Vietnamese painter Nguyen Phan Chanh’s masterpiece sells for nearly $1.1M

By Mai Nhat   June 18, 2024 | 11:05 pm PT
Nguyen Phan Chanh’s artwork “Nguoi Hat Dan Ca” (Folk Singers) was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in Paris for 1.02 million euros (US$1.09 million).
Vietnamese painter Nguyen Phan Chanh’s work Nguoi Hat Dan Ca. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

Vietnamese painter Nguyen Phan Chanh’s work "Nguoi Hat Dan Ca." Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

As per information on the auction house’s website, the work’s final bid, reached at the auction on June 14, exceeded its initial estimate of 600,000 to 900,000 euros.

This sale ranks the piece 15th among the highest-priced Vietnamese paintings ever sold and marks Chanh’s second work to surpass US$1 million. His earlier piece "Nhung Co Tho May" (Seamstresses at Work) fetched US$1.39 million at a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong in December 2020.

"Nguoi Hat Dan Ca" features two female folk singers seated opposite one another. Each singer wears a non quai thao (traditional Vietnamese flat palm hat), holds a fan, and is dressed in a brown shirt and silk trousers, sitting barefoot. The work, an oil painting on a large canvas, exhibits Chanh’s signature use of earthy tones.

Completed in 1930, a peak period of Chanh’s artistic output, the painting was only presented in archival records and at a few exhibitions in Hanoi in 1930 and Paris in 1931. It was then purchased by a couple of doctors and stayed within their family, being recently found in a rural French home.

Art researcher Ngo Kim Khoi said the auction outcome matched his prediction, citing the painting’s well-documented provenance. He also highlighted the medium of the painting as particularly notable.

"This work is an oil painting while Nguyen Phan Chanh is better known for his silk paintings," he said. "However, it retains the style typical of his silk works, characterized by large, simple color blocks and minimal detail."

Sotheby’s Vietnam market executive director Ace Le described the painting as the most significant by Chanh ever offered for sale.

Additionally, several other Vietnamese artworks drew attention at the auction, including "Huong Hoa" (Fragrance of Flowers) by painter Le Pho, which sold for 288,000 euros (US$308,000), and "Ben Cua So" (Woman by the Window) by painter Mai Trung Thu, which went for 84,000 euros (US$89,800).

A sculpture titled "Chan Dung Chang Trai Dong Duong" (Portrait of a Young Man) by Vu Cao Dam was auctioned for 60,000 euros (US$64,000), and the painting "Phong Canh Bac Ky" (Landscape in Northern Vietnam) by students from the Indochina School of Fine Arts fetched 72,000 euros (US$77,000).

Born in Ha Tinh province in 1892, Chanh is recognized as a key figure in the Indochinese art movement and a pioneer in Vietnamese silk painting.

He began his painting career at 33 as a student at the Indochina School of Fine Arts and later taught at the University of Fine Arts in Hanoi.

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