La cueillette du thé
Ink and gouache on silk, signed lower right
45.8 x 38.4 cm - 18 x 15 1/8 in.
Lê Thị Lựu, a painter born in Vietnam, was one of the very few women to enter the Fine Arts School of Indochina in Hanoi, and the first to have a career as a professional artist. She successfully threw off the Confucian yoke that still weighed women down in the 1930s. With the artists Mai Trung Thứ, Lê Phổ and Vũ Cao Đàm, she was one of the Vietnamese quartet who went to live in France in the late 1930s. She was particularly drawn to subjects involving women and children. Her style was relatively classical, but she emphasised the expression of emotion through her gentle line and colour, and her work contributed to the emergence of Vietnamese modernism. Victor Tardieu, director of the Indochina Fine Arts School, even compared her style to Cézanne’s.
Like other women painters who have marked their centuries, such as Artemisia Gentileschi in early 17th century Italy or Berthe Morisot, the first female impressionist painter, Lê Thị Lựu stands out as one of the rare female artists, graduated from the Indochina School of Fine Arts. Although she came from a conservative background, her avant-garde ideas were expressed from the age of 14 where she manifested her desire to paint. Determined to join the training directed by Victor Tardieu, she trained in painting with the images she found in libraries and thanks to her servant who served as a model. Her talent allowed her to join the school and she was soon noticed by the local press. After teaching in various art schools in the country, she met up with her former classmates in France in 1940. Her marriage took her to Guinea to be with her husband until 1945 before she returned to France for good. The work of Lê Thị Lựu, remains rare and discrete.
If the treatment of the female figure is a theme dear to the artists of the Ecole des BeauxArts, Lê Thị Lựu stands out for her feminine vision. Faced with comrades inspired by maternal portraits or even elegant women in activity, the artist also depicts women at work as in La cueillette du thé. Far from young women at the toilet or adorned with jewelry, Lê Thị Lựu pays tribute here to these working women. The majority in this rural country, they lose none of their grace in this composition. A woman in the foreground dressed in traditional garb harvests leaves in a wicker basket. In the background, other women are busy with the same task. The fine features of their faces, but also their clothing, underline their Asian origin. The artist’s style is expressed through a clever mix of influences. Relying on the typically Asian medium of silk, Lê Thị Lựu employs gouache in small, furtive and spontaneous strokes. The colorful touch made of small commas has an impressionistic air. Her powdery palette distinguishes her from that of her male colleagues. Playing with the different tones of blues, greens or even pink, Lê Thị Lựu brings a softness and a unique sensitivity to her work. A feminist before her time, Lê Thị Lựu stands out as an essential figure in the history of artists from the Indochina School of Fine Arts by leaving posterity a testimony endowed with an enlightened and particularly endearing eye.