Art at the Crossroads: Lacquer Painting in French Vietnam

Identifiers (Article)


Lacquer paintings created by pupils of French teachers at L’Ecole Superieure de Beaux Arts d’Indochine, founded in Hanoi in 1925, invite questions regarding blended foreign and indigenous features in works produced by newly trained artists probing for a unique pictorial language.  Initially displaying hallmarks of modernist Western aesthetics, upon closer inspection they challenge a simple indigenous-foreigner dialectic, and invite a more nuanced understanding of responses to ideas introduced from afar. During the brief twenty years of the school’s history under colonial direction, pupils experimented with hybrid subjects, media, and styles evincing an ambivalence toward their own artistic past and the influences of foreign occupiers.  After the war for independence and unification, and especially post-Doi Moi, the Vietnamese have come to appreciate these early modern works and training as the launching point of a new autonomous and empowered artistic voice.

Three paintings are examined in detail, and contextualized within the political framework and social upheaval of the last phase of the colonial era.  They are related to contemporary literary movements, to admiration for Japanese culture as a paragon of “Asian character,” and to largely discredited pre-colonial Vietnamese folk arts and beliefs. A brief look at a few early post-revolutionary works following the outbreak of war in 1945, identifies some persistent Western features combined with radically changing ideological underpinnings shaping painted arts.


Academic discipline and sub-disciplines
Art History, History, Cultural Studies
Type, method or approach
Art historical
Vietnam, Nationalism, Art History, Modernism, Lacquer Painting, L’Ecole Superieure de Beaux Arts d’Indochine
How to Cite
Safford, L. B. (2015). Art at the Crossroads: Lacquer Painting in French Vietnam. The Journal of Transcultural Studies, 6(1), 126–170.