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Le Pho

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Le Pho
"Home is where the art is for lamented Le Pho" by Le Thanh Tru

Some of those who have comfortable lives in the West have gradually forgotten their roots, their homeland but that could never be said of Le Pho, the last of four famous Vietnamese painters in France.

Le Pho, one of the first graduates of the French-built Indochina Fine Arts College, died in mid-December last year in France at the age of 94; yet for all his decades abroad, he never forgot his birthplace and one can be sure his soul seeks it still.

From his earliest days, Le Pho nurtured a deep passion for painting. When opportunities were wanting, he made his own: from imitating pictures and photos to drawing back for a small local photographic shop.

After graduating from the Indochina Fine Arts College, which was set up in 1925 by French painter Victor Tardieu, he received a scholarship to study at the Paris National College of Fine Arts, and then went to Italy for research.

According to French art critic Wal Demar George, the professional regime at the Paris college threw him off track.

Even his travels in Italy, where he worked for a long time, left him disappointed.

Through regular and attentive visits to museums, however, he started to find himself and develop a distinctive vision.

In 1932 he came back to Ha Noi and realized what was missing. So he set off for Beijing and became immersed in the Oriental plastic arts so much so that when he emerged again two years later, he had his own particular artistic style, which later made his name in France.

"Le Pho's draftsmanship raises his paintings into a realm of pure peace, grace and beauty," George has written.

"He has helped fine arts in oriental and western areas come closer, while holding on to that quietness of gaze, that veneration. His works evoke a world of unreality, a place without death and evil."

In 1950, Le Pho began painting oil on canvas, striking a delicate balance between Chinese painting and post-impressionism yet all the while recalling his distant homeland.

Images he painted focus on things that are both simple and also dear to the Vietnamese spirit, like bamboo branches, birds and women with with flowers or wearing ao dai as in his famous works including Lady And Carnation, Lady And Orchid, Lady In Dark Blue Costume, and Lady.

"The women in my husband's paintings are all Asian, not European," says Le Pho's wife, Paulet Le Pho.

The works are mostly painted in brown and sombre hues, with black outlines used for emphasis, and the odd touch of indigo blue, violet, orange and light blue.

Nguyen Do Cung, a painter, art researcher says Le Pho's paintings display both the innocence and the beauty of poetry.

"When I saw his early exhibitions, I felt enchanted. It was as though I was deep in a marvellous dream, and I didn't want to wake up," Cung said.

Le Pho's younger brother Le Tuan, can't conceal his pride when speaking of the artist.

"I was so happy when I heard former Prime Minister Pham Van Dong praise his talent and his love of his country, and I still take pride in my brother's contributions to the Paris negotiations in 1946," he said.

Despite his devotion to art, Le Pho still threw himself into his duties as a Vietnamese citizen.

He was there when the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam Government's delegation (headed by Pham Van Dong) attended the negotiations between Viet Nam and France on Vietnamese independence in Fontainebleau, France between July 6 and September 3, 1946.

And when President Ho Chi Minh came to Paris as a guest of State, Le Pho, together with intellectuals such as Tran Duc Lang and Tran Huu Tuoc, lobbied the French government to create adequate living and working conditions for the Vietnamese mission, saying they were representatives of an equal and independent nation.

Le Pho and several other Vietnamese intellectuals wanted to return to Viet Nam to fight the French, but Uncle Ho advised them to stay put and play a role from Paris.

In August, Uncle Ho gave the artist a signed self-portrait photograph, with the short note: "For you, Le Pho. Sincerely."

In March 1993, after 60 years in France, Le Pho said publicly that his soul was still oriented towards Viet Nam, and donated 20 of his artworks to his homeland.

Abroad, his paintings are considered highly valuable. His Ancient Pagoda fetched US$40,000, and Lady Sitting and Reading A Book $30,000 a record for a Vietnamese painter.

Many members of Le Pho's family still live in Viet Nam, and some have become senior officials, people's artists, emeritus artists, professors, doctors, musicians and engineers.

Yet they all subscribe to his simple creed: "Live usefully for society; do not betray or harm one's country and people; and do not seek fame for its own sake." VNS


Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Le Pho
The sensitive, subtle beautiful paintings by Vietnamese Le Pho are a fascinating blending of Oriental artistry with influences of contemporary Western art. For the most part this artist specializes in semi-Impressionist studies of flowers and figures and handles them with delicacy and an unusually fluid transparency of color. In his early years, Le Pho preferred painting on silk instead of canvas, and to do so, developed a technique all his own. He then painted on canvas, and even on this sturdier material he achieved great richness and a completely unique surface texture which suggests the delicacy of the silk formerly used.

Le Pho's work has a distinctive elegance, along with imagination and artistry, which immediately suggests a background of culture and taste. Consequently, one is not surprises to learn that Le Pho was the son of the Viceroy of Tonkin (Viet Nam) and that his first one-man show in Paris was considered sufficiently important to be sponsored by the Embassy of Indo-China.

Born in Viet Nam on August 2, 1907, Le Pho had a cosmopolitan back ground even as a young art student. He first studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Hanoi for five years from 1925 to 1930, and then at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris during the following two years. In 1933 on his return to Hanoi he was appointed professor in the Hanoi Ecole des Beaux-Arts, a post which he held from 1933 to 1936. While studying in Paris he had the good fortune of being a student of Victor Tardieu who during his art student days had been a friend and companion of Matisse.

Le Pho's professorship in Hanoi came to an end when he was sent back to Paris in 1937 as a delegate to the International Exposition in Paris and served also as a member of the jury of his Exposition. Since that time, Le Pho has remained a resident of Paris. His first one-man show there in 1938 was the first step toward his subsequent active and important painting career in Europe. In resent years he has had numerous one-man shows in Paris, Nice, Lyon, Strasbourg, Nantes, Rouen, Brest, Algiers, Casablanca, Brussels, Caracas and Buenos Aires, as well as in New York and San Francisco. Also he has served as artistic advisor to the Embassy of Viet Nam in Paris; has been a prize winner in the International Exhibition of Beaux-Arts of Saigon; and has become an annual exhibitor at the Salon d'Automne and the Salon des Indépendants in Paris.

Already his paintings are permanent collection of the Musée d'Art Moderne of Paris as well as in the collections of numerous French museums outside Paris.


Biography from Tobin Reese Fine Art
Lê Pho(1907-2001) was a Vietnamese painter who spent most of his career in France. He worked primarily in oil and lacquer, painting on both canvas and silk. His works display a deep understanding of the French painting tradition while maintaining a strong tie to his Vietnamese cultural heritage, a personal fact of which he was deeply proud. He was heavily influenced by the painting of Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse.

Lê Pho was born in 1907 in Thanh Xuân, one of Hanoi's many qu?n (districts). As an affluent youth in Vietnam's capital, Pho received extensive education in art. Inspired by artistic mentor Victor Tardieu, Ph? decided to enroll in the École Supérieure des Beaux Arts de l'Indochine (now Vietnam University of Fine Arts) as part of its inaugural class in 1925. Here, Ph? received training in Western painting styles while at the same time striving to preserve his Vietnamese cultural heritage. It was at the École that he was first introduced to the materials of lacquer and silk, items that would feature prominently in his later work. During his time at the École, his art was featured publicly for the first time in an exhibition at his school.

After completing his studies in 1930, Pho received an invitation from Tardieu, his former teacher, to join him in Paris. He found himself working on the Angkor Wat Pavilion at the Exposition Coloniale Internationale in Paris, employing the lacquer techniques he had studied at the École. Inspired by his time in Paris, he decided to stay, enrolling in the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts de Paris in 1932. After just a year of studies, Pho returned to his native Vietnam to teach at his alma mater. However, after just a few short years back in Hanoi, he received an invitation to be the artistic director at the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne and so he returned to Paris; this move would be his last, as he would spend the remainder of his life in France's capital city, never returning to Vietnam again. During this time in Paris, Ph? had his first private exhibition in 1938.

In 1940, after a stint in the French army, he settled in Nice, a coastal town in southern France where he would remain for the rest of his life. His fame during this time grew and his art was sent all over the world to be exhibited, more notably in Algeria and the United States, where he signed an exclusive contract in 1964 with the Wally Findlay Galleries, with locations in Kansas City, Chicago, Palm Beach, and New York. He spent much of his time traveling, visiting artists such as an aging Henri Matisse. Although he never returned to Vietnam, he retained close personal ties to his homeland, meeting with dignitaries during their visits to France. He died at the age of 94 in 2001.

Ian Martyn for Tobin Reese Fine Art

Biography from Paderewski Fine Art
Born in Vietnam in 1907, Le Pho had a cosmopolitan background even as a young art student.  He first studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de l'Indochine in Hanoi for five years from 1925 to 1930, and then at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris during the following two years.  In 1933 on his return to Hanoi, he was appointed professor in the Hanoi Ecole des Beaux-Arts, a post that he held from 1933 to 1936.  This is where he developed his signature style and subjects: delicate paintings of elegant Vietnamese women mixed with floral still-lives.

Le Pho's professorship in Hanoi came to an end when he was sent back to Paris in 1937 as a delegate to the International Exposition in Paris and served also as a member of the jury of this Exposition.  Since that time Le Pho stayed in France.  He had his first one-man show in 1938.  Also he served as artistic advisor to the Embassy of Viet Nam in Paris and was a prizewinner in the International Exhibition of Beaux-Arts of Saigon.

Throughout his life, he had several exhibitions in Paris, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Buenos-Aires.  He participated in shows annually at the Salon d'Automne and the Salon des Independants in Paris.  The Museum of Modern Art in Paris is one of the museums holding his work.

He lived in Paris until his death in 2001.

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About  Le Pho

Born:  1907 - Thanh Xuan, Vietnam
Died:   2001 - Paris, France
Known for:  female figure and floral painting