Le Pécheur et Sa Famille (Fisherman and Family)

Le Pécheur et Sa Famille (Fisherman and Family)
signed 'Luong Xuan Nhi' (lower left); signed again, dated and inscribed in Chinese (lower right)
ink and gouache on silk
67 x 110 cm. (26 3/8 x 43 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1940
one seal of the artist
Collection of Mr Tuan H Pham, California, USA
Hans Mohring, Vietnamesische Malerei, Leipzig, Germany, 1963 (illustrated, unpaged).
Fine Arts Publishing House, Luong Xuan Nhi, Hanoi, Vietnam, 2003 (illustrated, p. 63).

Brought to you by

Sylvia Cheung
Sylvia Cheung

Lot Essay

"The fisherman says: Stay with me
Let's share my poverty and let's live without a worry…
I have my trade and my wisdom, I wander as I wish on the water, intoxicated with the space. "
Nguyên Dinh Chiêu (1822-1888)
Luc Vân Tien Saved by the Fisherman

Luong Xuan Nhi played a major role during the 20th Century within the Vietnamese school, having graduated from the Hanoi Fine Arts School in 1937, he was an active participant of the SADEAI (Société Annamite d 'Encouragement à l'Art et à l'Industrie, 'Annamese Society for the Encouragement to Art and Industry' ) established in 1934. He participated in the organization of very successful competitions to gather enough funds to offer grant bonuses to students or graduates up to 1939. He was also a founding FARTA member (Foyer de l'Art Annamite, 'Home of Annamese Art' ) with To Ngoc Van, Tran Van Can and Le Van De and others which led to the two Salons in 1943 and 1944 in Hanoi – this sign of a great social life would also come to be expressed in his work.

Executed in 1940, Fisherman's Family is a major work in the artist's oeuvre, integrated to the evolution of the ideology of the pre-War period, and elaborated notably by the 'Tu Luc Van Doan' group, a literary movement founded in 1933 by the authors Khai Hung and Nhat Linh. Disagreements emerge in Art and Literature, sparking many debates which question the 'snobbish bourgeoisie' and the 'mandarin's bigots', and discussing the difficult conditions of the working class, lagging behind economically and intellectually in the rural world. Luong Xuan Nhi, uniquely different to most of the other painters of his time, chose to paint 'reality' instead of beautiful and elegant women clad in the traditional ao dai. The 'reality' depicted here is the simple everyday life of a fisherman and his family struggling in their rough life, far from the contingency of an urban life.

There is a deep sense of community and family reflected here, allowing the painter to use his art as a storytelling medium. Here, elegance is not imbued in the pose, but exists truly in the substance of the subject-matter, the painter inscribes on his painting: 'Waves of water under sunset, refresh my body after a day of labour'.

In the late 1930's, we are still ideologically at a level of social observation and recognition. The revolution, purely communist and more drastic, will happen a few years later, and as such Luong Xuan Nhi will later adopt strong Socialist views - his biography is thus highly typical of contemporary Vietnam - as shown by his numerous trips to Eastern European countries and his constant participation in various official bodies.

The Tuan Pham Collection
Elegance Of The Heart And Vietnamese Masterworks

A man with a quiet smile despite heavy odds is most likely a survivor. And the collector Tuan Pham has a quiet smile that's both peaceful and subtle.

From the outset, we understand that from a long time since, he knows that words are the scars of the soul: a sense of self-restraint in his expression, choosing to hold back a little. Let's hope he will forgive us for getting him to say a few words on himself and his splendid collection, our best ally in our intrusive quest in Vietnamese fine art.

An extraordinary collection started 30 years ago:
“…during one of my leisure vacations in South Florida in the late 1990s, I was walking by a small gallery and caught a glimpse of a small painting. It was a still life composition with vase and flowers. The vase was blue and white, reminiscing of the 19th century vase exported from China. The flower was beautiful yellow and blue, and in the obscured background was the Eiffel Tower. There was a story within the painting to be discovered. As I approached the painting, I saw that it was signed in Chinese characters above the name Le Pho (which I thought was Li Pho, a Chinese name). I purchased the painting without realizing that Le Pho was an artist from Vietnam. It was the first painting in my Vietnamese collection, and it started a personal journey that reconnects me with my birthplace.”

Taking a prophetic meaning, this first purchase resembles more a manifesto in that it condenses yet encompasses all the elements that give the 20th Century Vietnamese paintings its true universal value. Vietnam, where the painter Le Pho was born in Hadong near Hanoi), France (the Eiffel Tower), China (the vase), America (South Florida), all clues that define the Vietnamese pictorial approach.

But a first stone is not enough to build a castle. Other explanations are perhaps needed to better understand Tuan Pham's pioneer's work. Any successful life consists in consoling the child we once were. It seems to particularly ring true of that for our collector.

Saigon, April 1975 - a child of thirteen years is with his brother and both are waiting to leave and flee their country. The war rumbles in the city's faubourg, a war the young man barely felt until then, as he was brought up in Dalat in an affluent family. The young Tuan then finds himself in Florida as a refugee, labelled an orphan before getting to California alone with his brother as his whole family (father, mother, and siblings) stayed in Vietnam. He will see them again only 18 years later.

Overcoming, excelling, surpassing: for Tuan Pham there were no other choices. At a young age he knew already that a quiet stoicism was needed, and that noise and complaint does not do much good. Overcoming the difficulties of the moment, concentration on self, neglecting the derisory: such was the way 'combat' was engaged and won.

Was he inspired by Nguyen Binh Khiem (1491-1585):
" In my madness I searched solitude
The clever ones can mingle in the noise of the world " ?
(Time Table)

In 1978, he met the one who would become the love and the strength of his life, Jacqueline Diem Thuy Tran. This and becoming a brilliant PhD graduate in 1989 (University of California, San Diego), would become his first milestones in what would be a path of hard work which led to continued success:
"I started Phamatech, a biotechnology company and laboratory, in 1992. My mission is to utilize new and emerging technologies to provide greater health awareness, early diagnosis of medical conditions and enhance quality of life and treatment options for patients. Now more than 25 years later, not only was I able to achieve my professional goal in building a respectable and meaningful company, I have been able to share Phamatech's success by giving back to the community. For many years, Phamatech has been a regular sponsor for numerous community events to promote different culture and arts, especially Vietnamese. We help started a non-profit group that teaches Vietnamese language and culture, and for each of the past 10 years, Phamatech has given out college scholarships to many under-privileged students to achieve their dream of attending college.”

The first part of the collection presented here includes seventeen works and nine painters. Four of these painters would leave Vietnam for a life in France where they will create, live and die. Five others would stay in Vietnam. If it appears like an equitable number between those who left and those who stayed, it is important to mention that the four are represented by twelve works and the five by five works... What really brings to attention in the collection are thematic representations: the over representation of woman, a mother (his mother, the mother of his three sons, Alan, Brian and Daniel); being in love; sisterhood; elegance and grace ; emancipation and freedom; and objects of desire or contemplation.

The expression of a strict classical Vietnam is also very present by the depictions of women in the traditional ao dai, conical hats, traditional buildings; traditional games; traditional fishing, and the civil mandarin. It is important to note that the divine is barely evoked and that the themes can intersect: in To Ngoc Van's masterpiece Les Désabusées for example where the elegance of the pose doesn't obliterate the power of the message (and its quest for meaning). Vu Cao Dam's Amoureux (Lovers) is also an allusion to the Kim Vân Kiêu.

There are no landscape paintings either as if the paintings were a mirror in which the collector could gaze at past times.

The following works featured here are masterpieces, executed by painters at the height and best of their art. To complement the works, we have added poems extracts to enhance and explain the works as a tribute to Tuan Pham, a lover of art and poetry. As a collector of such beautiful paintings on this journey here, we step aside and let him say the last few words here.

“I have grown attached to many paintings, but like the artist who painted it, it really isn't my painting, and it should continue to find its place among collectors. My journey is complete, and it's time for someone else to start his or her own personal journey.”

Jean-François Hubert
Senior Expert, Vietnamese Art

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