Lot 265
  • 265

Le Pho

800,000 - 1,500,000 HKD
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  • Le Pho
  • Composition de Fleurs (Flower Composition)
  • Signed in English and Chinese
  • Oil on canvas


Sotheby's Hong Kong, April 8 2008, Lot 724 
Private Asian Collection


The work is in good condition overall. Upon close observation, there is evidence of light craquelures on the bottom left corner (white impastos). Examination under ultraviolet light shows minor retouching along the borders, however this is not visible with the naked eye. Framed.
"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

“If you want to pick flowers, you have to hike.
Climbing up, don’t worry about your weary bones.
Pluck the low branches, pull down the high.
Enjoy alike the spent blossoms, the tight buds.”
- Ho Xuan Huong

Born at the turn of the century, Le Pho grew up in a Vietnam undergoing severe social, political and cultural change. The French colonialization of Indochina had not only imprinted itself firmly into a sociopolitical landscape, but had also created, for the first time, institutions and communities directly in the name of art as we understand it today. Having graduated from the first École des Beaux-Arts in Hanoi, Le Pho brought his knowledge of both French and Vietnamese art to Paris, where he made a name for himself.

This still life is a study of various pots of flowers, porcelains, a piece of cloth, a book and other items. As opposed to the carefully arranged still life paintings of the Old Masters, Le Pho eschews the strict, formal and stilted compositions in favor of a dense and compressed composition that reads as a lackadaisical retrieval of various household items. Furthermore, the flowers are not perfectly formed blossoms: rather, their size indicates that they are wildflowers that have been placed into vases. This lends this work an air of spontaneity: it is a depiction of the instincts of a moment.

First in Hanoi and later in Paris, Le Pho came of age as an artist influenced by Impressionists and Post-Impressionists such as Monet, Matisse and Cezanne. In fact, Victor Tardieu, Le Pho’s teacher who founded the École des Beaux-Arts in Hanoi, studied alongside Matisse in Paris. From the Impressionists, Le Pho gained an acute sensitivity of light and became aware of the primacy of the observed experience. This is most clearly seen in the flower to the center right of the work, with petals rendered in wide brushstrokes of white, yellow and shades of pink. It is outlined with a barely noticeable, transparent wash of pink, as if drawn in the middle of a movement, giving it an exquisite, ghostly quality, bathed in a soft white light.

The post-Impressionist experiments that turned away from Western perspective also informed this work. Rather than returning to traditional methods of depicting depth, Le Pho simplifies each form such that each piece stands in and of itself in independent fields of their own: depth is suggested merely by the placement of each object, giving the work a sense of flatness. The impact of the post-Impressionists is also seen with the distinctive cover of the book on the lower left quadrant of the page – Verve by Pierre Bonnard. Bonnard founded an avant-garde group of Post-Impressionist artists named Les Nabis, which revolutionized the direction of both fine art and visual art with their experiments in various mediums, including painting, book illustrations and lithographs.

This work is not a quiet still life and does not seek to portray a traditional understanding of beauty. Rather, it is a product of a deep questioning not only of art and its choices in depiction, but also of the self: here we see Le Pho, with all the messiness reminiscent of his tropical past, yet caught in the lenses of the Western art in which he was trained.