The oil on canvas painting by De, a graduate of the former prestigious Indochina College of Fine Arts, outdid other Vietnamese masterpieces at the auction.
Titled ‘Doi Bo Song Hong’ (Red River Banks), it was one of over 20 paintings by famous masters of modern Vietnamese art that went under the hammer on June 24.
The late Le Van De’s oil on canvas work titled ‘Red River Banks,’ 53.5 cm wide and 100.5 cm long, has sold for EUR220,000 at a Paris auction. Photo courtesy of Millon
Done in 1930, the painting makes use of a dominant brown color to capture the primitive beauty of the Red River with its numerous floating houses, boats and residents.
According to art researcher Ngo Kim Khoi, De applied the Western “perspective technique” which was little known then in Asian art. The technique uses straight lines to create an illusion of three-dimensional depth on a flat surface.
According to archives of Victor Tardieu, co-founder of the Indochina College of Fine Arts, at the French National Institute of Art History, this painting was exhibited at the Paris Colonial Exhibition held from early May to mid-November in 1931 and considered to be a “harmonious blend” of Japanese woodprint and post-impressionist styles by Adolphe Tabarant, a famous art journalist at the time.
It was sold at this exhibition along with another of De’s oil on canvas painting of the Red River titled ‘Thuyen Tren Song Hong’ (Boats on the Red River).
‘Red River Banks’ changed hands several times over the years until the latest auction by Millon.
Born in 1906, Le Van De came from a landowning family in Mo Cay Town in the Mekong Delta province of Ben Tre. Displaying an artistic talent at a young age, De attended La San Taberd, a secondary Catholic school that operated in Saigon from 1873 to 1973.
After graduation, despite his family’s disapproval, De applied for and was accepted as one of the first 10 students of the Indochina College of Fine Arts in Hanoi in 1925. In 1930, he graduated at the top of his class.
In 1931, he went to Paris to further study oil painting at the National School of Fine Arts, and in 1933, won second prize at a competition organized by the Society of French Artists for three paintings: ‘Ba Thay Boi’ (The Fortune-Teller), ‘Tren San Ga Montparnasse’ (At Montparnasse Station), and ‘Thieu Nu Diem Trang’ (A Young Woman Applying Make-Up).
At the Society of French Artists’ annual exhibition held in 1934, the French Ministry of Culture bought a Le Van De painting, ‘Trong Gia Dinh’ (The Family), to be displayed at the Luxembourg Museum.
Mai Trung Thu’s ‘Rendezvous,’ a 42 cm x 22 cm painting of ink and watercolor on silk, sold for EUR140,000. Photo courtesy of Millon
As the first president of former Saigon College of Fine Arts, now the HCMC University of Fine Arts, De had the honor of being tasked with decorating the stage for the historic Declaration of Independence ceremony held at the Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi on September 2, 1945.
At the Millon auction, other works by late Indochina College of Fine Arts masters also fetched high prizes, including: Mai Trung Thu’s 1974 silk painting of two women titled ‘Cuoc Gap Go’ (Rendezvous) which was sold for EUR140,000; and Tran Phuc Duyen’s lacquer painting, ‘Chua Thai Lan’ (Thai Pagoda), which attracted a bid of EUR80,000.