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12/07/2021 - 15:40

The story about the painting “The Girl by the Birdcage”

While an exhibition of paintings by Mai Trung Thu, a master artist representing the modern art of Vietnam, is taking place in far-away France, few people know that Hue is keeping a painting by this talented artist.

The painting was collected and is being well protected by Hue Museum of Fine Arts.

Dinh Thi Hoai Trai - Director of Hue Museum of Fine Arts beside the painting “The Girl by the Birdcage" by Mai Trung Thu. Photo: T.L

The exhibition starting on the last days of June is organized by Ursulines Museum in Macon. Its opening ceremony took place in the lobby of Lyon Station in Paris.

In Hue, the painting "The Girl by the Birdcage" is being kept carefully by Hue Museum of Fine Arts waiting to be displayed to viewers.

Few people know that the story about the painting “The Girl by the Birdcage” is very interesting and related to Diem Phung Thi, the famous sculptor who created the seven modules which became her famous “language” of sculpture. 

Up to this point, Dinh Thi Hoai Trai, Director of Hue Museum of Fine Art keeps saying that she is very happy when the museum successfully collected that prestigious painting by the famous painter Mai Trung Thu. It is the painting of a naked girl feeding a bird in a cage. At the bottom is his autograph: “To Cuc Diem, XII 78 (December 1978), Mai Trung Thu".

"That painting was collected by the museum professional council from Phan Dinh Hoi, the man who had been working for Diem Phung Thi Art Foundation at 1 Phan Boi Chau St. for more than two decades. Mrs. Diem regarded him as a member in the family.

In her youth, Diem Phung Thi went to France and once learned drawing with the famous painter Mai Trung Thu. Later, he painted “The Girl by the Birdcage" and gave it to her as a present.

The painting was hung in her room. For some reasons, Mrs. Diem decided to give the painting to Hoi. “You can sell this painting and use the money to assist your children when they go to college. This is my heart. This painting costs one kilogram of gold, take my word for it, Hoi.”

Although many people wanted to buy the painting, Hoi refused to sell it. He decided to keep it for the museum and his hometown of Thua Thien Hue.

"The museum is keeping a priceless work especially when a number of paintings by Mai Trung Thu were successfully auctioned at very high prices overseas," said Trai.

At the auction in mid-April in Hong Kong, the painting "Portrait of Miss. Phuong" by Mai Trung Thu was sold at the price of $3.1 million though before Sotheby's Hong Kong had estimated that the painting would reach a price of $900,000 - 1.2 million. This news shook the Vietnamese art circle because that was the first time a Vietnamese painting had been sold at such a high price. 

As recorded, Mai Trung Thu (1906-1980) or Mai Thu was one of the artists of the first class (1925-1930) at Indochina College of Fine Arts. In 1930 after graduating from Indochina Fine Arts College, he was given a teaching job at Quoc Hoc High School in Hue.

It was here that his series of silk paintings came into being. His main themes are Hue girls, the poetic scenery on the Perfume River as well as temples and mausoleums. His years of working in Hue had formed his own style and given him a firm position in the Vietnamese modern art. He lived in France for most of his life. 

Story and photo: Nhat Minh

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