The present lot titled Balcony is one of the finest examples of Mai Thu’s silk paintings. It offers a glimpse into a woman’s moment of reverie as she leans against the supporting struts of a balcony, a look of wistful longing on her face as she gazes into the distance. She is pensive and lost in her own thoughts. The juxtaposition of the woman’s blue and white ao dai against the earthy background has the effect of drawing the viewer’s attention to her face and form, both delicately rendered in graceful watercolour strokes. Together, the painting’s minimalistic lines and understated use of colour contribute to its elegance.
In this painting, the refined character of the woman is enhanced by the use of soft colours and fine outlines. At the same time, Mai Thu’s attention to detail highlights her subtle beauty. Her features are dainty, from the slim arches of her eyebrows to her rosebud lips; in addition, his feather-light touch can be seen throughout the painting, from the gossamer sheerness of the curtain down to the folds in the draped fabric of the woman’s ao dai over her form.
Balcony is also a striking work that reflects the beauty of silk paintings, an artistic tradition unique to Vietnam within the Southeast Asian region. As a medium, silk paintings came into vogue in Paris with the exquisite works of Mai Thu and his contemporaries such as Le Pho and Vu Cao Dam. The ethereal lightness of the paintings comes from the translucent quality of the effect of watercolours on silk, and the artist could differentiate the opacity of the colours by using a different type of watercolour like gouache, such as seen in the present lot. The enduring popularity of silk painting even today speaks to the classic, timeless appeal of the artworks produced in the medium.
With its harmonious composition, graceful lines, and mellow palette, Balcony is an exquisite work of art that embodies the artistic principles and themes prevalent throughout Mai Thu’s oeuvre. Despite his émigré status as a Vietnamese artist in France, his journey from colony to metropole did not erode his love for his homeland even after years of living away from it. The undercurrent of lyrical melancholy the woman portrays in the painting could very well be a reflection of the artist’s own feelings as he expresses his nostalgia for the country of his youth. Subtle yet undeniably charming, the present lot is an exceptional example of the maturation of Vietnamese silk painting under the hands (and brushes) of pioneering talents like Mai Thu.
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