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Remains of an artists youth collection exhibited first time

Update: December, 21/2015 - 14:50
Tự họa (Self Portrait), Oil on canvas, 50 x 50cm

By Nguyen Thuy Binh

Dan Quan (Militia Girl). Oil on canvas, 50cm by 65cm.

HCM CITY (VNS) — Sixteen paintings by veteran female artist Nguyen Thi Hien never before seen by the public are on display at an exhibition in HCM City.

Created between 1967 and 1979, the paintings are all that remain of Hien's works when almost all of her other paintings have been either destroyed by the war or damaged by the vagaries of nature.

"Many of my paintings at this time were probably lost when I was relocating from Ha Noi to Sai Gon," the artist said.

"One sad sample of this was in the 1980's when I sent more than 40 of my early works to Paris for an exhibition, and they were never returned," she said.

The exhibition titled Nhung Gi Con Sot Lai (Some Things Remain) brings to the public very early works which were painted during a difficult time in Viet Nam. Hien drew them when she was 19 and 20.

The artworks are mainly oil-on canvas while some are water-colour paintings.

Tinh yêu (Love). Paper collage. 52cm by 52cm.

The paintings such as Dan Quan (Militia Girl); Mam Song (Life's Sprout); Tinh Yeu (Love) and Ong Tien Si Giay (Paper-Made Doctor) are the ones Hien favours the most.

Dan Quan (Militia Girl) is Hien's unforgettable memory. It is from the series that Hien portrayed about the militia in the central province of Thanh Hoa.

In 1967, she went to the province where the American war was very fierce.

The provincial Ham Rong and Do Len bridges were considered to be the symbols of the Vietnamese resilience during the wartime.

Ham Rong Bridge was the only one across the Ma River ensuring the flow of manpower and war materials by road from the north to the south.

During her two-month stay with the locals near Do Len Bridge she drew a series with a theme Dan Quan.

"I was inspired a lot by my time there. The fierce national resistance and loss of the locals living around me made me strong enough to survive between the two lines of battle," she said.

The oil-on-canvas painting Dan Quan at 50cm x 65cm is the only one remaining, while others from the series were bought by foreign collectors.

Nguyen Thi Hien drew Mam Song (Life's Sprout) in 1969. Oil on canvas, 70cm by 114cm.

In another painting, Mam Song (Life's Sprout), at 70cm x 113 cm Hien portrayed her girlfriend with her new-born son on June 1, 1969.

Moved by maternal love, she used oil on canvas depicting the mother wearing black clothes, hugging her child.

The child was coloured green symbolising a bud. This painting inspired Hien to organise her solo exhibition in 2006.

Tinh Yeu and Ong Tien Si Giay are possibly the most precious works to Hien because they related to her previous lover – late famed poet Luu Quang Vu.

She painted Tinh Yeu for Vu on his birthday while Ong Tien Si Giay was created from a paper-made doctor figure.

Vu was a talented poet and playwright. He was recognised as the most famous playwright in Viet Nam in 1980s.

Hien drew many paintings during the 12 years, but now she has only 16 which are priceless and are part of her family treasure.

Around in 1974, a journalists' delegation from Japan and the US visited Viet Nam. Then Viet Nam had only a State-owned gallery. The gallery's representatives came to her house and asked her father to borrow her paintings to show to foreign journalists.

However, the journalists liked her paintings and bought them all.

"At that time, I went for a field trip to draw in the Thai Binh Province. During my absence, my father loaned all my paintings," Hien recalls. "When I came home, I was shocked to find that all my paintings had disappeared. I could not stop crying."

Born in 1946, to her father, writer Kim Lan, she started to paint at age of 8 and has not stopped since.

She was awarded a top prize at an international painting contest in Hungary in 1956.

A graduate of Ha Noi College of Fine Arts in 1967, Hien has taken part in many solo and group exhibitions at home and abroad. She moved to HCM city in 1984.

To many, Hien is one of the leading female artists of her generation.

Sixteen paintings at the Some Things Remain exhibition are not only individual artworks but they are part of Viet Nam's art history. They are an example of war time and post-war period artworks.

The exhibition will run until February 29 at the Antique Street Gallery, 38 Le Cong Kieu Street, District 1, in HCM City. – VNS

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