Le Collier (The Necklace) by celebrated Vietnamese artist Mai Trung Thứ (1906-1980)

Le Collier (The Necklace), carrying an estimate of HK$2,500,000 – 4,000,000 (US$320,000 - 511,000), was formerly in the private collection of Federico Möller de Berg (1899-1991), a renowned Uruguayan sculptor who acquired it directly from Thứ in 1948 – the year the two artists first met in Paris.

Federico studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiére and belonged to a circle of artists who shared and admired each other’s works. It was there Federico came across Thứ’s paintings.

Fascinated by Thứ’s art and the tenderness in which he approached his subjects, Federico later exchanged his two sculptures for Thứ's paintings, and one of the two pieces was Le Collier. The work remained in Federico’s personal collection and was brought back to Uruguay where he treasured it for the rest of his life.

The painting portrays a white-dressed Vietnamese woman serenely reclining with a red beaded necklace in hand, admiring it while at the same time seemingly thinking of someone associated with it. It is a rare work of the artist not only for its size – measuring 55 x 71cm – but also the richness of the subject’s emotion, the grace in her posture, and the striking composition.

Art critic Ngô Kim Khôi said: “For those with an affection for Vietnamese art, in particular the silk paintings of Mai Trung Thứ, this young woman's pure beauty within the canvas is bound to leave them in awe. Many may find themselves yearning to possess this masterpiece, allowing them to continue to admire its delicacy.”

Joan Yip, senior specialist of Bonhams Southeast Modern and Contemporary Asian Art, commented: “This painting has such a heart-warming story and reveals the pure admiration between two very different artists, who first met in Paris and developed a touching admiration for each other’s work. Kept privately in the collection of Federico Möller de Berg for more than 70 years, the painting is a unique work by Mai Thứ and we expect a lot of interest from collectors as it comes fresh to the market on 4 October in Hong Kong.”

Vietnamese painter Mai Trung Thứ. — File Photo

Mai Trung Thứ was born in Kiến An, in the northern city of Hải Phòng, into a large and honourable family of literati.

In 1924, as the École des Beaux-Arts de l'Indochine was established through the collaboration of the Frenchman Victor Tardieu and the Vietnamese Nguyễn Nam Sơn, Mai Trung Thứ passed the entrance exam and became one of 10 students in the first class (1925-1930).

Thứ met with great success with silk painting, one of the most distinctive materials of Vietnamese painting.

Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest and most renowned auctioneers, offering fine art and collectables, collectors’ cars and a luxury division, which includes jewellery, designer fashion, watches, wine, and whisky. — VNS