Art market in Vietnam: Painters Le Pho, Mai Trung Thu, and Vu Cao Dam’s works prove popular among buyers
Artworks by these pioneer graduates of Victor Tardieu’s École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine, a French-established art college in Hanoi, make up the core of the market for Vietnamese art
A particular country market that has dished out more positives amidst the general pessimism of the 2016 global art market is Vietnam. 2016 saw the modern Vietnamese art market continue to ride strongly on an ascending trajectory that had begun as early as 2014. Admittedly, the Asian art market has historically borne high hopes for Vietnam, always considering it the next emerging market. All through the 1990s and 2000s, its big break didn’t come but the market has never looked rosier than in the past few years, particularly with the emergence of Chinese and Vietnamese buyers in the market.
2016 was a year of plentiful offerings in the secondary market for Vietnamese modern art. Auctions in France and the US — increasingly accessible to buyers in Asia via online marketing and sales platforms — turned up more Vietnamese artworks than previous years (with accompanying strong prices) against a backdrop of strong prices in the bellwether Hong Kong auction sales. Christie’s presented in its May 2016 Asian 20th Century Art sale a curated section titled ‘Se Souvenir des Belles Choses: A Curated Collection of Vietnamese Art’ that featured more than 70 Vietnamese lots in its 20th century Asian art sale. With a 90% sell-through rate, and a sale total of US$4 million, it was not only the most valuable single auction sale of Vietnamese art, but also notable for the overwhelming response of Vietnam-based buyers, who accounted for more than half of the sold value of the sale.
The geographical footprint of Vietnamese art has also expanded in this time of growth, with the first ever sale of works of Vietnamese art in a mainland China auction taking place at Christie’s Shanghai in October 2016. A pair of small but relatively earlier Mai Trung Thu ink and gouache on silk portraits sold for CNY 660,000 (USD 98,622), at least three times what a pair of such portraits would have fetched just a couple of years ago. Leading Vietnamese contemporary painter, Nguyen Trung’s ‘Repose in the Garden of Delight’ realised CNY 228,000 (USD 34,070), easily doubling its high estimate, and continuing a run of recent resurgent prices.
Mid-20th century ink paintings on silk and lacquer paintings form the cornerstone of the modern Vietnamese art market. The key artists in the market — Le Pho, Mai Trung Thu, Vu Cao Dam and Le Thi Luu — were some of the very first few graduates from the French-established art college in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, who went to Paris in the pre-World War II years and settled and worked there. Pioneer lacquer painter Nguyen Gia Tri and Nguyen Phan Chanh, who paints primarily on silk, are the other two artists who stayed in Vietnam, and whose works form the core of the modern Vietnamese market.
In the past three years, with the exception of Vu Cao Dam where no extremely significant work has come to market, the other five first-generation modern artists have had works surface at market that have elicited decisive action from bidders. All previous auction record prices have been broken, and in the case of Le Pho and Nguyen Phan Chanh, repeatedly so. The entire top end of the modern Vietnamese market has pulled away considerably, and continually, upward.
The participation of new buyers has been a key factor in the overall strong showing in the market. In particular, buyers in Hanoi and Saigon, the two largest Vietnamese cities, have emerged to participate in unprecedented numbers and strength in the auction market in Hong Kong. Their sense of cultural patrimony to buy and bring heritage home has boded well for prices.
At the same time, there begins to emerge a broader understanding of the place of the Vietnamese artists working around the middle of the 20th century. Against the Fauvists’ bold colour palette and the emphasis of Expressionism on the artist as creative genius, the France-based Vietnamese artists painted with a vivid sense of cultural identity which they were keen not just to express in their lives, but to rely through the subjects and styles they worked on. The dainty portraits of girls, children and idealised landscapes painted on silk with their muted monochromatic colour palette and soft evocative tones made overtures to an oriental aesthetics shared with individuals like Sanyu and Tsuguharu Foujita. At the same time, the surrealistic, dream-like qualities of Marc Chagall’s work had a profound influence on Vu Cao Dam. An enlarged story of the School of Paris would read in the works of foreign artists such as the Franco-Vietnamese quadruplet how far-reaching the creative osmosis of the Parisian milieu was.
As the market shifts into gear for the upcoming second quarter auction season in 2017, watch out for continued ascending of prices and broadening of buyer base in the modern Vietnamese market.
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This article was written by Wang Zineng and originally published in Art Republik.