Nguyễn Thụ Biography

Second Generation Artist: Covered the Conflict in Vietnam with America

Nguyễn Thụ was born on 12 December 1930 in Đắc Sở commune, Hoài Đức District, Hà Tây Province[1] (a former province in the Red River Delta that is now part of Hanoi) into a poor family. In 1946, Thụ joined the Young Cadet Propaganda Team in Military Zone 1, part of the 312 Division of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN). He quickly revealed his talent for drawing and writing for the team’s handwritten newspaper and was eventually made in charge of propaganda for Military Zone 1. Based in the town of Lào Cai in 1947, Thụ painted his first mural on a wall there, the first image of a subject that would dominate his future artistic career – a portrait of Hồ Chí Minh.[2]

After the Geneva Accords and French withdrawal from Vietnam in 1954, Thụ enrolled in the Tô Ngọc Vân Fine Art course in 1955. In 1957, Thụ was one of 15 students in the first course of the Vietnam Fine Arts College and graduated in 1962. It was here that he first began to experiment with silk painting and woodcarving, techniques that he maintained and mastered throughout his artistic career. At the same time as enrolling into the diploma course of the Vietnam Fine Arts College, Thụ also became one of the founding members of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association. After graduating, he was retained as a school lecturer in the Painting Faculty due to his excellent academic performance.

“In my childhood and adulthood, I lived for many years in the mountainous areas of Việt Bắc and the Northwest. The poetic image of the mountains and forests with simple, rustic people full of emotion is very simple with the silk material that I love.”

Nguyễn Thụ [3]

Like many painters of his generation who grew up and actively participated in the resistance movement, Thụ was drawn to Hồ Chí Minh as a subject. Many of Thụ’s paintings concentrated on the everyday life of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s (DRV) influential leader, portraying him as a kind, generous, calm and welcoming father-figure to all North Vietnamese.[4]

As a lecturer during the escalating Second Indochina War, Thụ travelled with students across North Vietnam for 2 to 3 months at a time on drawing and painting assignments set by the Vietnam Fine Arts College. On one such assignment to Lạng Sơn Province, working among the Tay ethnic minority, Thụ met his future wife. However, he also fell in love with the Tay ethnic culture and returned many times to the region to sketch, paint and document their lifestyle.[5] Contemporary painter and friend of Thụ, Vũ Giáng Huong, said: “For a long time, he was fascinated with the mountain scenery of the Việt Bắc. Nguyen Thụ’s silk paintings exuded deep and poetic tenderness… Mountain scenery, warm stilt houses, small calves, and flowers make his pictures more vivid.”

“Painter Nguyễn Thụ is particularly heavy with Tay, Thai and northern mountainous people. People and scenery of the mountain region become a topic throughout the compositions of this talented painter, with lyrical beauty, imbued with mountains and forests, full of poetic and flexible.”

Researcher and painter Phan Cẩm Thượng [6]

On his travels through the districts of Chỉ Lặng, Bắc Sơn, Hữu Lũng, Tràng Định and the towns of Lạng Sơn and Đồng Dạng, Thụ captured the tradition of anti-French resistance against the mountain landscape. On his travels south of Hanoi, Thụ created a Quảng Bình militia series, documenting their struggle towards reunification.

After painter Nguyễn Phan Chánh, Thụ was largely considered one of the few Vietnamese painters who specialized in painting on silk. However, during the Second Indochina War, Thụ used an array of improvised materials to sketch and paint, including medicines, pastels and grape juice.

In late 1970 and early 1971, Thụ was selected to represent Vietnam in an international exhibition in Eastern European Soviet states alongside the painter Quang Thọ. The exhibition highlighted North Vietnam’s anti-American resistance in Hungry, Bulgaria and Albania. Thụ also had the opportunity to create a landscape painting of the Revolutionary Museum in Moscow.

In 1977, Thụ was made deputy principal of the Vietnam Fine Arts College and later promoted to principal of the college from 1985 to 1991, succeeding Victor Tardieu, Esvariste Jonchere, Tô Ngọc Vân, Trần Văn Cẩn and Trần Đình Thọ. In 1978 he was elected to the Executive Board of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association.

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

Private international collections[7]

Exhibitions

December 2018 – Nguyen Thu-Reality and Love, Hanoi

Paris, France

Sydney, Australia

Official Roles

1946-1955 – Head of the Young Cadet Propaganda Team

1957 – Founding member of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association

1962-1977 – Lecturer for the Painting Faculty at the Vietnam Fine Arts College

1977-1985 –Deputy-principal of the Vietnam Fine Arts College

1978 – Elected to the Executive Board of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association

1985-1991 – Principal of the Vietnam Fine Arts College

Awards

1976 – Second prize at the National Fine Art Exhibition, Hanoi

1979 – Official award from an international exhibition, Sofia, Bulgaria

1980 – First prize at the National Fine Art Exhibition, Hanoi

1990 – Second prize at the National Fine Art Exhibition, Hanoi,

2001 – Vietnamese Literature and Arts Award

First prize at the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union’s Central Exhibition, Ho Chi Minh

Second-class Labor Medal

Third-class Victory Medal

Second-class Anti-American Medal

Vietnam Fine Arts Career Award


REFERENCES AND FOOTNOTES:

[1] 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

[2] “The oriental path of an artist,” 10 December 2018. (http://baovanhoa.vn/giai-tri/my-thuat-nhiep-anh/artmid/478/articleid/13887/con-duong-phuong-dong160cua-mot-hoa-si visited on 20 June 2019).

[3] Nguyễn Thị Kim Nga “Creating Characteristics In Silk Painting By The Master Nguyen,” Vietnam Fine Arts University, 2017, Hanoi. (http://mythuatvietnam.edu.vn/LuanVanThacSi/NGUYENTHIKIMNGA.pdf visited on 20 June 19).

[4] Uncle Ho went to work, Uncle Ho, Uncle Ho on the border, Uncle Ho with ethnic minorities, Uncle Ho at Pac Bo – Cao Bang, Uncle Ho wrote poetry.

[5] Bạn Sa, “Painter Nguyen Thu, famous sketch artist,” 13 December 2018, Báo Mới (https://baomoi.com/hoa-si-nguyen-thu-nguoi-ve-ky-hoa-noi-danh/c/28968182.epi visited on 20 June 2019).

[6] Mai An, “Exhibition of works by painter Nguyen Thu,” 10 December 2018, Văn Hiến Việt Nam. (http://vanhien.vn/news/trien-lam-nhung-tac-pham-cua-hoa-si-nguyen-thu-65601 visited on 20 June 2019).

[7] Chairman of Vietnam Fine Arts Association, painter Nguyễn Khánh Chương. Mai An, “Exhibition of works by painter Nguyen Thu,” 10 December 2018, Văn Hiến Việt Nam (http://vanhien.vn/news/trien-lam-nhung-tac-pham-cua-hoa-si-nguyen-thu-65601 visited on 20 June 2019).

2 Replies to “Nguyễn Thụ Biography”

  1. Is it correct to attribute the oil on silk piece entitled The Ho Chi Minh Trail now on display at the National Gallery of Singapore to this gentleman, Nguyễn Thụ, featured on this website?

    1. National Gallery Singapore is best placed to confirm the attribution of works in their collection. Nguyễn Thụ and Vũ Giáng Hương were close colleagues and friends so sometimes collaborated to produce art works. You can find both of their biographies on this site. Sometimes in art inventory records, when listing art works made by multiple artists, only the lead artist’s name is referenced in short form information.

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