (Herdsmen flying kites) and Dam cuoi chuot ( Mice wedding ), in which mice at the wedding are seen giving gifts to a lingering cat as a distraction.

Hang Trong paintings, named after the street on which they are made in Hanoi, are also made using woodblocks. However, Hang Trong artisans use the blocks just for the black-ink outline of the image; then they hand-paint the rest of the colors in the scene.

Hang Trong paintings are popularly used for worship at temples and pagodas. If hung in private homes, the paintings are often placed in spacious living rooms or near family altars.

Popular Hang Trong paintings include a hen and its brood signifying maternal love or reunion. A pig with its young symbolizes a thriving farm and prosperity.

Paintings such as Phu quy ( Wealth ), depicting a child holding a duck, Vinh hoa (Prosperity), which shows a child holding a rooster, and That dong ( Seven kids ), featuring seven boys picking fruit, are believed to bring fertility and prosperity to the owners.

Tet paintings portraying historical events such as victorious battles are also popular.

Religious paintings depicting the kitchen gods Ong Cong and Ong Tao and other revered gods are also sought after for the season.

Vietnamese brush paintings, created with techniques that originated in China, are also popular during Tet.

Chinese ink is used on xuyen chi – a very thin, absorbent paper used specifically for this art. The paper is imported from China, Japan or Taiwan , and the paintings often symbolize man’s closeness to nature as well as portraying landscapes, the changing seasons and prosperity symbols.

“Brush paintings depicting peach blossom, apricot, and ca chep (carp) for Tet bring families radiance, blessings and prosperity,” says Truong Han Minh , a master Vietnamese brush painter.

Traditional Vietnamese paintings are often sold in sets of two or four, to be hung beside each other.

Popular sets include nhi binh ( two images ), depicting a dancing peacock and a carp contemplating the moon, and tu binh ( four images ), depicting mai (apricot), lan ( orchid /”>orchid /”> orchid /”>orchid /”> orchid /”> orchid /”>orchid /”> orchid /”>orchid /”> orchid /”> orchid /”>orchid /”> orchid /”> orchid /”>orchid /”> orchid /”>orchid /”> orchid /”> orchid /”>orchid /”> orchid ), cuc ( daisy /”>daisy /”> daisy /”>daisy /”> daisy /”> daisy /”>daisy /”> daisy /”>daisy /”> daisy /”> daisy /”>daisy /”> daisy /”> daisy /”>daisy /”> daisy /”>daisy /”> daisy /”> daisy /”>daisy /”> daisy ) and truc ( bamboo /”>bamboo /”> bamboo /”>bamboo /”> bamboo /”> bamboo /”>bamboo /”> bamboo /”>bamboo /”> bamboo /”> bamboo /”>bamboo /”> bamboo /”> bamboo /”>bamboo /”> bamboo /”>bamboo /”> bamboo /”> bamboo /”>bamboo /”> bamboo ) – each for one of the four seasons – or four pretty girls playing traditional instruments and singing.

Fading away

During Tet , most paintings on sale have spring themes – landscapes, the five fruits [ custard apple , coconut /”>coconut /”> coconut /”>coconut /”> coconut /”> coconut /”>coconut /”> coconut /”>coconut /”> coconut /”> coconut /”>coconut /”> coconut /”> coconut /”>coconut /”> coconut /”>coconut /”> coconut /”> coconut /”>coconut /”> coconut , papaya /”>papaya /”> papaya /”>papaya /”> papaya /”> papaya /”>papaya /”> papaya /”>papaya /”> papaya /”> papaya /”>papaya /”> papaya /”> papaya /”>papaya /”> papaya /”>papaya /”> papaya /”> papaya /”>papaya /”> papaya , mango and fig , which symbolize prosperity and happiness ] and brilliantly colored flowers,” says a salesman at Duy Anh Gallery on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street in District 3, where many large galleries are located.

The Tet paintings here range from lacquer, silk and woodblocks, and feature a wide range of subjects.

Calligraphy paintings with both Vietnamese and ancient Chinese scripts, and brightly-colored still-lifes are also popular.

But there are less buyers these days ,” the salesman says .

“The time when old men visited each other, painting and talking art over a glass of wine is gone. Few are willing to spend money on paintings these days,” says Phuong.

According to Phuong , disinterest in the form might be at least partially due to uninspired cookie-cutter varieties that have become increasingly abundant alongside modernity and commercialization in Vietnam.

“Though today’s Tet paintings are technically superior and feature a wider span of subjects than their predecessors, most of them lack originality, creativity and distinctiveness.”

Reported by Diem Thu

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