Nearly 100 Paintings of Vietnamese Artist Return Home after 30 Years

Nearly 100 paintings by Vietnamese artists are repatriated after 30 years.
July 26, 2023 | 06:09

Nearly 100 paintings by the late artist Tran Phuc Duyen after 25 years of being forgotten in Switzerland will be displayed in an exhibition to domestic art lovers for the first time.

Forgotten for 25 years

In 2018, two collectors Le Quang Vinh and Pham Quoc Dat, in the process of inquiring Indochina fine arts, accidentally discovered an article by an American girl about an exhibition called 'The Forgotten Treasure' of painter Tran Phuc Duyen in Switzerland.

They immediately went to Europe, following the clues to find the exhibition organizer. Here they learned that when painter Tran Phuc Duyen died in 1993 in Bern, because he had no children, all his works, documents, and relics were packed and stored in the warehouse of a castle in suburbia.

Nearly 100 Vietnamese Paintings Return Home after 30 Years
Painter Tran Phuc Duyen stands beside the painting 'Sai Son Landscape'. Source:

Just like that, more than 100 works and artifacts were forgotten. In 2013, the new owner took over the castle, discovered this legacy, and proceeded to find the heir of painter Tran Phuc Duyen. They contacted the niece of painter Tran Phuc Duyen - Tran Tuong Van and asked her to authorize a small gallery to organize and sell these works to divide the property.

By the time two collectors approached, some of the works had been sold, the rest were preserved in unsafe conditions. In addition most of the paintings are quite intact, some are damaged, lose frames, scratch and stretch, change the surface.

"Looking at the artworks lying on the ground, some of which are two pieces that have been split in half for retail, we are very sad, we decided to use all our savings to buy back this massive legacy," Dat said.

Two collectors met Van in Paris to present their wish to buy back all of the artist's works with the goal of preserving the heritage and bringing Tran Phuc Duyen's art back and introduced in his hometown.

After that, Le Quang Vinh and Pham Quoc Dat found experts to help divide nearly 100 paintings into groups of intact works that needed slight and deep intervention.

Because Tran Phuc Duyen's paintings use a combination of Eastern and Western materials, the repair and restoration process is difficult, having to order materials from many countries around the world. Besides, the restoration is required to properly express the spirit of the late artist.

Currently, the works are stored in conditions of stable temperature (25 degrees Celsius) and humidity (60%), avoiding sunlight. Some works are framed with UV-resistant glass or mica, and the back is covered with acid-resistant paper.

Nearly 100 Vietnamese Paintings Return Home after 30 Years
At the exhibition "Hoa Duyen Tuyen Ngo: Tran Phuc Duyen". Source: DiLe Online Gallery

Huge exhibition after 30 years

The exhibition "Hoa Duyen Tuyen Ngo: Tran Phuc Duyen" takes place from July 22 to August 6 at Quang San Art Museum, Ho Chi Minh City on the occasion of his 100th birth anniversary (1923-2023).

Nearly 150 paintings, 300 sketches, documents, and relics were contributed by 2 collectors Le Quang Vinh and Pham Quoc Dat, several other collectors, his family, and the Museum.

Two-story exhibition space, total area of ​​about 600m2 divided into large theme clusters including Life; Scenery; Still Lifes and Small Scenes; Watercolor and Zen painting; Abstract; and Happiness.

Nearly 100 Vietnamese Paintings Return Home after 30 Years
Collectors Le Quang Vinh and Pham Quoc Dat. Source:

Tran Tuong Van, a niece who considers painter Tran Phuc Duyen like her father - will return to Vietnam to attend the opening event on July 22. After receiving her uncle's ashes from Switzerland to be buried in France in 2013, she was heartbroken, almost unwilling to mention it again until two collectors found it. She accepted the invitation to write a documentary about him, and it took a year before she dared to read the letters and papers again.

"I am very happy to be back in Vietnam to celebrate the 100th birthday of my uncle - painter Tran Phuc Duyen. Perhaps this is also how he returned after a whole life in Europe," she said.

Painter Tran Phuc Duyen was born into a wealthy family. In 1941, he entered the preparatory class of the Indochina Fine Arts College, taught by painters Nam Son and To Ngoc Van, and the following year passed the Lacquer exam, course XVI.

After the Indochina Fine Arts College closed in 1945, Tran Phuc Duyen opened a studio, lived and composed in Hanoi. In 1950, three of his lacquer works - including a screen with six paintings of Sai Son landscape and Thay Pagoda - were selected to be sent to the Vatican as a gift to Pope Pius, which are still kept at the Vatican Museums.

In 1952, Tran Phuc Duyen held his first solo exhibition in Saigon with 30 lacquer works. At the end of 1954, he moved with his brother and younger brother to France. The artist practiced at Jean Souverbie's workshop, the Paris School of Fine Arts and held an exhibition in Nice in 1961.

During the next seven years, Tran Phuc Duyen held 8 solo exhibitions in Spain, France, and Switzerland. At the end of 1968, he moved to live and work in Switzerland until his death, having 13 more solo exhibitions here, France and Canada.

In addition to about 20 lacquer paintings depicting European landscapes, the rest from landscapes, and still lifes to people are all directed to Vietnam.

Nearly 100 Vietnamese Paintings Return Home after 30 Years
Artwork 'Reflection in water'. Source:

Since 1980, Tran Phuc Duyen has created fewer large-format paintings with the traditional lacquer style, switching to small-sized works with ink brushstrokes, meditation paintings and abstract images. In the last years of his life, he practiced at home, so his works were imbued with meditative qualities.

“Everything in Tran Phuc Duyen's paintings is processed to make room for silence, dreams, and meditation. The artist has gone beyond the boundaries of expression to depict the profound unity of things.

So his final lacquer paintings were perfectly finished. Having to leave his homeland, the artist seems to have found his own country," art critic Jean-Claude Piguet said at Tran Phuc Duyen's 1983 solo exhibition in Switzerland.

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