Since the commencement of the Ecole des Beaux Arts, both teachers and students of Vietnamese painting took great care and many pains to steer its development away from a Westernising superficiality, which in their opinion would only bring Vietnamese art to a dead-end with no character of its own. Great emphasis was therefore placed on non-Western media like silk and lacquer which both teachers and students felt best embodied the Oriental essence of Vietnamese culture, better than the Western medium of oil on canvas.
Almost all the students of the early graduating classes like Le Pho, Mai Trung Thu, Nguyen Tuong Lan, Le Thi Luu, Tran Van Can and Luong Xuan Nhi were fond of silk painting, but also worked in oil. They achieved one thing as a result: their experience in oil painting enhanced their level in silk painting. It is not unusual to find the fusion of the minute, refine lines of Oriental, notably Chinese painting with a Western composition in these paintings. Inspite of the preference for subjects imbued with an Oriental flavour, like a delicate young girl near willow trees or the playing of the zither by a Vietnamese beauty, the detailings and the perspective of the works were definitely Western influenced.
Under the influence of poetry and literature which are integral parts of Chinese paintings, Mai Trung Thu loved to paint women with sad dreamy eyes, against a simplistic background, thus creating an atmosphere of romance and melancholy. The present lot is an extremely rare and representational piece of the artist. Settling in Paris just like his classmates Vu Cao Dam and Le Pho, Mai Trung Thu was however, relatively less productive than they, thus rendering his works a greater rarity.