Văn Giáo Biography

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

Văn Giáo was born as Nguyễn Văn Giáo in 1916 in Hanoi. He was a non-registered student at the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine, where he was not admitted because of his political activities. At the beginning of the First Indochina War, he served as an artist in Military Zone 5. He was a self-taught artist, specializing in gouache and landscapes.1

In October 1946, during the early days of the war against the French, Giáo was the first artist in North Vietnam to enter Tuy Hòa, capital of Phú Yên Province (just north of Khánh Hòa Province). From then until the end of 1949, he travelled throughout the central provinces, from Quảng Nam, Quảng Ngãi to Bình Định, Phú Yên and Tuy Hòa.

Portrait of Văn Giáo.

In September 1949, he returned north to Việt Bắc where he pursued his artistic career in the army until the end of the war. After the Geneva Conference, which divided North and South Vietnam, he again went to Vĩnh Linh District and the Hiền Lương Bridge to draw. In 1973, he plunged into the Trường Sơn forest where there was fierce fighting, to record the reality of battle.

“Like this life and beautiful for the next.”

Văn Giáo’s criteria for painting Hồ Chí Minh. Khanh Huyen, “A Talented Artist with a Beautiful Personality”, People’s Army Newspaper Online, 3 October 2016

Giáo participated in the 1950 Border Campaign, the 1952 Mekong Delta Campaign and the infamous Battle of Điện Biên Phủ in 1954. His works at this time were painted primarily with pigment on a material. His works show many aspects of the resistance war against France, contributing to the struggle for national independence. He recorded the valuable moments when Vietnam gained autonomy from the French.2

Giáo devoted the majority of his life to painting Hồ Chí Minh, or “Uncle Hồ” as he is commonly referred to by the Vietnamese. Giáo painted many portraits of Vietnam’s iconic leader as part of his mission to paint 100 paintings of Hồ Chí Minh before the artist was a hundred years old.3 He did not meet his goal, but Giáo managed to capture some important moments, for example Hồ Chí Minh writing Vietnam’s new constitution in the work entitled Uncle Hồ wrote the Declaration of Independence. Giáo travelled extensively while documenting Hồ Chí Minh’s life, living, working and talking directly with the leader in the same locations such as Pác Bó, Cao Bằng and Nghệ An – the leader’s province.

Văn Giáo passed away on 10 January 1996.

In October 2016, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth, Văn Giáo’s family sought to collect the works of the late painter and publish a complete collection at the exhibition Literature on the Pathways, held from 6 to 14 October 2016, at the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi.


  • Văn Giáo, December 1968, Lào Cai Province, "Văn Giáo; HOÀNG SƯ PHI; 12-68; Dân tộc: Phù-Lá; Và La-Chí (Văn Giáo; HOÀNG SƯ PHI; 12-68; Ethnic group: Phù-Lá; and La-Chí)." Gouache on machine-made paper. Collection of National Gallery Singapore.


Hội Mỹ Thuật Việt Nam, Nghệ sĩ tạo hình Việt Nam hiện đại (Ký Hệu Hội Viên), 2009, Nhà Xuất Bản Mỹ Thuật, Hà Nội


Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, Hanoi

Private international collections


October 2016 – Posthumous exhibition Literature on the Pathways, Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, Hanoi


  1. Văn Giáo biography from independent research compiled by Witness Collection.
  2. Lăn Lóc, Artist Van Giao – the pioneer, Tin Tức Newspaper Online, 15 October 2016.
  3. Đỗ Đức, Artist of Literature, lifting his palm up the mountain, Thao Văn Hóa News Online, Thursday 6 October 2016.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *