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Authenticity of Vietnamese rare paintings is on debate

Update: July, 21/2016 - 11:31
Visitors at the HCM City Fine Arts Museum during the final days of the exhibition. — VNS Photo Văn Đạt
Viet Nam News

Văn Đạt

HCM CITY — Museum officials, artists and experts announced after attending a private meeting on Tuesday that 17 paintings of  collector Vũ Xuân Chung displayed at the recent exhibition Paintings Returned from Europe at the HCM City Fine Arts Museum appeared to be inauthentic and signed by artists who had not painted the works. 

Chung, who was not present at the meeting, stands by his claim that the works by renowned Vietnamese artists are authentic, despite disagreement from the art committee established by the museum. 

The 17 paintings have sparked the interest of local experts, who have questioned their authenticity.

Experts said two of the 17 paintings appeared to be real but were signed with the names Tạ Tỵ and Sỹ Ngọc.   

Painter Nguyễn Thành Chương poses near a painting whose authenticity is in dispute. — VNS Photo Văn Đạt

Painter Nguyễn Thành Chương, born in 1949, said the painting signed with the name of Tạ Tỵ was, in fact, his own, and was composed in 1970.

The attendees at the meeting said they would keep the art collection for further investigation.

Nguyễn Thị Ngọc Oanh, the wife of Vũ Xuân Chung, who was overcome with emotion after the meeting, said that she and her husband were shocked after hearing from Trịnh Xuân Yên, the museum’s deputy director, via a phone call after the meeting concluded.

“Though we are the owners, we were not invited to attend the meeting. We don’t agree with this conclusion. We have the paintings’certificates from the sellers to prove their authenticity,” said Oanh, adding that she would send the collection abroad to be independently inspected by international experts.

She said she doubted the objectivity and ability of local experts and officials.

“There is no evidence or basis to prove the paintings in our collection are not authentic. We have known Jean-Francois  Hubert - the collection’s seller - from the auction house Christie’s Hong Kong since 2010 and we completely trust him and his inspection results,” she said, adding that she did want to disclose the amount paid for the paintings, collected over the last four years.  

Painter Nguyễn Thành Chương (L) and Art Collector Vũ Xuân Chung (R) argue about the authenticity of the painting Abstract displayed at the HCM City Museum of Fine Arts. — VNS Photo Văn Đạt

The exhibition, the first to be held by the couple, opened on July 10. It included works by Vietnamese artists Nguyễn Tư Nghiêm, Dương Bích Liên, Nguyễn Sáng, Bùi Xuân Phái and other well-known painters who graduated from the Indochina College of Fine Arts.

The doubts about the collection surfaced after artist Chương said his name and the year of completion on the painting Abstract had been erased somehow and replaced with the name of artist Tạ Tỵ.

He and his wife reported their concerns to the leaders of the museum.

Chương, who attended the Việt Nam University of Fine Arts, has won several awards for his work. He said he was shocked to see someone else’s name on one of his paintings.

Chung, however, rejected Chương’s claim, saying that Chương could not create such a beautiful painting when he was only 21 years old, when Việt Nam was still at war and suffered seriously from hunger.

After doubts were expressed, the museum established a committee, including members of the HCM City Fine Art Association and experts from HCM City University of Fine Arts and other researchers, to inspect the collection’s authenticity.

The painting Abstract displayed at the HCM City Museum of Fine Arts. — VNS Photo Văn Đạt

Visiting the museum after the conclusion was announced, Painter Trần Hải Minh, told Việt Nam News that he believed that some of the paintings were authentic and some were fake.

Pointing to a painting by Bùi Xuân Phái, Minh, who once studied in Europe and is familiar with Phái’s paintings, said that it was a real painting of the artist.

He showed the scratches and poor materials that Phái often used, including cartons that he had salvaged.   

The way of writing his signature and the year of composition showed that the work was done by Bùi Xuân Phái, according to Minh.

Minh said he agreed with Chương about the painting with Tạ Tỵ’s name.

“The painting was, of course, created by artist Nguyễn Thành Chương. The way of signing on the painting proves that it was not created by Tạ Tỵ,” he said.  

Lacquer: Great poet Nguyễn Du goes fishing, credited to Nguyễn Tiến Chung, currently on display at the Museum of Fine Art in Hà Nội. One of the paintings in the above-mentioned exhibition bears the same title and author in Mr. Vũ Xuân Chung’s collection.

However, in response to Chương’s complaint, Jean-Francois Hubert sent the collector a photograph proving that it was a painting by Tạ Tỵ composed in 1952.

In the photo are Nguyễn Bá Đạm, Thái Bá Vân, Bùi Xuân Phái and Trần Quý Thịnh in Hà Nội in 1972. The disputed painting by Tạ Tỵ can be seen in the photo.

However, the painting in the photo appears to have been Photoshopped, according to some local artists.

Chương said he had also found an authentic sketch of the painting and had shown it to the media.

He told Voice of Việt Nam that the person in the painting was female artist Kim Anh, a friend of his when he worked in HCM City.

The collectors Chung and Oanh said they had shown the collection in HCM City to expose local residents to Vietnamese works that had not been exhibited.

“Not many Vietnamese people would have a chance to see them in their lifetime,” said Oanh, explaining why she had organised the exhibition. — VNS


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