On 2 September 1969, Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) President Hồ Chí Minh died of a heart attack in Hanoi. North Vietnamese officials announced his death the next day.
More than just the President of the DRV, Hồ Chí Minh had long been a symbol of Vietnamese independence. As a young man, Hồ Chí Minh had returned to Vietnam after travelling extensively in France, the United States and the United Kingdom. From then on, he embarked on an incredibly active political career, forming the Lao Động (Worker’s Party) in1951 as well as being Prime Minister (1945-1955) and President (1945-1969) of the DRV. He was also crucial in leading the Việt Minh resistance against French colonial rule, the formation of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and establishing the Việt Cộng.
Hồ Chí Minh was widely referred to by his supporters as “Uncle Hồ”, an affectionate term to describe a man that many people felt to be a father-like figure, if not a saviour. Some privileged war artists spent parts of their lives documenting Uncle Hồ. Early sketches of Uncle Hồ working in the northern Việt Bắc Resistance Zone were captured by Phan Kế An after he was singled out by the Việt Minh in 1948 to create portraits for their revolutionary leader. An spent three weeks with Uncle Hồ in the Việt Bắc, the headquarters of the communist party during the war of independence with France. He made about 20 candid portraits of the leader which were on display in an outdoor exhibition and eventually published in The Truth (Sự Thật) newspaper.
Văn Giáo also devoted the majority of his life to painting Hồ Chí Minh. Giáo painted many portraits of Vietnam’s iconic leader as part of his mission to paint 100 paintings of Hồ Chí Minh before the artist was a hundred years old. He did not meet his goal, but Giáo managed to capture some important moments – for example, Hồ Chí Minh writing Vietnam’s new constitution in the work entitled Uncle Hồ wrote the Declaration of Independence. Giáo travelled extensively while documenting Hồ Chí Minh’s life, living, working and talking directly with the leader in Pác Bó, Cao Bằng and Nghệ An – Uncle Hồ’s home province.
In 1953, along with artists Lê Phổ and Bùi Trang Chước, war artist Huỳnh Văn Thuận worked for the State Bank of Vietnam and created the first portraits of Hồ Chí Minh for the country’s new banknotes. Trịnh Kim Vinh, as Educational Cadre of Tuyên Quang Province (Việt Bắc Military Zone) from 1953 to 1954, was honoured to meet Hồ Chí Minh during a field trip in North Vietnam from 1954 to 1955. Even third generation artist Phạm Lực documented Uncle Hồ. On occasion, the Department of Propaganda summoned artists who worked on the battlefields for propaganda assignments. After being summoned, Lực drew Uncle Ho with the Central Highlands.
After Hồ Chí Minh’s death, he was succeeded by Lê Duẩn as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Vietnam. Tôn Đức Thắng succeeded him as President of the DRV and would be the last President of North Vietnam. Hoàng Minh Giám succeeded Hồ Chí Minh as Minister of Foreign Affairs. The position of Chairman of the Worker’s Party of Vietnam, however, was not taken on by anybody else, having been abolished after his death.