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Purported Vietnamese paintings removed from Sotheby’s auctions over plagiarism claim

Monday, September 23, 2019, 19:03 GMT+7
Purported Vietnamese paintings removed from Sotheby’s auctions over plagiarism claim
Resting Ladies by Tran Van Can. Photo: Sotheby’s

Two paintings scheduled to go under the hammer at two separate auctions in Hong Kong next month have been pulled from the event’s list of items as information emerged suggesting they may be plagiarized from works by famous late Vietnamese artists.

Auction house Sotheby’s Hong Kong no longer presents details of the two artworks, which were previously claimed to be The Letter by To Ngoc Van and Resting Ladies by Tran Van Can, in the selection for two auction nights on October 5 and 6.

The Letter describes a woman apparently reading a letter beside her child on a large couch, as another woman standing next to them.

Resting Ladies depicts two women in ao dai (Vietnam’s traditional long gown), one sitting on a large flat wooden couch waving a hand fan, while the other lying resting her head on her hand on the same couch.

Both paintings are known to be painted with ink and gouache on silk in 1931 and 1944, respectively.

Sotheby’s, one of the world’s most prestigious brokers that have continuously auctioned off paintings by Vietnamese artists in recent years, planned to ask US$101,000-191,000 for The Letter and $7,600-11,000 for the other artwork.

As news of the scheduled auctions reached Vietnam, a local museum and several artists have expressed concerns that the two paintings may be fake.

The Letter by To Ngoc Van. Photo: Sotheby’s
The Letter by To Ngoc Van. Photo: Sotheby’s

Nguyen Anh Minh, director of the Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum, has told local media that his museum is keeping both paintings in question, and “has all the evidence and documents to prove their authenticity.”

Minh said that the Hanoi-based museum purchased the two genuine paintings in the 1960s and has since reserved them in their collection.

Several veteran Vietnamese painters and researchers also pointed out suspicious signs in the two works set for the Hong Kong auction, including their poor quality.

“The bodies of the characters and the backgrounds in both paintings do not seem to carry the ‘soul’ and elegance often seen in the works by To Ngoc Van and Tran Van Can,” researcher Pham Long told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

Shortly after the Vietnamese painting community voiced their objection, Sotheby’s silently withdrew the two paintings from its auction list, without leaving any explanation.

“We apologize for the inconvenience,” the page where users are supposed to place a bid for the paintings now reads.

On April 2, 2017, Sotheby’s sold Family Life by Vietnamese artist Le Pho in the period 1937-1939 for $1,172,080, setting a new record for Vietnam’s most expensive painting ever bid. But this successfully auctioned painting was also suspected to be fake.

To Ngoc Van (1906-1954) is one of Vietnam’s most influential painters in the first half of the 20th century and is known for his Girl with flower painting, while Tran Van Can (1910-1994) is honored for his contribution to the development of modern fine arts in the country. His highly acclaimed works include Little Thuy.

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Tuoi Tre News


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