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Behold Rhythmic Luxuriance On Canvas With Vietnamese Silk Paintings

Vietnamese art and paintings have forever been influenced by various traditions and cultures. But it’s curious to note that in spite of these multiple influences, they have maintained an individual style till date. Traditional Vietnamese art, for example, the lacquer ware and woodblock prints, is famous all over the world and the current generation of Vietnamese artists is finding out innovative techniques to expand further the bounds of Vietnamese art. However, other genres of Vietnamese art and painting have gained popularity in recent times. Paintings on silk canvas have been internationally acclaimed, as a result of which they are now in great demand among the art lovers of the world.

The vogue of silk paintings in Vietnam can be traced back to a legend- to the silk paintings of Y Lan, the First Wife of King Ly Thanh Tong (1054-1072). A skilled silk weaver, Y Lan built prospering silk shop in the royal court of the capital city, where she spun silk and made silk garments. Even today, temples throughout Vietnam have been erected in dedication of this “Patron Saint” of silk. Although this “Lady Silk” never made any transition to silk paintings, that trade flourished in the aftermath of her establishing the silk weaving industry in Vietnam.

Silk paintings of Vietnam attained its height of success between the years 1925-1945. Many historians believe that paradoxically, this style of painting was pioneered by the failure of Nguyen Phan Chanh at Western oil painting. Nguyen Phan Chanh was among the students of the first class (1925-1930) of the Eeole Superieure des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine. Victor Tardieu, a contemporary French artist, realized that Chanh’s talent lay not in Western oil painting but in the silk tradition. Advising the latter to study Chinese silk paintings, Victor Tardieu assisted Chanh to channelize his talents in the right direction. Taking cue from the Chinese tradition, Chanh developed a new style in his rendition of the Vietnamese silk paintings. His paintings express the soul of the objects rather than mere surface representations. Instead of blindly imitating the Chinese counterpart, Chanh adopted a simple style merging Oriental and occidental techniques. The silk paintings of Chanh carry a Western approach but carry light and dark patches of the East Asian tradition. The interaction of brown, soil yellow and light gray colors on silk canvas convey a sense of lyrical aestheticism. In 1931, Chanh’s silk painting, Game of Squares, was warmly appreciated at an exhibition. Nguyen Phan Chanh has become one of the leading representatives of the Vietnamese silk paintings. Following the footsteps of Chanh, his students created a collection of fine silk paintings embodying the Vietnamese soul and tradition.

The success of the Vietnamese silk paintings chiefly rests on their lyricism and underlying serenity. The quality of the silk is an important factor in bringing out the effectiveness of the painting that is to be produced. Besides, the techniques of starching and weaving also determine the quality of the painting. Unlike other techniques of painting, traditional Vietnamese style of silk painting uses the silk canvas directly as the background of the artwork. Soft and delicate colors (especially colors of the sky, water) are used to produce a sense of harmonious accord with nature. Excessive care is taken so as to avoid any mistake, for a wrong stroke cannot be corrected; it can only be blended into the final drawing. The Vietnamese painters skillfully exploit the sheen and attractiveness of the silk canvas to create an exquisite delicate masterpiece.

Right now, Vietnamese silk tradition is basking in the warmth of popularity. The city of Hue, the royal capital of Vietnam, is currently the hub of Vietnamese paintings on silk. After being internationally acclaimed in France (1946), Vietnamese style of silk painting has imbibed a unique transparency, quite different from the traditions of ancient China and Japan. Paintings on silk often narrate poetic themes and thus are responsible in gifting Vietnamese art a unique lyrical flavor.

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Suzanne Macguire

Suzanne Macguire is an Internet marketing professional with expertise in content development and technical writing in a variety of industries.