First Generation Artist: École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine French Influenced
Huỳnh Văn Thuận was born in the Bình Thạnh District of Saigon on 18 April 1921, into a family with no art tradition.1 He began his art education in the School of Applied Arts of Gia Đinh, excelling to the point that, when he was in his third year, he went straight to the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine. After passing the entrance exam, Thuận moved to Hanoi in 1939 and joined the 13th diploma course. He graduated in 1944 and soon joined the resistance movement against the French, producing propaganda artworks to support the Việt Minh.
After the August Revolution, he painted for the Hanoi Information Office until 1946, whereby he joined the Central Youth Union in Việt Bắc (1947-1951) and then worked at the Fine Arts Department of enemy operations in Thái Bình until 1954. During this time, Thuận contributed to and organised exhibitions, sometimes collaborating with his contemporaries. In 1946, he and painter Lễ Phật organized an exhibition in Hanoi named “Two groups of graphic art exhibition,” featuring wood-coloured prints with propaganda content for the revolutionary movement. In mid-1951, in Việt Bắc, shortly after the National Youth Union Congress, he and painter Tôn Dức Lượng were assigned to draft the Youth Union trophy. His sketch was chosen by President Hồ Chí Minh as the symbol of the delegation, engraved underneath with the slogan, “Young man holding red flag stars gold forward”.
Ho Chi Minh City University of Fine Arts Online Journal, “Huỳnh Văn Thuận with Paintings,” Fine Art Information No. 17-18
In 1953, along with artists Lê Phổ and Bùi Trang Chước, Thuận worked for the State Bank of Vietnam and created the first portraits of Hồ Chí Minh for the country’s new banknotes. Thuận then took over capital and land reform until 1957. In 1957, Thuận became a founding member of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association, then instated as Deputy Secretary-General not long after joining.
Thuận was best known for his many revolutionary posters and for being a talented coromandel (engraved lacquer) artist. His paintings quickly gained national acclaim, which started to accumulate awards and prizes. He was awarded the First Prize in the National Art Exhibition in 1958, and Second Prize in 1960 and 1990.
After the war ended and Liberation Day in 1975, Thuận returned to Saigon – newly renamed as Ho Chi Minh City – and became Head of the Department of Fine Arts under the Ministry of Culture and Information (now the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism) from 1977 to 1979. Thuận held his position as Deputy Secretary General of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association until 1983, when he was promoted to Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association from 1983 to 1989.
Thuận was granted several State awards and medals during life lifetime as an artist. During his career working for various governmental institutions, he was awarded the Third-Class Independence Medal, Second-Class Resistance Medal, Anti-American Resistance Medal first class, Medal for the cause of Vietnamese Arts and Arts, Medal For the Younger Generation and Badge of 60 years old Party.2
His most recent spate of awards came from the State Awards for Literature and Arts in 2001, for artworks considered to be of national value. These included some of his most iconic paintings: Vinh Moc Village (1958); No title (1984); Cleaning and drying rice before storage (Làm Sạch Thóc Nộp Kho, 1981); Harvest Time in Vinh Kim Village (Ngày Mưa Ở Vĩnh Kim 1960-1997); and Tracks of the Enemy’s Tanks (Vết Xích Xe Tăng Giật, 1998).
Thuận passed away at the age of 96 in Ho Chi Minh City on 20 October 2017. The funeral ceremony was held at Ho Chi Minh City Funeral House on Lê Quý Đôn Street in District 3; he was buried at the Ho Chi Minh City Martyr and Cemetery of Credited People in Củ Chi District on 22 October that same year.3
Tran Co Ðong, Hoa si Huỳnh Văn Thuận, 2006, Nhà Xuất Bản Mỹ Thuật, Hà Nội
Editions: Thế Giới, 100 Peintres et Sculpteurs Vietnamiens du 20th Siecle, 1996, LIKSIN, Hồ Chí Minh
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 1954-1975: War Drawings and Posters From The Ambassador Dato’ N. Parameswaran Collection, 2015, National University of Singapore Museum, Singapore
Private international collections
1946 – Thuận and painter Lê Phổ organized “Two groups of graphic art exhibition”, Hà Nội
2015 – Vietnam 1954-1975: War Drawings and Posters From The Ambassador Dato’ N. Parameswaran Collection, National University of Singapore Museum, Singapore
1945-1946 – Painter for the Hanoi Information Office
1947-1951 – Official for the Central Youth Union in Việt Bắc
1951-1954 – Worked at the Fine Arts Department and enemy operations in Thái Bình
1953 – Worked for the State Bank of Vietnam
1954-1957 – Managed land reform policy
1977-1979 – Director of the Department of Fine Arts, Ministry of Culture and Information
1957-1983 – Member of Executive Committee Deputy General Secretary of Vietnam Fine Arts Association
Until 1983 – Deputy Secretary General of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association
1983-1989 – Member of Executive Committee and Vice President of Vietnam Fine Arts Association
1958 – First Prize in the National Art Exhibition
1960 – Second Prize in the National Art Exhibition
1981 – Award for the complete work
1985 – First Prize for National Graphic Arts Exhibition
1987 – First Prize in the National Painting Competition
1990 – Second Prize in the National Art Exhibition
1995 – Second Prize in the National Painting Competition
1998 – Award of the Vietnam Association of Fine Arts in Hà Nội
2001 – State Award for Literature and Arts
Hà Nội Art Exhibition Award
Third Class Independence Medal
Second-Class Resistance Medal
Anti-American Resistance Medal first class
Medal for the cause of Vietnamese Arts and Arts
Medal for the Younger Generation and Badge of 60 years old Party