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Born in 1949 to a family of prominent artists and intellectuals, Thanh Chuong was raised during a pivotal time that nurtured his creative ingenuity. The French colonial era was about to end and a new volatile chapter of Vietnam’s history would begin. Thanh Chuong’s artistic sensibilities were crafted as much by his country’s history as they were nurtured by this family of artists and writers. His prodigious abilities surfaced when he was only seven-years-old as he started winning awards and prizes for his drawing both in and outside of Vietnam.
Thanh Chuong was awarded his first notable international prize from London in 1957 for Doi Ga To, or “A Couple of Hens.” In 1960, when he was just 11-years-old, he was invited to attend a class for gifted students at Vietnam’s most prestigious art college: the Vietnam Fine Art College.
He was drafted into the Vietnam People’s Army in 1967, an episode that would dominate the next eight years of his life until the end of the war in 1975. This period did not signify a departure from his artistic ambitions, however, as he continued to paint, teach painting, and began his collection of invaluable artistic artefacts from the destruction that the war left behind. Thanh Chuong’s experience in the military would have a profound impact on his artistic directions.
In 1975 Thanh Chuong was recruited to work as an illustrator and designer for Van Nghe (Literature and Art), the most prestigious culture magazine in Vietnam. He made significant contributions to the publication as the principle designer and illustrator, as well as holding responsibility for the magazine’s coverage of fine art. Although he also concentrated on his own work, his art wasn’t given a platform by the government as he didn’t allow his creativity to be influenced by party guidelines.
The renovation period that began in 1986, known as Doi Moi, saw a drastic change to Thanh Chuong’s professional ambition and artistic sensibilities. He spearheaded the movement of contemporary art that the increased political and cultural freedoms allowed, while directing Van Nghe through a fundamental conceptual change suitable to the more open artistic environment.
Momentum for Thanh Chuong’s national and international recognition as a prominent Vietnamese artist began in 1994 with his first solo exhibition at Song Hong Gallery in Hanoi. This catalyzed a string of national and international exhibitions, where he was reaffirmed internationally as an artist of exceptional talent. He pioneered a new school of painting known as “Vietnam School,” which signified a marked departure from the influence and dependence on French artistic traditions and the blossoming of an indigenous Vietnamese style imbued with national identity.
Thanh Chuong quickly became known for his devotion to Vietnamese folklore and countryside life. The rapid urbanization that followed the renovation period – a phenomenon Vietnam is still experiencing today – has prompted a national nostalgia for traditions, folklore, and countryside living. His vivid scenes combining Vietnamese festival colors and using great buffalo and farmers in conical hats as subjects became synonymous with his unique style. He is the first artist to depict the Vietnamese countryside in such a way.
He employed mediums such as oil and pastel, though he propelled his reputation by becoming one of the world’s most prominent lacquer artists. Mastering this challenging medium provided Thanh Chuong with a style for which he became most famous. Lacquer is an indigenous Vietnamese medium that Thanh Chuong has played with, experimented with, and reinvented to raise the style to new altitudes.
In 2000 Thanh Chuong was voted by the national press to represent Hanoi in the field of culture and art. In 2001 his painting “Love” was selected by the UN as the symbol for the International Year of Volunteers and printed on stamps that were circulated around the world. Thanh Chuong was the first Asian painter whose work was selected for a UN stamp.
From 2001 to 2005, Thanh Chuong continued his personal and artistic development as a devotee to the traditional culture and art of Vietnam. He feared the erosion of Vietnam’s cultural heritage as the country developed so quickly and embarked on his grandest and most ambition installation: an expansive palace of national art and artefacts spanning almost 10,000 square meters. Viet Phu Thanh Chuong, or Thanh Chuong Viet Palace is the pinnacle of his artistic career: an otherworldly garden of cultural houses, ancient trees, serene ponds, and historic artifacts. This installation is focused on the display, conservation and preservation of Vietnam’s rich heritage.
Whispers of an ambitious new art installation tucked away in the countryside near Hanoi spread through journalistic and artistic circles across the world. In 2004, Thanh Chuong Viet Palace was officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen of Sweden during her official visit to Vietnam with the King and their delegation. In 2009, after more than eight years of free but restricted admission, the installation was opened to the public. The national and international press continue to refer to the palace as a key cultural attraction in Vietnam to this day.
In 2010, after 35 years, Thanh Chuong retired from Van Nghe. He earned prestigious titles in Vietnam’s culture and art communities, including a seat at the Vietnam National Council of Art; and Chairman of the Vietnam Association of Fine Art Graphic Art Council. He remains one of Vietnam’s most prolific, celebrated, and creative artists with a truly international reputation.