« Woman With a Pineapple » Joseph Inguimberty

25 June 2019 Off By Jean-François Hubert

When Joseph Inguimberty arrived in Vietnam in 1925, could he possibly imagine that twenty years later he would have achieved a revolution in Vietnamese painting ? 

« Woman With a Pineapple » Joseph Inguimberty

When he arrived in Vietnam he was a 29 years old man, born in Marseille, who attended the prestigious School of Beaux-Arts (Marseille) as well as the National School of Arts décoratifs in Paris (at the age of 17) and was recognized in his work by receiving the Blumenthal prize in 1922.  He was extremely sensitive to social issues : he developed a fascination for the work force, first in Belgium during the early twenties then in Marseille between 1922 and 1924, years when he painted men working showing their great contribution to society.  « The unloading of peanuts », painted in 1922 or « Marseille » painted in 1924 are very telling of that strong influence. 

This is a man who at the age of 21 suffered injuries during the first world war (1914-1918) therefore very aware of the tragedy of the world and it’s evanescence.  Under the aegis of Victor Tardieu and with the help of Nam Son, he became a key factor to the success of he Fine Art School of Indochina created just a few month before his arrival, this institution will leave a mark for ever on Asian painting in the XXth century.

From 1925 to 1945, so many brilliant painters will pay their deepest respect to their outstanding teacher.  He had his favourite students, early on with To Ngoc Van and later with Nguyen Gia Tri among many others.  He keeps teaching oil technics but as for the teaching of lacquers he goes beyond and transforms this decorative art into a true creative process.  With the help of Alix Aymé, he was a relentless teacher committed to the great success of Vietnamese lacquer during the XXth century.

Joseph Inguimberty – Hanoi, circa 1938

Despite all, Inguimberty would bring all his students to absorb and acquire the very fondamental knowledge through classes on art history, the anatomy of the human body emphasizing on the study of nudes.  It is agreed among teachers and students that the study of nudes is the most difficult subject : no weakness in the artist’s work could be hidden by ornementations or decor. 

At the time Vietnam was very traditional and the school’s practice confronted the strong moral standards of the country including prudery.  No students or visitors could accept to pose as a model… and Victor Tardieu finally had to resort to prisoners who where punctually allowed out to exchange a few hours of modeling in front of attentive students for some extra confort…

Through his work Joseph Inguimberty evolved to become an outstanding teacher and a known artist : he became the great French master of Vietnam.  Over all these years, in his passionate love and his educated look irresistibly charmed by Vietnam and its people he will manage to transcend us.

« Woman with a Pineapple » was exhibited in Paris in 1936 and attracted much attention : Inguimberty is not just a « travel painter », a foreigner but a painter describing « his » land.  In art, it is fact, the land rights take precedence over blood rights.

Pierre Gourou, a very well known French geographer and a specialist of Tonkin, describes (in « Le Monde Colonial Illustré ») the painting in these terms :

« A nude figure, painted against the light in a well lit workshop; the light floods in through the windows and eats away the outline of the character; in the foreground a camp bed, a pineapple, black satin pants with a pink belt are thrown on the floor  : each element brought together to create a harmony of colours in a penetrating poetry. » 

He omits to mention the china covered pot  in « bleu de Hué » a telling detail showing we are in master’s house.

This painting remains a mystery.  Who is this very beautiful young lady posing with determination and no lewdness at all ?  She wears her tonkinese headdress, it seems here almost incongruous.  Is there any symbolism in the beauty of the nourishing pineapple which of course will soon turn bad ?  How much intimacy is between her and the two ladies in the background ?  No one can tell. 

On the other hand, the magnificent light captured is revealing and unique to Inguimberty even among his vietnamese peers.  Pierre Gourrou adds :

« No one better than him could restitute this tropical light, so different to ours, this bright light, implacable, painful to the eyes, metallic, his white dazzling skies, the acidity in the greens during the wet season, a powerful vibration you can’t find in our latitudes. » 

This artist is truly a genius who can capture the slightest nuances a little less obvious in this room flooded with sun light.

A profoundly novative painting, executed in Hanoi in 1934, purely Vietnamese as otherness doesn’t mean foreign origin. « Femme à l’Ananas » is a major master piece of the XXth century Vietnamese painting through the theme strong and at the same time subtle, the perfected technics and the unique style which it’s strong theme but subtle at the same time, it’s perfect technic, it’s unique style, which contributes to a overall visual vivaciousness in the arts of the XXth century Vietnam. 

Jean-François Hubert