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Lot 244, Lê Phổ (1907-2001), Nativité (The Nativity). Signed and dated 43. Gouache on silk, 44.5 by 29.5 cm; 17 1/2  by 11 1/2 in. Estimate 125,000 — 185,000 HKD (14,235 – 21,068 EUR). Photo Sotheby’s.

Provenance: Acquired by a high-level officer of the South Vietnamese regime before 1975
Thence by descent to the Present Owner
Private collection, U.S.A.

Note: Much of the East and West creative dichotomy is visible in artworks created by Southeast Asian artists influenced by foreign aesthetics and principles. Le Pho was one such artist who used creative expression to understand and analyze the “other”, such as European religious and cultural principles that fascinated them, and found a new voice in the regional context of their paintings. His appropriation of European subject matters within an Asian paradigm was a marriage of two cultures that touched the audience’s emotions in a refreshingly new way.

Nativité (The Nativity) is an excellent example of this pairing, for in the present painting the Virgin Mary looks upon Christ with the universal feeling of compassion. The artist has reinterpreted the Christian story as the mother and child classic archetype. Le Pho did not desire to objectify the “other” in his oeuvre, contrary to his European peers. Rather he sought to conceptualize the Western creation myth into an Asian context that would be understandable to his own Vietnamese history.

The artist’s talents with silk painting further enhance the graceful pairing of the figures, the ethereal quality of the fabric radiating an angelic glow from their embrace. The overall meaning of Nativité (The Nativity) conveys the relationship between two individuals who are very much connected and part of one another. The work is the true exchange between a mother and her child, subsequently understood as the ultimate act of love experienced by all women experiencing the joy at the birth of their child.

Sotheby’s. Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art, Hong Kong, 04 avr. 2016, 10:00 AM

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