Lê Phổ - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale Hong Kong Friday, October 6, 2023 | Phillips
  • Brimming with a force of vivacity and spontaneity, Bouquet de fleurs is an energetic evocation of love, passion and ephemerality, epitomising the modern master, Lê Phổ's, return to his oriental style.


    A pioneer of Vietnamese modern art, Lê Phổ’s oeuvre dips into the Impressionist’s fascination with light, the expressionist’s unrestrained brushstrokes, and the European Primitives’ romanticised exoticism of lush nature. Having studied at the prestigious L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Hanoi, then awarded a scholarship to Paris, his early works reflect an oriental lens – a romanticised exoticism of the East, as coined by scholar Edward Said – whilst retaining footing in Vietnamese visual language. The beginning of Lê Phổ’s artistic career was shaped by the complex dichotomy between East and West, seen from the emergence of nationalism as an opposing force against colonial France. This duality is illustrated brilliantly in the present lot.


    Bouquet de fleurs marks his momentous departure from the traditional Vietnamese ink on silk, a medium that demands technical mastery and precision. Despite this pivot, his years of formative training with the medium are evident in his delicate handling of the brush, forming free, fluid strokes imbued with dynamism. The strokes whirl in an unrestrained, quasi-impressionistic manner, a result of witnessing the blossoming of the French avant-garde art scene. Starbursts of cadmium red, saffron, and bright yellow emerge from the red wall behind, forming a spectacle of freshly cut peonies and camellias, both species of Eastern origin loaded with significance. Peonies have come to represent feminine love, romance and tenderness in ancient Chinese poetry. Alternately, the intense and ubiquitous use of red in this work may allude to passion and sexuality, evoking a charged image that challenges conservative notions of modesty echoed throughout Vietnamese culture. The warm ochre hue that pervades throughout the work is contrasted with the artic blue ceramic vase, placed firmly on a chinoiserie tablecloth depicted in its wrinkled form. The cloth hints at Lê Phổ’s visit to China in 1934, an influential trip for the artist.


     “(A) painter can say all he wants to with fruit or flowers or even clouds.”

    — Édouard Manet


    In his choice of subject matter, Lê Phổ pursues the age-old heritage of art history: the genre of still life with flowers. With roots in ancient Greece and later popularised in Dutch and Flemish paintings, artists pursued mimesis, the imitation of nature through optical realism. Instead, in the present lot, Lê Phổ focuses on evoking a temporal spectacle, capturing a fleeting moment of existence.


    Jan van Huysum, Still Life with Flowers and Fruit
    c. 1715, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
    Image: National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. 1996.80.1, 
    Patrons' Permanent Fund and Gift of Philip and Lizanne Cunningham


    Notably, a bouquet of spring-blooming peonies and late season camellias seem to be an unlikely pairing, recalling the “impossible bouquets” of 18th-century Dutch arrangements. For instance, Jan van Huysum’s mystical arrangement of flowers that bloom at different times of the year. In the present lot, Lê Phổ’s “impossible” pairing lends an air of mystique to the seemingly quotidian subject, transcending its status as a subject of its own right.

    • Provenance

      Gifted by the artist to the previous owner
      Tajan Auction, 20 September 2007 (after-sale)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


Bouquet de fleurs

signed 'Le Pho [in Chinese and English]' lower right
oil on panel
27 x 27 cm. (10 5/8 x 10 5/8 in.)
This work will be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity prepared by the artist's son, Alain Le Kim. This work will be included in the artist's forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the work of Lê Phổ, being prepared by Alain Le Kim.

Full Cataloguing

HK$300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for HK$165,100

Contact Specialist

Anastasia Salnikoff
Head of Day Sale, Associate Specialist
+852 2318 2014

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 7 October 2023