Folk painting is a combination of traditional cultural values with ancient artistic methods that have been created through the labor of past generations. There are two types of Vietnamese folk painting, Tet holiday paintings and worshiping paintings.
Long History of Folk Painting in Vietnam
The folk painting’s journey is the story of the Vietnamese traditional art from the past to the present. During the Ly Dynasty (12th century), there were many families who specialized in woodblock carving. By the end of the Tran Dynasty, they were also printing paper money. At the beginning of the Le So Dynasty, the Chinese technique of carving printing boards was adopted and improved. The History Museum and the Fine Art Museum in Hanoi still keep old printing boards as archives.
During the Mac Dynasty (16th century), folk painting developed quite extensively and was popular among the aristocracy in Thang Long. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the art of folk painting was stable and highly developed.
Depending on artistic style, drawing-printing technique as well as the materials used, folk painting are classified into painting trends according to the name of their place of production.
Each style of painting is different. However, in all the styles, shapes are created based on the concept of don tuyen binh do (single line-simple designs) which uses lines to bend the colored shapes and to make a border for the picture. Another method used is thuan tay hay mat (easy to draw and to see). With this design form, the folk painting does not depend on the rules of perspective.
In a folk painting, the deities are large and take the upper positions, the ordinary people are drawn on a smaller scale and the size of the animals as well as the natural scenery are depicted depends on their relationship to the sentiment or expressed story. These unique characteristics make the paintings profoundly impressive. With color as red as peony, as yellow as ripe paddy, as green as a young rice plant, the images have by themselves the taste of rural areas in all their characteristic rusticity. Besides, scallop shells give a typically Vietnamese gleam and constitute a decorative element of printed pictures of a very simple treatment.
As a result of cultural exchange, Vietnamese folk painting have retained and developed certain traditional aspects. As well, the paintings have been influenced and enriched by the genius of other painting styles. One exception is Dong Ho paintings, which continue to exist unchanged against the challenges of time.
Dong Ho Paintings
Dong Ho folk painting is famous because Dong Ho is the only village where people know how to make the painting with completely natural materials. The printing paper is made of the bark of a tree called “Do“. The background paper is originally white; then, people use natural materials to change the colors of the papers to orange, pink, yellow, purple, etc.
Dong Ho folk painting is known for the durability of their colors which are refined from various kinds of tree leaves that people can easily find in Vietnam. Particularly, the red color is taken from the earth of hills and mountains; black is from coal of burned bamboo leaves; the glittering white color is made of sea shells. After that, in order to prevent the painting from the daylight, the artist will cover it with a layer of sticky rice paste (called ho nep).
Paintings here vary from decorative for Tet Holiday to pieces of worship. Dong Ho painting is considered a cultural symbol of Vietnam; it has been sustained for centuries. Scenes depicted in these paintings are usually those of ordinary life, landscapes, seasons of the year, symbols of prosperity, etc. They also reflect people’s innermost feelings, wishes and simple dreams. Because their popular appearance, folk painting is available throughout Vietnam, from the village markets to the capital city.
Hang Trong Paintings
The Vietnamese believe in ancestor worship and the deification of natural phenomena, both of them are reflected in the paintings. Hang Trong paintings are popular as worshiping paintings in temples. As such, the paintings are often hung in spacious living rooms or in holy places.
Hang Trong paintings are also printed with black lines to form the basis for the color. However, unlike Dong Ho paintings, they are made by hand. Large sheets of imported paper and brightly colored paints are used for Hang Trong paintings. The content of these paintings are significantly influenced by Chinese drawings. Hang Trong paintings have traditionally served the poorer classes and are made and sold in the capital city.
Among the Vietnamese arts, folk painting is a long standing traditional one. It is highly appreciated by generations to the others and has become an indispensable moral alimentation. Dong Ho as well as Hang Trong paintings had set their place deeply in the soul of the people and remained their features unchangeable in spite of the upheavals of the times.
Want to get to know more about the secret art behind Dong Ho paintings? Join a customized-for-you cycling tour to Dong Ho, Bat Trang village, and But Thap Pagoda.
Those who want to have an overview look at Vietnamese art and paintings through history is recommended to visit Vietnam Fine Art Museum (at 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc St., Ba Dinh Dist. – Hanoi). Located near the Temple of Literature, Vietnam Fine Arts Museum is must see for every one keen on art beauty of Vietnam. Here, you will fine many of Vietnamese artistic essences from painting on silk, to lacquer work to statues etc.