Exhibition marks Tran Van Can anniversary

Images from the past: Two sketches by Tran Van Can on display at an exhibition at the Viet Nam Fire Arts Museum in Ha Noi to mark his 105th birthday.

Images from the past: Two sketches by Tran Van Can on display at an exhibition at the Viet Nam Fire Arts Museum in Ha Noi to mark his 105th birthday.

HA NOI (VNS) — Viet Nam Fine Arts Museum is showing a collection of watercolour sketches to mark the 105th birth anniversary of master artist Tran Van Can (1910-2015).

The exhibition features 80 watercolour sketches selected from the museum’s own collection. These include Tran Van Can’s paintings on four themes — portraits, landscapes, productive labour, and national defence – which he did during his trips to various parts of Viet Nam between 1955 and 1979.

“I’m very moved because the exhibition is like a video recording of our life together. It’s full of my husband’s memories,” said Tran Thi Hong, the artist’s wife. “The exhibition is very nice and gives a chance to the public to see the artist’s works, which he himself would have presented if he was alive.”

Viewing her husband’s artworks during an early visit to the exhibition, Tran Thi Hong could not hold back her tears.

The sketch entitled Chau Voi Di (Little Girl and Aunt) is a portrait of the artist’s wife. Can was inspired by a picture of his wife playing with a baby and had asked her to hold the pose so he could draw them.

“It was noon time in 1974, I was asked to look after our neighbour’s baby for some time, and while I was playing with the baby, my husband told me that we looked nice, and he sketched us quickly,” Hong recalled.

Can’s other portraits include that of President Ho Chi Minh, Hero Nup, and many other ordinary people. His water colour sketches represent only a small part of Tran Van Can’s lifetime output, but they have a unique style as they have subtle, light, and simple colours.

Viewers are offered a rich overview of the artist’s preliminary work on many of his greatest works later, including his celebrated oil painting Nu Dan Quan Mien Bien (Coastal Militia Woman), 1960; his magnificent lacquer painting Tat Nuoc Dong Chiem (Watering The Rice Field), 1958; his 1957 oil painting Noi Lai Day Gau (Reconnecting The Bucket’s Rope), as well as his lacquer painting Dan Len (Knitting), 1959-1961.

“All the artworks convey the artist’s deep feelings and sentiments towards people, landscapes, and their ways of life that he encountered during his travels,” said fine arts critic Nguyen Hai Yen.


Artist Can was a 7th generation member of Indochina Fine Arts School. He devoted his life and career to art in his cherished homeland.

Together with some other talented painters of his generation such as Nguyen Gia Tri, To Ngoc Van, and Nguyen Tuong Lan, Can helped set up a foundation for Vietnamese modern fine arts.

He was General Secretary of the Vietnamese Fine Arts Association in 1958-83 and chairman of the Viet Nam Fine Arts Association in 1983-89.

His efforts were rewarded with many awards and accolades, including the Independence Order and the Ho Chi Minh Prize for literature and arts in 1996. In 2010, a street in Ha Noi’s Tu Liem District was named after him.

In 2013, his oil painting Em Thuy (Little Thuy) was declared a national treasure by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung through a decision.

The exhibition will run until the end of June at 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc. — VNS

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