Works of Bui Xuan Phai shown to public for first time

By Mai Nhat   June 23, 2022 | 07:22 pm PT
Over 50 paintings by well-known artist Bui Xuan Phai (1920-1988), many of which he painted toward the end of his life, are on public display for the first time.

'Remember Painter Bui Xuan Phai,' an exhibition to mark his 100th birthday – postponed from 2020 – is on until July 4 at 357/2 Nguyen Trong Tuyen in HCMC's Tan Binh District.

Tran Hau Tuan, a collector and the event organizer, said 60 oil and gouache paintings are on display, 90 percent of them for the first time ever.

Tuan has been collecting the works of many famous artists since the 1980s and has great passion for Phai’s.

He said the exhibition had been scheduled for September 2020 to coincide with Phai’s birthday, but was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the outbreak, during many nights he would just sit in his room and look at the paintings, he said.

"When I looked at the paintings on the wall and the table - because many small paintings must be displayed on the table - I felt like I escaped reality and entered a different world. They give me the motivation to stay strong and overcome Covid."

The works on display are based on familiar themes, including Hanoi's old quarter, cheo folk singing and rural landscapes in the north.

An artwork by late painter Bui Xuan Phai at the exhibition. Photo by VnExpress/Ly Doi

A work by late painter Bui Xuan Phai at the exhibition. Photo by VnExpress/Ly Doi

"Bui Xuan Phai's paintings not only feature familiar images of dark brown tile roofs and ancient moss, but also splendid red tiles and children wearing colorful outfits."

Also on show are notebooks containing Phai's painting philosophies that he wrote near the end of his life.

His final self-portrait was completed in 1988, just a few months before his death, with the caption, "Now all you need is health."

A drawing of his sleeping wife remains incomplete.

Many art experts were invited to see the works before the exhibition opened to the public.

Though he is familiar with Phai's works, painter Le Dai Chuc said he has never stopped being amazed by them.

"Though his paintings are simple, viewers can sense his innocence and earnestness."

Nguyen Quan, an art critic, is intrigued by Phai's painting style.

"Many consider Bui Xuan Phai to be the most nationalist painter. To me, he is the most 'western' painter using only European materials, techniques, and brushstrokes he learned at École de Paris, a school in France, in the first half of the 20th century."

Bui Xuan Phais last self-portrait. Photo by VnExpress/Mai Nhat

Bui Xuan Phai's last self-portrait. Photo by VnExpress/Mai Nhat

Phai had studied at the Indochina College of Fine Arts in 1941-1945 alongside painters Nguyen Sang, Nguyen Tu Nghiem and Duong Bich Lien.

He died in Hanoi on June 24, 1988. He is best known for his paintings of Hanoi's old quarter, which document the capital's social changes in the 20th century.

Phai used a variety of materials, including cloth, paper, wooden boards, and canvas.

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