A ‘painting’ made from bricks, tiles, wood, lakes, green trees, and ancient antiques, Thanh Chuong Mansion, which epitomizes the overall beauty of Northern villages has become the most successful work of Thanh Chuong, one of Vietnam’s leading modern painters.
|The ‘Northern miniature village’
The ‘Northern miniature village’ is constructed with sophistication, arranged and decorated in the owner’s desire of maintaining traditional culture values.
Traveling some 40 kilometers from the capital’s downtown to step in Hien Ninh ward, Soc Son district, it is hard to imagine the whole 10,000 square meter area of Thanh Chuong Mansion used to be a barren hill a decade ago. Chuong spent VND2 billion (US$96,000) on buying the land at the foot of Soc Son Mountain to build his mansion following the traditional village architecture.
The tradition is showcased from the gate inward. It reminds visitors of the ancient brick gates of villages with the arch style which existed for hundreds of years. The top of the gate is roofed by red tiles and two unicorns are placed on its two sides to welcome visitors. There are tens of stone statues carved around in a refined manner.
|An old house
Stepping on the main road paved with Bat Trang bricks from the gate, you can reach different houses inside. Each of them features Northern ancient architecture of hundreds of years before.
On the right, an old house on stilts erected on a more than one hundred square meter area. Chuong bought the entire wooden structure from Muong ethnic group in Hoa Binh province, dismantled it, brought it here and reconstructed it. In front of the house, a pool where lotus plants are grown with an old stone bridge skillfully arranged, creating a beautiful and tranquil atmosphere to viewers.
Besides the stilt house, a five-floor waterfall which is built by brick without cement-plasterer. With its curved-eave roof, the waterfall looks like a tower in pagodas. On its bottom floor, old furniture of table and chairs and a big drum are displayed.
In the middle, there is a typical iron-wood house named Thanh Tinh (Peace). It reflected the typical five-compartment houses of peasants in Northern Delta through sophisticated and meticulous carving and decoration. Two red lacquered parallel sentences with golden letters engraved are hung on the door. Behind the house is a heap of straw. Additionally, pool, water well and green trees around the house also contribute their parts to embellish Thanh Tinh.
|Paintings of Chuong and scarce antiques are displayed in the house.
Tourists are often impressed with the thatched cottage behind Thanh Tinh house, which features an earthen gate, the thatch roof and earth wall. In front of the cottage, there is a set of bamboo bed, tables, and chairs, jars, an old tea set and a farmer’s pipe. Especially, a series of farming tools are shown along the house such as plough, pick, sickle, rattan or bamboo frame (to hold loads at the end of a carrying pole) and an old rice mortar.
On the left, a white five-floor house name Tuong Van is designed following pagoda architecture, with the curved-eave roof popular in ancient pagodas or communal houses of villages. There is an outdoor Buddha worshiping space nearby which is solemnly decorated by many statues. Besides it, there is a pavilion in the middle of a lake to view the scene around. The painter also builds a main hall which tens of old tables and chairs arranged like a scene in the traditional palace.
The green covering each house results from many fruit trees popularly grown in Vietnamese villages like bamboo, banana, thistle, litchi, longan and other ancient and ornamental trees with unique shape. Many of them were bought at high prices. All of the trees are grown and taken care off by the painter to fill the barren land he had bought. Like other farming houses which are often self-sufficient, Chuong also raises animals in each house. Familiar visitors often feast on these home-raising foods.
|A painting of Chuong
Painter Thanh Chuong and his family have spent holidays at the mansion and enjoy their home-raising products. Painter Thanh Chuong said he wanted his next generations could feel the old traditional culture and lifestyle.
Nguyen Thi Nhat, an overseas Vietnamese, brought her family to Thanh Chuong Mansion in a visit to Vietnam from France, said “I want my grandchildren to know the life and beauty of Vietnamese villages. Thanh Chuong Mansion reminds me the life in my homeland in the old times, in Bac Ninh province. Here everything is harmonious with nature. Wonderful!”
Several foreign officials have visited Thanh Chuong Mansion. Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silva came and had a meal with Chuong. Queen Silva said to him she was like exploring Vietnamese village culture when she was at his mansion.
Specialized in abstract and cubism in lacquer and oil-paint material, painter Thanh Chuong is regarded as the Vietnamese Picasso. It is shown in portrait paintings of himself and others of familiar images of Vietnam to tell the stories of the country’s landscape, people culture and life through his eyes. Particularly, he has a special passion to rooster, one of the typical animals in the countryside of Vietnam. It came from his first painting which won the first prize in a kid’s painting competition in UK when he was seven years old, marking his prodigy success and his passion to painting and countryside. He has sold more than 1,000 pictures of his own portrait with the price from $5000 to $10,000 each.
“Many people called me as ‘a playboy’ when I invested a big amount of money to build a mansion. But I don’t think so. “A playboy” is one who throws money in useless things. If I spend my effort, brain, time and money to build a reverse in order to maintain ancient traditional values and to help them avoid being disappeared, how could I be one?” Chuong said.
“No, I don’t think so. I just love and appreciate spiritual culture values of our country. To build this mansion, I spend much effort, time and money on this architecture work instead of drawing. I consider it is the biggest work of art of my life,” he said.