The introduction of lacquer as an art medium studied in the Fine Art College of Indochina and the influence of Pham Hau (1903-1995) as a leader in this technique:
Following the creation of the ‘Ecole Supérieure des Beaux Arts de l’Indochine’ or FACI (Fine Art College of Indochina) in 1925 under the influence of Nguyen Nam Son (1890-1973) and Victor Tardieu (1870-1937), the school’s leadership was assumed by Joseph Inguimberty (1896-1971). Together with Nam Son, they held a memorable painting session in the Temple of Litteratureof Hanoi during which Inguimberty had a revelation when he saw the ancient lacquer temple wooden altar boards and lacquer cult objects in which light was reflecting is a very particular fashion.
By 1932, this experience brought Inguimberty to add the lacquer medium as a study subject in the fine art curriculum of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
It appears important to note that Joseph Inguimberty was also well aware of the success of lacquer as a medium in the Art Deco movement in France developed from the 1920’s throughout the 1930’s with master artists such as Swiss born Jean Dunand (1877-1942) or French artist Gaston Suisse (1896-1988) and that certainly also influenced the inclusion of lacquer as a study subject in the FACI programs.
During his years of studies at the Fine Art School (1929-1934) Pham Hau excelled in this distinct genre of fine art and he formed a group to research on traditional lacquer techniques together with Le Pho, Tran Van Can and Nguyen Khang.
This research group came to “discover new techniques of mixing lacquer and pine resin, allowing successful application of multiple lacquer layers” (*)
Encouragements from both his masters especially Victor Tardieu along with teamwork with his colleagues from school, Pham Hau then decided to make lacquer painting his specialty.
He mastered the technique which is notoriously difficult to manipulate and consists of adding up to 20 to 30 layers of built-up resinous sap from Sumac tree which can be colored with natural pigments such as sulfurous yellow stones or beetle nuts on a flat wooden board, vóc.During the process the artist often incorporates inlays of egg-shell or/and mother of pearl alternated with layers of colored lacquers which are individually dried and sanded. Drying is particularly long and each layer must be completely dry to be sanded.
The sensitivity and complexity of the technique also adds up to the final value and contributes to the rarity of such works of art.
Pham Hau’s influence in the subjects depicted his works mainly appears to have came from his “love for the beauty of nature” (*)
He would take frequent travels and visit beautiful sceneries such as the Thai Pagoda (Depicted in lot 831) and Hoa Binh Province, drawing hand sketches for his later executed lacquer masterpieces. (Cf. image n° xxx , preparatory drawing for lot 833). “He spent a lot of time carefully observing natural subjects, including deer, horse and goldfish” (*)
Pham Hau’s garden was also very furnished with exotic plants and pets which impressed both the local and the international community and was a source of inspiration for his work.
The master lacquer artist also was among the first Vietnamese artist to incorporate lacquer painting on furniture (One of his masterworks is to be sold in this auction lot n° 832), such as marvelous panels for folding screens, extraordinary doors for cabinets and elegant covers for wooden boxes. He displayed his furniture artworks in his workshop in Dong Ngac village and inspired other great artists such as Alix Aymé (1894-1989) teacher at the FACI from 1934 to 1939 to also create such works of art (cf. image n° xxx published in this catalog)
Two main exhibition periods contributed to the fame of possibly the best lacquer artist of his time: in 1944 at the Trang Tien information house along with lacquer painter Nguyen Gia Tri and another exhibition in the same location although this time individual.
Local wealthy community was reactive and attracted to his work along with foreigners whom, inspired by the Pavillon d’Indochine during the Colonial Exhibition in Paris in 1931, contributed to the master’s success by encouraging and purchasing his art (Mr & Mme Peyrou amongst others). Today’s auction records on the international art market scene established Pham Hau’s reputation as one of the “iconic figure of the ‘Golden Ages of Vietnamese lacquered Art’ (1930-1945)” (*)
(*) Extracts of an interview conducted by Mrs. TaHsi Chang and Asium with Mr Pham Yen, son of pham Hau