From "Vietnam Contemporary Art", 1996
By The Hanoi Fine Arts Publisher
The principal material for pumice lacquer painting is Vietnamese lacquer, used to lacquer cultural objects and
current usage articles.
After his arrival in Hanoi, one day Inguimberty
accompanied Nam Son in a visit to the Temple of Literature.
He was amazed at a layer of lacquer covering the ancient cultural objects, the
parallel sentences and the columns of the sanctuary. Time - several centuries -
had changed this layer of lacquer into an extraordinarily beautiful color
scales. Inguimberty was gained over by the "Annamite lacquer" and
later on engaged in trying lacquer in painting.
Inguimberty had made a great service to the development of Vietnam lacquer
painting. He was of the view that only the Vietnamese were capable of making
lacquer painting, just like oil painting was the privilege of Europeans. However
this malicious resin has rather extravagant characteristics. To have it dry, it
must be kept in heat. The cold and dry weather prevents it from being ever dry.
To paint with lacquer, one must paint in depth what is in the external layer of
the picture and paint above what is in the internal layer, then rub it with
pumice and the picture will be visible. The strokes must be minute because there
is a great deal of sticky matter and a high degree of homogeneity must be
achieved in the lacquer, because everything might disappear during the pumicing.
The creation is done in several stages, after each of them, the lacquer dries
and only then can one start the following stage. A small mistake can be
disastrous. Thousands of other difficulties are to be overcome, the working
rules must be strictly observed. Only a true artisan in the lacquering art who
has inherited the secrets transmitted from generation to generation can resolve
these problems. The palette of lacquer painting includes only the color of
canhgian (cockroach wings), then (black), son (red), silver and gold. Gold and
silver must be pure gold and silver, which in the present are difficult to
obtain. To prepare the color, mother-of-pearl and egg shell are also used. Other
materials are sometimes not so effective. If all the complex stages are got
over, sometimes still kept secret, we shall certainly obtain a marvelous world
of material, color and light, a magnificent world unknown up to now.
In 1958, a delegation of Vietnamese painters brought their lacquer works to the
International Exhibition of Fine Arts held in Moscow by the socialist countries.
Their works were highly appreciated when the contents of the works reflected the
multiple aspects of daily life in a manner characterized by perspicacity and
From 1957 onwards, pumice lacquer was more and more recognized as the principal
language of the Vietnamese painting. Almost all painters wanted to achieve the
most important work of their life by means of this material. Tran Van Can has
enthusiastically composed some most successful lacquer paintings in all his
artist life. In the race to valorize this traditional material, Nguyen Gia Tri
was the first to attain the aim. On the surfaces of the paintings, colours and
material constitute layers that intermingle to form a bloc of amber perfectly
limpid and Nguyen Gia Tri added strokes to set out his personages in the
background, young girls standing or sitting, going to and fro, pursuing a
butterfly or picking flowers, playing under the leaves of a weeping willow
floating in the wind, or walking on the bank of a lake where white lotuses are
blooming. All were arranged in a harmonious rhythm with arabesques to make
viewers feel the contrast between extreme richness and maximal modesty. Very few
persons can equal Nguyen Gia Tri in lacquer painting. A painter who has made
profound studies of pumice lacquer said: "Pumice lacquer can be compared to
a religious man who observes strict control of himself, respecting the rigorous
rules of his original religion."