Sniffing out art in Hanoi

As we are nearing the end of our time in Hanoi, I realize one of the great things about Hanoi which I haven’t shared yet is its art scene. In 1925 the French set up the École Superieure Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine, which began training young Vietnamese artists in European styles of art. It was during this time that the Vietnamese began adapting their traditional lacquer (sơn mài) skills which had previously been used primarily in a religious capacity to make decorative lacquer paintings. Some beautiful pieces from the 1920s through the 1980s can be found in the Hanoi Museum of Fine Art along with paintings using other media – silk, woodcut, and oil. Vietnam’s talented artists remained hidden from the outside world until Vietnam began opening up after Doi Moi in 1986. In the 1990s private galleries (previously all galleries were state owned) began to open up including Mai GalleryThang Long Art Gallery, and Green Palm Gallery. Suzanne Lecht of Art Vietnam was instrumental in helping expose Vietnamese talent to the outside world. Now Vietnamese artists are regularly displayed at famous galleries around the world.

One of the best ways to see contemporary artists’ work is through the beautiful art galleries on Hang Gai and Trang Tien – the links to their websites are in the above paragraph.  Although most of the paintings are way out of our price range the staff are very friendly and happy for people just to look around enjoying the art work and exploring the beautiful tube houses which they occupy. The hound was even allowed in which I’m sure would never happen in New York!

Also on the same street there are numerous ‘galleries’ knocking off fakes at a phenomenal rate – from some of the Vietnamese classics such as Nguyen Thanh Binh to Van Gogh and Klimt to copying photographs. Tala became quite adept at sniffing out fakes…


One of the best places to appreciate Vietnamese art and see art in the context of Vietnam’s turbulent past is at the Hanoi Museum of Fine Art which is located in a great example of Indochine style architectural from the 1930s. The building was originally a boarding school for daughters of the French Colonial elite. In 1966 it officially opened as a museum.


Below is some of the art work found in the museum – a must visit in Hanoi as my photos don’t do it justice. There is also some very striking art work showing the hardship and destruction of war.

The museum also puts on regular temporary exhibits. Below are photos from one on artists’ self portraits and another where artists have repainted some of the famous propaganda posters from the American war period.