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Refer to Vietnamese painting, everyone knows the quartet “Tri, Van, Lan, Can” (Nguyen Gia Tri, To Ngoc Van, Nguyen Tuong Lan, Tran Van Can). Among them, Nguyen Gia Tri (1908 – 1993) was the only one to pursue lacquer painting.
Biography of Nguyen Gia Tri
Nguyen Gia Tri was born in Ha Tay province (now belongs to Ha Noi). He graduated from the Indochina Fine Arts College in 1936 and emigrated to the South in 1954. He is the pioneer in turning lacquer from decoration into paintings.
In order to create modern but still nationalistic paintings, the artist combined engravings with new lacquer methods and applied Western paintings layout with traditional elegant drawings. Nguyen Gia Tri’s paintings were forbidden to be brought out of Vietnam because they have been designated as national treasures by the government.
The Art Journey of Nguyen Gia Tri
At first, his paintings were influenced by realistic and impressive style. In the 1940s, he turned to lacquer painting. The familiar theme at this time was the charming young ladies leisurely walking in the romantic natural scenery. Through the skillful hands of Nguyen Gia Tri, charcoal paint, gold, silver, eggshell, cockroach paint could make splendid and mysterious lacquer paintings. He put lacquer technique on the peak, affirmed the importance of lacquer to Vietnamese painting. At that time, many French collected Nguyen Gia Tri’s paintings, they even searched for his sketches.
Besides lacquer painting, Nguyen Gia Tri also used caricatures to satirize the French colonial empire and their henchmen. This message was sharply conveyed through his traditional wood carvings. In 1960 – 1970, Nguyen Gia Tri changed to abstract style. At the end of his life, he returned to the dreamy world of the maiden.
The Graphic Style
In the painting “Girls in the Garden”, the girls have fun together and run around a colorful flower garden. Each shape and movement carries the shaping value. Especially, the beauty of the girls is honored by the sparkling golden color on the sky and the coat embellished by eggshells. With the large size lacquer paintings, Nguyen Gia Tri put the ancient next to the modern, the splendor next to the rustic, the hope next to the nostalgic. Typical is the back of the leaf called “Landscape. With strong lines, large patches of color, it evokes the closeness and the simplicity of the Northern countryside.
Most of Nguyen Gia Tri’s guests are South African and South American billionaires. They need large painting and have no special requirement. They let the artist freely express. Nguyen Gia Tri was the only artist in the history of Vietnamese modern painting have ever valued and sold paintings based on size.
The limitation of lacquer material
To make a lacquer painting takes a lot of time. Nguyen Gia Tri had to refuse orders continuously because he could not complete in time. In addition, the cost of painting lacquer, especially the money to buy materials is also very high. One thing that few people know about is that Nguyen Gia Tri has a strong body because he had to grind pictures every day. That’s why young artists later often afraid of hard work and do not want to make lacquer paintings.