Nguyen Phan Chanh: “The Child with the Bird”

25 September 2019 Off By Jean-François Hubert

When Jean Tardieu, Victor’s son, received a request to write an article for the special issue ‘Christmas 1932’ of  ‘L’Illustration’ – the most famous French magazine of that time, with an edition of 600 000 copies, he decided to present 4 paintings of Nguyen Phan Chanh, all of them sent to France in 1931 to promote the new Vietnamese pictorial art. 

The collection includes: “La sorcière”, “La jeune fille lavant des légumes”, the one he erroneously titled “Les ébats des enfants” and our “L’ Enfant à l’oiseau”. 

Nguyen Phan Chanh: “The Child with the Bird”

The magazine made sure all of the collectors, these visionary buyers of the presented masterpieces, were named. In particular Mr Pierre Massé, Dr Montel and Dr Morax for our painting. 

Victor Tardieu straightaway understood that if he wanted his pupils to be publicly recognized, the strong institutional decisive impulse by the creation of Fine Art School of Indochina in Hanoi in 1924 wasn’t enough. He would also need to create a strong relationship with the true connoisseurs. To follow through, many exhibitions were organised within the School of Fine Art as well as with the encouragement of diverse institutions to bring together the artists and art lovers, private and public.  A very moving note appears on the back of the work, a handwritten one by Victor Tardieu himself and sent to Dr Morax. It informs us of how important the purchase was to him: 

« (…) pupils over there, I can’t tell you how much honor your interest to their attempt means to them, so much that I can myself feel the real price of this.  Can you please pass on my respects to Madam Morax and, please be ensured, dear Doctor, of my gratitude. »

Doctor Morax’s ophthalmology abstract. As you can see, it is innovative and erudite spirits who are the first to be interested in Vietnamese painting.
Letter of Victor Tardieu to Dr Morax
Letter of Victor Tardieu to Dr Morax

For ever faithful to the quintessence of his work, he aims to glorify the eternal Vietnam where the daily simplicity is the equivalent of eternal wisdom. The painter shows us a child whose face remains unknown as the real subject of the picture is this bird in its cage of wicker which the child seems to feed or to titillate through bars.

The masses of black ink (legs, thighs and headgear) compose this triangle which builds Nguyen Phan Chanh’s works. The gouache in these brown tones so characteristic of the author comes to complete the masterpiece of the artist. The scene set inside which is so rare in the artist’s early works expresses a melancholy embodied by the songbird. A bird prisoner with its assembly of origin – the height of the superior edge being superior to the edge border -, with its Gadin original frame (from the name of the Parisian picture framer) and its Japanese style lacquer, ” L’Enfant à l’oiseau ” is a masterwork by Nguyen Phan Chanh. 

Jean-François Hubert