Nguyen Gia Tri was born in 1908 in the Ha Dong district of Ha Tay province in North Vietnam. As a student at the L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts de L'Indochina in the 1930s, he was a leading force in turning lacquer painting from a decorative handicraft to a means of artistic expression. Working with other craftsmen, Tri combined foreign engraving and inlaying methods and the basic principles of European painting with new lacquer techniques for preparing, polishing and colouration. Faced with a very limited range of colours - transparent brown, black and a few reds - Tri and others produced new colours from various raw materials like crushed or inlaid eggshells to create pure and bluish white. A wider palate, subtle shading, and greater pictorial depth allowed lacquer painters to explore a wider range of subject matter and feeling.
Tri's experiments with lacquer led him to create remarkable works with the medium in the early 1940s, which include By the Side of Restored Sword Lake and Spring Garden. The paintings characteristically shine with a dazzling golden colour that creates a sense of balance and uniformity, highlighting the outlines of human bodies and objects. The surfaces of his paintings are even, flat and shiny like the effect of calm water. The different elements in his pictures come together to produce a contrast of exuberance and elegance. Tri is highly regarded for his folding screens depicting scenes of women and landscape.
In 1989, Tri was officially recognized by the Ministry of Culture and Information as one of the ten painters who made the greatest contributions to the development of Vietnamese modern art.