Born in 1906, and one of the first graduates from the École des Beaux Arts de Indochine, Mai Trung Thu’s use of the distinctively Vietnamese medium of silk can be traced to his early training. His early works focus on idyllic pastoral life and a nostalgic reminiscence of the past. In 1937, Mai Trung Thu moved to France and was part of the early group of Vietnamese artists active in Paris. He would eventually spend the rest of his life in France, continually refining his paintings of female portraiture for which he is the most well-known for.
Painted in 1955, Deux femme se coiffant (Two Ladies Styling) depicts the delicate and youthful vanity of two young ladies with Mai Trung Thu’s characteristically precise brushwork on the fragile medium of silk. One figure daintily holds a wooden comb in one hand while her other pulls back her flowing black hair. In contrast the other figure puts the finishing touches on her elegantly functional hairstyle and is dressed in a traditional white Vietnamese silk tunic – the white of her dress and her neat bun a symbol of purity. The ladies are depicted with distinctively Oriental perceptions of beauty, while their eyes reveal a hint of melancholy.
Mai Trung Thu used an extremely fine brush and gentle water polish to accomplish the finesse of Eastern aesthetics with the colouring techniques of Western painting. The resultant works vividly depict the appearance of the ideal traditional Vietnamese woman on the glimmering medium of silk, showcasing the extraordinary elegance and delicate beauty of his subjects.