Nguyễn Ðức Nùng Biography

First Generation Artist: École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine French Influenced

Nguyễn Ðức Nùng was born on 10 March 1914 in Phú Lâm commune, Thanh Oai District, Hà Đông city, Hà Tây Province.1 He had a hard childhood, growing up in a poor family. At ten years old, he took on the responsibility of tutor to his cousin and the family that helped raise him. After school, he often visited Hoàn Kiếm Lake in Hanoi to watch artists painting.2

In 1933, Nùng enrolled in the ninth diploma course at the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine, graduating in 1938. After graduating, Nùng exhibited over 40 pieces at the Khai Trí Tiến Đức Association, showing considerable talent in a range of materials including oil, silk, Chinese ink (thuỷ mặc), sketches (hình hoạ), charcoal, pastel (phấn màu) and pen (bút sắt). The exhibition was attended by the governor and vice-governor of Tonkin. The vice-governor, Pierre Delsalle, expressed interest in helping Nùng to study in France, to which Nùng declined, preferring to live and work in Hanoi in order to support his family.3

“As an artist, I care more about the arts than life.”

Nguyễn Đức Nùng, Đặng Thị Thanh Vân, “The Artist Nguyễn Đức Nùng – Him and his art,” Nghiên Cứu Mỹ Thuật

At the end of 1941, Nùng was accepted to work at École Française d’Extrême-Orient (Viện Viễn Đông Bác Cổ). In this role, he travelled to Huế to join the renovation of site relics and taught drawing classes at schools in Thuận Hoá, Việt Anh and Hồng Đức. During this time, Nùng’s relationship with Huế’s intellectual elite led him down the revolutionary path.

Nùng was an active participant in the general uprising against French colonial rule and joined the 1945 August Revolution. He often painted propaganda posters in Thuận Hoá and was instated as the head of the National Rescue Council (Trưởng Ban Hội Hoạ Cứu Quốc) of Thừa Thiên-Huế Province.

Nùng made many excursions from his base in Military Zone 4, participating in and documenting campaigns in Trung du, Hà Nam Ninh and Nga Sơn, making sketches of events that were later used for composite lacquer paintings by artist collectives. He lived closely with soldiers during the campaigns, sleeping with them in the trenches, sharing cigarettes and reading poetry at night. After following the campaigns, Nùng concentrated on the home front (hậu phương), joining the movement of reducing tax and initiating land reform.

After the revolution, Nùng became the head of the Painting Board of the National Salvation Culture Group in Thừa Thiên-Huế Province until 1946.

From 1947 to 1954, Nùng worked as a reporter for the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN). After it was established in 1950, Nùng was assigned to the Political Department of the 304 Infantry Division (Phòng Chính Trị Đại đoàn 304), working in the headquarters of Military Zone 4 (Bộ Tư Lệnh Quân Khu 4) to produce their journal, Protecting The Country’s Forces (Vệ Quốc Quân). After the Geneva Accords and French withdrawal from Vietnam in 1954, Nùng became an Art Officer for the PAVN until 1956, when he became a lecturer and future dean of the Hanoi Fine Arts College.

Nguyễn Ðức Nùng
Portrait of Nguyễn Ðức Nùng. Courtesy of Designs.vn.

In 1957, Nùng became a member of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association, in the same year it was founded. From his art assignments and excursions for the Association, one lacquer painting, Sunrise on a farm (Bình Minh Trên Nông Trang), created in 1958 from field trip to a farm in Phú Thọ Province, is now collected by the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum.

In 1973, he became director of the Institute of Arts (or Art Research Institute, Viện nghiên cứu mỹ thuật) until 1981. As director, Nùng followed the leadership of the inspirational Nguyễn Đỗ Cung, the first director of the Vietnam Fine Arts Institute, after it was formed in 1962. Nùng put an emphasis on all members to make reports on the ancient arts of Vietnam. Institute members were encouraged to visit modern fine art exhibitions, take field trips to ancient sites and meet artists and sculptors in order to gain the linguistic skills that would enable them to describe ancient fine art for its beauty rather than in solely historical or nationalistic terms. They were also taught how to notice inspiration from historical fine art in modern artworks.

Nùng also added a number of administrative offices to the Institute of Arts. He added an Archives Board (Ban tư liệu), a Modern Arts Board, (Ban mỹ thuật hiện đại), an Ancient Arts Board (Ban mỹ thuật cổ) and a World Art Board (Ban mỹ thuật thế giới). He also organized books printed on the subjects of fine art in the Lý and Trần Dynastys, ethnicity in visual art and an unpublished history of fine art in Vietnam from 1945 to 1975.

Nùng’s art work has become symbolic in the field of Vietnamese lacquer art. Even though he composed on different materials, while also conducting research into the differing materials, he typically focused on lacquer paintings using traditional techniques. The subjects in his work revolved around the resistance against French colonial rule and the process of rebuilding the country after the First Indochina War and the Second Indochina War.4

Nguyễn Ðức Nùng passed away on 4 January 1983 in Hanoi.


NGUYỄN ÐỨC NÙNG GALLERY

Publications

Khánh Phú, “Họa Sĩ Nguyễn Đức Nùng (1909-1983),” 1983, Tạp Chí Mỹ Thuật

Đặng Thị Thành Vẫn, “Họa sĩ Nguyễn Đức Nùng con người và nghệ thuật,” Nghiên Cứu Mỹ Thuật

Nguyễn Đức Nùng (Chief Editor) Vương Như Chiêm, Nguyễn Ngọc Dũng, Khương Huân, Nguyễn Thái Hanh, Nguyễn Sỹ Ngọc, Nguyễn Trân, (Illustrated by Quang Phòng), Sketches of Vietnamese Fine Art History, 1945-1975, 1971, Nhà Xuất Bản Văn Hoá (Culture Publishing House), Ho Chi Minh City (unpublished)  

Collections

Vietnam Fine Arts Museum

Exhibitions

23 November 2015 – Between the Declaration and the Dream: Southeast Asian Art from the 19th Century to the Present, National Gallery Singapore

Official Roles

1945-1946 – Head of the Painting Board for the National Salvation Culture Group, Thừa Thiên-Huế Province

1947-1950 – Journalist for the Union of Vietnamese Communities IV

1950-1954 – Journalist and editor for the Political Department of the 304 Infantry Division in Military Zone 4

1954-1956 – Art Officer

1956-1973 – Lecturer and Dean of the Hanoi University of Fine Arts

1973-1981 – Director of the Institute of Arts

Awards

1958 – National Fine Arts Exhibition Award

1976 – National Fine Arts Exhibition Award

2001 – Medal for the cause of Vietnamese Literature and Arts

Third-class Labor Medal

Second-class Victory Medal

Resistance Medal against America

First-class resistance medal

Medal for Vietnamese Art career


REFERENCES AND FOOTNOTES:

  1. Painter Nguyễn Ðức Nùng – The great tree of Vietnam village lacquer painting,” 28 January 2016. Visited on 19 June 2019.
  2. Khánh Phú, “Họa Sĩ Nguyễn Đức Nùng (1909-1983),” 1983, Tạp Chí Mỹ Thuật.
  3. Đặng Thị Thanh Vân, “The Artist Nguyễn Đức Nùng – Him and his art,” Nghiên Cứu Mỹ Thuật.
  4. Thanh Tùng Nguyên, “Comment On The Farm – Nguyen Duc Nung,” Department of Pedagogy of Fine Arts, University of Arts, Hue University. Visited on 19 June 2019.

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