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(Vietnamese, 1906-1980)
signed 'MAI THU'; dated in Chinese (lower right)
ink and colour on silk
76.5 x 75.5 cm. (30 1/8 x 29 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1979
one seal of the artist

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Lot Essay

The artist Mai Thu expresses the essence of what can be appropriately hailed as "Ecole Franco-Vietnamese" (The School of French-Vietnamese Art) of Paris. Alongside his painter friends Le Pho and Vu Cao Dam, whom he met at the L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Hanoi from the years 1925-1926, they shared a sameness of purpose, the fighting spirit of the exile, which characterized a generation of Vietnamese artists at the beginning of the 1930s. For them, serving their art and promoting Vietnamese painting required a pilgrimage to Paris, France which was at that time the world capital of art. The divisions of Montmartre and Montparnasse were where the great painters, Picasso, Braque, Modigliani and others flourished; additionally the French authorities were exercising the impetus to extend "the colonial enterprise" by attracting young Vietnamese artists to the capital. The opportunity provided by the Colonial Exhibition of 1931, for example, grew to become an absolutely fascinating tour of the West for Mai Thu and his compatriots. Vu Cao Dam and Le Pho arrived early in 1931, followed closely by Mai Thu. Vu Cao Dam never returned to live in Vietnam and had permanently relocated to France by 1937. Mai Thu also migrated in the same year. The trio of artists, bound by a strong friendship, augmented their essential roles in Vietnamese painting within the first half of the twentieth century. Another schism occurred with the end of fine art education at the Hanoi academy and engendered a different fate for those who remained behind in Vietnam: Nguyen Phan Chanh, Toc Ngoc Van, Nguyen Gia Tri and other schoolmates. Contrasting the nationalism and inter-nationalism of the two different groups, the constant dialectic between those who left the country and those who remained is the cornerstone for understanding the Vietnamese pictorial art of the twentieth century.

Mai Thu, deeply nationalistic and progressive aspired to the highest apex of the technique of painting on silk. His deeply Vietnamese subjects painted with care and often in miniaturist format, are accented by frames hand made by the artist. These compositions offer us a vision of not a fixed, but an idealized Vietnam. The artist was also a high-level musician and filmmaker, who combined with the painter in him to demonstrate a developed and sophisticated artistic career which blossomed under the leadership of his visionary French dealer Jean Franois Apesteguy, who paved the way for the critical and collecting success which Mai Thu fully deserved.

Alix Aymé, extraordinarily talented female artist and keen observer of Asian beauty, played an important role in the formation of the School of Vietnamese painting in the 20th century .Receiving a fully classical art education - such as drawing classes at the Conservatoire de Toulouse in France as student of the great painter Maurice Denis - she moved with her husband, an academic, to Shanghai and then Vietnam in 1920. Between 1925 - 1926 she taught drawing at the French Lyée in Hanoi. Her marriage failing, the couple returned to France where they finally separated in 1928. Aymé promptly returned to Vietnam in 1930 and travelled around Indochina, particularly in Laos. In 1935, she commenced teaching at the most illustrious academy in Indochina, the L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Hanoi, in the wake of fellow countryman Joseph Inguimberty. It is around this period that she fully embraced the Vietnamese ancestral technique of lacquer. Her creative talent, passion for lacquer, and daily observation of local life, combine the innate talent of the artist with an almost ethnographic observation through beautifully detailed genre scenes of mid-20th century Vietnam.

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