Lê Phổ - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale Hong Kong Tuesday, June 21, 2022 | Phillips
  • One of the most prominent artists in Vietnamese modern art, Lê Phổ is globally recognised for his versatility as a painter. His celebrated career can be divided into three periods, each with a distinct style, context, and history. The present work, Le Diner, was executed in 1938 and is one of the artist's early pieces, painted the same year as his first solo exhibition in Paris. 


    Works from Lê Phổ’s early stage are highly sought after due to their rarity, as well as the clear demonstration of the artist's innate skills in silk painting. Differing from Lê Phổ's works from his later periods, which, due to endorsements by Western gallerists and collectors, had obvious European influences including elements of Impressionism and Surrealism, early works like Le Diner are distinctly Asian in their references. 


    A young boy eating in Saigon, 1966


    Born in 1907, Lê Phổ attended the Fine Arts College of Indochina (L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Indochine) in Hanoi, to pursue his creative talents. Founded in 1925 on the initiative of French artist Victor Tardieu, the fine arts college was prestigious and competitive, with a highly rigorous admissions system that ensured all its attendees were the cream of the crop. Other prominent artists in the history of Vietnamese modern art who were alumni of the arts academy include Mai Trung Thu, Nguyen Gia Tri, and Pham Hau.


    Though the college looked to Western art history for the foundation of its curriculum, with European oil painting constituting the basis of practice, Tardieu and other professors encouraged students to also experiment with traditional Vietnamese techniques and methods. During a time of burgeoning nationalism in colonial Vietnam, Lê Phổ and his peers sought out art forms that embodied their culture and heritage. Silk painting and lacquer art quickly became the two primary techniques that were considered of a superior standard.  



    Art Dealer Wallay Findlay Jr. with Lê Phổ in Paris, circa 1964

    After traveling to Paris with Mai Trung Thu and other graduates to exhibit at the 1931 Exposition Coloniale, Lê Phổ found himself enamoured by the city's romantic atmosphere and carefree lifestyle and subsequently relocated there to further his art career. Vietnam always remained close to his heart, however, with home and heritage both themes that carried a notable influence throughout his entire oeuvre.


    Executed circa 1938, Le Diner depicts a boy eating from a bowl with a pair of chopsticks, with the set of dishes laid out in the foreground suggesting a communal meal. The red and green of the boy's traditionally styled clothing stands out against the more sensitive and subtle, earthy tones of his surroundings, emphasising the connotations of luck and purity that these colours hold in Asian culture. 


    Detail of the present work


    Having painted Le Diner in Paris, Lê Phổ instils in this piece a nostalgic sentiment and a bittersweet longing for home and family life back in Vietnam, as well as a strong sense of pride in his Asian heritage. Demonstrating the artist's ability to appreciate Western techniques while maintaining a focus on traditional art and Asian aesthetics, Le Diner is a rare work that epitomises the core values and cultural implications of Lê Phổ's expansive oeuvre. A bona fide master of Vietnamese modern art, Lê Phổ remained deeply inspired by his home country despite working in a foreign environment, staying true to his people and his culture. 


    Exemplifying how Lê Phổ’s legacy continues to dominate twenty-years since his passing in 2001, the artist’s top result at auction was recently achieved on 27 April 2022 in Hong Kong, when a painting hammered down for HK$17,920,000 Premium.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Paris
      Collection of Nick Scheeres (acquired from the above in 1997)
      Pioneers of Modernism: A Selection from the Scheeres Collection, Phillips, Hong Kong, 27 May 2018, lot 23
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner


Le Diner (Dinner Time)

signed 'Le Pho [in Chinese and English]' with one seal of the artist upper left
ink and gouache on silk
28.6 x 21.8 cm. (11 1/4 x 8 5/8 in.)
Executed circa 1938.

Full Cataloguing

HK$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for HK$529,200

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 21 June 2022