Return to a poem written by Nguyen Phan Chanh for « La Marchande de Oc », 1929

23 September 2022 Off By Jean-François Hubert

The “Marchande de oc‘” is, subject to inventory, the first gouache and ink on silk executed by Nguyen Phan Chanh

Nguyen Phan Chanh - The snail seller
Nguyen Phan Chanh – The snail seller

It is listed by Victor Tardieu among the shipments sent for the International Colonial Exhibition of Paris in 1931. I had the chance to rediscover it in a private collection in France in 1998. At that time it was part of a British friend’s collection and was exhibited by the Royal Museum of Mariemont, in 2002, in the Vietnamese art exhibition “La Fleur du Pêcher et l’Oiseau d’Azur” for which I was the co-curator. Afterwards it was sold by Christie’s in Hong Kong, in 2017, a sale for which I was the expert. That is to say that she and I have been in contact for the last 24 years…

The painting is artistically powerful and historically important, I already had the pleasure to point this out.

In the upper right-hand corner, appears a poem written in cursive Chinese by the painter, who was also an excellent calligrapher. 

But what does this poem tell us?


« Spring is deepening in my beautiful hometown.
Simple and gross food and meat hunts can be, their delicious tastes linger in the minds and palates of children.
The road to comfort and sophistication is strewn with pitfalls.
No need to seek spiritual comfort only in dreams.
Wan Panzheng, year of the snake

Wan Panzheng is Nguyen Phan Chanh’s name pronounced in Chinese and 1929 was the year of the snake.

The painter evokes his “beautiful hometown” namely Thach Ha in the province of Ha Tinh in central-north Vietnam where he sets the scene. 

Nguyen Phan Chanh’s philosophy is fully inscribed in this 1929 poem: the happiness of living lies in the easy grasp of the simple but wonderful world that surrounds us. The oc’, this snail that is picked up and flavoured by a broth of herbs, testifies to this immediate, easy and subtle enjoyment. Dreams and ambition are unhealthy lures.

Happiness is earthly and immediate.

The poems, found in his other works and from which we extract a few fragments, confirm the painter’s will to display an adequacy between his subject and his text:

I have sewn my love into the clothes made for you” (1931,” La Couturière”)


The color of the grain is light yellow Even the gods are in love with pastry” (1930-31, “La Pâtissière”) 


It’s time to prepare new clothes for the coming of spring.”   (1931 “Les Teinturières“)


The nuts have the color of wine
The wonderful smell incenses the atmosphere.
(1931 “ La vendeuse de bétel”)


Including this one however more sensual:

Their elegance and purity are without equal 
Which of them is the most desirable?
Like the silk they sew 
Each one is unique and beautiful in her own way

(1930, “Les Couturières“)

A magnificent artist, Nguyen Phan Chanh is also the poet of simple wisdom.

Jean-François Hubert