Lê Huy Toàn was born on 10 October 1930 in Vĩnh Yên Ward, Vĩnh Phúc Province outside of Hanoi. His father was a portrait painter and it could be argued that Toàn inherited his artistic talents from his father. He took part in a range of artistic and creative pursuits including singing, dancing, playing music, drama and painting propaganda pictures. He painted even when in situations of extreme poverty and danger. He did not have any formal art training. Toàn taught himself to draw and paint, as well as becoming a skilled toy maker.1
Dato’ Parameswaran, Ambassador of Malaysia to Vietnam from June 1990 until mid-1993, Vietnam 1954-1975: War Drawings and Posters From Ambassador Dato’ N. Parameswaran Collection, 2015, National University of Singapore Museum, Singapore
Toàn participated in the August Revolution in 1945 to promote Vietnamese independence, eventually attaining the rank of Colonel. He served with the 87th Regiment from 1947 to 1950. In 1951, Toàn became an artist for the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN). He then transferred to the 312 Division and fought at Điện Biên Phủ in 1954. While at Điện Biên Phủ, he kept detailed daily illustrated diaries, which he used as the basis for subsequent
In 1954, after the pivotal Điện Biên Phủ campaign, Toàn transferred to the Politic General Army Department, where he remained until he retired. In 1958, Toàn was one of the first artists to work for the newly established Army Arts magazine (Văn Nghệ Quân Đội). He became the Party Secretary of the PAVN Art Division in 1973 and also worked for the military museum.
Lê Huy Toàn, Vietnam Art Books – Điện Biên Phủ through Huy Toan’s paintings, 12 May 2005
Toàn saw action in all corners of Vietnam and its neighbouring countries. As well as Điện Biên Phủ, Toàn took part in the Ho Chi Minh Campaign against the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and America. He also took part in the Sông Lô Campaign against the Chinese and the Sầm Nưa Campaign in Laos. During his military service, like most war artists, Toàn sketched and painted as a way to record the campaigns he was involved in, publishing his works in magazines and exhibiting his works in Hanoi. Naturally, this required extensive travelling that revealed many different aspects of life at war. Toàn recorded pictorial diaries daily during his time in service and kept them throughout his life, enabling him to recreate scenes in remarkable detail during his years as an artist in peacetime.3
Minister of Culture and Information Phạm Quang Nghị, Vietnam Art Books – Điện Biên Phủ through Huy Toan’s paintings,” 12 May 2005
Toàn became a member of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association, exhibiting extensively both in Vietnam and abroad. Many museums display his works in Vietnam including but not limited to The Total Vietnamese Nation (Đại Đoàn Kết Dân Tộc) and Ho Chi Minh Campaign (Chien Dich Hồ Chí Minh).
Toàn retired from military service in 1992, but continued to create and exhibit his artwork regularly.
Lê Huy Toàn passed away on 22 September 2007.4
Jessica Harrison-Hall, Vietnam Behind the Lines, Images from the War: 1965-1975, 2002, Art Media Resources Ltd, Chicago
Vietnam 1954-1975: War Drawings and Posters From The Ambassador Dato’ N. Parameswaran Collection, 2015, National University of Singapore Museum, Singapore.
Ho Chi Minh Museum of Fine Arts
Vietnam Military History Museum5
2016-2017 – Who Wants to Remember a War and Lines, National University of Singapore Museum
2015-2016 – Vietnam 1954-1975, National University of Singapore Museum
1954 – Transferred to the Politic General Army Department
1958 – One of the first artists to work for the newly established Army Arts magazine
1973 – Party Secretary of the People’s Army of Vietnam Art Division
REFERENCES AND FOOTNOTES:
- Toàn exhibited his toys in an exhibition in 1977, concentrating on submarines, trains, tanks and planes. Jessica Harrison-Hall, Vietnam Behind the Lines, Images from the War: 1965-1975, 2002, Art Media Resources Ltd, Chicago.
- Interview with Lê Huy Toàn conducted by Witness Collection.
- Jessica Harrison-Hall, Vietnam Behind the Lines, Images from the War: 1965-1975, 2002, Art Media Resources Ltd, Chicago.
- Lê Huy Toàn biography from independent research by Witness Collection.
- Le Huy Toan, The Dogma Collection.