Famed Vietnamese artist’s paintings sell for millions

By Phuong Linh   November 22, 2023 | 04:45 pm PT
Several artworks by Vietnamese painter Le Pho have been sold for millions of dollars, including “Canard et Lotus” (Mandarin Ducks and Lotus), “Jeune femme attachant son foulard” (Young Lady Tying Her Scarf), and “Figures in the Garden.”
Famed Vietnamese artist’s paintings sell for millions

The artist’s painting “Canard et Lotus” was sold for 1.2 million euros (US$1.28 million) to the expectation of 350,000-500,000 euros.

It was the highest-priced work of the “Magnificence and Regality” auction held at the Sotheby’s Paris auction house on Nov. 7.

According to the auction house, the artwork belonged to The Princely Collection of Prince Nguyen Phuc Buu Loc, the great-grandson of a son of Emperor Minh Mang, the second emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty.

Painted in the late 1930s, “Canard et Lotus” is one of the first silk paintings created by Pho. It depicts a pair of Mandarin ducks swimming among lotuses, a symbol of Buddhism.

Other works of the painter also sold at much higher prices than estimated, with many reaching millions of dollars.

Famed Vietnamese artist’s paintings sell for millions

“Family Life,” another work by the artist, was sold for US$1.1 million at the Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction house in Apr. 2017.

Pho made this work around 1937-1939 with ink and pigments mixed with glue on burlap.

Experts consider “Family Life” a silk painting made with outstanding skills throughout Pho’s whole career. It illustrates a mother and a son spending time together.

Symmetrically portrayed, the mother and the son represent the completeness of a maternal relationship. Pho’s color choices successfully illustrate the peaceful vibe of family life in Vietnam, which revolves around happiness.

Famed Vietnamese artist’s paintings sell for millions

“Jeune femme attachant son foulard” was sold at a final price of US$1.11 million at the Christie’s Hong Kong auction house in May 2021.

Pho worked on the painting in 1938, when he was at the peak of his career, according to the auction house. Using contemporary silk painting techniques, Pho illustrated the elegance of women and differentiated his painting from other traditional silk paintings in Vietnam and other East Asia countries of the time.

Women and their scarves were among the biggest inspirations of the Vietnamese artist.

Famed Vietnamese artist’s paintings sell for millions

The silk painting “Jeune fille aux pivoines” (Young Lady with Peonies) was sold at US$1.36 million at the Aguttes’s auction house in Oct. 2020.

According to the auction house, Pho sophisticatedly combined Western and traditional Vietnamese elements in this work.

Famed Vietnamese artist’s paintings sell for millions

Another work of Pho “The et Sympathie” (Tea and Sympathy) was sold for a final price of US$1.36 million at the Sotheby’s “Modern Evening” auction in Oct. 2022.

The oil painting illustrates people, mostly women, sitting in a garden under the sunlight and having tea. The auction house said the painting showcased Pho’s talent in arranging complicated layouts, more specifically in the case of this work, 11 figures sitting in a frame.

The painting also includes the artist’s most famous themes throughout his career, including flowers, young women, and still lives.

Sotheby’s considers the painting one of the most famous silk artworks by Pho ever exchanged in the market.

“Expansive in scale, with highly meticulous details and extensive depth, the current lot is a rare work from Le Pho’s prolific artistic career,” it said.

Famed Vietnamese artist’s paintings sell for millions

His oil painting “Nude” was sold for US$1.4 million at Christie’s Hong Kong auction house’s “20th Century & Contemporary Art” auction held in May 2019.

Nude paintings were considered a taboo in ancient Vietnam due to Confucianist idealism, but Pho challenged the stereotypes.

The auction house said the audience was attracted to the artwork by Pho’s outstanding skills.

Famed Vietnamese artist’s paintings sell for millions

“Figures in a Garden” was sold at US$2.28 million at the Sotheby’s “Modern Evening” auction in Apr. 2022, marking the second highest-priced Vietnamese artwork of the time.

A trilogy of silk paintings combined, it illustrates six characters of the same size as humans doing individual things with flowers and trees in a garden.

Sotheby’s said the painting was created during the artist’s prime, when he frequently used bright colors to make large-scale oil paintings.

Art expert Ngo Kim Khoi said the artwork was outstanding for its size and yellow tone, though its romantic vibe stands out less compared to that in other paintings of Pho.

Famed Vietnamese artist’s paintings sell for millions

“La famille dans le jardin” (Family in the Garden), Pho’s second-largest painting made with ink and silk pigments, was sold for US$2.37 million in Apr. this year during Sotheby’s “50th Anniversary Contemporary Evening” auction which was to celebrate the auction house’s 50 anniversary in Asia.

The auction house said the artwork was comparable to a photograph, showcasing the artist’s skills and imagination. It describes a woman in a white ao dai sewing, with a baby reading a book by her side and other people doing different things.

Every small detail of the work, including trees, plants, and animals, was done with care. Pho added depth to the work by creating several layers in its layout.

Born in Hanoi in 1907, Pho moved to France aged 30 and lived there until his death in 2001. He was a prominent artist who carved out a long and successful career, creating thousands of works.

He and Vu Cao Dam, Le Thi Luu, and Mai Trung Thu are considered among the big four artists of the golden age of Vietnamese modern art.

Photos courtesy of Sotheby's, Christie's

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