The Bridge Builder of Culture through Painting

The Bridge Builder of Culture through Painting

Van Duong Thanh, a highly skilled artist from Vietnam, has her art showcased in 16 international art museums globally, solidifying her reputation as a renowned artist.

Van Duong Thanh, a highly skilled artist from Vietnam.

From the Encounter with Famous Painter Bui Xuan Phai

When Van Duong Thanh was 12 years old and just starting at the Vietnam University of Fine Arts, she paid close attention to the Van Nghe newspaper. It was through this newspaper that she discovered the paintings of the Vietnamese masters of art of that time, through the illustrations. Van Duong Thanh said, "When I saw the illustrations of Bui Xuan Phai, Van Cao, Nguyen Tu Nghiem and Nguyen Sang, I was extremely impressed. I even saved my breakfast money, which was five pennies, to buy the Van Nghe newspaper. After reading the newspaper, I cut out the illustrations and pasted them into a scrapbook as a memento".

As a new student entering the art school, Van Duong Thanh never imagined she would have the opportunity to meet the masters. When Van Duong Thanh was 17 years old, her brother, a mathematician named Van Anh, came to visit and took her to a friend's house. At that meeting, she saw a skinny man with beautiful eyes, and she immediately recognized him as Bui Xuan Phai.

Van Duong Thanh introduces her artwork to visitors. 

I greeted him and said his name, and he asked, "How do you know me?" I replied, "Because I skipped breakfast to buy a Van nghe newspaper, and I cut out your illustrations. I really liked them".

When Bui Xuan Phai heard that Van Duong Thanh was a 12-year art school student, Bui Xuan Phai was very touched and did not expect that an art school student admired him so much that she would skip meals to buy a newspaper with his illustrations.

Van Duong Thanh is the youngest female artist to have her painting exhibited at the Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum when she was just 20 years old.  The painting, called "White Chrysanthemums," was done with oil paints.

"From that moment to now, 21 years after his passing, I always respected him. The influence of Bui Xuan Phai was very deep in my life and career," Van Duong Thanh confided.

After that meeting, Van Duong Thanh considered herself a student of Bui Xuan Phai. To her, Bui Xuan Phai was more than just a teacher, he was her spiritual mentor, even though she had never directly studied with him. "Drawing techniques, color mixing, artistic perspective must be learned but more importantly, it's about how to approach life, the attitude of an artist, the determination of a painter when devoting their entire life to their chosen ideals. These are the things that I learned from Bui Xuan Phai," said Van Duong Thanh.


The Aspirations of Van Duong Thanh

In 1980, Van Duong Thanh began working at the Institute of Cultural Research (Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism). Later, she was sent to Sweden to pursue a Master's degree in linguistics. After graduation, Van Duong Thanh became the first Asian lecturer to teach fine arts in Swedish. She was also the first Vietnamese artist to be admired and beloved by foreign students, who formed an art group in her name, Thanh-Gruppen.

Fluent in several foreign languages and skilled in painting techniques, Van Duong Thanh's paintings immediately made an impact in many countries around the world. Her paintings, imbued with the Vietnamese soul, are now displayed in 16 national museums worldwide, earning numerous prestigious awards, including the "International Outstanding Art" award from CFMI in 1995.


Thanh's paintings are a harmonious combination of Eastern and European styles, where modern Western painting techniques are applied with great finesse, bringing forth emotions of love, fondness, and nostalgia for her homeland. The Vietnamese essence and spirit are deeply ingrained in every stroke, leading to Thanh being dubbed as an "ambassador of Vietnamese culture".

The artist Van Duong Thanh was the first
Vietnamese selected by the International
excellence of Arts of CFM - snecma, USA -
France in 1995 and 1997, and was awarded
the "Honoring Vietnam" prize in 2007 at
the Temple of Literature in Hanoi. she also
received awards from the International
Women's Leadership Forum in 2018 and 2019.

The black brushstrokes in Van Duong Thanh's paintings are very sharp and dynamic, and cannot be replicated. That is also why Van Duong Thanh's artworks are shown in public places such as the D.I.C. Star Hotel, Pacific Place building, Vinacapital, Piony & Iris Gallery, and are collected both domestically and abroad.

Van Duong Thanh has promoted the understanding and friendship for Vietnam through her 1,800 paintings and 85 solo exhibitions. She also nurtures young artistic talent through teaching at the "White Lotus" painting studio in Hanoi, where many of her students have gone on to study at international universities. Additionally, she has raised funds for disadvantaged children through auctions of her artworks, donated pieces for scholarship fundraising auctions for talented Vietnamese students in the US, and opened a non-profit painting room for the UNDP's hunger and poverty reduction program in Hanoi. 



Story: Thao Vy/VNP         Photos: Thanh Giang           Translated by Hong Hanh