The successful first Vietnamese auction at Bonhams

Vietnamese auction

Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr held its first successful sale in Paris dedicated to Vietnamese Modernity under the direction of specialist Joan Yip (Wednesday 14 December). The 67-lot sale achieved a total of €413,188 with more than 75% of lots sold, many of them well above their estimates.

A blend of Vietnamese and French traditions, the paintings in this sale explored not only the golden age of Vietnamese art (1930-1945) but also the pre-war and post-war period. Trained mostly at the prestigious Indochina School of Fine Arts in Hanoi (EBAI), the artists mastered European techniques and media – notably oil painting – and transposed brushwork, life drawing, plein air painting and a particular use of colour with their own artistic tradition, creating a Vietnamese Modernity.

A 1960 oil on silk painting entitled Peonies and Delphiniums by Lê Phổ secured the highest bid of the day at €120,075. Estimate: €50,000-70,000.

Lot 9. Lê Phổ (1907-2001), Les pivoines et les delphiniums, Vers les années 1960, signée Lê Phổ et en chinois (en bas à gauche); titrée (au revers), huile sur soie, 73 x 54 cm. Sold for €120,075 (Estimate: €50,000-70,000). © Bonhams 2001-2022

  • Provenance: Private collection, Paris, France
  • Sale in Lyon, France
  • Private Collection, Washington, D.C.
  • This work is accompanied with a certificate of authenticity issued by The Findlay Institute and dated 21 January 2022.

Inspired by the authentic rural world, Nguyen Phan Chanh favours earthy colours (brown, black, ochre) in his works, which he enhances with white. Return to the Village is a 1955 work that accurately depicts the return of soldiers to their villages after the victory of North Vietnam in 1954. Never seen before on the market and coming from the collection of Hungarian photographer Miklós Rév, this painting was sold for €40,695 (Estimate: €30,000 – 50,000).

Lot 1. Nguyễn Phan Chánh (1892-1984), Retour au village, 1955, signée Ng. Phan-Chanh, datée 8-1955 (en bas à droite); signé, inscrit et daté 24-3-1959 (au revers), encre et couleurs sur soie marouflée sur carton, 85 x 63 cmSold for €40,695 (Estimate: €30,000-50,000). © Bonhams 2001-2022

Provenance: Collection of Miklós Rév, acquired directly from the artist in 1959 in Vietnam
Thence by descent to the present owner
European private collection.

Note: During the years of the war against the French, the subject of his paintings, in a more realistic style, was imbued with the spirit of resistance to save the country. ‘Returning to the village’ is one of the compositions of this period.

Nguyễn Phan Chánh illustrates in this painting the return of fighters after the victory against the French army during the Indochina War of Independence.

One can imagine that the heroes here are a man, a woman, and a young girl. All three carry their bundles. The reunion must be touching as the woman is already carrying in her arms a small child from the village, or perhaps her own child brought into the world in the middle of the war? They are welcomed with joy by the villagers.

An older woman, with one hand resting on her stick, clasps the hero’s arm with the other hand. Behind the applauding is an old man with a white beard, also leaning on his stick. Then a child in the foreground offers a banana to the son and we see in the background a mother carrying her child. Thus, all ages are present to welcome these war veterans. The perspective is respected.

This scene probably takes place at the entrance of the village by the sea on which a few sailboats are drawn in the distance. You can see a thatched house where the national flag flies as well as the sketch of a tree.

What appears at first glance is the harmony of warm colours – notice the absence of green and blue. Orange yellow predominates, offering a whole palette of gradients. This play of colours brings like a pastry joy regained. However, the absence of men, apart from the old man, perhaps the character on the far left of the canvas and the hero soldier, may suggest that the others are still fighting.

The artist has precisely detailed this scene. The smile of each one expresses both the joy but also the respect offered to these veterans, as well as the gesture of the hands.

To be noted also the delicacy of the features of the faces, the precision of the strands of hair. The clothes are perfectly designed until one notice what seems to be a patch stitched on the fighting woman’s trousers, illustration that she returns from a painful period. And what does she wear around her neck, a necklace, a military license plate? In the details, we must note the turbans and humble black trousers worn by these women as well as the conical hats that thus sign the place of this scene. We are in Vietnam.

This painting recalls some lines from Hoang Trung Thông’s poem1:
Your return brings joy back to the house
With songs and smiles
The small village regains its animation
Your return makes the alleys full of laughter
Accompanied with joy by the younger generations
Old mothers with tears in their eyes
Happy to see their children returning from the deep forest…

‘Returning to the village’ was formerly part of the collection of Miklós Rév. A renowned Hungarian photographer, born in 1906 in Sátoraljaújhely and died in Budapest in May 1998, Miklós Rév began his career as a photographer in 1923. In 1957, he was president of the Hungarian Association of Photographers, and visited Hanoi in 1959. His photographs offer an authentic perspective of life in the capital more than 60 years ago. During his visit, he met the artist Nguyễn Phan Chánh, whom he holds in high esteem in his book entitled ‘The Art of Vietnam’ (co-authored with journalist Imre Patkó), which recounts their observations of the arts and culture of Vietnam, with a nice passage on the artist whom he described as a humble man, wearing glasses and beard.

‘Returning to the village’ was acquired directly from the artist in 1959 by Miklós Rév, at the same time as ‘Rice planters’ (see Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 31/3/2019, Lot 1102), then to the present owner by descent.

On the back of the painting, we can see the writing and signature of Nguyễn Phan Chánh, as well as the place and date: Hanoi 24 March 1959.

Lot 16. Hoàng Tích Chù (1912-2003), Vue du delta du fleuve rouge, 1985, signé Tich, daté 5-85, avec inscription MON NGAI SÔNG DA (en bas à droite), laque, coquille d’oeuf et décor or sur panneau en bois, 60.5 x 91 cm. Sold for €31,875 (Estimate: €15,000-20,000). © Bonhams 2001-2022

Provenance: Formerly in the collection of a European diplomat in Vietnam in the 1980s, acquired directly from the artist in November 1986.

Note: Born in 1912 in Phu Luu village, Hoang Tich Chu graduated from the Fine Arts School of Indochina in 1941 and then worked as a professor at Hanoi University of Fine Arts until 1969. One year later, he was appointed director of Hanoi Academy of Fine Arts, where he stayed until his retirement. He was one of the founders of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association. Highly respected in Vietnam, his works were frequently and widely exhibited with national and international recognition.

Hoang Tich Chu was a famous lacquer painter, he reinvented the art of lacquer painting, which had traditionally been used for decorative objects. He developed and adapted the technique using a European-influenced vision based on teachings he received from the Fine Arts School of Indochina. His lacquer paintings are rich in details and lyrical. The colour palette he used is vibrant and complements the traditional red, thus creating new visual effects.

Bay and river landscapes were a very popular and highly appreciated theme in Vietnamese lacquer paintings, often reproduced by artists or workshops. View of the Red River Delta presented in the sale was created in 1985, the artist was at the peak of his realism period starting from 1954. Being a true admirer of the nature of Vietnam, combined with his love of modern art and nationalistic painting style, the artist brought a new perspective on this scene near Hanoi that he was familiar with. Here the traditional red has been replaced by blue and green-blue, the rocks detailly presented in different tones and shades highlighted with tiny bits of eggshells. Adding to the realistic rendering of the painting, the sky and some areas are covered with gold, creating a dream-like reality.

Works by French artists were also successful: Gaston Roullet’s View of Tourane in Vietnam, 1886 quadrupled its low estimate with a price of €16,675. (Estimate: €4,000-6,000) and Henri Mège’s Retour de pêche dans la lagune achieved €15,300 (estimate: €9,000-12,000).


Originally posted 2022-12-17 10:34:15.

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