Six Vietnamese artworks rake in millions at int'l auction

By Y Ly   April 22, 2021 | 11:09 pm PT
"Portrait of Mademoiselle Phuong" by Mai Trung Thu and "Nude" by Le Pho are some of the priciest Vietnamese artworks sold for millions of dollars at international auction houses.
The Portrait of Mademoiselle Phuong by Mai Trung Thu is the most expensive artwork by a Vietnamese artist ghgh

The "Portrait of Mademoiselle Phuong" by Mai Trung Thu smashed Vietnam's auction record to become the most expensive painting by a Vietnamese artist. It was sold to an unknown bidder for $3.1 million at Sotheby's Auction House in Hong Kong last Sunday.
On its website, Sotheby's described the painting as "a monumental, yet remarkably tender and intimate." It noted the artwork captured Mai Thu’s deep admiration of its sitter, a noble lady rumored to be the artist’s love interest.
The artwork, a 135.5x80 centimeter oil painting on canvas, was signed and dated 1930, the year when he was a painting teacher at Lycée Francais de Hue (French High School in Hue). The work was first exhibited at École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine in Hanoi in 1930 and then at 1931 Exposition Coloniale Internationale de Paris.
It was previously owned by Dothi Dumonteil, a Vietnamese woman who migrated to France as a child, and her husband Pierre Dumonteil, an art collector.


At the same event, "View of a Famous Old Pagoda's Landscape in North Vietnam" by Pham Hau fetched a bidding price of $1 million. The 104x153 centimeter lacquer painting was created in the 1930s. It also belongs in the collection Dothi Dumonteil. The auction organizer stated Pham Hau had revealed excellent technical skills and workmanship. It lauded the artwork for "describing the lush green landscape of an ancient temple hidden in the rural mountainous areas of Vietnam. The picture is rare and enchanting, which combined both Eastern and Western cultures."


Before that, Pham Hau created a lot of buzz when his lacquer painting "Nine Carps in the Water" pocketed $1.1 million at the "Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art Evening Sale" auction at Sotheby's Hong Kong in February 2019.
The lacquer work contains four panels, each plate size is 50x180 centimeters, and was completed between the years 1939-1940, during the peak period of his career.
Pham Hau, whose real name is Pham Quang Hau, was born in 1903 into a large, poor family in Dong Ngac Village, Hanoi. A graduate of Indochina Fine Arts School, he is considered a leader in the Vietnamese lacquer art industry. His works are presented in many forms including cabinets, screens, wall paintings, and handicrafts, mostly sold abroad in the decade 1940-1960.


In May 2019, Le Pho's "Nude" sold for $ 1.4 million at Christie's "20th Century & Contemporary Art" auction in Hong Kong. The oil painting, size 90.5 x 180.5 centimeters, created in 1931, is in the art collection of Tuan H Pham - Vietnamese American.
Nude painting was once deemed taboo to Confucian thinking in old Vietnam. "In this fascinating picture, the artist's virtuous will and skill are clearly shown. With the intention of breaking away from Confucian philosophy, it created a sense of revolution by breaking the traditional perspective and highlighting the complexity in the artist's vision," the auction house stated.
Le Pho brought his paintings to France in 1937 and stored them in a small rented apartment in Paris. In 1940, when war broke out between France and Germany, the painter joined the French army. Before going to the battlefield, he told the housekeeper he would return to pay his rent soon and left his paintings behind to show he would keep his promise. However, the landlord sold the paintings to settle his debt.
Artist Le Pho, born in Hanoi, was one of the first students of the Indochina Fine Arts School. He also received training from the French principal, painter and professor Victor Tardieu. In 1937, Le Pho moved to France, marrying a reporter named Paulette Vauxa.
Pierre Le Tan, their son, was born in 1950 and became one of the famous illustrators in France. His granddaughter, Olympia Le Tan, is known as a famous fashion designer.

Also in the auction in May 2019, To Ngoc Vans Les Désabusées (Disillusioned) sold for more than $ 1.1 million. Silk painting was born in 1932, size 92.5 x 57cm, belongs to the art collection of collector Tuan H Pham. The painting was displayed at the exhibition Arts du Vietnam: La fleur du pêcher et l’oiseau d’azur at the Royal Mariemont Museum (Belgium) in 2002.The picture at first shows the disappointment of two elegant women through postures and facial expressions. However, Tô Ngọc Vâns work evokes more than that. According to experts, the status of Vietnamese women, the legitimacy of an elite, Western and Chinese influences all exist in this picture.To Ngoc Van is a famous painter from Hung Yen origin, in the quartet of the best Tri, Nhi Van, Tam Lan, Quaternary Can (Nguyen Gia Tri, To Ngoc Van, Nguyen Tuong Lan, Tran Van Can). He is considered to be the first person with the first merit in using oil paints in Vietnam. One of his most famous works is The Woman by the Lily Flower painting.

At the same auction event in May 2019, To Ngoc Van's "Les Désabusées" (Disillusioned) was sold for more than $1.1 million. The 92.5x57centimeter silk painting was created in 1932 and belonged to the art collection of Tuan Pham. The painting was displayed at the exhibition "Arts du Vietnam: La fleur du pêcher et l’oiseau d’azur" at Royal Mariemont Museum (Belgium) in 2002.
At first glance, the picture shows the disappointment of two elegant women through their postures and facial expressions. However, his work evokes more. According to experts, the status of Vietnamese women, the legitimacy of an elite, Western and Chinese influences, all exist in this picture.
Van is a famous painter from the Red River Delta province of Hung Yen. He is known as one of the four most prominent artists of the golden age of Vietnamese modern art and is considered to be the first person to use oil paints in Vietnam.


Le Pho's "Family Life" bagged $1.1 million at the Sotheby's auction in April 2017. The artist painted this 82x66 centimeter masterpiece in the period 1937-1939, using ink and pigment mixed with glue on burlap.
Experts say "Family Life", a delicate and rare silk painting, is visually attractive. The work depicts an intimate moment in a leisurely day, focusing on the image of a mother and child. While the child obediently rests her head on her mother's lap, hugging her knees, the mother tilts her head down, holds her hand, and strokes her head as a way of praise. Both characters in the artwork form a harmonious oval representing the reciprocal nature of motherhood. The bright soft palette used shows serenity and tenderness. Le Pho conveys an idyllic picture of life and people in Vietnam, in which family happiness is the foundation.

Photos courtesy of Sotheby’s and Christie's.

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