Non Western Art: Vietnamese Silk Paintings

Silk paintings are down right incredible! I wanted to use the country of Vietnam in this blog and came across silk paintings; they caught my attention right away because the intricate beauty that these artists have created on silk amazes me. Over 80 years, Vietnamese silk paintings have gone through two developmental stages. Prior to 1945, the artists used the beauty of the quietness of a closed world and since 1945 they have changed to the new forming world and use more contemporary colors in their artwork. Silk paintings are one of the most popular forms of art in Vietnam. The Vietnamese silk paintings are usually of the countryside, landscapes, pagodas, historical events, or scenes of everyday life. The Vietnamese style of silk painting has evolved greatly over the years and now has its own unique character and transparency of colors that are different from those they came from in ancient Japan and China.


Tran Van Can

Tran Van Can (1910-1994) was a famous Vietnamese silk painter and he also co-wrote one of the first English language books on Vietnamese contemporary painters. Tran Van Can won first prize at the National Art Exhibitions in 1960, 1967, and 1980. Can spent a lot of time within the art community of Vietnam. He was the headmaster of the Vietnam college of Fine Arts (1955-64), the secretary of the Vietnamese Fine Arts Association (1958-83), and in 1983 became the President of the Vietnamese Association of Plastic Arts. In 1996 he was posthumously awarded the Ho Chi Minh Award, the most dignified decoration for Vietnamese artists. In 1944 Tran Van Can painted an unnamed silk painting in Vietnam of two young women lounging on a bench. It is a very intricate painting that shows just how talented Can was at silk painting. The white color of the silk is used as the light in the picture while the dark colors of paint bring the picture to life. The women seem to be sitting in the middle of a town; as you can see the background of the painting shows a town in motion. It is a beautiful painting and it is quite extraordinary how Can was able to form such an elaborate picture on silk.


unnamed silk painting, created in 1944 by Tran Van Can



Nguyen Phan Chanh

Nguyen Phan Chanh (1892-1984), a Vietnamese artist who specialized in silk painting was also famous in Vietnam for his beautiful artwork. He was born in a rural Vietnamese village, in Ha Tinh province. He received a normal Vietnamese education and went on to the University of Ecole des Beaux Arts de L’indochine in Vietnam from 1925-1930. He won a painting prize in 1931 and then started his career as a teacher. After his death he also received the Ho Chi Minh Award in Vietnam. Chanh painted, Crab Catcher, ink gouache on silk in 1938. It is a painting of 2 women and 2 children crossing a bridge at dawn. I say dawn because the picture is somewhat darker and there is mist coming off the water as if the sun is warming the water as it is rising in the sky. The bridge looks very weak; if the wind were to blow hard enough it would snap in pieces. I like this picture because I am getting a glimpse at everyday life of Vietnam culture.


Crab Catcher, created in 1938 by Nguyen Phan Chanh

La Marchande de Riz (The Rice Seller), is another silk painting by Nguyen Phan Chanh. He painted The Rice Seller in 1932, ink and gouache on silk, in Vietnam. This is a painting from the time before bright colors were used; the silk took on most of the light colors of the painting and the darker colors formed the picture in the painting. It is a simple picture, but one that opens the unique culture of Vietnam to the world. I like that it is an uncomplicated picture and just shows what is happening instead of bringing a lot of other images into the picture. It is a great painting to show the market of rice and how important it is to their country as well as how they dress with big hats and loose, light clothing to protect from long days in the sun. This is a perfect picture to capture Vietnamese culture.


Rice Seller, created in 1932 by Nguyen Phan Chanh

I really enjoyed researching and learning about the different silk paintings that have come from Vietnam. I know Vietnam is a sensitive topic within the United States, but understanding and learning about their culture and artwork has really opened my eyes. I always like to broaden my knowledge of different countries and I feel like because of the horrible history of Vietnam many people shy away from learning about them. I think this happens in school with teachers and even when people have the choice to choose their topics. This is why I chose Vietnam, because I don’t know much about the country except for the war. Overall this has been a positive experience and I enjoyed my topic thoroughly.


Geringer Art Ltd. Nguyen Phan Chanh. N.p, 2009. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.

My Art Tracker-Beta. Nguyen Phan Chanh Artworks. N.p, 2013. Web. 24. Apr. 2014.

Nguyen Art Gallery. Famous Vietnamese Artist Tran Van Can. N.p, 2013. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.

Phan Cam Thuong. The evolution of Vietnamese silk painting. Vietnamese Heritage Magazine, 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.

Wikipedia. Tran Van Can. N.p, 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.

Wikipedia. Vietnamese Art. N.p, 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.


3 thoughts on “Non Western Art: Vietnamese Silk Paintings

  1. Wow, Vietnamese silk paintings look very unique. Your non-western art form theme is a great idea and opens up a world of art that I would not have known existed. Your blog is well organized and the links that you provide in the text are very convenient to find more information in a particular area. I like your responses to the works and the perspective that you provide for each different painting; it is clear that each response is unique and thought out and not just generic remarks. I like the simplicity of these works as well and that the painting is an opening into the Vietnamese culture. The colors are definitely not very vibrant, but I like that it adds to the cultural aspect of each scene. I found a link to some more information:

    • Thanks for your reply! I really enjoyed my theme for this blog; it was really fun to learn about a type of art I didn’t know existed. Thanks for your link to more information; it was a great link!

  2. I really like these paintings. They are simplistic. The earlier paintings created by Nguyen Phan Chanh have duller colors and lack a lot of detail. I think that this is a very good way to portray rural Vietnamese life because it was not glamorous. Life was most likely duller, just like the colors used in the paintings. In the later painting by Tran Van Can is a lot more bright. It also has a lot more detail. I think that this is a great contrast with the Nguyen Phan Chanh paintings because the Can paintings show a more luxurious life. I also really enjoyed your background you gave on the artists and on silk painting itself.

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