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Silk paintings are from traditional to modern (term 2)

Monday, 29 November, 2010

hat-thoc-vangnguyen-thu.jpgIf paper had been created before silk, silk paintings would not have had such special position in the oriental arts. But because of that reason, silk paintings are also up and down like other art materials. Silk also gives artists  certain advantages and disadvantages.

In the ancient time, when people wanted to write some texts on the surface of any kinds of material, there were only two popular materials, they were bamboo and silk. Besides, people also engraved letters on the tortoiseshells, bones, bronze objects, skins and fabrics. Pictures and letters have got the same origin. Thus, the tools for drawing are also  the ones for writing. The first silk paintings were discovered in China at the time of “Three nations-Six dynasties” in the third century AD, and obviously, a lot of silk paintings were drawn before but silk paintings are not durable over the time so it’s very difficult to archive them. If people wanted to archive silk paintings, they would have to use natural colours without covering up and sometimes they unrolled them to watch, so they could keep them for 1000 years. Gradually, copying old pictures and letters has been born, therefore, under the feudalism, after several years, old pictures and books were copied.
Ra dong (Going to field), by Nguyen Phan Chanh.
Like Chinese, old Vietnamese people also drew pictures on silk and paper. Under the feudalism, fine arts were not developed in our country, so there are now some silk pictures for worshipping from the nineteenth century, the oldest picture was thought to be the portrait of Nguyen Trai in the fifteen century. When the Indochinese College of Fine Arts was founded in 1925, French professors encouraged Vietnamese students to draw pictures with using lacquer and silk - the two traditional materials, many artists used them such as Tran Van Can, To Ngoc Van, Nguyen Van Que, Luong Xuan Nhi, but only Nguyen Phan Chanh continued to draw on silk professionally through his life with his own style. However, these artists and their successive generations did not use natural colours any more, they used water colours , when finishing they used glue to stick a layer of paper behind the silk painting. This basically changed the traditional technique. When using natural colours, artists don’t need to wash and brush the surface of silk too much, colours are covered on the surface of silk, they can finish their pictures in  only one time. Using water colour is the technique of dying silk, is to leave colours to infuse into the silk fibers. And artists have to draw on the wet silk and wash silk a lot, so different colours are soluble on the surface of silk  and are able to make a dark grey on the silk and make it darker. In reality, the modern silk paintings with this technique will become darker in the future. But sparkling and fancy beauty of silk paintings are more delicate when drawing on the dry silk. One more problem is that silk paintings covered with paper will be destroyed because the stick level between silk and paper will be destroyed and at the same time silk and paper will also be broken. Some over-50-year-old silk paintings in the Museum of Vietnamese Fine Arts are at risk from being broken. Thus, that we still joke about “a pile of paintings” is true.

To be continued…                           
(Collected and translated by Lan Phuong)