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Untold stories about Vietnam’s most expensive paintings

After years participating in auctions held by major auction houses in the world, collector Nguyen Minh has brought home nearly 30 paintings by well-known artists of Vietnam such as Vu Cao Dam, Le Pho, Mai Trung Thu, and Le Thi Luu.

VietNamNet Bridge - After years participating in auctions held by major auction houses in the world, collector Nguyen Minh has brought home nearly 30 paintings by well-known artists of Vietnam such as Vu Cao Dam, Le Pho, Mai Trung Thu, and Le Thi Luu.

An exhibition titled “Art of Vietnam – Another Look,” which showcased more than 50 art works by well-known Vietnamese modern artists since the period of École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine (Indochina Fine Arts College) and beyond from October 19-23, has just closed.

Raising the value of Vietnamese paintings


Collector Nguyen Minh

Some may wonder if Nguyen Minh’s effort to bring back Vietnamese artworks home was for “business" or "art". The answer is both. 

Minh said the first motive for "repatriation" of paintings must be love because if only profit was considered, he could not take a "risk" in auctions.

Minh has a great passion for paintings by the artists of the "golden generation" of the Indochina College of Fine Arts (L'ecole des Beaux-Arts de l'Indochine), especially Le Pho, Mai Trung Thu, and Vu Cao Dam. So, when participating in the auction of paintings by these artists, he was often more “aggressive” than usual. 

"Obviously, I'm a painting collector so I also have to take into account the elements relating to trade in order to balance revenues and expenditures," he said.

The fruits of his passion are 12 paintings by Le Pho, nine paintings by Vu Cao Dam, six paintings of by Mai Trung Thu and one painting by Le Thi Luu.

In addition to "repatriating" Vietnamese paintings, collector Nguyen Minh has also contributed to Vietnamese art in another perspective: Raising the price of Vietnamese paintings on international auction floors. "The time when I silently bought Vietnamese paintings, the prices for Vietnamese paintings was not high.

“Commercially, it was an advantage for me, but for the country's art, it was a disadvantage. Since my successful auction of four paintings by Vu Cao Dam and then a series of paintings by Le Pho was reported by the local newspapers, Vietnamese painting lovers have found a new ‘channel’ to take Vietnamese paintings home," said Minh.

According to collector Nguyen Minh, during the online auctions of Vietnamese paintings recently held by world-renowned auction houses as Sotheby's (Hong Kong) and Christie's (Hong Kong), more accounts "from Vietnam" participated.

"Hence, the price of Vietnamese paintings is increasing and Vietnamese paintings have attracted more attention from world collectors. For example, on November 22, 2014, the painting ‘View from atop of the hill’ by artist Le Pho reached the record price of $840,000. The painting sold by Christie's far exceeded the 2013 record for the painting ‘The rice seller’ by Nguyen Phan Chanh ($340,000). The price of million USD for Vietnamese paintings is no longer a dream," Minh said.

Contribution of overseas artists


"Mother and baby" by Le Pho

"The artists like Le Pho, Le Thi Luu, Mai Trung Thu, and Vu Cao Dam lived abroad but their paintings are all about Vietnam, showing the Vietnamese soul. And, their contributions to promote Vietnamese art to the world have been huge," said painter Luong Xuan Doan, Vice Chair of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association.

"However, these artists have not been rewarded with the nation's top prizes as the State Award and the Ho Chi Minh Award," Doan said.

"Previously we lacked the resources to assess the paintings of these artists but the exhibition ‘Art of Vietnam – Another Look’, has provided professionals the original paintings as the basis for assessment and recognition of the contribution of expatriate artists," Doan said.

Collector Nguyen Minh said the names of Vu Cao Dam, Mai Trung Thu, Le Thi Luu, and Le Pho have been recognized worldwide. These artists and their artworks have long been considered a vital part of the face of Vietnam arts so the recognition of the contribution of these artists at this time came late. But better late than never.

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