NGUYEN PHAN CHANH (Vietnamese, 1892-1984)
NGUYEN PHAN CHANH (Vietnamese, 1892-1984)


NGUYEN PHAN CHANH (Vietnamese, 1892-1984)
signed and inscribed in Chinese (upper left & upper right)
ink and gouache on silk
65 x 50 cm. (25 5/8 x 19 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1931
one seal of the artist
Private Collection, France
Sale room notice
Please note that the correct medium of Lot 323 should be ink and gouache on silk.
拍品編號323 的正確媒材為水墨粉彩絹布。

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Eric Chang
Eric Chang

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Lot Essay

Early works of Nguyen Phan Chanh are extremely rare in the market; any works discovered and subsequently surfaced in the market makes for a major occasion. In the past few years, Christie’s Hong Kong has been privileged to present a few exceptional early works of the artist, notably La Marchande de Riz (The Rice Seller) in May 2013, followed by La Vendeuse de Bétel (The Betel Nut Seller) in Nov 2014 from the Tholance-Lorenzi Collection, the current world auction record price for the artist.

Millions of visitors browsed the Pavillon de I’Indochine in the Paris Colonial Exhibition of 1931 and were captivated by the works of Vietnamese artists that were shown. The French media which covered the Colonial Exhibition shared great enthusiasm for the works by the first generation Vietnamese artists. Nguyen Phan Chanh was an exhibitor, alongside Le Pho who was in Paris as assistant to Victor Tardieu, and though he did not travel to Paris, he was considered the most successful of the group of Vietnamese artists due to the positive reception to his works. After the exhibition, efforts to promote Vietnamese art in the 1930s in Europe took further root with Agindo (Agency for Development in Indochina) creating a centre to exhibit and sell quality works from the best artists of the École Supérieure des Beaux Arts de l'Indochine. Subsequently, the first generation Vietnamese artists including Nguyen Phan Chanh had their works exhibited in Rome (1932) and Naples (1934).

The year 1931 was, by all measure, a significant year for Vietnamese painting as the artists themselves advanced greatly in their works as individuals and collectively. The aforementioned Colonial Exhibition allowed for positive encounter between the Asian world and Western modernity, enablingthe search for and understanding of the other. In the melting pot of ideas that fermented, many a masterpiece in Vietnamese art was created.

Nguyen Phan Chanh can be considered a Vietnamese chiaroscuro artist. French critics found similarities between his works and that of the French Baroque painter, George de la Tour (1593-1652). In his early works, Nguyen Phan Chanh excelled in the play of light and shadow based on the application of a range of browns to create an evocatively finished monochromatic painting. The roundedness of the basket breaks the triangular unity of the subject while the lighter background serves to isolate the subbject, lending her a sense of eternal solitude. The subtle combination of shades of black and brown hues lends the work a quietude that underlines the modesty of the subject.

By virtue of the perfection achieved in the use of gouache and ink on silk, Sewing counts as one of the masterpieces of Vietnamese art in the 1930s. Technically accomplished, Nguyen Phan Chanh brings the very best of his technique to this work, which is considered an iconic piece. Technique matches the character of the subject; the Vietnamese lady sewing is shown in side profile, maintaining a certain anonymity and modesty of character.

In Sewing, Nguyen Phan Chanh expresses a fundamental question about the past and future of Vietnam. One reads in the modesty of the seamstress subject an attitude of forebearance. In 1931, the year of creation of this work, the artist could not have been indifferent to the failed efforts by soliders, peasants, works and intellectuals in the form of the Yên Bái mutiny or the Ngh? Tinh uprising to overthrow the French colonial government. The forbearance of the seamstress is almost metaphorical, asking viewers of the questions: what is a nation? Why and how does it come about?

Jean-François Hubert
Senior Consultant, Vietnamese Art

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