“Villageoises parmi des bananiers” (Villagers Among Banana Trees) by Nguyen Gia Tri was sold for $1.08 million by French auction house Drouot Estimations.
The six-panel lacquered artwork (195×100 centimeters) was sold at the “Art classique, moderne et contemporain session of Drouot Estimations” auction last month.
The painting shows cottages and villagers, including street hawkers. While the aforementioned subjects shine dark reddish brown against the black background, the banana trees in the foreground are a sharp contrast of varying shades of yellow. That’s thanks to the gold the artist inlaid into the painting on wood.
The artwork captures the raw beauty of the countryside and the tranquility of rural life.
“Villageoises parmi des bananiers” by Nguyen Gia Tri. Photo courtesy of Drouot Estimations
The auction house says that the work is unique for two reasons.
First, it features clear embossed images of banana trees, which aren’t often seen in Tri’s paintings.
Second is the artist’s unusual signature, unique among his works. In the bottom right corner, there is a capital letter G (the first letter of his given name), followed by the letters I,A (the second two letters) and then T (the first letter of his second given name) and the year 1937.
The auction house added that the painter used a diverse array of complicated lacquer techniques, each of which required specialized skill sets, hence the high bidding.
Art researcher Ngo Kim Khoi said that the beauty of Tri’s works and his prominence in the art world made the million-dollar price tag reasonable.
Khoi said the piece could have probably sold for at least $2 million.
The late Tri, an alumnus of the Indochina College of Fine Arts, often placed trees in the foreground of his work and pagodas and villages in the background.
“The black background and yellow color give the picture depth,” said Khoi, adding that Tri also inlaid the painting with gold to give it a shimmering effect.
“The artist also does a good job of adding smaller details, like women wearing traditional clothes, which really show what life is like in Vietnam,” Khoi remarked.
Nguyen Gia Tri was born in 1908 in the Hanoi neighborhood of Chuong My.
He graduated from the Indochina College of Fine Arts in in 1936. He is considered one of the four masters of the Vietnamese painting world and is thought to be one of the founders of modern lacquer painting, as well as one of the most important lacquer artists ever.
He helped Vietnamese lacquer reach the rest of the world by combining traditional Asian cultural elements into his paints and fusing his style with Western academic painting techniques.
He artworks were often made with delicate and high-quality paints, screens and wooden boards. The majority of his works portray nature and the landscapes of Vietnam.
Tri had a successful career, and many high-ranking French officials and businessmen in Indochina visited him and bought his works.
In 1989, the Ministry of Culture said that Nguyen Gia Tri was instrumental in the development of the modern Vietnamese art scene.
The artist died in Ho Chi Minh City in 1993.
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