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The Fine   Arts   College of Indochina

 

By Quang Viet

The Fine Arts College of Indochina is officially named the Fine Arts College of the Indochinese   University . It is also called the Fine Arts College Of Indochina for short, or the Fine Arts College of Hanoi or the College of Hanoi.This college trained students in all disciplines of fine arts with two sec­tions: the Section of painting-sculpture and decorative art and the Section of architecture. There were five years of studies preceded by a preparatory course.

The Fine Arts College of Indochine was located in Hanoi, the political capital city of the whole Indochinese Union, and from there exerted its influence over the various parts of Annam in particular (Tonkin, Annam and Cochinchina).

Mr Victor Tardieu was the founder of the Fine Arts College of Indochina in 1925. He was a French painter who won the 1920 Indochina Prize which had been created approximately 25 years ago by the Colonial Society of French Artists. This prize was reserved to artists coming from salons in Paris and allowed them to enjoy tree of charge a first-class trip from Paris to colonial countries and to all local­ities in Indochina . However, the painters who were recipients of the prize usually shortened their stay as, at their arrival, they received only a very small amount of money - 1000 francs.

By chance, as soon as he arrived in Hanoi , Victor Tardieu received an important order: to decorate the Indochinese   University . It was a con­dition which permitted him to prolong his stay in this far-away penin­sula. There Tardieu had opportunities to have regular contacts with some young Vietnamese artists highly desirous to renovate their artistic tra­ditions and to discover a new, Western-style artistic orientation.

Starting from an intention to improve and restore the indigenous art whose artistic products were seriously declining in their quality, Mr Tardieu launched a campaign to persuade the French Government and the French colonial authorities in Indochina to set up a Fine Arts school. And this created an important turning point in the modem and contemporary history of Vietnam 's fine arts.

In application of the decision taken by the General Governor of Indochina , Great Officer of the Legion of Honour, Mr Merlin, signed on October 27, 1924 , the Fine Arts College of Indochina was founded, next to the French   Far-East   School , and directly under the Indochinese   University , under the control and supervision of the General Direction of Public Education.

The original and provisional location of the college was in the vast halls built up first for the electric plant of the 1902 Exposition, then abandoned and left in a state of ruins, used either as a storehouse for the Public Works Department, or as a warehouse for the Hanoi railway station. It was also a place borrowed by Mr Tardieu to execute his canvasses, tens of square meters large, for the Indochinese   University in the years 1921­1927. Due to the arrangement of buildings and the construction of depen­dencies such as the pavilion of the Indochina Prize and the residence of the director of the college, the Fine Arts College could not operate prior to November 1925. And it was only after three years of existence in con­ditions of shortage that the College could be transferred to a new pavil­ion at No 102 Reinach Street (the final, and now given up, part of pre­sent-day Tran Quoc Toan Street, between Yet Kieu and Le Duan Street, and today at No 149 Le Duan Street, some remains of the college can still be seen).

It should be noticed that, right at its first competition for recruitment on October 5, 1925, the Fine Arts College of Indochina was able to gather, from Hanoi, Hue, Saigon, Phnom Penh and Vientiane, 270 candidates in all for 10 official seats and more than 12 seats for free-students who would have to prepare for competition in the following year, the aim was above all to create conditions to help candidates having bright prospects and who were of Laotian or Cambodian nationality.

The Fine Arts College of Indochina opened in 1933 an Elementary Practical Course and in 1934 Technical Workshops for lacquer and chis­elling, called by a common name of Practical Section of Art Industries.

In the 20 years of existence (1925-1945) of the Fine Arts College of Indochina, the number of persons admitted to the College was 149, the number of persons receiving diplomas was 128, including 118 belonging to the Section of painting and 10 belonging to the classes of sculpture.

From August 1938, after the death of Victor Tardieu in 1937, the direc­tor of the College was Mr Evariste Jonchere, a sculptor (born in 1892 at Coulonges-les-Herolles in the Vienne, dead in 1956 at Paris), certificat­ed by the Fine Arts School of Paris, recipient of the Roma 1925 great prize, the not competing gold medal of the 1930 Salon of French Artists and the 1932 Indochina Prize.

In December 1943, the armed forces of the American Army in the sec­ond world war bombed Hanoi . School had to evacuate Hanoi , in accor­dance with a decision taken by the Public Education Department of Indochina. The Fine Arts College of Indochina was divided into three parts and evacuated to three localities:

- The classes of handicraft arts evacuated to Phu Ly, under the responsi­bility of Georges Khanh and Bui Tuong Vien.

- The section of architecture and a major part of the classes of sculpture evacuated to Dalat, under the responsibility of Jonchere.

- The section of painting and a small part of the classes of sculpture evac­uated to Son Tay, under the responsibility of pr of. Inguimberty, together with painters Nam Son and To Ngoc Van.

After the March 9, 1945 Japanese coup d'Etat to drive away the French from Indochina , the Fine Arts College of Indochina was dissolved putting an end to the only school set up by the French to train true artists for the colony. (There had also been schools set up in Cochinchina: the School of Thu Dau Mot since 1901, the Arts School of Bien Hoa since 1903, the Decorative Arts School of Gia Dinh since 1913, and the Cambodian Arts School of Phnom Penh since the end of 1917 or the beginning of 1918, but all those schools trained only handicraftsmen and specialized art workers).

After the 1945 August Revolution, some students who had been attend­ing courses at the Fine Arts College of Indochina continued their studies or prepared their exercises for diplomas in a College set up on the basis of a decision taken by the Ministry of National Education dated October 8, 1945 , under the responsibility of painter To Ngoc Van. The enclosures of the Fine Arts College of Indochina were then occupied by Japanese soldiers, so To Ngoc Van had to borrow a house in Lo Duc Street to be used as seat of the College (at present it is the location of Le Ngoc Han school, No 41 Lo Duc Street, Hanoi ). The College organised the recruit­ment of students for one batch, but due to preparations for the resistance war, it had to close its door in November 1946, approximately one month after the National Resistance broke out on December 19, 1946 .

More than 4 years later, on December 20, 1950, in the war zone under the authority of Dai Tu district, Thai Nguyen province, the Fine Arts Secondary School was founded with To Ngoc Van himself as director. This school was also called the Fine Arts School of the Resistance, and $e "Resistance batch" was referred to.

In 1954, as peace was re-established in one half of the country with the total liberation of North Vietnam , right in 1955 a two-year secondary short course was organized under the name of "To Ngoc Van batch" in the former location of the Fine Arts College of Indochina.

It was also at this place (No 42 Yet Kieu Street, where was the back door of the Fine Arts College of Indochina, N042 former Bovet Street) that the Fine Arts College of Vietnam was set up, coming directly under the Ministry of Culture, by a decision dated August 20, 1957 taken by the Prime Minister, and aiming at training artists in two sections: painting and sculpture, at University level.

On January 29, 1981 , the president of the Council of Ministers of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam signed a decision to transform the Fine Arts College of Vietnam into Fine Arts University of Hanoi and this name is valid until now.

The history of 20 years of the Fine Arts College of Indochina was in fact recognised as the history of the first stage of the Fine Arts University of Hanoi.The model for organisation and the programme for training of the Fine Arts College of Indochina exerted a great influence over the model for organisation and the programme for training of all fine arts school of Vietnam subsequently, including the National Fine Arts College of Saigon set up by painter Le Van De in December 1954, the forerunner of the present-day Fine Arts University of Ho Chi Minh City.

SADEAI is the abbreviation (in French language) of Annamese Society for the Encouragement to Art and Industry, a fine arts organisation next to the Fine Arts College of Indochina.

The Annamese Society for the Encouragement to Art and Industry was founded in May 1934. Legal capacity was recognised to it by a decision taken by the General Governor dated August 6, 1935 . Its social seat was in the Fine Arts College and its president was precisely the director of the College.

The Society admitted as its members Vietnamese artists and handicrafs­men. Its intention was to contribute to the development of arts and it is impossible to make mention of a single misappreciated and miser­able artist.

The French Revolution, that ended the 18th century, would not be con­tent with imprisoning or guillotining some artists. In its picture of Paris under the Directoire, the Goncourts have struck a frightful balance of the destruction of works of art in this period. Artists lost not only examples, the framework of their life, but also their material support.

Then, it was the brief interlude of the Empire and its attempts to initiate a style. Napoleon would manage to do it for decorative arts, but the "uninspired" painting dated from him, with this "jumble modelled on classical antiquity" which Chardin already denounced in the young David's works, a jumble that the Egyptian and the medieval would not upgrade. It is a significant fact that only fine portraits by this artist held out against time.

In practice, from the time of Napoleon, people in power would no longer play a role in art. Their taste would be appalling, notably during the sev­enty years of the Third   Republic , a system quite "poor in women and horses", as it had been described by Anatole France .

It is right to say that in Europe in the 19th century as well as in the early 20th century, this derioration in taste in official circles, was common occurrence. It is France that had the honour of having been, in spite of these disastrous conditions, the only centre of resistance, of having had enough disinterested artists.

Marshal Petain, talking about the place taken by artists in his mind, has referred to this state of things in one of his first messages. Admiral Decoux displayed by signs the interest he took in those questions. But when we examine, in chronological order, the works of our best artists, from 1789 to these days: Ingres, Delacroix, Corot, Manet, Cezanne, Renoir, Gauguin, Matisse, Dufresne, R. Dufy, Oudot, we see clearly how official circles, and consequently the mob, have kept out of the way. The distorted ideas of a Cezanne, for instance, perhaps reached the mob, yet it is purchasers and success that imposed them with some delay.

The force of painting resided in the fact that it can be exerted with little cost. True painters, as one moved into the 19th century, renounced large compositions commissioned by the government. They fell back evermore upon landscapes, still life, and portraits: one tightened one's belt another hole, yet the official art also became discredited.

There from dated the long-haired, restless, conceited, often ridiculous, but courageous and, from many points of view, sympathetic "Bohemian". And if some artistic circles sometimes fell into anarchy, one should find the cause thereof in the lack of taste and incomprehension that we have

just pointed out. That does not matter for a country that had the Apelles. The Alexanders should also use them. The new Alexanders would soon have their photographs taken. The bourgeois before 1830, date of birth of photography, kept rather stingily a crowd of portrait-painters. So we would see them soon covered with disgrace and ridiculed. "Bourgeois" would even become a serious insult. From this epoch dated also the great political caricature.

The invention of photography would make rapid progress. If some impressionists were bent on competing with it by heading for colour snapshots, the best ones considered, at the very outset, the differences between production of a machine and human production. It is then an extraordinary movement of ideas, an abundance of researches in differ­ent directions.

If one examines under this angle the work of a Corot or, better still, a Degas, the scrutiny will be convincing and we promise the unbiased reader a series of remarks. They will allow him to understand better, first of all the works of these painters, and afterwards what people used to call "impressionism" or even "cubism", so as to please those who still believe in schools. People will also understand better the recent researches of a Matisse, and this simplification, this search for patches and colour arabesques, which were the preoccupations of the more recent generation and especially of the group of Roland Oudot, Brianchon, Legueult, Inguimberty. This group interests us on two grounds since it now exerts an undeniable influence upon Annamese painting.

Since we deal with this subject, how was Indochinese painting in 1924 when the Fine Arts School of Hanoi was founded? Not a single name, not a single work, everybody agrees upon this point. Indochina , in this field, was nothing. There existed a vague tuition in Chinese painting. People practised outlining, after books, with a paint brush and India ink, differ­ent kinds of rock, trees, flowers or animals. People composed with these elements imaginary landscapes. Let us say that not everything in this tuition is to be held in contempt, not everything is incompatible with European conceptions. Yet this isolated tuition is narrow. Results there were none. People went round in a circle, people fell asleep. The Chinese neighbours still produced only horrors. As the European public was excessively fond of works of the Ming period, the Chinese, as good mer­chants, produced them with all their might. It should be agreed that noth­ing can be more akin to the 1900 style, "to delirious macaroni", as Paul Morand put it, than this declining Chinese art.

We should also keep in mind that all fine Chinese works of art are found in collections or museums, in London, in Tokio, in Paris and, above all, in America. An amusing and important thing to be noted is that the Annamese will know and understand the great Chinese painting thanks to the French, and only after getting in touch with European painting.

1924, date of the founding of Hanoi   Fine   Arts   School , is thus an impor­tant date. Annamese painters are not. mistaken. So they venerate the memory of the founder of their school, M. Victor Tardieu. We have not known this first director. The photographs we have under our eyes show him tall, with a stick in his hand, gaiters of cloth on his shoes, a watch­ chain across the waist-coat, his trim hair being absolutely white. The eye is lively behind a pince-nez of American bankers, that is the whole por­trait of a man about to preside ever an administrational council and, in fact, he was a good manager. He was also an undeniable animator, if we judge him from all the exhibitions held since the birth of the school and all the manifestation in which the school took part.

He had a quality that is still more uncommon; he knew how to choose his collaborators. If he himself was a third-rate painter, as one can judge it from the canvas he leaves us at Hanoi   University , he at least, being in the trade, was in a position to understand its requirements. Knowing the pre­carious existence of his school, he was neither intimidated nor disheart­ened by attacks which beset all first steps.

The Fine Arts School of Hanoi began to work in 1926. The first students left school in 1931. What are fifteen years in the artistic life of a coun­try? And nevertheless, the accomplished work is enormous. One of the professor, Inguimberty, has truly created a painting movement and brought lacquer in the sevice of artists. Lacquer seems destined to take a great place in the future Indochinese history of art.

Indochinese painting embarks on a good path, the one followed by all great artists of all times, the one of those who always thought that art is above all a choice and a simplification.

In conclusion, we shall say that the Annamese will not flush with the French origin of their nowadays artistic movement. Some convesations with painters from this country have made us understand that they are sometimes afraid of losing their personality when coming into contact with Europe . To fight against this childish idea that would be harmful to their talent, we will ask them to listen to this:

By a demilune sheet of water stands a two-storeyed pagoda. Some paral­lel sentences in Chinese characters embellish it while dedicating it to friendship. The vast castle surrounding it was full of lacquered furniture and so-called Chinese porcelains. And where is this pagoda? - Right in the middle of France . Duke Choiseul, who has made it built, lies near the place where was inhumed Leonardo da Vinci, in a tomb which calls back to mind those one sees in Tonkin or in the outskirts of Hue . The grave yard is one on the Italian pattern. What a medley! people would say. But, no! the whole thing, as well as the details of the pagoda, the graveyard and the tomb, are quite French.

Talent gives rise to forms and methods used by it, even when they are considered in most peculiar places.

The only way to be original is to have talent, and we are happy to say that Annamese artists like Nguyen Gia Tri and To Ngoc Van, not to speak of others, demonstrate it abundantly and thus perfectly serve their country.

 

 


 
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