Vietnamese lacquer painting

Vietnamese Lacquer Painting

Lacquer Painting by Dang Tin Tuong
Traditional Lacquer Painting by artist Dang Tin Tuong

Lacquered items have been found in ancient tombs in Vietnam dating as far back as the third and fourth centuries B.C.  Over the centuries, Vietnamese master craftsmen and artists have mastered techniques using lacquer for purpose of decoration and preservation. Lacquer paintings now can compete successfully with silk and oil paintings and have the unique character of this style of painting.

Artistic Characteristics:

  • Lacquer traditionally comes in three colors - brown, black and vermilion. By the 1930s, artists started to use a new technique known as chiseling which gives a richer mix of colors and an added sense of size and distance.  
  • The painting is done on wood. It is covered with a piece of cloth glued to it using the sap of the lacquer tree and then coated with a layer of the sap mixed with earth. The board is then sand papered and recoated with a layer of hot sap.  After polishing, this gives a smooth black surface with a brilliant luster.
  • The painter uses hot lacquer to draw the outline of a picture and the colors are applied one by one, layer upon layer. Each coat dries slowly.
  • The finishing touches consist of polishing and washing the pictures. This process may seem like brutal treatment for a work of art, but it is done with great care. This process leaves a brilliant surface on a painting.

Through years of experience and experimentation, the artists use the addition of other substances such as plant material ash, crushed eggshells, gold and silver to embellish their works. These additional substances help the modern artists to express themselves fully and to further add creativity and individuality of style to their art works.

For lacquer, the development of this technique came from art courses such as the course on lacquer art offered in 1927 by Joseph Inguimberty, a teacher at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de l’indochina and the introduction of lacquer in the fine art curriculum in 1937 (read more at "The Important of the Fine Arts College of Indochina and Vietnamese painting, 1925-1945" ).  Nguyen Gia Tri produced modern art paintings using lacquer.  Later in 1939, he held a one-man exhibition to test his new style and see if they were welcome by the public.

Well-known lacquer painters of this time are: Cong Van Trung, Pham Ha, Nguyen Hang, Tran Van Can, Nguyen Gia Tri, Nguyen Duc Sung, Nguyen Van Ty, Hoang Tich Chu, Nguyen Van Binh, Duong Huong Minh, Nguyen Sy Ngoc, Tran Dinh Tho, Nguyen Sang, Huynh Van Gam, Ta Thuc  Binh, Nguyen Tu Nghiem, Phan Ke An, Duong Bich Lien, Nguyen Kim Dong, Le Quoc Loc, for example.

Famous lacquer artists of VietnamSome of Famous lacquer art of Vietnam (see more in our next section)

Even though the trainings followed the curriculum similar to those in fine art schools in Europe, the Vietnamese artists had successfully added Asian theme and their personal styles into the art works.

In general, one Vietnamese artists commonly use various mediums, not specific to one type only. For example, you will see many same name appears twice or more in various categories of their paintings in our website, e.g. Nam Son in silk, oil and watercolor paintings; Nguyen Gia Tri in lacquer and oil.

Vietnamese Lacquer Painting by Nguyen Duc Nung
Vietnamese Lacquer Painting by famous artist Nguyen Duc Nung (1914-1993)
Vietnamese lacquer Painting by artist Nguyen Gia Tri
Vietnamese lacquer Painting by famous artist Nguyen Gia Tri  (1906-1993) 

NEXT  > > >   Lacquer Artists and their works



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