Lê Phổ (1907-2001) was a Vietnamese painter who spent most of his career in France. He worked primarily in oil and lacquer, painting on both canvas and silk. His works display a deep understanding of the French painting tradition while maintaining a strong tie to his Vietnamese cultural heritage, a personal fact of which he was deeply proud. He was heavily influenced by the painting of Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse.
Lê Phổ was born in 1907 in Thanh Xuân, one of Hanoi's many quận (districts). As an affluent youth in Vietnam's capital, Phổ received extensive education in art. Inspired by artistic mentor Victor Tardieu, Phổ decided to enroll in the École Supérieure des Beaux Arts de l’Indochine (now Vietnam University of Fine Arts) as part of its inaugural class in 1925. Here, Phổ received training in Western painting styles while at the same time striving to preserve his Vietnamese cultural heritage. It was at the École that he was first introduced to the materials of lacquer and silk, items that would feature prominently in his later work. During his time at the École, his art was featured publicly for the first time in an exhibition at his school.
After completing his studies in 1930, Phổ received an invitation from Tardieu, his former teacher, to join him in Paris. He found himself working on the Angkor Wat Pavilion at the Exposition Coloniale Internationale in Paris, employing the lacquer techniques he had studied at the École. Inspired by his time in Paris, he decided to stay, enrolling in the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts de Paris in 1932. After just a year of studies, Phổ returned to his native Vietnam to teach at his alma mater. However, after just a few short years back in Hanoi, he received an invitation to be the artistic director at the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne and so he returned to Paris; this move would be his last, as he would spend the remainder of his life in France's capital city, never returning to Vietnam again. During this time in Paris, Phổ had his first private exhibition in 1938.
In 1940, after a stint in the French army, he settled in Nice, a coastal town in southern France where he would remain for the rest of his life. His fame during this time grew and his art was sent all over the world to be exhibited, more notably in Algeria and the United States, where he signed an exclusive contract in 1964 with the Wally Findlay Galleries, with locations in Kansas City, Chicago, Palm Beach, and New York. He spent much of his time traveling, visiting artists such as an aging Henri Matisse. Although he never returned to Vietnam, he retained close personal ties to his homeland, meeting with dignitaries during their visits to France. He died at the age of 94 in 2001.
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