2010.08.24 By Thanh Kieu Moeller
Vietnamese are brought up with a long history of a country, rich in folklores and fairy-tales. Arts have provided strength to overcome many crises in the long history of struggling for independence.
Vietnamese artists have been able to benefit from different art techniques through different civilizations and apply them in exploiting Vietnam’s heritage of traditional art. Although Vietnamese art has been influenced by different civilizations, it has always had its own style and identity. Vietnamese art has never lost its significant distinction.
Stone age and Bronze age
During Stone age and Bronze age, Vietnamese art was in the form of pottery and bronze. Dong Son drums from 1000BC to 4th century BC shows remarkably skill of art.
Dong Son Drum-one of the earliest art form in Vietnam existed in the form of bronze
The important period of development probably took place during the 10 centuries long Chinese rule from 111BC to 939 AD. Vietnamese art was influenced by Chinese philosophies like Confusianism, Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism. Traditional Chinese ink on paper and silk, lacquer were forms of crafts seen in temples and pagodas.
The Golden age of Vietnamese art began during 11th century under the Ly Dynasty.
Pair of nghe, late le dynasty. They have striking resemblance to chinese Qi Lin
THE FRENCH INFLUENCE?
The real development of fine arts took place when the French colonist established “The Fine Arts College of Indochina” for Vietnam, Lao and Cambodia, which introduced an all-rounded European art training method. Through 20 years of operation from 1925 to 1945, two French painters: Victor Tardieu and Joseph Inguimberty, who both had profound knowledge of Oriental art, made significant contributions to the Vietnamese art scene.
Victor Tardieu, french painter who was decisive in the development of Vietnamese art scene from 1925-1945
The college trained more than 100 Vietnamese painters, scuptors and architects who form the core group of pioneers in Vietnamese modern art. Oil painting was introduced based on the French traditional model – inspired by nature in a realistic and impressionistic style. They also searched for a new model among fauvism, cubism, symbolism, surealism, futurism, abstract. Belonging to this class of painters were To Ngoc Van, Nguyen Gia Tri, Tran Van Can, Nguyen Tuong Lan, Nguyen Tien Chung, and later Nguyen Tu Nghiem, Nguyen Sang, Bui Xuan Phai, Nguyen Sy Ngoc.Le Pho, Mai Trung Thu, Vu Cao dam, Le Thi Luu were influenced by Tardieu (simple, tasteful in colours, spaciousness, emphasis on general composition)
To Ngoc Van, Nguyen Gia Tri, Tran Van Can, Luu Van Sin were inclined to Inguimberty’s style (working in open air with a composition consistent with nature, such as moving images and ever changing light).
A painting by Le Pho, disciple of Tardjieu who emphasis much more on general composition and simple outlines
Painting by To Ngoc Van, a disciple of Inguimberty
UNIQUELY VIETNAMESE – SILK & LACQUER PAINTING
Fearing that students might be over-westernized, both French masters placed greater emphasis on Vietnamese while maintaining a balance with French art.
*Silk painting was developed as a result of Phan Chanh’s failure at Western oil painting. Tardieu helped Phan Chanh shift to Oriental painting, he studied Chinese paintings of Tang and Song periods and developed his own syle within Vietnamese silk painting. Chanh’s style was simple, combining Oriental and Western techiques. Following Phan Chanh were: Le Pho, Mai Trung Thu, Nguyen Tuong Lan, Le Thi Luu, Tran Van Can and Luong Xuan Nhi all of whom were still practicing oil painting. Together the group created a collection of fine silk paintings that embodied the Vietnamese soul and tradition.
Phan Chanh, pioneer of silk painting. He started silk painting after
disappointing results with Western oil techniques
*Lacquer was discovered as a medium in painting by accident but quickly developed. One day Nam Son took Inguimberty to the Temple of Literature to paint. The French artist was struck by the charming colour of lacquer paint on centuries-old wooden altars, boards of ancient writings, and beams. He suggested to his students to apply the traditional lacquer technique to painting. Nguyen Gia Tri was the first to succeed. He applied western and modern painting approaches but his technique was pure Vietnamese. The themes employed were mostly landscapes, temples and pagodas, bridges, bamboo groves, rivers, the sea and the mountains.
Followers: Tran Van Can used colours of crimson, black, brown and gold
Subsequently, his followers - Pham Duc Cuong, Le Quoc Loc, Nguyen Van Que, Ta Ty and Manh Quynh – further developed lacquer painting into more decorative art, involving darker tones, solemnity and antiquity.
Nguyen Gia Tri was first to suceed with lacquer painting.
THE POLITICAL SITUATION AND ITS EFFECCTS UPON THE ART
From 1945 to 1954, painters volunteered to fight for national salvation. This period witnessed patriotic artists using art for propaganda purpose related to national resistance.
In 1954, Vietnam was divided into two separate regions, North and South Vietnam. The two regions developed individual styles of arts under the influence of different cultures until the war ended in 1975.
In the North, artists followed a social-realistic stream reflecting the fierce struggles and people fighting spirits whereas in the South, artists followed a style of realism-criticism, romantism and escapism.
In 1954 the French were defeated and withdrew from Vietnam.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF ART INSTITUTIONS
The Fine Arts College of Vietnam was founded in North Vietnam. In the South, The National Fine Arts College of Saigon was established in 1954 by graduates from The Fine Art College of Indochina.
During the 20 years of existence, the National Fine Arts of Saigon produced renowned painters such as: Nguyen Trung, Nguyen Phuoc, Do Quang Em, Ho Huu Thu, Co Tan Long Chau, Nguyen Thi Tam, Nguyen Trung Tin, Nguyen Tan Cuong. They embraced western trends, influenced by the presence of the Americans.
After 1975, the National Fine Arts College of Saigon merged with the National Decorative Arts School of Gia Dinh to become The Fine Arts College of Ho Chi Minh City, now The Fine Arts University of Ho Chi Minh City.
The fine arts university of Ho Chi Minh city was founded in 1975 after the war
When war ended in 1975, there were problems to reunify the countries. In the North, the most popular theme of art was the victory of the war. In the South, there was a sense of confusion. Many artists were sent to educational camp because of their ties with the Southern army during war, others fled Vietnam.
THE NEW COURSE
In 1986, after “Doi Moi” (i.e. Renewal), the government steered the transition from command economy to a socialist-oriented market economy. Fresh wave of foreign investors, diplomats, expats, tourists resulted. Vietnamese fine art underwent a successful fusion of style and theme which continues to flourish in recent years.
Today’s generation of Vietnamese artists is experimenting with contemporary genres and media such as installation art. Nevertheless, we continue to see facets of traditional art form in contemporary works.