From atmospheric landscapes created on a misty, silken material through to 19th Century French style impressionism; fine art in Vietnam has an interesting and long history that has resulted in a mixture of ancient and modern techniques that make a truly individual style. Any fan of art, crafts or ancient traditions need look no further than the art of Vietnam for inspiration and awe inspiring works.
The rich history of Vietnam is reflected in the country’s fine art, from modern works through to the earliest examples that date from the Stone Age. Discovered in Bac So’n, the earliest evidence of art in Vietnam is basic clay pottery, which progressed quickly to include decoration. This moved on further with the Dong So’n, an ancient Vietnamese culture that existed during the Hong Bang Dynasty in the Red River Valley. During the Bronze Age the Dong So’n were skilled at creating bronze drums that have become known as the Dong So’n drums. These ornamental bronze castings are intricately designed and demonstrate the advanced techniques of lost-wax casting that were used at this time. They often depict scenes from everyday Vietnamese life so are highly important for our knowledge of ancient Vietnamese culture.
Three colours ceramics
After the Bronze Age there was a period of Chinese domination in Vietnam and this influenced the art of the period with Chinese influences, however, this was in conjunction with continued native methods. The year 939AD onwards saw Vietnamese independence and this period is seen as the time in which the ‘three colours’ concept was developed in Vietnamese ceramics. This is where pottery is decorated using three colours, usually red, green and black or red, black and indigo. At this time the Vietnamese combined ancient native techniques with Chinese, Cambodian and Champan elements. These ceramics were thought to be influenced by a combination of the ancient native style of ceramics with the Tang and Song Dynasties.
Lý Dynasty to the Nguyen Dynasty
The 11th Century saw the era of the Lý Dynasty and marks a particular rise in fine art and architecture in Vietnam, unfortunately, with the Chinese domination during the following Lê Dynasty, fine arts in Vietnam took a back seat as many documents were destroyed. However, this was followed by a period of growth for Vietnamese fine art, as the Nguyen Dynasty saw ceramics and porcelains rise in popularity and importation into Imperial courts across Asia aided this growth.
The 19th Century saw a French influence in the fine arts of Vietnam. This was due to some select, influential Vietnamese artists who were able to travel and study art in France. Learning French techniques, these were then combined with traditional Vietnamese techniques.
Vietnamese techniques – Silk Painting
Traditional Vietnamese fine arts are distinctive and beautiful, with a few techniques authentically used. The four main techniques are calligraphy, woodblock prints, silk painting and lacquer paintings. Silk painting is one of the most popular forms of Vietnamese art and was hugely influenced by the French style during the 19th and 20th centuries, reaching its peak of success between the years 1925 to 1945. The style is very flexible and is often used to emphasise softness within the work. One notable artist working in Silk is Phan Chanh, who has 30 works housed in the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, these works often depict the lives of the Vietnamese people.
An important element of Vietnamese fine art, calligraphy has a long history in the country and giving calligraphy as a gift can be very meaningful here. The script used in calligraphy has changed significantly over the years and the more traditional characters are now used less often, with the Quoc Ngu script, which is based on the Latin alphabet, replacing it.
This style of traditional artwork is also called Dong Ho painting and has a long history that has reached popularity outside of Vietnam. Dong Ho paintings are created in the village of Dong Ho, which is around 35km from Hanoi. In this village the craftsmen produce their own raw materials, making diep paper and natural colours. A wood block is made, paint is applied and then pressed across a sheet of paper. This is repeated with different colours until the desired effect is created. This traditional process for folk paintings can still be seen in the village alongside silk painting.
Traditionally practised in China and Japan, this style was developed during the 1930s in Vietnam and has grown to a fine art within the country. Whereas in other countries Lacquer painting is considered a form of decoration for wooden objects, in Vietnam it stands as a fine art form with notable famous artists such as Dan Tin Tuong, who paints landscapes, usually of his Red River Delta home, or Nguyen Gia Tri, who was experimental with his use of colour and medium, sometimes using eggshells and other unusual materials in his works.