Exhibition “The Essence of a Pearl”

Exhibition “The Essence of a Pearl”

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09 am – 08 pm, 23 Dec 2023 – 07 Jan 2024
Floor 4, Madame Lan Restaurant
04 Bach Dang, Thach Thang, Hai Chau, Da Nang
Registration link

From the organizer:

Dear visitors,

Welcome to “The Essence of a Pearl”, the first exhibition of its kind in Da Nang, introducing 35 artworks by 14 artists representing the professors and alumni of l’École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine (1924-1945) as we celebrate the school’s centennial anniversary. Inspired by a classic line in The Tale of Kieu, the curatorial concept revolves around two narratives in parallel: the image of the Vietnamese woman and the portrayal of the Indochine landscape, under the artistic lexicon blending East and West.

A hundred years prior to the founding of l’École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine, Nguyen Du had “painted” the first and only nude female portrait in classical Vietnamese literature:

Now, in her chamber, at a leisured hour,
she dropped the curtain for an orchid bath.
Lo, such pure jade and such white ivory!
Her body stood as Heaven’s masterwork.

The Tale of Kieu (1814-1820)
Huynh Sanh Thong’s 1983 translation

Situated amidst the Confucian backdrop that restrained both the body and soul of women, Nguyen Du’s daring words were a defining act of self-liberation in the realm of free expression. A century later, the professors and students of l’École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine also sought this very same freedom in the vocabulary of art. For the first time in history, they had the opportunity to earnestly study human anatomy through sketches and dessins. By fusing Western academic techniques with Eastern aesthetics, each architected their own unique visual kaleidoscope while exploring themes once forbidden. Artworks such as “Nude bathing” (c.1930s) by Le Pho and “Hair washing” (1940) by Tran Van Can were courageous responses to, and continuation of, Nguyen Du’’s call for creative emancipation.

Just as Kieu served as a metaphor for the nation’s fate, the word “ngoc” (understood as either “jade” or “pearl”) also broadly symbolises Vietnam and/or Indochina, once hailed as the “Pearl of the Far East.” As a French colonial territory, Annam was often romanticised as a distant land with enchanting beauty and abundant resources. The second narrative reveals such perspectives through landscape paintings by both French professors and their local students in comparison to one another. The same Ba Vi fields and Son Tay mountains, while depicted by Joseph Inguimberty, Jean Volang, and Trinh Huu Ngoc, come across entirely different in their respective individual approaches.

Along the two aforementioned themes, the 35 artworks are arranged into five main clusters [see the exhibition map]. Four long walls introduce groups of professors and alumni based on the main faculties and mediums taught at l’École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine: dessin (Nguyen Nam Son, To Ngoc Van, Luong Xuan Nhi), oil (Joseph Inguimberty, Trinh Huu Ngoc), lacquer (Alix Aymé, Pham Hau), and various others, including woodblock, silk, and oil (Tran Van Can, Nguyen Tuong Lan, Ton That Đao, Hoang Tich Chu). The fifth group, at the centre of the room, consists of professors/alumni who had migrated to France and continued to practise there with silk, oil and sculpture (Le Pho, Vu Cao Dam, Jean Volang).

Throughout its 20 years of existence, while adopting a Euro-centric curriculum, the professors and alumni of l’École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine constantly explored and discovered fresh perspectives by experimenting with local subjects – be it portrait or landscape – and translating them into traditional mediums representing the very Vietnamese essence. Such convergence was uniquely crafted to form the language and movement named Indochine art, also marking the dawn of modern Vietnamese art.

I hope you will have a delightful time reflecting on such visual and cultural treasures.


Ace Lê
Exhibition curator

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