Mai-Thu, a scene of family piety

On 29 May 2019, by Anne Foster

Painter, filmmaker and musician Mai-Thu came to Paris for the Exposition des arts décoratifs in 1937. His work focuses on women and children from Vietnam.

Mai Trung Thu, known as Mai-Thu (1906-1980), Auprès du grand-père (With the Grandfather), ink and colours on silk, 100 x 81 cm.
Estimate: €100,000/120,000

On a neutral, cloudy green background, Mai-Thu evokes the simplicity of everyday life in Vietnam, offering a scene full of life and emotion. An elderly, richly dressed man with a white beard is straining to hear – probably because he is a bit deaf – one of his grandchildren, who are gathered around him. The open-mouthed child looks up in admiration while a very young girl holding a feathered fan stands on the other side of the old man, ready to cool him down. One of the youngest, in a beautiful red jacket, leans on his lap with a book or notebook while three others play “go” at his feet. The children's faces are varied, expressing respect, love, pride, and expectation among the players. This ordinary, emblematic scene of Vietnamese values focuses on the family and its two pillars, a grandfather and children. The latter feature prominently in Mai-Thu's work, which was resoundingly successful. Who could resist these toddlers having fun, studying and enjoying all kinds of activities, such as La Baignade (Bathing), ink and colours on silk painted in 1962, offered in 2018 to the Cernuschi Museum by the artist's daughter, Mai Lan Phuong. It was the first of her father's works to enter a public collection. Born into a wealthy family of scholars, Trung Thu studied at the French lycée in Hanoi before enrolling in the École supérieure des beaux-arts de l'Indochine. He was in the first graduating class, with his friends Lé Phô and Vu Cao Dam. They later met again in Paris, continuing the symbiosis between Western and Vietnamese painting.

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