Hong Kong auction house accused of selling fake Vietnamese painting

By Hieu Nhan   October 1, 2021 | 03:31 am PT
The family of the late, great lacquer artist Nguyen Van Ty believes Sotheby's Hong Kong auction house has put up a copy of one of his works for sale.

To prepare for the upcoming Modern Art Day Sale on Oct. 10, the auction house posted on its website a lacquered wooden screen titled 'L'image traditionnelle d'une maison de paysan' along with the name of Ty for an expected price of HKD700,000-1,000,000 ($89,000-128,500).

The site stated that: "This work is comparable to 'L'image traditionnelle d'une maison de paysan' ('Nha Tranh Goc Mit' or rough translation, 'Cottage By Jackfruit Tree') (1958) by Nguyen Van Ty at the Musee des Beaux-Arts (Vietnam Fine Arts Museum) in Hanoi."

Limage traditionnelle dune maison de paysan lacquer on Sotherbys Hong Kong website. Photo courtesy of the auction house

The 'L'image traditionnelle d'une maison de paysan' lacquer on Sotherby's Hong Kong website. Photo courtesy of the auction house

Painter Nguyen Binh Minh, Ty's daughter, former deputy director of Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, confirmed the work being auctioned by Sotheby's is not authentic.

"My father didn't make a painting of a jackfruit tree like that. It's not allowed to associate his name to the artwork," she said.

She added her father had only created the jackfruit tree picture of 67x105 centimeters, titled 'Nha Tranh Goc Mit' (rough translation, Cottage By Jackfruit Tree), currently displayed at Vietnam Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi. The family wants the auction house to remove the work or not name Nguyen Van Ty.

Nguyen Anh Minh, director of Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, said the museum bought the artwork in 1960, after the lacquer painting won a prize at National Fine Arts Exhibition. The painting is currently kept and displayed here.

"In art, there are no equivalent concepts. There are only original paintings, fake paintings and imitation paintings. In addition, the original only consists of one plate, not three like Sotheby's posted," Minh said.

Nha Tranh Goc Mit by Nguyen Van Ty in Vietnam Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of the museum

The 'Nha Tranh Goc Mit' by Nguyen Van Ty at Vietnam Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of the museum

Art researcher Ngo Kim Khoi commented that the painting has a deep [what?] with sharp lines. The Sotheby's work is relatively new with vibrant colors and poor lacquer work. He said the term "comparable to" the auction house used is vague, ambiguous and deceiving.

Khoi believes the late painter's family has the moral right to ask the for the painter’s name to be dropped while providing authentic evidence to Sotheby's. The auction house may then remove the work to protect its reputation.

"Many auction houses just ignore the request. There is nothing we can do about it. In Vietnam, there is no organization or strict and clear laws to protect artists' copyright. That's also the reason. There are many faked paintings of the Indochina period. The auction floor is just like a market. If buyers have money, they will just sell it," Khoi said.

Ty's family said they had no intention of contacting Sotheby's, but simply wanted to inform the public about the incident. The representative of Vietnam Fine Arts Museum said it is only responsible for authenticating the original work, not contacting or responding to the auction house.

Sotheby's Hong Kong has not given any official response.

The problem of fake paintings of Vietnamese artists at international auctions has existed for a long time. Recently, while watching a series of works prepared for the auction on Oct. 16 by Linda Trouvé, Khoi discovered many fake paintings by artist Bui Xuan Phai.

He sent a letter to the auction house, hoping they take it down.

"Those pictures are ugly. I can't imagine they belong to painter Bui Xuan Phai. I couldn't accept it, so I submitted a request letter to the organizers," he said.

He hopes Vietnam would appoint experts and committees to appraise works and give feedback to gradually eliminate this situation.

Previously, in September 2019, Sotheby's Hong Kong pulled two artworks, 'La Thu' (The Letter) by To Ngoc Van and 'Hai Co Gai' (Resting Ladies) by Tran Van Can, as they were believed to be fake.

In 2016, Christie's in Hong Kong sold To Ngoc Van's 'Thuyen Tren Song Huong' (Boat On The Perfume River) for $57,000 and Lady of Hue by Le Van De for $89,000. However, Hanoi Fine Arts Museum also displays two identical paintings. The museum said they had bought Van's painting in 1965 and the other in 1976.

To Ngoc Thanh, Van's son, said the two paintings were copied many times, making it difficult to determine which picture is genuine.

Ty (1917 - 1992) graduated from the Indochina College of Fine Arts and was part of the generation of Vietnam’s great lacquer artists. He was the first General Secretary of Vietnam Fine Arts Association.

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