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Vietnamese painter’s rendition of Mona Lisa projected to hit big in coming auction

Monday, May 24, 2021, 14:54 GMT+7
Vietnamese painter’s rendition of Mona Lisa projected to hit big in coming auction
"La Joconde (Mona Lisa)" by Leonardo da Vinci (left) and "La Joconde (Mona Lisa)" by Mai Trung Thu (right). Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Auction house Christie’s Hong Kong will put 'La Joconde (Mona Lisa)' by Vietnamese artist Mai Trung Thu under the hammer on Monday with expectations for a new record following the success of his previous artwork, ‘Portrait of Mademoiselle Phuong’ (Portrait of Miss Phuong).

The painting, described as a 53.5 x 37.5 cm ink and gouache on silk painting, is listed as a lot in Christie’s 20th and 21st Century Art Evening Sale, alongside works by, inter alia, New York art icon Jean-Michel Basquiat and famed Chinese-French painter Zao Wou-ki. 

Thu’s piece was apparently influenced by his stay in Paris from 1937 to 1974, where he had the chance to visit the original work by Leonardo da Vinci at the Louvre, Vietnamese art expert Jean-François Hubert pointed out.

Like da Vinci, Thu preferred chromatic harmony and half-tones, as evidenced by his flawless use of gouache and ink on silk.

However, Thu’s interpretation differs from the original in finer details.

"Her bust is turned to the right, her face is facing the front, and there is a slight twist between her head and shoulders," Hubert said.

"In Mai Trung Thu’s representation the bust is smaller, the body is thinner to respond to Vietnamese canons of beauty."

The backdrop, which portrays Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay, proves “more pronounced,” the pundit added. 

As the salesroom anticipates, the work will sell at HKD2.5-3 million (US$320,000-$380,000).

Earlier, Thu's 'Portrait of Mademoiselle Phuong' was sold for $3.1 million at Sotheby's Hong Kong, marking an all-time high for a Vietnamese painting.

In 2010, Sotheby’s sold another 'La Joconde (Mona Lisa)' interpretation by Thu, which was created in 1961, for only HKD137,500 ($17,709).

Meanwhile, the version to be auctioned by Christie’s on Monday was completed by Thu in 1974.

Painter Mai Trung Thu (1906-1980), or Mai Thu, was one of the artists who graduated from the first course (1925 - 1930) of the Indochina Fine Arts College.

He lived and worked mostly in France.

He is frequently mentioned alongside three other contemporaries, namely Le Pho, Vu Cao Dam, and Le Thi Luu, as era-defining figures of Vietnamese contemporary arts.

In the upcoming Christie’s auction, Le Pho’s 'Young Lady Tying Her Scarf' will also be put up for sale, with its projected price set at $1.1 million.

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