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Jul 30, 2023 / 16:52

Nguyen Sang, master of realism art movement and love for Hanoi

Nguyen Sang has reached the pinnacle of the period of realist art. His works have left a mark on the progress of modern Vietnamese art and confirmed his status as an outstanding talent.

Painter Nguyen Sang has made many typical contributions to modern Vietnamese painting. He is considered a master of the realist art movement, one of the group of four iconic Vietnamese artists of the 20th century "Nghiem, Lien, Sang, Phai": Nguyen Tu Nghiem (1918-2016), Duong Bich Lien (1924-1988), Nguyen Sang (1923-1988), and Bui Xuan Phai (1920-1988).

To mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late painter Nguyen Sang (August 1, 1923 - August 1, 2023), the Vietnam Museum of Fine Arts, in cooperation with the Vietnam Fine Arts Association, hosted a talk show revealing little-known stories about the painter.

The 'father' of two national treasures

Painter Nguyen Sang was born on August 1, 1923, in the city of My Tho in the southern province of Tien Giang. In 1938, he was admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts de l'Indochine. In August 1945, he joined the revolution in Hanoi. At the end of December 1946, he went to the Viet Bac war zone to fight in the national resistance war with his drawings.

 The painting Party Admission Ceremony in Dien Bien Phu is displayed at the Vietnam Museum of Fine Arts.

The name and career of painter Nguyen Sang have been recognized with noble titles: Ho Chi Minh Prize for Literature and Art (1996); the lacquer works Ket nap Dang o Dien Bien Phu (Party Admission Ceremony in Dien Bien Phu) and Thanh nien thanh dong (Strong Will of Youth) were recognized as National Treasures in 2013 and 2017, respectively; a street in My Tho, the hometown of painter Nguyen Sang, is named after him.

Painter Nguyen Sang is considered a master of realistic art. Critic Do Lai Thuy once said that painting portraits with Nguyen Sang is a mirror reflection of reality. Every portrait is a mirror.

"To adapt to the Confucian socio-political environment, people in the North must wear masks to hide their true dispositions. Sometimes the masks are so reincarnated that they become the real faces. To depict the truth, Nguyen Sang not only followed the path of realism but also combined it with expressionism and cubism," said critic Do Lai Thuy.

 The seminar is held at the Vietnam Museum of Fine Arts on July 29. Photo: The Hanoi Times

Speaking at a seminar held at the Vietnam Museum of Fine Arts on July 29, painter Luong Xuan Doan, President of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association, said that the typical evidence of the realism of Nguyen Sang's paintings is the two paintings recognized as national treasures.

According to Doan, the lacquer painting Party Admission Ceremony in Dien Bien Phu has a strong form, tight composition, and warm colors. He did not reveal too much technique, but with unique technique, he showed the richness of color in his paintings. The work is considered an epic of the nation during the war of resistance against the French.

The work Strong Will of Youth was started by artist Nguyen Sang in 1967 when he lived in Hanoi. The country was divided, and he couldn't return to his hometown in the South during those years, but his thoughts were always there, still listening to information about the war situation in the South. The struggle of the Saigon students against the US in the 60s of the twentieth century moved him and inspired him to paint.

His deep nostalgia for his southern homeland and his hatred for the enemy, which he had cultivated since the years of the war of resistance against the French, led him to create a work about the anti-American movement. That is why he wrote "Hnoi Sgon (1967-78)" in the upper left corner of his work.

 Young woman and Lotus by Nguyen Sang.

"Nguyen Sang quietly kept the image of brave soldiers in his heart. Thanks to his works, the image of the soldiers has lived forever in realistic art over the years," said Luong Xuan Doan.

Love for Hanoi

Painter Nguyen Sang was born in the South but studied and participated in the revolution in Hanoi, developing a strong affection for the city. He once said, "Without Hanoi, there would be no Nguyen Sang. Therefore, he considers the only exhibition of his life at the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi as his second birthday.

The person who helped him organize the exhibition was painter Dang Thi Khue, a former member of the secretariat of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association and a close friend of his.

Khue tearfully recalled Nguyen Sang's words at the opening of his painting exhibition in 1984: "I have nothing but a heart and two empty hands".

Referring to Khue personally, the artist said: "You try to wear ao dai (traditional long robe) and stand next to me on the opening day of the exhibition."

The daughter of painter Dang Thi Khue wears the ao dai that Khue once wore in Nguyen Sang's exhibition. Photo: Thuy Linh/The Hanoi Times

Right after the exhibition, the painter Nguyen Sang moved to the South. Later, Khue realized how much he loved Hanoi.

"The woman beside him in ao dai showed nostalgia for the North, Hanoi, and his late wife. They lived together for only 11 months and had no children. A few years after the exhibition, he also died (in 1988)," said painter Dang Thi Khue.

Khue said the more than 100 works of various materials on display at the exhibition are proof of his peak achievements in professional creativity, the artist's commitment to revolutionary art, and especially the uniqueness of the creative personality in fine arts.

"Nguyen Sang has reached the pinnacle of the period of realist art. His works have left their mark on modern Vietnamese art, confirming his position as an outstanding talent. Now the history of Vietnamese contemporary art has more new pages, but his creativity and personality will remain forever," said artist Dang Thi Khue.