Vu Cao Dam : painter or sculptor ?

4 September 2019 Off By Jean-François Hubert

Painter or sculptor ? 

Vu Cao Dam was both, splitting his activity between two representations, one three dimensional as for most sculptures  and one two dimensional as for paintings.  In that  sense, his importance in the production of the Indochina Fine Arts School appears exceptional : as his best friends – Le Pho, Mai Thu and Le Thi Luu – for example were “only” painters.

Which of the two, the sculptor or the painter mostly influenced the other ?

Vu Cao Dam – The two young Women (1939)

The magnificent painting we have the great honor to present here brings some answers, offering an opportunity to better apprehend Vu Cao Dam’s dual competence.  Indeed, one can determine through this painting that in that both the sculptor and the painter are in play to create a very original piece of art, and even if it can shock, it seems that Vu Cao Dam paints Vu Cao Dam’s sculptures.  These are not made out of clay or bronze but of gouache and ink.  

Far from painting a simple classical subject related to elegant beauties of Tonkin, Vu Cao Dam shows us here young ladies almost frozen in their gesture and expression.  If one is facing us, the other one is a profile, hidden arms for one as for the other her arm and left hand takes over the center of the painting, one harmoniously adding to the other more then one completing another.   Here, the two ladies are not really discussing but they are set in an esthetic composition found in sculpture. 

The top of the headbands in their hair punctuate the black of the hair to frame the scene on top of the painting.  The young lady’s left hand on the right, gracious and centered, confers vitality to the work as in contrast, their faces seem frozen. The pastel tones use in the two ao dai frame the scene at the bottom just below the central hand.  We can feel the strength of the sculptor who knows how to choose an instant and how to freeze the movement.  Vu Cao Dam shows us that the language is before all a gesture more than it is words. 

So, is Vu Cao Dam a painter or a sculptor ?

Jean-François Hubert