MAI TRUNG THU (1906-1980)
MAI TRUNG THU (1906-1980)
MAI TRUNG THU (1906-1980)
MAI TRUNG THU (1906-1980)
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MAI TRUNG THU (1906-1980)

Les enfants (Children)

MAI TRUNG THU (1906-1980)
Les enfants (Children)
signed ‘MAI THU' and dated in Chinese (lower right)
ink and gouache on silk in the artist's original frame
46 x 38.1 cm. (18 1/8 x 15 in.)
Painted in 1959
one seal of the artist
Private collection, France
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

In 1959, the year Les enfants (Children) was made, the 53-year-old painter recollected his 22 wonderful years of residence in France.

Since 1937, Mai Trung Thu exhibited in Paris, notably at the AGINDO, the Salon des Indépendants, and in renowned private galleries such as Hessel, Roux-Hentschel and Conti, among others. Outside of the capital, his works were notably displayed in French Algeria; Galerie Pasteur in Oran; Galerie Romanet in Paris and Galerie Lorenceau in Vichy.

These successful exhibitions built Mai Trung Thu’s reputation among the collectors who appreciated his paintings since the 1931 Paris Colonial Exhibition. These shows also established his connections with those who discovered his artistic talents in his earlier years at the Hanoi School of Fine Arts in Vietnam. State purchases of his works in 1940 (Scène de la vie annamite) and 1941 (La musique) brought him increasing support from members of the State, such support was dear to the French. After getting married and becoming a father in 1954 and 1956 respectively, the artist, who was probably highly motivated and fulfilled, strengthened himself professionally: On June 10 1955, Mai Thu signed an exclusive contract with gallery owner Jean-François Apestéguy, who notably guided the artist in his career. As a respected musician, Mai Thu won an important ‘Grand Prix du disque’ award for ‘Musique du Vietnam’ the following year—with Tran Van Khê.

Indeed, in 1959, Mai Thu was a content artist and a fulfilled man.

Serenity and enthusiasm fill Les enfants (Children), a rare painting that is both subtle and joyful.

The present work portrays children. Eight boys and two girls.

It also features two birds, face-to-face, one on a branch and the other in flight. In the foreground is a lush-looking shrub, abundant compared to the others in the distance, almost stripped bare of their leaves.

A flat surface, a depression and hills are arranged to form multiple levels.

Mai Trung Thu drew from Chinese painting techniques by placing the shrub, and some of the children, at our eye level. He raised the horizon line, but not too high, lest the sky exceeded the canvas’ perimeters. The house peeks from the corner of the work, marking the end of the horizon.

In this sizeable painting, Mai Trung Thu rendered the background in several shades of brown, applying the muted colours of gouache to the clothes, hair and faces. Expressions were carefully painted, reinforcing the artist’s message: Each child, which could constitute an autonomous work of the painter, comes together to form a resplendent whole, emanating a bold vision subtly highlighted by the expressions of the faces and the postures of the children.

While Mai Trung Thu often illustrated girls and boys, this work is unlike his usual sombre representations.

They are not children of war with scrawny features and distressed appearances, which Mai Trung Thu often depicted as early as 1954. That year marked the end of the first Indochina war, the partition of the country,and later, the beginning of the civil war and its innocent victims, for whom the artist had great sympathy.

The children are neither accompanied by accessories nor other paraphernalia, which the painter meticulously depicted in numerous works. There are no brushes, pens, books, inkwells, vases, furniture, wall hangings, games, musical instruments, fans, baskets, and so on…

Les enfants (Children) is neither an interior scene–a genre that the artist was particularly fond of.

In the great outdoors, there are no adults, no sister or caring mother, no respected grandparents.

No intermediaries. Neither material nor human.
The subject is children, and only the children.

The colours reinforce three shapes within the work. The children are arranged in an oval, the light-coloured tunic and pants form a rectangle, and the children’s dark hair form a triangle. Mai Trung Thu’s student Nguyen Phan Chanh at the Hanoi School of Fine Arts was particularly fond of this structural composition. Mai Thu arranged the figures around two birds that occupy the centre of the painting. By doing so, he ensured that we understood the core message behind his work.

Let us observe the children from top to bottom and from left to right. The figures are engaged in the following activities: discovery, interrogation, sleep (perhaps dream?), attention, persuasion, observation, naming, affirmation, listening and questioning.

Note that the only two girls seem to be interacting with each other, one points her finger towards the right to bring attention to the birds.

The boys interact, as each activity involves a level of dependency on the other.

By dedicating to observation, reflection and dialogue, the present work reflects the noblest activities of mankind—the embodiments of humanism.

The frame executed by the artist, with its double gold lining, bring attention to the painted silk and, with its flat silver surfaces ornamented with flowers and leaves, enhances the luminosity of the light-coloured elements of the work, such as the children’s tunics and pants, as well as sections of the house.

Mai Thu wanted to tell us that nothing is worth living for without this belief— the world will be saved by its youth.

The children are the certainty of hope.

Jean-François Hubert
Senior Expert, Art of Vietnam

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