Nguyen Phan Chanh – Pioneer of Vietnamese silk paintings
Nguyen Phan Chanh (1892-1984) was born in Bat Tien hamlet, Trung Tiet commune, Thach Ha district, Ha Tinh province.
Chanh, among the first students of the Indochina College of Fine Arts, now Hanoi University of Fine Arts, was one of the greatest Vietnamese painters of the last century. With a good command of folk art and an intense passion for the art, he was inspired by Eastern art after gaining access to Chinese silk paintings and Japanese silk paintings.
He created his own style and techniques for painting on silk.
Before he started work, Chanh washed the silk canvas in warm water. When the first layer of colours dried, he washed the painting again before adding new colours until he was satisfied with the work.
In 1928, he became the first Vietnamese painter to have a painting reproduced on a postage stamp in France . It was titled Nguoi Di Cay (Transplanters in the Field).
After winning a prize for his work in Paris in 1931, he built a career as a lecturer of fine arts.
In 1996, he was posthumously awarded the Ho Chi Minh Prize, the noblest award for literary and fine-art work in Vietnam .
Chanh left about 170 silk paintings and 52 sketches when he died, according to his family. Most of them are stored in museums and private collections throughout the world. His family owns a small number.
His work has been displayed in France, Italy, the US, Japan, the former Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland and the former Soviet Union.
In 1932, paintings such as O An Quan (Children Playing Games), Rua Rau Cau Ao (Washing Vegetables by a Pond), Len Dong (Mediumship) and Em Be Cho Chim An (Children Feeding Birds) were the first Vietnamese paintings introduced to a French audience in Illustrations magazine.
French critics spoke highly of Nguyen Phan Chanh paintings: “Nguyen Phan Chanh had sharp eyes which observe tiny subtle details of Vietnamese people’s daily life”.
Although he painted about various topics, he was known for his paintings of ordinary people and popular images in the northern region of Vietnam.
Nguyen Phan Chanh’s legacy
During his life, Chanh made some 170 paintings, most of which measure 65x50cm.
His silk painting Em be ben chu chim (Child with Bird) was sold at over 853,000 USD (6.7 million HKD) at an auction by Christie’s Hong Kong on August 26, 2018.
The painting depicts a girl feeding her bird.
This is the highest price for a painting by any Vietnamese artist sold by the auction house and in the world.
Em be ben chu chim (Child with Bird), ink and colour powder on silk, was drawn in 1931 and measures 65x50cm. Its original price was 128,000-205,000 USD.
According to Christie’s, before the auction in Hong Kong, the painting was owned by a collector, who purchased it directly from Chanh.
The art collector who bought the painting on May 27 resides in France
On May 26, another painting by the same artist, Nguoi Ban Oc (The Snail Seller), was sold for 600,000 USD (4.66 million HKD) at Christie’s Hong Kong.
The painting, ink and colour powder on silk supported by paper and measuring 88×65.6cm, was made in 1929.
The Snail Seller was showcased at the Paris-Bois de Vincennes International Exhibition from May 6 to November 15, 1931, where Chanh displayed six of his works. Experts guessed that Chanh had displayed his artworks at the exhibition because in 1929, while studying at the Indochina Fine Arts College, Chanh won first prize at the Indochina Post Stamp Design contest.
In 1931, Chanh made two silk paintings, which were considered master pieces – Choi O An Quan (Playing O An Quan Game) and Child with Bird.
He tried his hand at silk painting with the encouragement of his college rector, Victor Tardieu (1870-1937).
The Snail Seller was collected in 1931 and was occasionally displayed at exhibitions here and there. Its most recent appearance was in 2002 at the Mariemont Royal Museum in Belgium. The exhibition, titled Peach and Blue Birds: Arts and Civilisation of Vietnam, was held from April 20 to August 18./.