1925-1945 The Establishment of the Fine Art College of Indochina
1995 marks the 70th year of existence of Vietnamese painting. From 1925 to 1945, the first epoch of the history of Vietnamese painting coincides with the history of the Fine Arts College of Indochina (FACI) because it was that college which created conditions for the birth and development, vigorous until now, of Vietnamese painting… The principal promoter of the programme concerning the fine arts was Victor Tardieu (1870-1937) and Josheph Inguimberty (1896-1971).
Victor Tardieu was a painter having profound knowledge of Oriental art. His oil paintings were extremely simple in form and quite tasteful in colors, their presentation reflected spaciousness, laying emphasis on the general composition. While Le Pho, Mai Trung Thu, Vu Cao Dam, Le Thi Luu… were influenced by Tardieu and always kept good memory of the first solid steps laid by the later to allow them to advance still further. To Ngoc Van, Nguyen Gia Tri, Tran Van Can, Luu Van Sin were inclined to Inguimberty’s side. From the beginning, To Ngoc Van was among the openairists with his canvas Offerings realized in the impressionist way. Tran Van Can is to be mentioned with his canvas Little Thuy in the style of the portraits by Vermeer de Delft, a Dutch painter, pure but solid, carefully done and refined… These were works realized in the open air or in front of models in natural light and colors…
Before 1925 all Vietnamese painters had no clear conception of painting. They joined the FACI with the sincere confidence and the deep and burning aspiration to rapidly attain the Beautiful of which they had only a vague but so captivating imagination. Within 20 years (1925-1945) Vietnamese painters had engaged in the search for a model in ancient or modern times, in the West or the East. They approached the Schools of European painting at the beginning of the 20th century: fauvism, cubism, symbolism, expressionism, surrealism, futurism, abstractionnism. And only those who could assimilate European painting and had moral and material conditions were capable of ensuring the continuous development of national art. To Ngoc Van, Nguyen Gia Tri, Tran Van Can, Nguyen Tuong Lan, Nguyen Tien Chung, Luu Van Sin… and later Nguyen Tu Nghiem, Nguyen Sang, Bui Xuan Phai, Nguyen Sy Ngoc, ect, belong to this class of painters…
1945-1954 Painters volunteer to fight for national salvation
1945. The Revolution had awaken the national sense and at the same time political consciousness among the Vietnamese artists. A movement among the artists to support the Viet Minh gained ground in Hanoi with uncommon speed.
The national exhibition solemnly organized at the Municipal Theater of Hanoi in August 1946 gathered the works of various genres by the patriotic artists of Vietnam: oil painting, pumice lacquer, gouache, water color, wood cutting, most of them treating subjects relating to the struggle of Vietnam for a new life. In 1948, after three years of war, the second national exhibition of fine arts was organized in a forest of palm trees (Xuan Ang village, Phu Tho province) with about 100 pictures, including silks, wood engravings, propaganda drawings. The Third Exhibition was organized in Chiem Hoa, on the occasion of the anniversary of the day of national resistance.
During the 9-year war of resistance against the enemy, Vietnamese painters ceaselessly manifested their sense of responsibility to ward history. Prompted by revolutionary optimism and confident in the victory of independence and freedom, all the combatants who on their own will stood on the cultural and artists front had overcome with courage the difficulties of the war to put their art at the service of their people and their fatherland.
1954- 1995 From socialist realism to the-after war multiform tendency
1954. The 5th National Exhibition of Fine Arts was solemnly organized at the municipal theater of Hanoi, on the occasion of the victory festival. It was an also opportunity to review the nine years of painting during the resistance war. But the sacrifice of To Ngoc Van, killed during the resistance, was considered a big loss for Vietnamese painting that nothing could compensate.
At the moment of victory, returning to the capital there were only about thirty or forty painters from all parts of the country. The Fine Arts College of Vietnam urgently founded as early as 1955 to train new painters, was placed under the direction of Tran Van Can. In the meantime, in the South, on Dec.31,1954, painter Le Van De set up the National Fine Arts College of Saigon, with collaborators the majority of whom having graduated from the Fine Arts College of Indochina: Nguyen Van Long, U Van An, Nguyen Van Anh, Nguyen Van Que…and painters returning from France, like Duong Van Den, Bui Van Kinh. During its twenty years of existence, the National Fine Arts College of Saigon had produced renowned painters: Nguyen Trung, Nguyen Phuoc, Do Quang Em, Ho Huu Thu, Co Tan Long Chau, Nguyen Thi Tam, Nguyen Trung Tin, Nguyen Tan Cuong… After 1975, the National Fine Arts College of Saigon merged with the National Decorative Arts School of Gia Dinh to become the Fine Arts College of Ho Chi Minh City, now the Fine Arts University of Ho Chi Minh City.
Embracing new themes centered on man in work, production and combat as well as consulting the art works created for laboring people by French artists as Fougeron, Amblard and Taslitzky or by Italian artists as Pizzinato, Trecani and Guttuso, the young Vietnamese painters have finally identified themselves to create a very fruitful progressive realism.