Mai-Thu (1906-1980) is one of the pioneers of modern Vietnamese painting. Born in Indochina during the French Colonization, he studied at the Fine Arts College of Indochina in Hanoi, graduating in its first class in 1930.
In addition to mastering classical Western techniques of drawing and oil painting, he was skilled in figurative painting on silk and in various styles of Chinese painting.
Seeking a new artistic expression that would be specifically Vietnamese, he gradually perfected a visual language after permanently settling in France in 1937. Through encounters with master painters of the European tradition, particularly Renaissance painters, Mai-Thu performed a subtle synthesis between Western and Vietnamese motifs. His pared-down images respond to an ideal of gentleness and balance that led him to be considered the most traditional of Vietnamese artists. Yet this universe, constructed from various references, is unique to him. He invented an original style of painting that authentically expresses the essence of Vietnam.
Since the 1990s, Mai-Thu is increasingly sought-after among collectors, including Vietnamese collectors in search of their artistic past. As the artist’s popularity has continued to grow in recent years, his work is familiar to auction-goers but remains unfamiliar to the general public. Rarely seen outside of auction, Mai-Thu’s paintings are only held in a few museum and private collections.
Today, Almine Rech offers a representative group of thirty artworks from the personal collections of members of the artist’s family. This selection covers the period from 1941 to 1976, reflecting an essential part of the artist’s French career. Through his favorite themes — women, children, family, tradition — the exhibition includes some works with many characteristic elements of Mai-Thu’s style, which constantly evolved throughout his career. The artist was also very engaged for Peace and produced many paintings during the devastating period of Vietnam War until the end of it and the final reunification of North and South Vietnam (La Rencontre, 1974).
— Anne Fort, Heritage Conservator
Co-author of the exhibition catalogue Mai-Thu, Echo d’un Vietnam Rêvé, 2021
[Mai-Thu, Echoes of a Dreamed Vietnam, 2021]