Mai Trung Thu was born in 1906 in Kien An. He was a member of the first class of the Ecole des Beaux Arts de l’indochine (Fine Art School of Indochina) in Hanoi together with Vu Cao Dam, Nguyen Phan Chanh as well as Le Pho, his childhood friend. These best pupils of the institution were successfully invited to the Paris Colonial Exhibition in 1931. The trip was an eye-opener to all participants and later on took a huge role, not only to Mai Thu’s decision-making, but also to most of them: having made France their home and pursuing their artistic career there.
During his education at the Ecole des Beaux Arts de l’indochine, Mai Thu developed interest towards the medium of silk. Mai Thu’s early art celebrated the innocence of rural Vietnam and also suggested a nostalgia for the past. Painted in 1942, Mere et enfant portrays an intimate scene of a mother sewing clothes with her child standing next to her helping to relief the heat by fanning towards the mother whom seated elegantly in a mat using Vietnamese traditional clothing, áo dài. The child seems very understanding towards his mother by putting another of his hand on his mother’s shoulder as a sign of comforting.
Mere et enfant displays the classic quality of the works of the first Vietnamese painter graduates from Ecole des Beaux Arts de l’Indochine – harmony in composition, often also the grace of the facial expression and always a penetrating flavour of far eastern sight as well as the emanation of a soul very different from the west. Colour used in this painting creates a subtle and nostalgic interpretation of the moment. The combination of mediums and technique used in this painting elevate the sense of delicateness to the painting and its subject. Mere et enfant is an up close study of daily rural life in a Vietnamese household, celebrating the role of woman in their household as homemakers. Futhermore, it offer a different perspective from the usual interpretation of mother and child done by Mai Thu’s contemporaries at the same period where most of them are a one way relationship from mother to child while Mere et enfant presents the other side of the relationship – an unconditional love of son to his mother.