Vietnamese painter Nguyen Phan Chanh's masterpiece to be auctioned in Paris

By Mai Nhat   June 10, 2024 | 06:52 pm PT
Sotheby’s is set to auction a noteworthy piece by Vietnamese artist Nguyen Phan Chanh titled “Nguoi Hat Dan Ca” (Folk Singers) this Friday in Paris.

Described as a highlight of the auction session named "Arts d’Asie" (Asian Art), the painting depicts two female folk singers seated opposite each other, each wearing a non quai thao (traditional Vietnamese flat palm hat), holding fans, clad in brown shirts and silk trousers, and sitting barefoot.

Chanh marked the top left corner of the canvas with a red seal inscribed "Hong Nam" (South of the Hong Linh Mountains) and included a Chinese poem in calligraphy. The bottom left corner bears Chanh’s signature, "Nguyen Phan Chanh 1930," in the Vietnamese national script.

Rendered in Chanh’s characteristic earthy tones, this large oil on canvas is estimated to fetch between 600,000 and 900,000 euros (US$644,000-$966,000).

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

Completed in 1930, during what is considered the peak of Chanh’s creative period, "Nguoi Hat Dan Ca" was previously known primarily from archival records and had been exhibited in Hanoi in 1930 and Paris in 1931.

It was subsequently acquired by a French doctor couple and has remained in their family, recently rediscovered in a rural French home. Sotheby’s regards this rediscovery as the most significant work by Chanh ever to appear on the market.

Ace Le, a curator specializing in Indochinese art, noted that the painting demonstrates Chanh’s adept integration of Western academic methods with Eastern silk painting techniques.

Le emphasized: "Nguyen Phan Chanh carved out a distinctive path focusing on the laborers and rural life of Northern Vietnam, diverging from the romantic styles of his contemporaries, the quartet Pho - Thu - Luu - Dam [Le Pho, Mai Trung Thu, Le Thi Luu, Vu Cao Dam]."

He expressed hope that the treasured piece would finally return to its homeland after nearly a century abroad

Art critic and collector Ly Doi expressed skepticism about the painting achieving Sotheby’s upper estimate of 900,000 euros, highlighting that Chanh is more renowned for his silk paintings.

Having initially trained in oil painting at the Indochina School of Fine Arts, Chanh shifted his emphasis to silk after 1930.

"He revolutionized silk paintings with unique compositions and forms, telling novel Vietnamese visual and aesthetic stories," Doi remarked. "He did not achieve the same transformative impact in oil painting."

Born in the central province of Ha Tinh in 1892, Chanh is celebrated as a leading figure in the Indochinese art scene and a pioneer of Vietnamese silk painting.

He started painting at age 33 as a student in the first class of the Indochina School of Fine Arts, and later taught at the University of Fine Arts in Hanoi.

His notable work "Nhung Co Tho May" (Seamstresses at Work) previously fetched HK$10,930,000 (US$1.39 million) at a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong in Dec. 2020.

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