Trần Đình Thọ Biography

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

Trần Đình Thọ was born on 2 October 1919 in Phù Ủng commune, Ăn Thì District, Hưng Yên Province. In 1939, after gaining his common degree, Thọ enrolled in the 13th diploma course of the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine. In 1943, Thọ exhibited at Unique Salon in Hanoi and, like Tạ Tỵ who also exhibited his work there, he was awarded a prize for his pieces. He graduated the École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine in 1944.1

Trần Đình Thọ
Trần Đình Thọ (left) photographed with musician Xuân Oanh. Courtesy of VN Express.

After the August Revolution in 1945, Thọ actively participated in the activities of the National Salvation Culture Association. Under the direction of the communist political leader and theoretician Trường Chinh, Thọ was required to paint for the newspapers Pioneer (Tiên Phong) and Liberation Flag (Cờ Giải Phóng) by making large posters advertising the newspapers to Hanoi’s population as well as illustrating the newspapers themselves. The posters’ slogan proclaimed, “Read the Liberation Flag, the central agency of the Indochina Communist Party, good and sharp struggle for national liberation.”2

In No. 16 of the Liberation Flag, issued on 12 September 1945, Thọ’s image of Hồ Chí Minh was used for the front cover. Hồ Chí Minh’s Declaration of Independence was printed in full in the magazine and Thọ’s front cover image was regarded as the first portrait of Hồ Chí Minh as the President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. In 2019, Thọ recalled: “That was the first issue to be published publicly after the secret period… When I drew this portrait to prepare for the first issue of the Liberation Flag after the revolution, I had never once seen Uncle Hồ… A comrade named Nguyễn Hữu Đang helped me in this difficult job. He is the one who met Uncle Hồ. The two of us sat together. He remembered Uncle’s face: bone, forehead very wide, eyes bright, long beard, big ears. I kept sketching according to what he was saying, repairing and repairing for the fourth and fifth time. The work took over an hour.”3 Later, Thọ worked for The Truth (Sự thật) publishing house, designing the logo that is still used today for its successor, the National Political Publishing House.

“Trần Đình Thọ wrote and rolled the stone. He opened a lithography printing class for provincial propaganda officials. Nam Cao also learned rolling lessons.”

Tô Hoài, 1947 Autobiography

At the outbreak of the First Indochina War in 1946, Thọ travelled to various areas of conflict as the chief editor of the National Salvation (Cứu quốc) newspaper, in charge of printing and distribution. He remained in this position until 1953.4 Thọ worked closely with the short story writer, Trần Hữu Tri (more commonly known as Nam Cao) and the writer, playwright, screenwriter, journalist and correspondent, Tô Hoài. Using crude equipment designed for maximum mobility, Thọ taught Nam Cao and Tô Hoài how to print a newspaper using hand-rolled printing presses, homemade ink and lemon juice. With his valuable knowledge of printing, Thọ was closely protected by armed guards.5 This knowledge was then passed down to other artists and writers in the region so that printing could be done on an industrial scale.

On 15 June 1947, Thọ was accepted into the Indochinese Communist Party (now the Communist Party of Vietnam) along with his contemporary and colleague at the National Salvation newspaper, Nam Cao.

At the National Congress of the Arts in 1948, Thọ organized the first major fine art exhibition to showcase the works of painters from the Việt Bắc. On 11 February 1951, Thọ was made lead decorative artist for the second Communist Party Congress held in Vinh Quang Commune Chiêm Hóa District, Tuyên Quang Province. In the same year, he organized a fine art exhibition at the Chiêm Hóa revolutionary base.

Trần Đình Thọ
Trần Đình Thọ (white jacket behind Hồ Chí Minh), circa 1964-1967, ushering Hồ Chí Minh through an exhibition held at the Vietnam Fine Arts College, circa 1964-1967. Courtesy of Tạp Chí Mỹ Thuật.

In 1953, Thọ was appointed to take charge of the National Enterprise of Lighting and Photographing Vietnam,6 the first enterprise in the cultural industry of Vietnam created in the period of resistance against French colonial rule, marking the beginning of revolutionary cinema in Vietnam. In this role, Thọ’s main tasks were propagating, praising and educating Communist doctrine to the population through projection and photography.

After two years working for the National Enterprise of Lighting and Photographing Vietnam in 1955, Thọ assumed the position of vice-principal of the Vietnam Fine Arts College under the principal, Trần Văn Cẩn. In 1964, after Trần Văn Cẩn was transferred to work for the Vietnam Fine Arts Association, Thọ was promoted to principal and, after 20 years, retired in 1984, holding the record of the longest principal of the Vietnam Fine Arts College to date.

“Artist Trần Đình Thọ has served professionally since the early days of the August Revolution, who has been instrumental in the career of art training. His lacquer paintings are elaborately and completely composed in traditional style, reflecting production, fighting and hometown activities. Many of his paintings have achieved high artistic quality and are widely known to the public.”

The Council of State Awards for Literature and the Arts

Thọ became one of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association’s founding members when it was established in 1957 and he was elected to the Executive Committee in the Association’s first term from 1957 to 1983. He was also elected to the Executive Committee in the Association’s second term between 1983 and 1989.

In 1968, Thọ became a member of the Ministry of Culture. As a member, he was made Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Art Culture Research, a published directly by the Ministry of Culture. In this role, Thọ worked to develop the field of art research including the fields of theory and criticism, even forming a team of Vietnamese art critics.

Trần Đình Thọ passed away in February 2011.


TRẦN ĐÌNH THỌ GALLERY

Publications

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

Collections

Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, Hanoi

Museum of Art, Bratislava, Czech Republic

Oriental Museum

International private collections

Museum collections in France, Italy, Japan, Poland and Germany

Exhibitions

1943 – Unique Salon exhibition, Hanoi

1985 – Second prize at the 10-year National Exhibition of Graphics , Hanoi

1994 – Armed Forces and the Revolutionary War exhibition, Hanoi

Official Roles

1943 – Unique Salon exhibition, Hanoi

1955-1964 – Vice-principal of the Vietnam Fine Arts College

1957-1983 – Member of the First Executive Committee of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association

1964-1984 – Principal of the Vietnam Fine Arts College

1968 – Member of the Standing Committee of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association

1968 – Editor-in-Chief of Fine Arts Magazine

1968-1978 – Member of the Ministry of Culture

1969-1972 – Acting Director of the Institute of Fine Arts

1983-1989 – Member of the Second Executive Committee of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association

Member of the Executive Committee of the Folk Arts Association

Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Art Culture Research (Ministry of Culture)

1975-1981 – Member of the 5th and 6th courses of the National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Chairman of the Advisory Council of Vietnam Fine Arts Museum

Vice-chairman of the 5th course of the Cultural and Social Committee

Member of the 6th course of the Culture and Education Committee

Vice-chairman of the Review Board for Professors and Associate Professors in Social Sciences

Awards

1943 – Award from the Unique Salon exhibition, Hanoi

1985 – Second prize at the 10-year National Exhibition of Graphics , Hanoi

1996 – Award of senior artist of the National Committee of Vietnam Association of Literature and Arts

1998 – Award of senior artist of the National Committee of Vietnam Association of Literature and Arts

2001 – State Prize for Literature and Art

Awarded People’s Teacher by the Communist Party of Vietnam

Third Class Independence Medal

Second-class Medal of Resistance against France

First-class Medal of Resistance America

60-year-old Party Badge

Medal for Vietnamese Literature and Arts

Medal for Vietnam Fine Arts Career

Medal for Vietnamese Folk Arts Career

Medal for Career to Preserve Ethnic Cultural Heritage

Medal of the Culture Soldier


REFERENCES AND FOOTNOTES:

  1. Trần Khánh Chương, “Professor, The People’s Teacher, Painter Trần Đình Thọ,” Tài Liệu (https://tailieu.vn/doc/giao-su-nha-giao-nhan-dan-hoa-si-tran-dinh-tho-1259484.html on 28 June 2019).
  2. Cẩm Thúy, “Painter, Prof. Tran Dinh Tho: 7 years working as a ‘printing house’ of the National Salvation newspaper,” 4 October 2016, Dai Doan Ket (http://daidoanket.vn/mat-tran/hoa-si-gsngnd-tran-dinh-tho-7-nam-lam-nha-in-bao-cuu-quoc-tintuc125360 visited on 28 June 2019).
  3. Quang Việt, “How was the portrait of Uncle Ho on independence?” 28 January 2019, Vietnam Fine Arts Magazine (http://tapchimythuat.vn/my-thuat-hien-dai-viet-nam/buc-chan-dung-bac-ho-ngay-doc-lap-da-duoc-ve-nhu-the-nao/ visited on 28 June 2019).
  4. “Biography of painter Trần Đình Thọ” (http://www.vicas.org.vn/Home/index.php/features-mainmenu-48/font-styles-mainmenu-54/pho-vin-trng-qua-cac-thi-k/108-trn-inh-th.html visited on 28 June 2019).
  5.  Do Hạn, “Left behind a bamboo shadow,” January 2011, Vặn Nhẹ Công An (http://vnca.cand.com.vn/Tu-lieu-van-hoa/Con-lai-ben-doi-mot-bong-tre-328569/ visited on 28 June 2019).
  6. Established on 15 March 1953.

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