Saturday , March 2 2024

Thang Tran Phenh painter’s works fetch 1.5 mln euro under French hammer

Thang Tran Phenh’s paintings “Choi Bai” (The Card Game) and “Xem Boi” (The Wizard) were sold for 780,000 euro ($773,700) and 715,000 euro, respectively, at a Tuesday auction by Lynda Trouve.

The paintings were offered during the “Indochina -Chapter 14” session in Paris, broadcast live on the company’s website.

French auction house Lynda Trouve had predicted an initial price range of 30,000-50,000 euro for each painting.

Surcharges have been added to mentioned prices.

Collector Pham Hoang Viet, who tuned in online, said after much back-and-forth between two collectors, “The Card Game” went under the hammer for a total of 600,000 euro (excluding surcharges).

“Both these paintings are quite large and look stunning on silk. Phenh frequently depicts traditional Vietnamese activities like playing the Tam Cuc card game and fortune-telling in his work. His large-scale silk paintings are even rarer.

“Back in 2000, Hong Kong auction house Sotheby’s auctioned off one of his silk paintings. The cost of paintings has increased since then as a result of this factor,” he said.

The Card Game by Thang Tran Phenh. Photo courtesy of Lynda Trouvé

‘The Card Game” by Thang Tran Phenh. Photo courtesy of Lynda Trouve

Art researcher Ngo Kim Khoi said this is the highest bidding that Phenh’s paintings have ever fetched.

“The piece obtained a premium price since it was introduced at the prestigious Paris Colonial Exhibition, and Phenh’s silk paintings are extremely rare,” Khoi explained.

“The Card Game” created between 1931-1932, depicts two men and three women dressed in traditional attire engaged in a game of cards.

The artist’s signature, seal, and two lines of ancient writing can be seen in the top left corner of the painting.

Scholar Chau Hai Duong translated these lines as follows: “On a leisurely spring day playing cards / Whoever wins or loses, don’t laugh.”

“The Wizard” emerged around the same time. It shows three figures seated around a platform with a plate and three incense sticks. A male fortune teller in the middle is holding up a porcelain plate while the two women are watching him carrying out his practice.

The ancient characters in the top left corner of the image read: “Women seek fate / fortune-teller making predictions.”

The auction house claims that the two silk paintings belonged to Leopold de Stabenrath, a press correspondent in Hanoi from 1975 to 1997.

The Wizard by Thang Tran Phenh. Photo courtesy of Lynda Trouve

“The Wizard” by Thang Tran Phenh. Photo courtesy of Lynda Trouve

Damage from moisture and time have all contributed to a little mold developing in the artworks.

The auction house first attributed it to another late painter, Tran Binh Loc, because of the ideograms “Tran Binh” in Sino-Vietnamese signed in the bottom left corner.

They later credited Phenh after learning it was his pen name.

Before the auction, Khoi revealed that he assisted Sebastien, a representative of Lynda Trouve, in determining that the true author is Thang Tran Phenh. The auction company also updated the photo caption to reflect the correction.

Thang Tran Phenh (1895-1972) is one of the most well-known artists of the Vietnamese fine art village of the late 19th and early 20th century, along with painters Le Huy Mien and Nam Son.

From an early age, he had an aptitude for the arts. He was awarded the fine art prize by the Tien Duc Enlightenment Association in 1923.

In 1926, at the same age as fellow famous artists like To Ngoc Van and Vu Cao Dam, he was accepted into the second class of students at Indochina Fine Arts College.

Three artworks, two oil paintings and a silk painting by Phenh are currently on display at Vietnam Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi.

Many of his paintings, including “The Card Game” and “The Wizard”, were transferred to France and Italy between 1931 and 1933 to be displayed at the Paris and Rome Colonial Exhibitions.

In 1931, after completing his studies, the artist decided to focus his efforts on creating works specifically for stage performance.

He then took the troupe on a nationwide tour of Hanoi, Hai Phong, and Nam Dinh before shutting it down in 1943.

The artist joined the resistance movement against the French at the end of 1946, moving his family to Bac Giang Province so that he could work for the 10th inter-Department of Information and Propaganda.

He and his family later moved back to Hanoi in 1954.

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