Vietnamese exiled Emperor’s paintings to go under the hammer


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Soleil couchant sur la campagne (Sunset Over the Countryside), painted by Emperor Hàm Nghi in 1911

HÀ NỘI Paintings by Vietnamese Emperor Hàm Nghi (1871 – 1944), who was exiled to Algeria for his patriotism, are among Indochinese artworks that will go under the hammer at French auction house Lynda Trouvé on September 22.

A total of 19 paintings by Hàm Nghi will be sold together with works by other acclaimed Indochina painters such as Vũ Cao Đàm, Trần Phúc Duyên, Lê Phổ, as well as French artists associated with the Indochina School of Fine Arts, like professors Alix Aymé and Headmaster Evariste Jonchère.

One painting of interest is Soleil Couchant Sur La Campagne (Sunset Over the Countryside), painted in 1911, had the Emperor’s handwriting of the date, signature, and his regal title.

This is the first time that such a large number of paintings by former Emperor and Prince of Annam is offered for sale. They belonged to Henri Aubé, a French military officer who was stationed in Hà Nội between 1907 and 1909, and were discovered in the attic at his home.

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Lac au crépuscule (Twilight Lake) by Hàm Nghi. 

Hàm Nghi was the eighth emperor of the Vietnamese Nguyễn Dynasty, but reigned for only one year (1884-85).

After the failure of the Cần Vương (Save the King) movement against French colonial rule, Emperor Hàm Nghi was captured and exiled to Algeria, then a colony of France, on December 12, 1888.

While exiled in Algiers, he learned painting and sculpture techniques from the artist Marius Reynaud and dedicated his entire life to intense artistic activities as a painter, pastelist and sculptor.

He made several trips to France under close surveillance, where he met artists such as Foujita, Rodin, and the writer Judith Gautier.

According to, his artworks are extremely rare to go on the market, and these particular pieces have never been presented for sale before. During his lifetime, the artist’s works were exhibited at the Guimet Museum in 1926.

“It is highly likely that Henri Aubé stayed at the military thermal hospital in Vichy for treatments, as many officers stationed in the colonies did during that time,” said the auction house on its website.

“Between 1909 and 1913, Hàm Nghi also frequented this establishment regularly. If the two men met, it most likely happened in Vichy. It is assumed that Hàm Nghi and Henri Aubé formed a friendship through their mutual friend, Henri de Gondrecourt. The paintings inherited by Henri Aubé’s family remained in their private collection, and they are now being offered for sale by his descendants.” 

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Maison au bord de l’eau (House by the Water) painted by Hàm Nghi in 1910

According to art critic Ngô Kim Khôi, the paintings are highly praised for their historical value rather than artistic elements, despite the Emperor’s excellent technique.

Khôi said; “Hàm Nghi was one of the first painter adopting the Western style, which was then followed by other acclaimed painters like Lê Văn Miến, Nguyễn Nam Sơn or Thang Trần Phềnh, so his paintings are highly historically valued.”

He said, the starting bid of each painting ranges from €3,000 – 5,000 which is totally feasible, guaranteeing a fiercely competitive bidding war among collectors.

Khôi added” “Like a fairy tale, the former king’s gifts, forgotten and left in the attic of a French officer’s family, will be awakened in an auction on September 22. I hope that Huế Provincial Museum could afford at least one to two paintings so that those royal artefacts could return to the Emperor’s homeland and the rest would be purchased by Vietnamese collectors,” he added.

During a visit to Việt Nam, grandchild of Emperor Hàm Nghi, Dr Amandine Dabat, revealed that there are about 100 of his paintings that are still preserved to this day.

One of those paintings is Lac des Alpes (Lake in the Alps), which is currently housed at the Huế Royal Antiquities Museum in the central province of Thừa Thiên-Huế. It was gifted to the museum by an anonymous collector. 

Theo Vietnamnews

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Hàm Nghi was the eighth emperor of the Vietnamese Nguyễn Dynasty. He was exiled to Algeria, then a colony of France, on December 12, 1888. File photo