|Black and white: An illustration by Bui Xuan Phai for a short story titled A Divorce Case by writer Nguyen Khai.
On top of his famous paintings, Bui Xuan Phai (1920-88) also inked many newspaper illustrations and sketches throughout his career. They have been republished in a book by art critic Phan Cam Thuong. Phuong Lan reports.
Collector Nguyen Manh Phuc has just unveiled his unique collection of more than 200 of Bui Xuan Phai's newspaper illustrations and sketches in a book titled Bui Xuan Phai - Ky Hoa va Minh Hoa (Bui Xuan Phai - Sketches and Illustrations), written by art critic Phan Cam Thuong.
"Phuc owns sketches that were printed in newspapers. He wanted me to match the illustrations with the stories," Thuong recalled.
Most of the newspaper illustrations in Phuc's collection were printed in the Van Nghe (Literature and Arts) magazine between 1971 and 1981. Some others [illustrations] were published by Doc Lap (Independence), Phu Nu (Women) and Lao Dong (Labour) newspapers.
The illustrations were mostly drawn on paper; some were drawn on torn pieces of cartons and the covers of cigarette packets.
Dubbed a "master of portraits", painter Phai had drawn many portraits of his family members and friends and had even drawn self-portraits at different periods of time. Collectors Nguyen Ba Dam and Viet Chien, two of Phai's friends, often featured in his drawings. Photographer Tran Van Luu, poet Vu Dinh Lien and Le Chinh were his three closest friends.
In Phuc's collection, one can also find sketched portraits of businessmen Duc Minh and Bui Dinh Than, who gained fame during the French occupation period; writer Nguyen Tuan; painter Nguyen Sang; and poet Doan Phu Tu, as well as playwright Luu Quang Vu, poet Xuan Quynh and guitarist Ta Tan.
Many experts have noted that Phai's sketches contain simple, natural, emotive lines.
In particular, in Phuc's collection are two books of sketches and illustrations that Phai had given as gifts to collectors To Ninh and Viet Chien, close friends of the artist. The books include many hand-written notes by Phai.
|Labour of love: Collector Nguyen Manh Phuc in his beloved study corner at home. Photos courtesy of Nguyen Manh Phuc
While Ninh's book contains various types of paintings by Phai, Chien's book gathers sketches that Phai drew during his field trip to the central province of Thanh Hoa in 1965.
Phuc has been gathering antiques and paintings for dozens of years. He has always collected paintings by noted artists from the Indochine Fine Arts College, such as Mai Trung Thu, Nguyen Tu Nghiem, Nguyen Sang and Nguyen Gia Tri. He started collecting Phai's paintings in 1990.
"There is a folk saying: 'Love each other to preserve your mutual dignity and respect each other for your talents,'" Phuc said. "To me, Phai had a great personality and was a great talent. That's why I have spared no effort in collecting his paintings."
Phuc said in order to gather Phai's rare sketches and illustrations, he spent a lot of time chatting with the artist's old acquaintances, who possessed these works, persuading them to sell him the pieces.
He bought most of the sketches and illustrations from collectors To Ninh and Viet Chien, as well as Nguyen Ba Dam.
"This year celebrates the 95th birth anniversary of the late painter Bui Xuan Phai," Phuc said. "With respect for this great talent of our country, I am publishing an important collection of his works. I hope the book will help people understand this talented painter in greater depth." — VNS