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Lot n° 220

MAI trung THU (1906-1980)

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En plein air, circa 1940-45 Ink and color on silk, signed lower left, titled on reverse 73 x 53.8 cm - 28 3/4 x 21 1/8 in. An emblematic student of the first class of the Indochina School of Fine Arts, Mai Trung Thứ was one of the six candidates who passed the competition out of 266 presented. During this training, he learns a particular technique halfway between Asian tradition and European taste: painting on silk. Mai Trung Thứ explains this technique during an interview organized at the gallery of the Institute in Paris on the occasion of the exhibition Mai Thu - Vietnamese of Paris and painter on silk: “First, we prepare the glue, of flour, rice or starch, he explains to us. Alum is added in the proportion of one third. The alum allows the conservation of the painting and, moreover, makes the surface of the silk smooth, thus facilitating the work of the artist. The silk must be unmixed, very thin (...) The drawing can be sketched with charcoal or pencil. The colors, watercolors, tempera or gouache, are applied with force, so that the fibers of the fabric are impregnated. It is therefore preferable to use an oil paint brush. The painting is then washed with water. This wash softens the colors and allows them to blend better. It requires a lot of care, because if the silk comes off, it is difficult to glue it back on.”1  While Mai Trung Thứ also learned oil on canvas, which he practiced at the beginning of his career, he soon abandoned it in favor of painting on silk. This technique allows him to highlight a theme that is dear to him: young elegant women. The softness allowed by the successive washings of colors brings a refined aspect that can be observed in En plein air. Done in the early 1940s, this work allows the artist to exalt the beauty of his models. One is absorbed in her reading while the other is lost in her dreams. They are dressed in áo dài, a traditional dress that emphasizes their graceful curves and slender waists. With their hair delicately pulled up in buns and their lips covered in red makeup, these two women are exquisitely elegant and refined. The oval shape of their faces is characteristic of the works produced in these years and emphasizes the representation of Vietnamese canons.  The accessories used in the composition complete this Vietnamese vision. Indeed, the arm cushions on which one of the young women rests, as well as the small wooden box, are typically Asian objects. If the Far Eastern influence permeates this work, it also borrows from the repertoire of European art history. Thus, if the artist has distinguished himself by his fashion illustrations in specialized Vietnamese magazines, the outfit worn by the young women also cites the wet folded drape of Greek statuary. Associated with the scarf, they serve as a pretext for the representation of movement. The movement and more particularly the torsion of the body following a serpentine line is also represented, borrowing these codes from the Italian mannerists of the 16th century. Finally, although of Asian influence, the construction of the landscape and the balance of the composition is not without evoking the old masters. Remaining faithful to one of his favorite themes, Mai Trung Thứ demonstrates that beyond his perfect mastery of the technique, he also knows how to skillfully mix references while offering an ideal vision of Vietnamese culture.

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