― James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
La Réveuse is a remarkable example of Le Pho’s early style as a fresh graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts in Hanoi-- works of his from this period are few and far between on the market due to their rarity. Nonetheless, one can also see the seeds of his mature style in the painting, such as the fine features of the lady’s face, the delicate strands of her hair, and even the use of the ao dai as a sartorial detail.
Le Pho’s works are celebrated for their exquisite portrayals of Vietnamese femininity, and La Réveuse is no exception in terms of subject matter. The painting is an intimate portrait of a young lady deep in contemplation, her arms wrapped around herself as she gazes into the distance to the left of the frame. Her white ao dai forms a striking contrast against the medley of dusky browns and greens that make up the natural landscape behind her. The young lady’s steadfast gaze highlights her quiet poise, yet an undercurrent of lyrical melancholy accompanies her state of reverie.
The present work, which is rendered in oil, is also unique in how it exemplifies the unpretentious frankness of Le Pho’s early painterly style in contrast to the bright, lush aesthetic of his later works. Additionally, the subdued palette of sombre, earthy tones utilised in the painting is reminiscent of the colours used in traditional Vietnamese art, perhaps an act of homage by Le Pho to his cultural roots. Le Pho’s framing of a quintessential Vietnamese scene through a Western medium epitomises the alluring synthesis of tradition and innovation that defined Vietnamese art in the 1930s.
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