Lot 070

b. Vietnam 1921 – d. 1988


Signed ‘Phai’ (lower right)
Mixed media on paper
5cm x 10cm

Private Collection, Vietnam.
Private Collection, Kuala Lumpur.

ESTIMATE  RM 4,000 - 6,000

Bui Xuan Phai was one of the most remarkable figures of Vietnamese modern art. Phai, as he was affectionately known, was passionate about topics of the Hanoi Old Quarter. This drawing is perhaps Phai’s impression of the third courtyard or the Well of Heavenly Clarity (Thien quang tinh) of Hanoi’s Temple of Literature (Van Mieu) which hosts the Imperial Academy (Quoc Tu Giam), Vietnam’s first national university. Built in 1070, it is one of several temples in Vietnam which are dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars.

Bui Xuan Phai was enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux Arts d’Indochine, Hanoi in 1941 and graduated from the resistance school when it was moved to Viet Bac in 1945. He opened a studio in his parents’ house in Hanoi in 1952 where he sketched portraits of his family, still-lifes and the streets of Hanoi instead of producing Propaganda Art which was meant for national cause at the time. His depictions of Hanoi reflect the spirit and freedom of the people. Phai’s street paintings earned him the nickname Pho Phai or Street Phai as his works were known to capture “an atmosphere that stood in contrast to the sunnier disposition of the soldiers, farmers and workers favoured by the state” of the time.

Phai experimented with different materials such as canvas, paper, cardboard, wooden plates and newsprint. He also used various mediums like oil, watercolour, pastel, charcoal and crayon. Phai’s first solo exhibition was held in 1984 where 108 of his works were displayed. He was posthumously awarded the Ho Chi Minh Prize by the government of Vietnam for his contribution to national culture in 1996.

Painters in Hanoi: An Ethnography of Vietnamese Art
, Nora Annesley Taylor, University of Hawaii Press, 2004.