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Lot 241, Mai Trung Thu (1906-1980), La calligraphie (Calligraphy). Signed, stamped with a seal of the artist and dated 64; signed with the monogram of the artist, titled and dated 64 on the reverse. Ink and gouache on silk fixed on paper laid on board, 44.5 by 94.5 cm; 17 1/2  by 37 1/4  in. Estimate 180,000 — 280,000 HKD. Photo: Sotheby's.

ProvenancePrivate Collection, Hong Kong

ExhibitionThis work is accompanied with the artist's original border

 NotesMai Trung Thu is highly regarded for his talents with painting on silk, and the artist’s oeuvre has established him as a master of the medium in Vietnam’s history of modern art. His paintings provide insight into the French colonialist rule of Indochina from the viewpoint of the upper class society. Women and children engaging in domestic activities were favored motifs in the paintings. As a collective whole his body of works may be viewed as a seen as a narrative of the country undergoing the transition of Eastern values in the face of Western modernity.

The artist studied under the guidance of French artist Victor Tardieu. He established Ecole de Beaux-Arts d’Indochine, the first art school in Hanoi, and subsequently ignited the country’s interest in cultivating their artistic identity. Tardieu brought with him the European aesthetics and techniques, notably the Impressionist modes of thinking with lush colors, attention to composition, and thick brushstrokes. His influence upon the Vietnamese students had a lasting impression on the artworks that were produced from the late 1920’s and onwards.

Mai Trung Thu’s own paintings are reminiscent of these modes of thinking, and this further evident in the present piece. A rich color palette and a keen eye for details was the artist’s hallmark throughout his career. Many of his paintings featured an original, handmade frame, and this detail only enhanced the Eastern allure of the artworks overall. La Calligraphie perfectly exemplifies this relationship, for as seen in the painting, eight children are gathered together working on their calligraphy, engaging in youthful comradery.

La Calligraphie is a charming vignette of an East and West relationship as experienced by the artist. In the painting, the artist has positioned the children in a clear and dignified way. Each young individual able to stand out from their friends, and yet together they are a unified group. It is a moment of shared joy conveyed in their interaction with one another, and is ultimately relatable across cultures.

Mai Trung Thu’s oeuvre acts as a guide on 19th century life in Vietnam, while also delving deeper into the mindset of a man witnessing these changes unfold. In 1937, the artist migrated to Paris where he lived the remainder of his life, a deliberate choice to escape the Communist idealism that conflicted with the colonialist rule. The artist created the present work when he was living overseas, and within this light, La Calligraphie is a moment from Mai Trung Thu’s memory of his childhood in Hanoi.

Sotheby's. Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art, Hong Kong, 04 avr. 2016, 10:00 AM