|Sitting for a portrait: Painter Van Duong Thanh said the General narrated old memories as she sketched him. — Photo courtesy of Van Duong Thanh
by Le Huong
Millions of people in Viet Nam admire late General Vo Nguyen Giap as one of the greatest figures in the nation's history. He is not only a talented military leader but also someone imbued with values of tolerance and humanity.
Noted painter Van Duong Thanh is one such admirer. She has built a unique collection of sketches of the General. She drew him at his home at 30 Hoang Dieu Street in downtown Ha Noi 16 years ago.
"The collection has sketches made between March 29 and April 6, 1999. I had visited General Giap's home many a time and asked to draw sketches," Thanh recalled. "I had to use my time and the unique chance to capture his most distinctive features. Among 25 sketches and five oil-on-canvas paintings, there were ten sketches drawn as a series, at a space of 15 minutes, one after another."
ThaF8nh said while she was drawing, Gen Giap's narrated his old memories to her and his wife Dang Bich Ha and their son Vo Dien Bien. From his childhood in the central province of Quang Binh, then from his youthful years working as a teacher at Quoc Hoc Hue (Hue National Secondary School) and Chu Van An Secondary School in Ha Noi. He also recalled his memories of President Ho Chi Minh and leaders of other countries.
"I was nervous while making my first sketches as I was afraid I may not be able to catch his appearance and emotions," Thanh said.
But Gen Giap seemed to understand Thanh's apprehensions. He laughed out loudly, appreciated her paintings and signed his name on four sketches. Thanh then kept all the four pen brushes that Gen Giap used to sign his name behind each sketch's frame.
Gen GiaF9p then played an excerpt from Beethoven's 9th Symphony. He also drew three sketches of ThaF8nh next to her painting shelf.
"I was extremely surprised as I only knew earlier that he was a great military commander," Thanh said, "My admiration for him has doubled since then."
The painter then moved all the collection to her home in Stockholm, where she found them again among thousands of paintings in her stock room.
"I think this is the right time to display this collection for the larger public," she said, explaining why she brought it back to Viet Nam.
"Gen Giap is such a great person that I can no longer keep his image to just myself."
|Sketched: A portrait of General Giap by Van Duong Thanh in 1999.
The Viet Nam Military History Museum has proposed to borrow Thanh's collection for an exhibition in May to commemorate the Dien Bien Phu Victory, achieved under the direction of Gen Giap in 1954.
"I think this is an artful collection," commented Bui Phuong Viet Anh, director of EAS Vietnam Company, which involves training human resources and trade promotion. He knew Thanh through various activities of Vietnamese overseas.
"The sketches are delicate and simply reflect the great General in daily life. This is the first time I saw such a collection, catching daily life moments of the General. I think it's a treasure for next generations of both, Vietnamese people and others internationally," he said.
ThaF8nh splits her time between VieE4t Nam and Sweden, where she teaches the art of painting at various schools, including the Medborgaskollan, Vuxenskollan schools in Stockholm and fine arts universities in HaF8 NoE4i and HCM City.
ThaF8nh's works were added by the VieE4t Nam National Museum of Fine Arts to its collection for the first time when she was 20. Since then, many of her artworks have been on permanent display in national art museums and galleries in other countries including Thailand, Singapore, Spain and Sweden.
Being distinctive for her subtle combination of Asian and European heritage in which Western techniques are used to depict traditional Vietnamese motifs of the natural world through more than 1,600 paintings, ThaF8nh has successfully inspired a large number of both domestic and international art lovers.
She received, among other awards, the highly regarded "International Excellence in Art of CFMI," USA-France in 1995 and 1997 and Viet Nam's Vinh Danh Dat Viet (Glory of the Nation) title in 2007. [CFM International is a joint venture between GE Aviation, a division of General Electric of the United States and Snecma, a division of Safran of France, which sponsors various art projects all over the world. ThaF8nh's art works were chosen by them in 1995 and 1997].
ThaF8nh said that she was making a sculpture of the General from marble obtained from the central province of Thanh Hoa. She designed the portrait while noted sculptor Nguyen Tien Dung has been making it. The platform of the sculpture will be a carved painting, depicting the historic Dien Bien Phubattle.
"It will be the biggest sculpture that I have designed but I shall not say anything more about it," she said, adding, "Let's see later."
In her house in Ha Noi, besides dozens of paintings and sculptures of famous people of Viet Nam, she also keeps a 300-page book of hundreds of articles written in various languages including Vietnamese, English, Swedish and Denmark on General Giap, marking his death in October 2013. She had collected these from newspapers all over the world.
"I was extremely moved when I heard that he had died," Thanh said. "Since that moment, I have spent a lot of time reading newspapers and online news for three months to see what foreigners wrote about him. All of them showed great respect for this historic person and devoted a lot of space in their printed and online publications to cover his death."
"I brought out the book as a way of paying a tribute to General Giap, marking a commemorating ceremony 49 days after his death," she said, adding, "I hope he understood my admiration for him."
Thanh plans to exhibit the book, along with her painting collection, in May. — VNS