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Celebrated painter Nguyen Phan Chanh talks about his paintings (January 28, 2004)

Nguyen Phan Chanh
The painting "The Girl Feeds the Bird" has a plot of acuteness and closeness. The viewers should pay immediate attention to the bird jumping to eat the grass hopper being held out by the girl. The part reserved to paint the bird is small. Most of the picture is reserved to paint the cage. Even though it is lost from view, the bird could be seen as being inside the cage. The girl feeding the bird wearing a white blouse and black trousers. The girl is sitting upfront, the viewers pay attention to the bird while enjoying looking at the picture. It is because the girl looks less active, left alone she turns her face away. As far as the plot of the picture is concerned, the girl sits comfortably with her left hand on the floor to support herself, whereas her right hand is feeding the bird. Her right leg drawn just to reduce the reluctance of the right hand that feeds the bird. The curve of the trousers helps smooth the straight lines of the cage and the door flap behind. One heel shows to reveal the length of the leg of trousers.

The colour of the painting is simple with only cold and warm colours. The cold colour is felt in the blouse and the trousers and the warm colour is reflected in the bird cage. On her head is the brown crepe neck kerchief mixed in with the black hair. The colour of the wall and soil is the cold but with warm mixed colours. The bright red of the seal just helps make the picture less cold and it looks more cheerful.

Nguyen Phan Chanh
The painting "Rubbing the Back of a Bather" is painted with a beautiful but slightly fat model. Having found another painter living in the opposite room who was painting her, I went over to ask her to sit as my model. As far as the plot of the painting is concerned, the model sits in the centre of the picture, behind her is a girl of 14 or 15 years of age, who is rubbing the modelís back. In front of the model on the right and a little bit further away is an earthenware jar full of water and beside it is a small stake for a ladle. If there was not a straight line of the jar and straight line behind the house, the painting would become loosely plotted, unable to fill in the empty space. The straight line here is the wall that runs straight to the back of the bathing girl and the straight line of the jar runs to her feet which helps make the picture look firm. The stake for the ladle by the jar, the straight line behind and the horizontal stroke of her back make everything in the picture meet up.

In the painting, the cold colour takes up more space namely the skin colour of the back and limbs of the bather and the young girlís limbs. The hot colour and the cold colour get mixed in the colour of the wall, of dust and soil. In the jar there is water, on the earth where the bather sits, there is also water. It wants to say that the girl is taking a bath because there is water all around her. By the side of the house there is a small, square window to make that part of the picture less dark. The most difficult thing for the artist is to let the bather sit with her face turned to the right and her back turned to the rear. If the girl sits with her back turned to the right, the girl sitting behind her cannot use her right hand to rub the batherís back.

The Secretary of the Fine Artists' Association sent Mr Phan Lac Tuyen from the South to see my picture. Mr Tuyen praised it saying: "It would be much more interesting, if you paint another picture to describe a bath in the night". Later, I tried to paint two pictures called "The Bright Moon" and "The Dim Moon". The painting called "Rubbing the Back of a Bather" is termed as a "romantic" picture because the girl is topless. When the painting was displayed, it was warmly accepted and I was so happy because the Association did not consider it "romantic". And the picture was sold. Later on I took a bold step to create similar paintings such as taking a bath in the night, taking a bath in the pond and so on.

I often went to the mountainous province of Hoa Binh to create my paintings. I took out my binoculars and watched the Muong girls taking a bath. It was usual that women while bathing in the river rubbed each otherís backs. They turned their faces away and took hold of their breasts. Women of 16 and older walked slowly into the water, raising their skirt upward until their bodies were in the water. As for the girls of 15 and younger, they bathed naked like the boys. I could see clearly their bodies.

Introduced by NGUYET TU (the painterís daughter)

* Editorís Note: Artist Nguyen Phan Chanh was born on 21 July 1892 in Ha Tinh province and died on 22 November 1984 in Hanoi. He was a graduate of the first batch of the Indochina Fine Arts College. He is considered the founder of Vietnamese silk paintings. His silk paintings were displayed in Paris in 1931, Italy in 1934, America in 1937, Japan in 1940, then in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania in 1982, Poland and the former Soviet Union in 1983. Some of his most brilliant paintings are "Play O An Quan Game", "Going into a Trance", "The Girl Feeds the Bird", "Rubbing the Back of a Bather", "The Bright Moon" and "The Dim Moon".

Artist Nguyen Phan Chanh was a member of the National Assembly, Third Legislature, of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. He was bestowed upon by the Party and the State with Labour Order, Third and First Class and Independence Orders, First Class. Besides that he was also awarded with Ho Chi Minh Prize, first batch.

Reprinted with permission from Nhan Dan Newspaper


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