(Vietnamese, 1920-1988)
Old Hanoi Street Scene I; & II
signed and dated 'phai 86' (lower right); signed 'phai' (lower right)
oil and collage on cardboard; & oil on paper
21 x 27.5 cm. (8 1/4 x 10 7/8 in.); 13 x 18.5 cm. (5 1/8 x 7 1/4 in.) (2)
Painted in 1986 (2)
Private Collection, Singapore
Tran Hau Tuan, B?i Xu?n Ph?i, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 1992 (illustrated, unpaged).
Bui Thanh Phuong and Tran Hau Tuan, Bui Xuan Phai Life and Work, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 1998 (illustrated, p. 286).

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Lot Essay

Capturing the poeticism of Vietnam in the 1900s, Bui Xuan Phai is one of the most significant modern painters to emerge from Vietnam in the twentieth century. His work transcends the changing times and reflects the persistent value of Vietnamese society and art. Born into a Confucian family in Hanoi, Bui Xuan Phai was raised to value education and intellect. However, his passion for painting caused him to pursue an artistic career early in his youth by drawing cartoons for newspapers. In 1941, Phai joined the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de l'Indochine, an art school which sought to give artists a foundation in the principles of traditional arts and advocated the use of national materials such as silk, wood-carving, lacquerKetc as opposed to the European technique of oils. Phai found these ideas backward and constricting, showing early signs of his belief in the freedom of artistic expression. With the independence of Vietnam came liberation but for Phai, it created an intellectual vacuum. His art turned increasing to a pursuit for freedom of new expression.

Although Phai expressed great interest and admiration for European artists such as Matisse, Picasso and Chagall, he always sought to draw inspiration from life around him. Phai's depictions of the streets of Hanoi are remarkable, and it is he that rediscovers the charm of the city. In some of his paintings, such as Hanoi Street (Lot 281) the images appear clear and coherent, while in others, one can only just about make out structures. Despite the numerous cityscapes he had painted, each image expresses a unique contrast of presence and absence, tempered with what a critic has described as 'casual and calming serenity'. The characters in his compositions always exude a sense of isolation, allowing the viewer to be privy to the intimacy of the moment. In the pair of smaller streetscapes, Phai engages with the psychological state of being urbane. Old Hanoi Street Scene I (Lot 282), the artist presents a man disappearing into the darkness of an alley in the early hours of the morning on his bicycle - a scene that is at once poignant, but similarly alluring and seems to capture the personal sincerity of the artist himself. Roaming the streets of Hanoi, Phai often carried scraps of paper and other materials to facilitate the instantaneous documentation of a scene. Old Hanoi Street Scene II (Lot 282) captures this sense of spontaneity and shows how Phai's brevity served as a refuge for greatness.

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