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Vietnam Travel Itinerary, Vietnam Tours Itinerary

A veteran scultor

Mr. Pham Xuan Thi, a 77 year-old sculptor and painter, received us at his home at 23 Hang Phen street, Ha Noi, with a courtesy that was somewhat old fashioned but not without charm.
In his studio crammed with statues, bas-relief, oils and gouaches, his sister Suong Hoa served us with an excellent tea and delicious green bean cakes.
This is one of the survivors of the eight courses at the Indochinese Fine Alts School built by the French in Ha Noi that turned out altogether 13 sculptors between 1925 and 1945. “I loved art even as a child,” he confided. “And it was Nguyễn Phan Chánh, the father of modem Vietnamese silk painting, who guided me in my first steps.”
In 1938, Thi was admitted to the Indochinese Fine Arts School, which was created in 1925, and which was an access for Viet Nam to French neo-classicism and impressionism. He recalled with fondness how the founder of the school, Victor Tardieu, had fought tooth and nail to defend his view against those colonists who wanted to form only artisans instead of artists. With emotion he told us about his teacher in sculpture, Evarist Jonchere, winner of a Rome prize.
The sculptor showed us his favourite works dedicated to the war of resistance, peace, and Ho Chi Minh, whom he venerates as a great humanist, a promoter of solidarity among people.
We were particularly impressed by a bas-relief re-presenting Uncle Ho scoonino water together with peasants, which, Thi said, had taken him thirty years to complete. Also to of great beauty was a group called "Eternal Spring" showing to a mother giving the breast to two infants - the Motherland and the two parts of the country, the North and the South. And very striking was a group done in 1953, one year before Dien Bien Phu. It showed a Vietnamese soldier rushing into a blazing French outpost to save an abandoned French child. The sculptor’s human kindness is manifest in all his work, five of which have been awarded First State Prize.
“Human kindness is the milk of Vietnamese art,” Thi said, looking up at the Buddhist altar on the wall. All his work, indeed shine with a spiritual Blight far removed from the concern of realist art. And like his classmates, he I has always preserved the characteristics of the Vietnamese artistic identity while learning what he can from Western art.
Vietnamese sculpture dates back to the Bronze Age (the first millennium of the Christian era) in the form of engravings adorning bronze drums. The many works in bronze, stone and wood that grace pagodas and communal bouses bear proof to the fineness of the anonymous artisan in his symbolic and decorative expression.
Best among those poems on stone are the ninth-century Buddha statue at Phat Tich Pagoda in Bac Ninh, north of Ha Noi, the 17th century bas-reliefs at But Thap Pagoda in the same region, the 15th century Lam Son stelae in Thanh Hoa south of Ha Noi, the Dragon heads from the Le Dynasty now preserved at the Temple of Literature in Ha Noi.
The most beautiful work in wood is incontestably the statue of the Thousand-Aimed and Thousand-Eyed Boddhisattva made in the 17th century and can be now admired at But Thap Pagoda.
Bronze casting has left magnificent bells and religious statues (the statue of Trán Vũ and the Buddha statue at Ngu Xa, Ha Noi; the royal turns in Hue, etc.) which do great care to casters who formed prosperous guilds in Hà Nội and Huế in the old days, but who now are a vanishing breed.
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Update : 27-07-2017

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