First Generation Artist: École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine French Influenced
Dương Hướng Minh was born as Nguyễn Văn Tiếp on 6 February 1919 in Xuân Dục Commune, Mỹ Hào District, Hưng Yên Province into a family of intellectuals. He studied at the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine between 1938 and 1943, graduating from the painting department’s 12th diploma course. Minh painted posters against the Japanese invasion, which led him to flee south. He joined the revolution in Cholon (China Town), Saigon, as the political commissar of the military company in command of the southeast region.1
In December 1944, Minh had a solo exhibition at Hải Phòng Opera House, with the help of some compatriots in the Student Union. Most of his “pre-war” works were lost during a massive French uprising in the Côn Sơn mountains in 1947.
In December 1954, he and his unit left for the North, where he worked in a number of positions for the General Department of Politics of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN), including the People’s Army Newspaper, Nhan Dan.2 In 1957, Minh became a founding member of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association and joined the painting department. In 1960, Minh moved to work at the Ministry of Culture and Information as an editorial board member of the Journal of Arts and Culture.
“He is one of the first generation painters to lay the first bricks for modern painting in Vietnam.”
Lạc Hồng Viên, “The State Culture and Arts Award Ceremony for the Late Painter Dương Hướng Minh,” Dân Trí Newspaper, 1 December 2012
Minh capitalised relatively quickly from his time in the north as an artist. The two lacquer paintings “Kéo pháo ở Điện Biên” (Pulling artillery at Điện Biên) and “Tô Vĩnh Diện chèn pháo” (To Vĩnh Diện Chocking Cannon) won the National Fine Arts awards in 1958 and 1960 respectively.3 In addition, the painting Pulling artillery at Điện Biên was exhibited in eight Eastern European socialist countries between 1959 and 1960. Another embroidered copy of the same painting was made as a gift to Chairman Mao Zedong in 1960. The original painting was displayed to welcome the 3rd National Party Congress, then in Ho Chi Minh City, to celebrate the April 1975 victory over American forces.
Minh also specialised in invaluable portraits, documenting the first soldiers and cadres part of the early establishment of the National Army of Vietnam. From his hand, we have unique portraits of political communist leaders like Trường Chinh, the poet and theatre director Thế Lữ and one of the leading artists behind modern Vietnamese art, Trần Văn Cẩn. He also captured early portraits of other famous artists (Bà Dự) as well as sculptors (Diệp Minh Châu), professors and scholars (Phạm Huy Thông) and doctors (Tôn Thất Tùng).
When looking at Minh’s paintings, we can see that his work method involved recording situations through sketches, which were then completed as painted art works towards the end of his life. However, due to a lack of resources and time, Minh was never able to transform all of his sketches into what he considered to be perfect works of art.
Minh’s lacquer painting can be divided into three periods. The first period was the style of “legendary – lyrical”, the technique of lacquer used with classic subjects: a tiger’s roar, goldfish, a chicken fight, a buffalo cage. The second period could be described as the strict style of socialist tendency; laque claire. His third period is seen as the era of “expanded” realism, with mixed lacquer techniques.
In 2001, Minh’s painting “Ngay cả khi chúng ta đốt núi Trường Sơn, chúng ta phải giành chiến thắng và giành được độc lập” (Even if we burn Trường Sơn Mountains, we must win and gain independence) was given to General Võ Nguyên Giáp for his 90th birthday, depicting the time when General Giáp visited Hồ Chí Minh in Việt Bắc early on during the resistance war against the French in the spring of 1945.
He taught at the Hanoi Industrial Fine Arts University and also worked in journalism later in his life before his retirement. Minh passed away in 2008.
In 2010, a posthumous solo exhibition of his work was held at the Vietnam Military History Museum in Hanoi, which included a total of one hundred works, from drafts to completed works, paintings and sketches of lacquer, oil, watercolour, Chinese ink and pen.
DƯƠNG HƯỚNG MINH GALLERY
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 Military History Museum
Oriental Museum of (former) the Soviet Union
Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, Hanoi
Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum, Ho Chi Minh City
International private collections
1944 – Solo exhibition at Hải Phòng Opera House
1959-1960 – “Pulling artillery at Dien Bien” exhibited in eight Eastern European socialist countries
2010 – Imprints of Time, Museum of Vietnam Military History, Hanoi
2012 – Posthumous group exhibition of 19 painters, sculptors, photographic artists, Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, Hanoi
1954 – Worked in a number of positions for the General Department of Politics of the People’s Army
1957 – Founding member of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association
1960 – Editorial board member of the Journal of Arts and Culture at the Ministry of Culture and Information
1958 – 3rd Rank Prize of the National Fine Art Award
1960 – 3rd Rank Prize of the National Fine Art Award
3rd Rank Combatant Medal of Victory
3rd rank Resistance War Medal
3rd Rank Glorious Combatant Medal
1st Rank Medal of The Resistance War against the U.S
Medal of Protection of National Security Career
Medal for Cultural Career
Medal for Vietnam’s Fine Art Career Campaign
Medal of The Resistance war against the French
2012 – State Prize of Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh Prize
REFERENCES AND FOOTNOTES:
- Dương Hướng Minh biography from independent research by Witness Collection.
- Translated as “The People”.
- Hương Sen, Dragging artillery in Dien Bien Phu in Duong Huong Minh, Culture & Education, Điện Tử Đại Biểu Nhân Dân Newspaper, 5th August 2014.