Auction of Paintings by King Ham Nghi to Take Place in France

For the first time ever, a substantial collection of artwork by Vietnam's former emperor of Annam is available for purchase.

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French auction house Lynda Trouvé will be auctioning off several Indochinese artworks, including 19 paintings by King Ham Nghi, who was exiled to Algeria by the French colonialists due to his patriotism. The auction is scheduled for September 22.

One notable piece is “Soleil Couchant Sur La Campagne” (Sunset over the Countryside), painted in 1911, which features the handwritten date, signature, and royal title of the king.

This is a unique opportunity to acquire a collection of paintings by the esteemed former emperor of Annam, the predecessor of modern-day Vietnam. These works of art, sourced from the attic of Henri Aubé, a French military officer who served in Hanoi from 1907 to 1909, are being made available for sale. It is a rare occasion as such a large number of these remarkable paintings have never been offered on the market before.

 Soleil couchant sur la campagne (Sunset over the Countryside), painted by King Ham Nghi in 1911.

According to Drouot.com, the artwork of this artist is highly uncommon and has never been available for purchase before. The artist’s works were showcased at the prestigious Guimet Museum in 1926.

According to the official website of Lynda Trouvé, it is highly probable that Henri Aubé sought treatment at the military thermal hospital in Vichy, a common practice for officers deployed in colonial territories during that period.

During the years 1909 to 1913, Ham Nghi would frequently pay visits to this esteemed institution. In the event of a meeting between the two distinguished individuals, it is highly probable that it occurred in the illustrious city of Vichy. It is widely acknowledged that Ham Nghi and Henri Aubé nurtured a deep bond of friendship, facilitated by their common acquaintance, Henri de Gondrecourt. The artistic masterpieces bequeathed to Henri Aubé’s esteemed family have remained within their exclusive possession, and are presently being presented for purchase by their esteemed descendants.

The paintings have received greater acclaim for their historical significance rather than their artistic components, despite the king’s exceptional mastery, as noted by art critic Ngo Kim Khoi.

According to Khoi, Ham Nghi was among the pioneering painters to embrace the Western artistic style, setting a precedent for other esteemed artists such as Le Van Mien, Nguyen Nam Son, and Thang Tran Phenh. Consequently, Ham Nghi’s paintings carry significant historical importance and are highly regarded.

 Maison au bord de l’eau (House by the Water) painted by King Ham Nghi in 1910.

The starting bid for each painting is set at €3,000 (US$3,235) to €5,000 (US$5,329), ensuring both feasibility and an intense competitive bidding atmosphere for collectors.

“In my opinion, this price is slightly undervalued. However, this auction holds the promise of being thrilling due to its low starting price,” stated Khoi.

Khoi expresses his hope that the Hue Provincial Museum will be able to acquire at least one or two paintings. This would allow these significant royal artifacts to return to their homeland, while the remaining pieces could be purchased by collectors in Vietnam.

In 2010, during the auction of King Ham Nghi’s famous artwork titled “Declin du Jour” (Sunset), there was a sense of disappointment among the representatives of Thua Thien-Hue province. Despite their efforts, they were unable to secure the painting as Dr. Gérard Chapuis, a French-Vietnamese resident of Marseille, emerged as the successful bidder with a winning telephone bid amounting to €8,800.

 Lac au crépuscule (Twilight Lake) by King Ham Nghi. 

According to Ph.D. in history Amandine Dabat, a descendant of King Ham Nghi, there are still approximately 100 of his paintings that have been preserved.

One of the exquisite artworks displayed at the Hue Royal Museum of Antiquities in Thua Thien-Hue is the mesmerizing painting called “Lac des Alpes”. This masterpiece, graciously donated by an anonymous collector, showcases the sheer beauty and allure of the Alps in its breathtaking depiction.

According to Amandine Dabat, the paintings created by the artist depict the king’s profound expression of loneliness due to his departure from his hometown. These artworks prominently feature minimal human presence, making it challenging to identify the specific location as France, Algeria, or Vietnam. Instead, the paintings offer a broader portrayal of landscapes. Through this approach, the king sought to evoke nostalgia and simultaneously find solace in art as a means to overcome challenges and hardships.

 Ham Nghi was the eighth emperor of the Nguyen dynasty. File Photo

Ham Nghi, the eighth emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, had a brief reign of one year from 1884 to 1885.

Following the unsuccessful Can Vuong (Save the King) movement, aimed at opposing French colonial rule, King Ham Nghi was apprehended and subsequently exiled to Algeria, which was then under French control, on December 12, 1888.

During his time in exile in Algiers, he had the privilege of receiving instruction in painting and sculpture techniques from the esteemed artist Marius Reynaud. Fueled by a burning passion for the arts, he took on the roles of painter, pastelist, and sculptor, devoting his entire existence to these captivating forms of artistic expression.

During his extensive journeys to France, he had the privilege of engaging with prominent artists and intellectuals including Foujita, Rodin, and the esteemed writer Judith Gautier, all while being carefully monitored.