Fine Arts Museum in Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon Museum of Fine Arts

Jane Pham
Jane Pham | Published: April 28, 2020

Throughout the more-than-300-years history, Ho Chi Minh City is developing to be one of the leading centers of politics, economics, culture, education and tourism of Vietnam. Along with the drastic changes, Ho Chi Minh City still preserves its traditional values as well as unique architecture constructions. One thing that you can easily realize in this city is the French edifices that have become the symbols of Ho Chi Minh City. On our trip today, we will visit a destination like this, the Fine Arts Museum of Ho Chi Minh City.

    Location: 97A Pho Duc Chinh Street, Nguyen Thai Binh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
    Opening hour: 08.00 – 17.00 daily
    Ticket price: Adults: 30,000 VND; Students with student cards: 15,000 VND
    Phone number: 028 3829 4441

I. A Brief History of Fine Arts Museum

Fine Arts Museum, or Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts, is one of the largest museums in Ho Chi Minh City. It  has witnessed the ups and downs of history as well as the rise of Ho Chi Minh City after the unification in 1975.

Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts Museum

The construction was built in 1929 and inaugurated in 1934. It is a harmonious combination of Asian and European architecture, which was designed by Mr. Rivera, a French architect. At that time, the construction was the family mansion of a Chinese-born businessman named Hua Bon Hoa, one of the wealthiest traders in South Vietnam in the colonial time. Hua Bon Hoa, also affectionately called Uncle Hoa, was the owner of many other constructions which are Tu Du Hospital, Majestic Hotel and Emergency Center of Ho Chi Minh City now.

The owners of this construction changed through different periods of time, which associated with the historical events such as The August Revolution in 1945, the partition of the North and South in 1954, the collapse of the Republic of Vietnam in 1975 and the Renovation in 1986. Up to present, though Ho Chi Minh City has been changing in many ways, the architectural work still remains its antique appearance and embellishes the general development of Ho Chi Minh City.

In 1987, one year after the Renovation, this construction was converted into Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts by the City People’s Committee. However, due to the lack of artifacts, it did not go into operation until 1992. More than a physical space, it is the home of many sculptures, paintings and artifacts that contribute to the development of fine arts in Ho Chi Minh City.

At the beginning of its foundation, under the patronage of a contemporary art center, Mrs. Tran Thi Huynh Nga, the wife of a famous artist, rented a room in this museum and turned it into a platform of contemporary art, where various workshops, exhibitions, and performance events were held in the following years.

II. Highlights of Fine Arts Museum

1. The Architecture Outside Fine Arts Museum

staircases in the museum

Most of the museums themselves in Vietnam, in particular, and all around the world, in general, are inherently the valuable art works, not to mention the artifacts inside the museum. Fine Arts Museum with the impressive interfering architecture is not an exception.

The three-storeyed construction of Fine Arts Museum was built in the style of Art-deco architecture, an architectural style that harmonizes the most quintessential values ​​from the Asian and European fine arts schools. From the main entrance, you will easily realize a yellow building with arched window pivots in the middle of a green space.

The front of this construction was in an archway with two short staircases leading to the main door. There is also a small fountain with two sculptures on both sides in the center. The whole construction is a U-shaped house, and at the rear of the main building is a small courtyard with a lot of sunlight.

In particular, this was the first construction in Saigon bringing elevators into the design. At that time, the elevator was decorated like an ancient Chinese palanquin. Another Chinese feature of the museum is the red tiled rooftop which was in the Yin and Yang style. The windows are fitted with colorful glass windows with the typical style of European art. All the details make the architecture construction an outside artwork with typical salient features of East Asia and France.

2. The Structure Inside Fine Art Museum

Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts is located in an area of 3,514 square meters and divided into distinct parts with different roles. The basement is used for office works, the first floor is for galleries, exhibition and trade activities, the fine arts paintings are found on the second floor, and on the third floor, you can find the antique sculptures and traditional handicrafts of the ancient residents in South Vietnam.

The highlight of the entire architecture is in the main entrance path on the first floor with a high lobby, large pillars and stairs on the two sides. The main door is designed in the arch shape, above is stylized steel characters H.B.H, the abbreviation of Mr. Hua Bon Hoa’s name. And at the back of the museum is a stele engraved with the names of the owners of this building, most of them were in Mr. Hua Bon Hoa’s family.

The long corridors inside the museum lead to gallery rooms, all of which are connected by side doors. In front of each room is a green wooden door that leads to a small balcony. The pivots of the balconies are in a quite simple style with vertical grids; however, thanks to the doors and windows, the interior of the Fine Arts Museum is full of natural light and wind, which creates a shimmering space inside.

The main corridor is in yellow, and if you walk along the corridor, the yellow color will gradually disappear, setting the room for the gray walls and windows. In contrast to the coldness of gray is the heat of red; the red color adorns the tranquil atmosphere with the brightness and a little bit of modernity. All the colors blend in harmony and draw a lively painting of architecture inside the museum.

III. What to See at Fine Arts Museum?

The Fine Arts Museum has the functions of researching, collecting, preserving, displaying documents and typical objects belonging to fine arts and reflecting the special features of Vietnamese ancient handicrafts, especially typical art works in the South.

There are some artifacts that are displayed at Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts:

1. Ancient Bronze Sculptures in South Vietnam

In the gallery of ancient bronze sculptures in the Southern region, there are sculptures of Hindu and Buddhist Gods from the forth to the eleventh centuries. Hindu Gods statues include Vishnu, Surya, Lakshmi, Uma and Ganesa statues made of fine sandstone, dating from the fifth to the eleventh centuries. Buddha statues from the forth to the tenth centuries were made of  giant crape-myrtle wood and fine sandstone.

2. Champa Ancient Sculptures

Champa ancient sculpture is one of the unique arts in the treasure of Vietnamese art heritage, contributing to the multi-religious and multi-ethnic culture. Apart from the influences of the religion of India, the Cham also absorbed the culture, customs and especially Indian architectural and sculpture art, then quickly localized and created the unique and attractive features of Champa style on each sculpture.

On display at the Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts are the statues, reliefs and semi-reliefs of Hindu deities such as the Kinnara statue, the reliefs of Dvarapala and Colossus, the statue of Kala – the monster guarding the temple, the fairy dancer, the architectural artifacts such as altars and pillars; all of them were made of rough sandstone or terracotta, dating from the seventh to the fourteenth century.

3. The Statues in Tay Nguyen Tombs

Sculptures and statues in tombs in the Central Highlands are a unique part in Vietnamese sculpture in general. This custom has stuck with the people of Central Highlands from the primitive society, partly due to the ancient conception of beliefs.

It is also because the original art is always unrestricted of the magic function, the statues in tombs are quite diverse and exceptional. Unlike other sculptures, the tools used to make these statues are also very simple: axes and knives, the most popular production tools. According to the concept of the locals, the statues helped to replace people, so the statues in the tomb did nothing but to serve the material and spiritual life of the dead. The popular sculptures are of crying people, mother and child, naked men or women and so on.

4. Vietnamese Ceramics (11th – 20th century)

Through the ups and downs of history, Vietnamese traditional ceramic industry is still developing and surviving. Under the Ly Dynasty (1010 – 1225), the Tran Dynasty (1226 – 1400), and the Le Dynasty (1428 – 1527), the pottery industry flourished and reached the peak of both art and technology, to producing many kinds of beautiful and precious ceramic products, which then followed the boats of foreign merchants to many countries in the world.

Till the end of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, famous ceramic centers in Vietnam such as Bat Trang, Phu Lang, Huong Canh, Thanh Hoa, Binh Dinh and Bien Hoa had produced many types of ceramic products, which were diverse in designs, materials and the patterns shown on the potteries, and meticulous and harmonious in crafting art.

display in Saigon fine arts museum

5. Southern Fine Arts (18th – 20th century)

At the end of the 17th century, the region of South Vietnam was discovered, and it became the meeting point of the Chinese immigrants and the Vietnamese and Khmer locals. It was also the meeting of peasants, craftsmen, and those who had to leave their homeland because of conflicts and came to this new land to start a new life.

Among the classes of migrants coming to the South of Vietnam, beside the merchants, there were a lot of craftsmen, who contributed to the expansion and development of handicraft activities. With the creative minds and skillful hands, they soon utilized the abundant sources of clay to make ceramic products that adapted the demands of local residents at that time.

6. Contemporary Art

In Fine Arts Museum, numerous modern paintings of famous artists in Vietnam and in the world were exhibited, such as the works of Nguyen Gia Tri, Diep Minh Chau, Do Quang Em and Trinh Cung. All the paintings and sculptures took inspiration from the daily life of Vietnamese people as well as the beauty of famous landscapes of Vietnam.

These artworks are divided into two periods of time: from the beginning of the twentieth century to 1975 and from the 1975 to present, with many creative trends and themes of Vietnam and all over the world. Fine Arts Museum is becoming an ideal place for those who want to explore the fine arts and find some creative inspirations.

IV. How to Get to Fine Arts Museum?

Located in District 1, the center as well as the most luxurious and bustling district of Ho Chi Minh City, the Fine Arts Museum is not difficult to get to. It is only nine kilometers from Tan Son Nhat Airport, so you can get to the museum by taxi or motorbike.

Moreover, you can also get there on a bus with a very pocket-friendly price. The buses that will take you to Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts are buses number 03, 20, 65 and 93.

V. Tips on Visiting

There are some minor tips that you should remember when going to Fine Art Museum:

  • Don’t touch the artworks that are on display here. All of the works have anti-theft sensors, if it was touched intentionally or accidentally, the bell would ring and the security guard will blame you.
  • You will have to pay a 300,000-VND fee if you want to take photos with a professional camera inside the museum. However, there is no fee for a mobile phone.
  • There is a wardrobe with distinct rooms for you to keep your bag and belongings on the right of the main entrance, so that you don’t have to carry the heavy luggage during your visit.
  • Don’t make so much noise inside the museum. Everyone wants a quiet atmosphere to explore the artworks.

Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum is an ideal place for you to explore the artifacts, a part of Vietnamese culture. If you have an opportunity to come to District 1, don’t miss this interesting destination. If you have any questions, be free to ask and we will help you to answer!

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