Painting by Vietnamese artist fetches $217,000 at French auction

By Hieu Nhan   March 31, 2023 | 04:50 pm PT
“Chan dung me toi" (Portrait of My Mother) by the late Vietnamese painter Nam Son was sold for 200,000 euros ($217,292) in Paris.

The price was determined in the Arts D'asie, Tableaux Modernes auction by Art Research Paris, at the Drouot auction house on Thursday. "Portrait of My Mother" was the sole work auctioned, and bids were submitted both online and in person.

According to Ngo Kim Khoi, an arts researcher and the grandson of Nam Son,, before the auction started, Drouot experienced a technical issue and many online bidders could not access the bidding link. Some of them could only enter the bidding link after "the gavel was hit." The highest bidder was present at the auction.

Khoi attributed the lower-than-expected final price to several reasons, including this technical problem.

"Hopefully I will see the portrait of my great grandmother one day, probably in a museum or in a private collection," he said.

Portrait of my mother, 170x103.5cm. Photo courtesy of Art Research Paris.

"Portrait of My Mother," 170x103.5cm. Photo courtesy of Art Research Paris

The oil painting "Portrait of My Mother" illustrates the artist’s mother, Nguyen Thi Lan, sitting on a chair. She is seen in a green tunic, with a scarf covering her head, a rosary around her neck, and a golden charm imprinted with the four words "Tiet hanh kha phong," a title given to widows in Vietnamese imperial times to honour them. The title was given to her by King Bao Dai in 1927.

She is holding a book in her right hand. On the bottom right corner of the painting is the painter’s signature: "Nguyen Nam Son, Hanoi, 1930".

The painting was exhibited at the 1931 International Colonial Exhibition in Paris, and introduced in the Salon Exhibition by Association of French Artists in 1932, where the painting was given a silver medal.

The Nam Son Archives claimed that the late painter sent a photo of the painting to Jean-Pierre Laurens and asked for his feedback. Upon his request, the French painter wrote "Your painting left such a great impression on me. It demonstrated the clothes and auras of people in your country. I have a feeling that you have mastered the tranquillity of fine arts ..."

The painting once belonged to the private collection of Sambuc, the president of the Association of French in Indochina, who bought it on February 21, 1933.

The painting depicts Nam Son’s gratitude towards his mother.

Paintings at Indochina School of Fine Arts before being sent to 1931 International Colonial Exhibition in Paris. Photo courtesy of French National Archives.

Paintings at the Indochina School of Fine Arts before being sent to 1931 International Colonial Exhibition in Paris. Photo courtesy of the French National Archives

Nguyen Nam Son (1890-1973) was born in Hanoi and was one of the first Vietnamese contemporary painters. He co-founded the Indochina School of Fine Arts with the French painter Victor Tardieu.

During his career, the veteran artist painted more than 400 paintings. His mediums varied from oil, silk, and water colors, to Chinese ink, and red pencils.

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