Portrait by late Vietnamese painter fetches record US$3.1 million at auction

HCMC – “Portrait of Mademoiselle Phuong” by late painter Mai Trung Thu (1906-1980) fetched a record price for a Vietnamese painting as it sold for US$3.1 million at Sotheby's Auction House in Hong Kong on April 18.

“Portrait of Mademoiselle Phuong” by Mai Trung Thu – PHOTO: COURTESY OF SOTHEBY'S

The oil on canvas painting was valued at US$900,000-1.2 million before the “Beyond Legends: Modern Art Evening Sale” auction.

The guide price was relatively low, at US$500,000, but the price of the painting eventually reached US$2.573 million. After tax and fees, the painting cost US$3.1 million.

The identity of the buyer is kept a secret. The previous record was held by “Young Girl with Peonies”, a painting by Le Pho, which sold for US$1.4 million in 2019.

“Portrait of Mademoiselle Phuong” was painted by Mai Trung Thu, also known as Mai Thu, in 1930 when he was an art teacher at a French high school in Hue.

The painting, measuring 135.5×71 centimeters, was described by the auction house as “beautifully rendered in the oil medium” and “exceptionally rare as the artist devoted himself to painting in silk for most of his career”.

"The beguiling portrait also captures Mai Thu’s deep admiration of its sitter, a noble lady rumored to be the artist’s love interest. Encapsulating his affections for Ms. Phuong, this work is special within Mai Thu’s oeuvre, as there are only two known works painted on this subject,” Sotheby's Hong Kong said.

The painting was first exhibited at the Fine Arts College of Indochina in 1930 and then the Paris Colonial Exhibition in 1931. It was also featured in the award-winning Vietnamese film, “The Scent of Green Papaya”, directed by Tran Anh Hung.

Mai Trung Thu was one of the first artists who graduated from the first course of the Fine Arts College of Indochina. He was recognized as one of the four most renowned Vietnamese artists in the golden age of Vietnamese modern art, together with Vu Cao Dam, Le Thi Luu and Le Pho.

Mai Thu spent most of his life in France and was famous for his silk paintings with subjects comprising women, children and everyday life, showcasing typical Asian culture in the early 20th century.