The horizontal composition of this painting takes on an almost frieze-like appearance, imbuing the painting with an aura of classical grandeur that befits the graceful and refined nature of the women. The dreamy background of softly modulated greens and browns provides the perfect backdrop for the scene of merriment to unfold.
In Cinq Petites Filles Mai Thu displays his keen eye for genuine human interaction by rendering the girls’ faces in various profiles and effectively bringing each individual to life. While every figure holds a traditional fan, the painting is animated by the configuration of different poses; some girls are kneeling while others sit cross-legged.
A work that exudes a calming sense of leisure, Cinq Petites Filles shows the artist’s patience and dedication with regards to his craft. Silk painting requires an artist to work with an extremely refined surface and employ delicate brushstrokes. It is a technique ingrained in Vietnamese art history and mastered by first generation artists such as Mai Thu. The sheerness of the silk fabric bestows upon the figures an ethereal glow that highlights their timeless beauty and graceful forms.
Cinque Petites Filles exemplifies two hallmarks of the artist: his penchant for a rich colour palette and attention to detail. The five friends donned in traditional headbands and dresses, are rendered in a cheerful array of colours, their vibrant hues composed and balanced against each other. Mai Thu allows his audience to escape into a quaint and picturesque snapshot of a Vietnam untouched by the contingencies of modernity. Even details such as the painstakingly rendered strands of hair that frame the women’s faces make the present painting a joy to view.
In 1937 Mai Trung Thu immigrated to Paris where he was to remain for the rest of his life. Completed in 1973, Cinq Petites Filles can be regarded as the artist’s celebration of womanhood and intimate relationships, tinged with a wistful reminiscence of his native country.
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