Lê Phổ (1907-2001), Maternité (Maternity), 1948

Lot 256. Lê Phổ (1907-2001), Maternité (Maternity), signed, ink and gouache on silk, 44 by 36.5 cm; 17 1/4  by 14 1/4  in. Executed in 1948. Estimate 800,000 — 1,500,000 HKD. Photo: Sotheby’s. 

Exhibited: Galerie Van Loo, Brussels, February 1948

Notes: One of the four prominent Vietnamese graduates of the École des Beaux-Arts who made a career in France, Lê Phổ produced an oeuvre that was a delicate fusion of Vietnamese themes and French artistic styles. Like several Vietnamese masters before him, he opted to display his talents on the historically significant Asian medium of silk. However, the artist gravitated to the style of post-impressionism, which inspired him during his time in France.

Maternite (Maternity) is an intimate work depicting a mother embracing her child. By portraying a classic image that connotes maternal love, Lê Phổ emphasizes the cherished bond between the pair. With downcast eyes and an arched back as motions to cradle her child, the nurturing mother exudes an element of serenity. The image of a nude in the backdrop augments the work with a sense community, kinship, tenderness and security. This particular work was meticulously painted, complete with lush foliage in the backdrop and a series of trees receding into the distance. The soft pigments used further evoke a feeling of tranquility, complementing the theme of motherhood.

Le Pho, Maternity

Lê Phổ, Maternité (Maternity). Sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 5 April 2014, Lot 129 for US$ 391,934.

Lê Phổ journeyed back to Vietnam after his French education, but returned once again in 1937, where he resided until his passing in 2001. Painted before the 1955 Vietnam War which ravaged the nation in hardship and turmoil, the present lot offers viewers a window into calmer times, an opportunity to vicariously experience the more halcyon and unadulterated days. Perhaps Lê Phổ chose to remain in France to continue to safeguard his untainted memories of his nation and immortalize the untouched beauty of old Vietnam through his nostalgic works.

Sotheby’s. Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art, Hong Kong, 03 Oct 2016, 10:00 AM