LÊ PHỔ (1907-2001)
Nature morte aux pivoines et plante en pot, 1935
65,7 x 45,3 cm - 25 7/8 x 18 in.
Oil on canvas, signed and dated lower right
A virtuoso with a brush, Lê Phổ established himself as one of the top students at the Indochina School of Fine Arts, which he joined as soon as it was founded in 1925. His talent enabled him to assist Victor Tardieu, the school’s director, at the Exposition Coloniale in Paris in 1931. It was on this occasion that the young artist discovered Western painting, which he admired at the Louvre and on his travels in Europe. Created in 1935, Nature morte aux pivoines et plante en pot is part of his first pictorial period. As his style took shape, the artist explored its possibilities. Although oil painting was his favorite medium in the latter part of his career, it was relatively rare at this time.
The painter used it very rarely in Vietnam, not only for technical reasons - oil paint does not tolerate the humid climate - but also due to his clients’ preference for painting on silk. Works from the late 1920s to the mid-1930s are characterized by the softness and harmony of ochres, academic figures blending Vietnamese iconography and Western composition, such as the canvas produced for the Cité internationale universitaire in Paris. Lê Phổ, enriched by his studies in Hanoi and his travels in Europe, kept in mind the subtlety of details and the symbolic value of motifs to forge his own style.
By opting for a classic format, Lê Phổ perpetuates the still-life tradition. His wise composition features peonies and a green plant harmoniously arranged on a table partly covered by a carpet. The perspective is classical and the palette realistic. Following in the footsteps of the old masters, the young Vietnamese artist proves his mastery of Western painting codes.
Gradually replacing tempera, oil painting has been a popular medium with European artists since its origins in the 15th century. Composed of three elements (pigment, binder and support), its production depends on the painter’s preparation. Subjected to the different origins of the materials, which can be mineral, vegetable or chemical, the palette, texture but also gloss vary.
While Lê Phổ uses a medium rooted in Western history, he chooses to depict flowers linked to European and Asian cultures. Rich in meaning, peonies are synonymous with prosperity, happiness, honor and beauty. Nicknamed the “Queen of Flowers” in China, they were the national flower before being dethroned by plum blossoms. Today, peonies, and particularly pink peonies, are among the most popular of all flowers.
This painting was acquired in the 1980s in Saigon by a collector who was sensitive to Lê Phổ’s remarkable talent in the making. Today, it stands as a rare testimony to the artist’s early work and explorations in oil painting.