Nguyễn Gia Trí

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1908 – 1993

Despite enrolling as a student at the l’École des Beaux- Arts de l’Indochine, Nguyễn Gia Trí (1908 – 1993) abandoned his education in his second year. Lacquer is one of the main reasons why Nguyễn Gia Trí decided to return to his studies at the l’École des Beaux- Arts de l’Indochine, graduating in 1936. Inheriting Post-Impressionist influence, Nguyễn Gia Trí combined the technique of using egg shell with other traditional materials such as vermillion [red], the [deep black], cánh gián [cockroach wing color], gold and silver leaf, that he learned from artisans such as Trần Quang Trân and Đinh Văn Thành, in order to carve out a unique style for his works. He is considered a pioneer who laid the foundation for the golden era of lacquer in Vietnamese art (an era which was to continue until end of 20th century). Even though he grew up with Confucian influence, Gia Trí possessed a progressive mentality, wishing to emancipate women from their traditional image – a motif which frequently appeared in his work.. Unlike pictures of elite women depicted in a demure and composed manner (seen in works by his classmates Tô Ngọc Vân, Trần Văn Cẩn, and Nguyễn Tường Lân), the women in Nguyễn Gia Trí’s paintings appear bold and liberated. The scene in his paintings are conceptualized to convey a thought. And his thought here is not only to contrast the emboldened freedom of women amidst the setting of solemn temples, or the depiction of the countryside using royal colors of gold and silver, but rather he wants to move beyond these concerns to modernize lacquer, unshackle it from the burden of ‘artisanal craft’, and journey with it to traverse the overwhelming colonial atmosphere imposed on the Indochinese countries at that time.   

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