« La jeune fille au perroquet », 1933. A milestone in Nguyen Phan Chanh’s works

14 June 2019 Off By Jean-François Hubert

In 1933, Nguyen Phan Chanh already had a connection with his audience : first in Vietnam since 1929, through the exhibitions often organized by his school, the Hanoi Fine Arts School.  Then internationally, in 1931, during the Paris Colonial Exhibition reported in the well known publication at the time, « l’Illustration ».  Also in Paris, the AGINDO (« Indochina Economic Board ») was in charge of exhibiting and promoting the works by the Hanoi’s Fine Arts School best students including Phan Chanh’s, and many high talented works were sent to France. 

However, and it is a known fact, the collector plays an essential rôle in the success of any artistic endeavor.  He can become an artistic mentor as demonstrated by our painting here :  indeed, in a letter dated October 24th, 1933, addressed to Victor Tardieu (Hanoi’s Fine Arts School’s Director), Blanchard de la Brosse (Director of AGINDO) evokes the French collectors’ tendencies and taste.  When the French Minister at the time (Mr. Balinier) showed preference for a piece by Nam Son over the « Devin » by Nguyen Phan Chanh, Blanchard de la Brosse wrote in regret :

This incident confirms that the French art amateur has a strong leaning towards color.  No matter how evocative of Tonkin, Phan Chanh’s works can be and despite its remarkable quality, one can only come to the conclusion that they just don’t appeal to the public.  It is desirable for this excellent artist to cultivate a palette of brighter colors (…) »

Blanchard de la Brosse

These few lines summarizes what was felt about Phan Chanh’s work and even some of the « new » collectors would reproach the « muggy » aspect of the work.  One can expect that Tardieu would share these remarks with the artist which could explain the genesis of “La jeune fille au perroquet” a truly extraordinary work : the artist moved away from his preferred classical polychrome set in a camaïeu of brown for a more colorful chromatic range. On the other hand, he remained deeply faithful to his very own compositions, unusual and orignal, based on a clever use of geometry achieved by the application of subtle tones. 

It results in a great sweetness, a mix of humility and dignity so characteristic to the painter’s work.

Nguyen Phan Chanh – La jeune fille au perroquet

The young girl is raised in the center of the work by positioning her on a large wooden bed well defined by horizontal and vertical lines complemented by the great blue square in the back ground’s top right corner.  Nguyen Phan Chanh would very often use this triangular construction well demonstrated here with the use of black ink in the headdress, the bird’s tub and also the use of dark brown in the round dark box decorated with pearl white motifs.  The girl’s arms feeding the bird with sapota fruit also create two open triangles.  Three touches of color reinforce the triangle effect : the blue panel, the tissue held in the left hand and the other triangle created by the parrot itself, the sapota fruit and the cup.  Only the roundness of the decorated box with pearl white motifs breaks the effect, a choice often made by the artist. 

For a painter used to depict mostly rural trades, this interior scene is rare.  The furnishing and the bird’s food in this interior demonstrates a high social level in this very subtle work kept in a very good condition and still in its original Gadin’s frame.

Our « La jeune fille au perroquet » is truly a Nguyen Phan Chanh’s masterpiece.  

Jean-François Hubert