PHAM HAU (VIETNAM, 1903-1995)
PHAM HAU (VIETNAM, 1903-1995)

Paysage du Tonkin (Tonkinese Landscape)

PHAM HAU (VIETNAM, 1903-1995)
Paysage du Tonkin (Tonkinese Landscape)
signed 'HAU', signed again in Chinese (lower right)
lacquer on panel
each: 105 x 30 cm. (41 3/8 x 11 3/4 in.) (6)
overall: 105 x 180 cm. (41 3/8 x 70 7/8 in.)
Executed circa 1936
Acquired in Hanoi in 1938 by the late Monsieur Henri Godefroy (1895-1975), Director of the Railways for Indochina in the 1930s
Thence by descent to the present owner
Private Collection, France

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Annie Lee
Annie Lee

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Lot Essay


Christie’s is proud to present a magnificent and alluring Pham Hau this season, representing high aesthetic qualities as well as a milestone in the history of Vietnamese art. Together, the techniques used with the historical background surrounding the work illustrate and mark a significant moment in Vietnamese painting.

The acquisition and provenance of this artwork is very well documented: Henri Godefroy (1895-1975), then the Director of the Indochina Railway Company, bought it in Hanoi in 1938. It remained in his family home in Hanoi till they returned to France for good in October 1946 on the sea liner Ile de France. To this very day, it was conserved in the same family showing how like others that followed the same path - Vietnamese paintings came to be sent back to Europe and became known abroad.

Very early on, from 1929, exhibitions in the Fine Arts School of Indochina in Hanoi were organized to present the students and sometimes the works of the teachers together. Under the direction and tutelage of Victor Tardieu, the Director of the School, organisations were created even within the school itself such as SADEI (The Annamite Society of Encouragement to the Art and the Industry) in 1934, and greatly contributed to the success through exhibitions, patronage, awards and by getting the public educated and involved. Many visitors came to four of the exhibitions organized between 1935 and 1939 and later, FARTA (Foyer for the Annamite art) and the Unique Salon in 1943 and 1944 would complete and round up the action, even amidst the spectre and turmoil of World War II – art still lived on and prevailed.

It is probably through these exhibitions, their success and their communication to the greater public, that the Godefroy family developed an awareness of Vietnamese art. Beyond the quality of the teaching and the success of local exhibitions, the key factor for the growth and appreciation of Vietnamese art remains the Pavillon dIndochine in the 1931 Colonial Exhibition in Paris. Pham Hau, still then a student, created for that occasion elaborated grids and consoles with wrought iron, and in that way contributed to this turning point in Vietnamese art history - millions of visitors, enthusiastic and widespread press coverage, the first international and national collectors of Vietnamese art (M. Masse, Drs Montel and Morax amongst others).

Beside the provenance of the work, we need to evoke and discuss the techniques used to create lacquer works such as this. Everybody knows about the anecdote - reported in a timely manner and endlessly repeated – on Joseph Inguimberty who, guided by Nam Son, went to visit the Temple of Literature in Hanoi. Inguimberty was enthralled when he saw the cult objects, the parallel sentences coated with lacquer that absorbed the light in its patina in the main room of the Temple: an absorbing and kind of illumination for him. This remained an experience Inguimberty would take on board when teaching his students at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Hanoi for twenty years (1925-1945). Lacquer became in the early 1930s a full subject of the curriculum taught in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts , and Pham Hau would be one of its best and most accomplished students.

It is certainly part of an opportunistic legend and forms the reminiscences of an ideology: Jean Dunand (1877-1942) organised successful exhibitions in Paris (in particular in the Galerie Georges Petit in 1921) where he exhibited, for example, a splendid lacquer of a panther on a panel. There is no doubt Inguimberty and the viewing public was aware of the success as it was broadly mentioned in the Press and talked about in the national and international artistic circles. Also eggshell was traditionally used in Japan to ornate the handles and the sheath for sabers. A technique Dunand, very early on, used in abundance and trained many Vietnamese who worked for him in Paris before they moved back to Hanoi.

The rhus succedanea is the tree producing lacquer in Tonkin. It is extracted by incision to grab the original resin that can be first transformed into two colours: the canh gian (puce colour) and then black. The red, from the cinnabar allows a poly-chromatist element to the work. The gold affixed seen here completes a clever and patient process of sandpapering, a process that allows no errors from the artist.

Pham Hau did not want his work to be merely a decorative and pageantry work. The folding screen in its reasonable dimension, its pure landscape subject and where all human representation has been banned, has the vocation to occupy the domestic space: the artist enters the intimacy of the collector and adds a new perspective in his home, with a world where the vegetal takes over on the mineral. A plethora of gold for the plants, with sober colours for the buildings. The phantasmagorical aspect of the project does not get in the way of realism as seen in the banana tree leaves particularly on the lower left. The artist’s chromatic range where red and grey are intensified by the major plat of gold is typical of the middle years in the 1930s- 1940s imbues the work with a sense of great dignity, and also a great sense of serenity.

Doan Phu Tu (1910-1989) in his Colours of Time poem could have possibly honoured this work:

Not blue, the colour of time
Mauve is the colour of time
Not intoxicating, the perfume of time
Light is the perfume of time.”

Jean-Francois Hubert
Senior Consultant, Vietnamese Art

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