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Swiss watchmaker accused of plagiarizing painting of Vietnamese heroines

Swiss watchmaker accused of plagiarizing painting of Vietnamese heroines

Tuesday, June 06, 2023, 10:56 GMT+7
Swiss watchmaker accused of plagiarizing painting of Vietnamese heroines
This collage of photos shows the premium timepiece featuring the Trung Sisters from the ‘Legend’ exclusive collection by Christophe Claret in the center and the ‘Thien ha thai binh’ (L) and ‘Hai Ba Trung’ paintings by Vietnamese artist Xuan Lam.

Plagiarism allegations arose over a luxury Swiss watch design featuring a painting of the Trung Sisters, two Vietnamese heroines from the first century, shortly after local media covered its release.

The controversial design comes from the ‘Legend’ collection, which was created by the 37-year-old high-end watchmaker Christophe Claret to honor significant historical figures around the world while skillfully combining contemporary technology with traditional culture. 

The Swiss watch company stated that the miniature painting of the Trung Sisters astride two elephants on the upper portion of the dial was “handmade by artist André Martinez.”

The Trung Sisters, largely known in Vietnam as Hai Ba Trung, are two remarkable female generals from Vietnamese history, who repelled Chinese attacks for three years in AD 40s.

Whether the painting was created by Martinez or simply replicated in miniature on the watch face remains ambiguous.

Vietnamese artists Nguyen The Son and Tran Hau Yen The, both lecturers at the Vietnam University of Fine Arts, have asserted that the painting showcased on the watch face combines elements from two artworks by Xuan Lam, another accomplished Vietnamese painter.

The two works Son and The mentioned are ‘Hai Ba Trung’ and ‘Thien ha thai binh,’ which Lam displayed at an exhibition in 2019.

Meanwhile, Christophe Claret unveiled the first design in the ‘Legend’ collection bearing the image of the French Emperor Napoleon in May 2021, before introducing the next five models featuring Jimmu Tenno, the first emperor of Japan, Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire, King Ibn Saud, founder of Saudi Arabia, the warrior Amir Timur of Uzbekistan, and Sheikh Zayed, the first president of the UAE, in June 2022, according to Vietnamese tech website tinhte.vn.

The uncertified Facebook and LinkedIn pages of the Swiss watchmaker just released the ‘Hai Ba Trung’ design on May 26 and 30, respectively.

Vietnamese artist Xuan Lam poses for a photo with his ‘Thien ha thai binh’ painting (L). Photo: Thien Dieu / Tuoi Tre

Vietnamese artist Xuan Lam poses for a photo with his ‘Thien ha thai binh’ painting (L). Photo: Thien Dieu / Tuoi Tre

Many people believed that Christophe Claret’s watch painting depicting Hai Ba Trung was made by merging Lam’s two artworks, coupled with changing the positions of the two elephants carrying the two heroines.

More notably, the bird in Christophe Claret’s design resembles the version of ‘Thien ha thai binh’ publicly displayed on Xuan Lam’s website, instead of the copy disseminated to the press and media.

Son further remarked that upon seeing the watch design, he initially assumed that the Swiss company had acquired the copyright of Lam’s paintings for use in their product. 

Therefore, he reached out to congratulate Lam, who is his former student. 

However, Son was informed that the watch firm had no contact with Lam, indicating a potential instance of copyright infringement.

“The graphic elements, color palette, and brushwork are unmistakably the signature style of Xuan Lam,” said Son. 

“Xuan Lam has a unique artistic approach and style, making it evident that the painting on the timepiece strongly resembles his works. 

“A Western artist can in no way comprehend traditional culture, folk paintings, and the rich history of Vietnam to create something that closely resembles the artistry of Xuan Lam.”

Christophe Claret, the artist Martinez, and the painter Xuan Lam have yet to officially comment on the issue.

The ‘Hai Ba Trung’ artwork created by Vietnamese artist Xuan Lam by redrawing a Dong Ho folk painting.

The ‘Hai Ba Trung’ artwork created by Vietnamese artist Xuan Lam by redrawing a Dong Ho folk painting.

Born in 1962 in Switzerland, Christophe Claret is a skilled craftsman in the field of mechanical watchmaking. 

In 1986, he established his eponymous watchmaking workshop in the Swiss city of Le Locle. 

Meanwhile, André Martinez, a painter hailing from Barcelona, Spain, relocated to Le Locle. 

Renowned for his precise painting methods on metal dials, Martinez frequently collaborates with Claret.

Xuan Lam, a young artist who completed his studies at the Vietnam University of Fine Arts, has gained fame for his unique artistic approach. 

He revitalizes Vietnamese traditional folk paintings Dong Ho and Hang Trong, and those from north-central Nghe An Province by infusing them with a contemporary artistic style. 

Lam’s compositions breathe new life into folk art, appealing to modern esthetics. 

His artworks transcend gallery spaces, making their way into the lives of young people through various mediums like fashion, books, and postcards.

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Bao Anh - Thien Dieu / Tuoi Tre News

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