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The unique, sheer beauty of Vietnamese folk art

Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 15:00 GMT+7
The unique, sheer beauty of Vietnamese folk art
Prof. Philippe Papin was describing ‘the Vietnamese blue’ which is unique to Vietnamese folk paintings in the painting called ‘The elephants and the banana grove’.

The singular, refined use of colors and the allegory cleverly employed in Vietnamese folk paintings, which are currently on display, are among the key factors that make them so unique, commented Prof. Philippe Papin, a French history professor and a discerning enthusiast and authority on Vietnamese art.

Apart from Henri Oger’s widely published folk paintings, the exhibition called “Vietnamese folk painting – Trio painting sets”, which is being held at the Institute of Cultural Exchange with France (IDECAF) until April 6, also features the first-time publication of Maurice Durand’s and Luc Van Tien’s paintings in Vietnam.

One- of- a- kind color blend

According to Prof. Papin, a lecturer at the Paris Practice Graduate School and a former member of the French Academy of the Far East (EFEO), where these prized works are being kept, the use of colors in Vietnamese folk works, such as a blue or pink background, is unique and inimitable throughout East Asia.

Periods in world art history are marked by special colors, for instance, the bleu de Chartres (Chartres’ blue) of the vitrail (stained glass windows) in this city’s large churches remain unrivaled, Papin pointed out.

“Similarly, I think the Vietnamese blue and pink in its folk art pieces also deserve such recognition,” the French expert stressed.

Original characterization, rich allegory

Prof. Papin also highlighted the unique characterization in Vietnamese folk artwork.

“In most works, spanning from the 18th century to the mid 20th century, the characters are instantly recognizable. Unlike the realistic portrayal of characters in Chinese paintings or the witty, comic Japanese style, Vietnamese folk items adopted the vintage ‘naïve’ style like that of its Dutch counterparts, which is highly symbolic yet incredibly simple,” Papin noted.

Most characters’ facial features and expressions are depicted by a few strokes, which is enough for viewers to recognize who the characters are and also allows room for their imagination to work, Papin elaborated.

As the paintings are indicative of people’s Lunar New Year wishes, they all adopt the conventional style, which is prevalent all over Asia.

Prof. Papin also highlighted the striking similarity between the Vietnamese use of such images as chubby kids holding a peach, three-legged toads, opulent mandarins or phoenixes and South Europeans’ employment of pine trees and the reindeer-pulled sledge on Christmas, even though these don’t exist in reality there.

“As they are conventional images, they may be unreasonable, both in Vietnam and elsewhere,” the professor noted.

The items of the modern era are also examples of the uniqueness and originality of  Vietnamese folk art.

Vietnamese propagandist paintings are a far cry from their Chinese contemporary counterparts in that the latter are highly realistic, lifelike and almost phonographic, while the former remain traditional, rich in allegory and symbolism, and are created on one-color, large papers, Prof. Papin stressed.

Other significant characteristics of Vietnamese folk art include diversity (featuring a wide array of styles and themes, and several variant versions of the original), rarity and temporariness (the paintings are used for a short time only and are replaced with new ones when they get old), the French expert added.

Tuoi Tre

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