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 (a former province in the Red River Delta that is now part of Hanoi) into a poor family.1 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.
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.”
Researcher and painter Phan Cẩm Thượng6
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.
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
Private international collections7
December 2018 – Nguyen Thu-Reality and Love, Hanoi
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
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:
- 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.
- “The oriental path of an artist,” 10 December 2018, Báo Văn Hóa. Visited on 20 June 2019.
- Nguyễn Thị Kim Nga “Creating Characteristics In Silk Painting By The Master Nguyen,” Vietnam Fine Arts University, 2017, Hanoi. Visited on 20 June 19.
- 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.
- Bạn Sa, “Painter Nguyễn Thụ, famous sketch artist,” 13 December 2018, Báo Mới. Visited on 20 June 2019.
- Mai An, “Exhibition of works by painter Nguyễn Thụ,” 10 December 2018, Văn Hiến Việt Nam. Visited on 20 June 2019.
- 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. Visited on 20 June 2019.