Lot 30
  • 30

Nguyen Phan Chanh

800,000 - 1,200,000 HKD
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  • Nguyen Phan Chanh
  • By The River
  • Signed, inscribed, stamped with a seal of the artist and dated 1931
  • Ink and gouache on silk mounted on board
  • 90 by 62.5 cm.; 35 1/4 by 24 1/2 in.
  • This work is accompanied with the artist's original teak frame.


Acquired directly from the artist in 1930s.


The painting is in good condition overall, as is the silk, which has no runs or holes. Indication of light wear and handling is evident, but paint layers are intact. Upon close observation, discrete traces of tears can be found predominantely on the upper and lower registers. Investigation under ultraviolet light reveals scattered miniscule spots of restoration located on the light colored areas (hands, feet and water), and a spot measuring approximately 1 inches long on the silk. Framed, under Plexiglas.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The 20thcentury was the major turning point for Vietnamese art, with local artists becoming more liberal and avant-garde in their selection of colors and composition. The artworks typically portrayed the daily lives of the community, countryside, landscape, pagodas and historical events.

Nguyen Phan Chanh was born in a humble village of Ha Tinh province (Nghë Tinh) and raised in a family of Confucian scholars. A student from the first graduating class of the respected Ècole Nationale des Beaux-Arts de L’Indochine in 1930, Phan Chanh particularly showed interest in the silk medium. Silk painting was his forte and he became celebrated as both a modern and traditional silk artist in Vietnam. He fused together his classic Sino-Vietnamese training and conservative approach to aesthetics. 

Having learned Chinese calligraphy at a young age, Phan Chanh was charmed by the elegant gestures and fluidity of the medium. He then discovered his own style of merging Western composition with the delicate and transparency of ink and gouache on silk painting. In terms of technique, Phan Chan used Chinese calligraphy to outline his figures but approached the composition from a Western perspective with muted and earthy tones. His choice of subject has always differed from his more traditional classmates’. He found interest in documenting the ordinary life of the people reflecting his respect for rural living.

Art historians believed, “Nguyen Phan Chanh possessed the essential qualities of the traditional Vietnamese scholar: he learned Chinese, and he studied in Hanoi. Yet, he broke with the past in employing the method of painting he learned from the French. He went to the countryside to sketch [laborers] and relied on his own eye, rather than on convention to create his works. In this way, he represents the first stages in the transformation of Vietnamese painting…”1.

Praised for his National spirit, Phan Chanh’s By the River  was acquired by a French Official in the 1930s during his post in Vietnam. Executed in 1931, the painting’s subject is drawn from a series of silk paintings depicting petits métiers (small labors). A rare gem, this painting demonstrates the artist’s finest style and palette – an amalgamation of somber colors and diluted earth tones that applied in bold patches.  “Rejecting the Western-style academic panting… [he] kept his lines thin and two-dimensional, limited his palette to washing of brown, amber and black and refused to glamorize his subjects or adorn them with exotic looks…”2. The figure possesses a still tranquility and almost passive composure, as she is focused on her daily chores. Possessing a subdued expression and engrossed by her work, the lady in By the River personifies a quite serenity that characterizes Phan Chanh’s authentic Vietnamese “folk” style.

Favoring precision drawing and simple forms over the more popular impressionist styles, Phan Chanh always honored his traditional painting roots throughout his career. He particularly enjoyed visualizing the rural Vietnamese society, depicting his subjects in ordinary activities with a certain reserve of serenity and simplicity. Nguyen Phan Chan’s legacy continues as one of the most significant silk artists of Vietnamese modern art.  

1 Nora A Taylor, Painters in Hanoi: An Ethnography of Vietnamese Art, 2009, P. 37

2 Refer to 1