For the sake of an aesthetically fruitful collaboration between eye and mind:
Generally regarded in his homeland as one of Vietnam’s greatest artists, To Ngoc Van (1906-1954) was born into poverty. He was nonetheless a good student, and when the Indochinese Fine Arts College was established in Hanoi in 1925, Van found his true calling. He became fascinated with painting, and he read avidly and widely about artistic traditions in Japan, China, India, and Europe. It is clear, however, that both Manet and, especially, Gauguin were major influences on his evolving style.
From the earliest days of his career, Van’s paintings were exhibited in various galleries, and they were greatly admired for their exquisite use of color.
When the First Indochina War broke out, Van decided to employ his considerable talents to chronicle the life of his country’s soldiers in their fight against the French. Some of his most dynamic paintings come from this period, perhaps in part because the struggle against colonialism touched his heart so deeply.
Unfortunately, Van was killed during the latter stages of the conflict, and he was posthumously given the Ho Chi Minh Prize – his country’s highest national award for art and literature. Despite his untimely death, Van’s creative accomplishment was uncommonly impressive, particularly because he was so successful in synthesizing Western artistic methods with Vietnamese aesthetic traditions. However, perhaps the greatest legacy To Ngoc Van bequeathed to posterity is that in his paintings he captured a profound sense of the abiding gracefulness and love of things beautiful that are at the heart of Vietnamese culture.