Unprecedentedly, a rickshaw which belonged to a king of Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) - the country’s last monarchy- is on its way back home thanks to Vietnamese cultural authorities’ perseverance in persuading a French museum’s leader following an auction in mid June 2014, Hue Monuments Conservation Center announced on Thursday.
On Friday last week, the rickshaw, which was gifted by King Thanh Thai (1879 – 1954), to his mother during his lifetime, was transferred to the Vietnam Embassy in France, according to the center.
The Vietnamese cultural authorities are completing the paperwork to get the prized item back home.
The homecoming is the fruit of the Vietnamese cultural authorities’ campaign with the leader of Paris-based Guimet Museum to give up their legal right on purchasing the object.
At an auction held in Tours, France on June 13, 2014, King Thanh Thai’s rickshaw, which was custom-made from “trac” wood encrusted with conch as a gift from the king to his mother, began at €2,000 and was bid for €44,000 by a foreigner.
Vietnam’s bidders finally won the bid for €45,000. The item fetched €55,800 including organization fee.
In an unexpected twist, Katia Mollet, a curator of the Paris-based Guimet Museum, declared that France had the right to buy the rickshaw for the same price.
According to French laws, state-run organizations in the country that owns the items are entitled to purchasing them at the same price as that offered by auction winners.
The Vietnamese embassy in France and Vietnamese cultural authorities persevered in persuading the French museum’s leader, and ‘lobbying’ French cultural agencies and experts on Vietnamese culture.
Some days following the auction, Guimet Museum, which is well known for their excellent conservation of a number of Vietnamese artifacts and has helped promote them through its exhibits, gave up their quest to buy the rickshaw.
Vietnamese-French people and local philanthropists are also donating money to support the Vietnam embassy’s bid to buy the treasure.
According to Dr. Phan Thanh Hai, director of Hue Monuments Conservation Center, the rickshaw can be dismantled for easy transport by air and will be reassembled with ease when it reaches Vietnam.
Transport costs some €5,000, which will be paid in advance by Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Hue Monuments Conservation Center is raising money among expats and local Vietnamese individuals and organizations to pay the sum back to the ministry.
The center plans to display the rickshaw at Dien Tho Palace, part of the UNESCO-recognized royal complex of monuments and palaces.
This is the first time Vietnam has won an auction abroad and brought one of its treasures back home.
Vietnamese experts lament that a number of the country’s cultural and historical artifacts are also currently owned by people in other countries.
Vietnam failed to buy a painting called “Déclin du jour” (Dusk), a memento of King Ham Nghi, King Thanh Thai’s predecessor, in another auction in Paris in 2010.
At the June 13, 2014 auction, a royal bed which also belonged to King Thanh Thai, began at €1,000 and soared to €100,000 only after five minutes.
The two Vietnamese-French persons, assigned by the Vietnam Embassy in France, failed to buy the item, which fetched a total of €124,000, including the organization fee.
The bed auction winner was one of King Thanh Thai’s distant relatives, who decided to gift the item to Vietnam.
The two century-old, elaborately carved bed and rickshaw are highly cherished for their technical, aesthetic, cultural and historical value.
King Thanh Thai, the 10th king of the Nguyen Dynasty, was enthroned at 10, and reigned for 18 years, from 1889 to 1907.
He was on his way to join a resistance movement in China when he was arrested by French forces who declared him insane and forced the king to abdicate.
In 1907, his son was enthroned as King Duy Tan. Thanh Thai was then exiled first to Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province in southern Vietnam and when King Duy Tan rebelled against the French, they were both exiled to France’s Reunion Island in 1916.
King Thanh Thai never gave up hope for the liberation of his country.
In 1945, he was allowed to return home but kept under house arrest in Vung Tau.
He passed away in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City now) in March 1954.
After being dethroned in 1907, King Thanh Thai sold his treasured bed and rickshaw to Prosper Jourdan, leader of the king’s escorts.
Jourdan’s heirs later decided to put the treasures on auction and expressed their wish that after the auction, they will be displayed in Hue - Vietnam’s imperial capital during the Nguyen Dynasty.