Shortly after coming under the hammer for US$102,000 during a charitable auction in Ho Chi Minh City last week, a painting claimed to be by famous Vietnamese late painter Bui Xuan Phai has been called out as a counterfeit work.
‘Hanoi Old Quarter’, a painting advertised as a masterpiece by Bui Xuan Phai, who is widely considered one of the most eminent modern Vietnamese painters, depicts a line of tile-roofed old houses in Hanoi Old Quarter as commonly seen in most Phai paintings
The 55x72 centimeter painting was accused by artists and experts attending the event to be an unauthentic work trying to copy the style of Phai.
The Old Quarter of Hanoi is a common subject of Phai’s paintings, which are praised for their soulful depiction of a traditional value of the thousand-year-old Vietnamese capital.
Phai’s son Bui Thanh Phuong was among the most vocal accusers, saying his father had never painted such a work.
“There are only five or six art collectors in Vietnam, so who is keeping whose paintings is a shared knowledge,” Phuong claimed.
“There is no way a painting by my father that nobody including me has ever heard of just appears out of nowhere.”
Bui Quoc Chi, owner of Duc Minh Gallery which had put the painting up for auction, affirmed that the painting was authentic.
“I will take full responsibility before the organizers [of the auction],” Chi said.
Despite Chi’s reassurance, many Vietnamese artists have weighed in their opinion on the matter with suspicion.
“It does not take Bui Thanh Phuong’s words to know that the painting is a fake, as anybody who has decent knowledge in the field can tell apart the differences,” painter Nguyen Thanh Binh commented.
“The contours in Phai’s paintings are never as neat as they are in this painting, which tells us that whoever painted this painting had absolutely no understanding of Phai’s sentiment and style,” Binh explained.
Binh’s comment was echoed by many other experts in the field, as they all found the painting lacking a sense of Phai-ness.
Their suspicion is founded, as Phai is perhaps the most copied artist in Vietnam, to the point that there’s a saying among insiders that goes “Phai paints more when he’s dead than alive”.
Bui Xuan Phai was born in 1921 in Hanoi and passed away there in 1988. He is famous for the paintings of Hanoi Old Quarter and is among the most respected Vietnamese modern painters.