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Nguyen Quan (1948 - ) is a leading and influential Vietnamese painter, sculpturist, art historian and critic. Quan is considerd "the voice of Doi Moi"[1] and one of the pioneers of contemporary Vietnamese paintings as he through words and works took a leading role in pointing out new directions for the art scene in the 80’s and 90's as Vietnam moved towards increased freedom of artistic expression.

Life and career[edit]

Quan is born in Vinh Phuc in the Ha Son Province in Vietnam in 1948. He is son of a general and comes from a family where his ancestors for several generations where Confucian scholars. His school years were spent in Hanoi where he took drawing lessons from veteran painter Nam Són (1890-1973). He studied math and cybernetics in Germany during the American War and graduated from Merseburg University in 1971.

In the 80s Quan wrote the books "Vietnamese Contemporary Plastic Arts" and "The Language of Figures and Colours" that summarizes Vietnams plastic arts on issues such as materials and some issues concering the language of forms, colours and lines. During this period he started to teach Theory and History of Hanoi College of Fine Arts. He also served as Secretary of Hanoi College of Fine Arts and as Editor in Chief of the Fine Arts Journal (1984-1989) when Doi Moi and more "freedom of expression" came into effect in 1986. "In words and works he articulated what the new found artisitc freedom should serve"[2]. And as he was the artist that many young artists who wanted change looked up to as a leader, he was also the first artist to break many of the taboos that existed during the period between 1945 and into the 80s. He soon felt the strong attacks, not only by the pagodas and Taoist temples in Northern Vietnam, but also from some painters sircles. As he challenged what the political situation allowed for at the time he was publicly insulted and dismissed from all his posts including his possition as Editor in Chief of the Fine Arts Journal.

In the early 90s Quan wrote together with his associates, the influential books "The Fine Arts of the Viets" and "The Fine Arts in the Villages" where he summarizes Vietnams ancient fine arts from a historical point of view and the cultural space. Both books trace the history of Vietnamese art to the village. Instead of drawing historical lines along the dynasties that ruled the country, the authors locate the sources of Vietnamese creation with the people and the villages, outside of the imperial sphere. This view of art history did not necessarily coincide with official views. Rather, they corresponded to the resurgence of village traditions after decollectivization.

Quan has devoted himself to his artistic career since 1965 and have over time built a language of his own in the artisitc landscape of expressionisme-abstractionisme. Well into the 80s most people, except for some famous and important painters, disliked his paintings, but his reputation as a true renewer and genuine artist has from the late 80s just grown and he is today considered as one of the master painters in Vietnam.

Not only was he looked to as a leader by the renowned “Gang of five”, but more importantly, he pointed out the road to be taken for the younger artists of Hanoi, and thereby untie the strings and refusing the rules of socialist realism, its monotony of style, form and topic.


Quan’s expressionist style in the 90s had a great influence, especially on the young painters of the time, but there is also a contradiction to this influence as the natural moving force of art at that time ran counter to expressionist art in the west. European expressionism is one of their inner self whereas Vietnamese artists paint expressionism in order to hide their inner selves. Vietnamese artists have a traditional psychological secrecy.

It was during this time abroad that Quan developed an interest in Surrealism. His painting style is one that incorporates Western influences with a Vietnamese sensibility that belies an Asian tendency. Immediately in the post-Doi Moi period, Quan’s works and ideas became highly influential in the art circle, which was suddenly liberated and allowed for painting non-representational works.

Quan has depicted his own image in a realist manner, within a surreal setting. According to him, this work is inspired by loneliness. Quan’s signature elements such as the moon that makes references to a woman’s face and the stylization of foliage are present here.

Quans work is rich in symbolism, intensely personal and concerned with tradition and Vietnamese heritage. At the same time he is, even today, one of few painters in Vietnam whose work no longer speaks of being Vietnamese. According to Dr. Nora Taylor “He has so matured and evolved in the process of consistently putting Vietnamese painting on the international art map that he has freed himself from the reins of the collective consciousness of being a painter in Vietnam and risen to the level of a universal painter who has come to terms with what it means to be himself” [3].



2011 Exhibition at Art Talk Café, Hanoi “3D-white”
2006 Exhibition at Mai Gallery, Hanoi “Women and me”
2004 Group exhibition at Gallerie Hoa Mai, Paris “l’Esperit du Vietnam”
2003 Group exhibition at the Goethe Institute in Hanoi 1948 Born in Vinh Phu, Vietnam
2000 To Du gallery, Ho Chi Minh City
1998 Exhibition in Singapore
1997 Exhibitions in Hong Kong, Brussels, Singapore, Oslo and Ho Chi Minh City
1996 Exhibitions in Switzerland and Hanoi
1995 Exhibition in Paris
1994 Exhibition at Mai Gallery, Hanoi. Festival Vietnam, Hong Kong
1991 - 1992 Exhibition at Art Gallery 7, Hang Khay, Hanoi. "Uncorked Soul", Plum Blossoms, Hong Kong & Singapore; Art Fair Miami
1990 Exhibition at Tu Do Gallery, Ho Chi Minh City
1989 Exhibition at Art Gallery 7 Hang Khay, Hanoi. Consultant, Fine Arts Publishing House
1986 - 1989 Editor-in-Chief, My Thuat (Fine Art) magazine. Deputy Director of Fine Arts Publishing House
1984 - 1989 Secretariat, Vietnam Plastic Arts Association
1978 - 1984 Deputy director of the Theory and History Department at the Hanoi College of Fine Arts
1980 Painting awarded prize at National Fine Arts Exhibition. Author of numerous articles and nine books on fine arts including "Art of the Viet"; "Fine Arts in the Lang"; "Notes on Art"
1971 Graduated from University Meresburg, Germany. As early as school age, initiated to painting by the veteran painter Nam Son (1890-1973)

Since 1987, works are exhibited in Vietnam, Europe, America and Asia and are to be found in both public and private collections.


  1. ^ Hantover, Jeffrey. Nguyen Quan. Fine Arts Publishing House, 1997, p. 15.
  2. ^ Hantover, Jeffrey. Nguyen Quan. Fine Arts Publishing House, 1997, p. 15.
  3. ^ Taylor, Nora. Nguyen Quan. Fine Arts Publishing House, 1997, p. 180.

External links[edit]

Mai Gallery Hanoi