The ink-and-gouache on silk painting La famille dans le jardin (The Family in the Garden) by Le Pho (1907-2001) sold for HK$18.6 million (US$2.369 million) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s ‘50th Anniversary Modern Evening Auction’.

The 1938 painting, which measures 91.3cm-by-61.5cm, is the artist’s second largest figurative work to go up for auction. It was signed ‘Le Pho’ in English and Chinese, stamped with the artist’s seal on the lower right corner.

The painting was accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the artist’s son, Alain Le Kim.

Sotheby’s website describes the painting as “epitomizing Le Pho’s technical skill and vivid sense of imagination, La famille dans le jardin belongs to the pinnacle of Le Pho’s oeuvre as well as the overarching stylistic epoch of Vietnamese modernism.” 

 La famille dans le jardin (The Family in the Garden) by Le Pho has been sold for HK$18.6 million (US$2.369 million). Photos courtesy of Sotheby’s

One of the artist’s finest and most intricate creations, this beautiful work was  painted on the delicate and demanding surface of silk. The masterpiece boasts exceptional wall power, and it’s particularly striking because of its unconventionally large size. Only a handful of pieces of this size and medium have surfaced on the auction market.

Channeling the essential principles of Impressionism – creating photographic, candid, and momentary scenes – Le Pho, therefore, offers a fleeting snapshot of the family, caught only in a moment of impermanence. An exquisite and captivating masterpiece of exceptional rarity, the present lot was executed circa 1938 and is a testament to the heights of Vietnamese modern artistic innovations,” the Sotheby’s introduction states.

So far, it is the highest-priced work by Le Pho, and the second most expensive work of Vietnamese art, according to Ace Le, a Vietnamese art researcher in charge of Sotheby’s Vietnamese market.

The most expensive has been the Portrait de Mademoiselle Phuong (Portrait of Madame Phượng) by Mai Trung Thu (1906-1980), which sold for $3.1 million at the ‘Beyond Legends: Modern Art Evening Sale’ of Sotheby’s on April 17, 2021.

Le Pho was born in 1907 in the village of Nhan Chinh in Hanoi. He was best known for his paintings of nudes, gardens, and floral still lifes.

Before enrolling at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris on a scholarship in 1932, he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Hanoi under the  mentorship of Victor François Tardieu, the school’s founder and the lone French advocate for the distinctive artistic expression of Vietnamese artists. Thanks to Professor Tardieu, Vietnamese fine art was shaped, and local painters gradually gained recognition.

Professor Victor Tardieu listed Le Pho as among his 10 best Vietnamese students. Tardieu also introduced Le Photo Asian art during his five years of study. Le Pho returned to Hanoi briefly to teach painting before settling permanently in Paris. Today, his works are in the collections of the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris and the Oklahoma Arts Center, among others.

His works are in high demand all over the world. In April 2022, the three-panel painting Figures in a Garden by Le Pho was sold for $2.29 million. Later, in October 2022, The et Sympathie (The Sympathy) was sold for $1.36 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. His Autoportrait dans la forêt (A Self-portrait in the Forest) was bought for $1.05 million at Sotheby’s France in March 2021. In May 2019, his oil-on-canvas painting Nue (Nude) was sold for nearly $1.4 million at an auction at Christie’s Hong Kong, becoming his most expensive work at the time. 

 Figures in a Garden by Le Pho.