Woodblock Painting in Vietnam

Woodblock printing is a time-honoured art form which holds a special place in Việt Nam's cultural history. It is believed originally to have developed during the 11th century as a means of popularising the ideology of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism amongst the common folk of the Red River Delta. During the later years of the Lý era (1010-1225), woodblock prints based exclusively on religious themes were produced by the villages of Hồng Lục and Liễu Chàng in what is now Hải Dương Province, and thereafter pagodas such as Phật Tích and Bút Tháp (modern Bắc Ninh Province) also began to produce their own devotional prints.

Folk prints depicting non-religious themes such as local stories, myths and legends or representing scenes from everyday life were first produced in the 14th and 15th centuries by artisans from Đông Hồ village in what is now Bắc Ninh Province. The popularity of the Đông Hồ prints spread quickly - very soon traders came to the village every year before Tết (Vietnamese New Year) to purchase the prints and distribute them throughout the country.

The art of woodblock printing reached its peak during the 18th and 19th centuries, by which time it had also become popular amongst numerous ethnic minority groups, including the Tày, the Nùng, the H'mông and the Dao. However the greatest variety of woodblock prints continued to be produced by the Việt; important centres at this time included Hàng Trống in the centre of Hà Nội and Kim Hoàng on the outskirts of the city, Kim Bảng in the former Hà Đông Province, Sinh on the outskirts of Huế and of course Đông Hồ, several households of which continue to practice the ancient craft even today.

Typically, Vietnamese woodblock prints are executed with a coarse but lively technique in bold, clear outlines. The design is first drawn and then carved into a wooden block. The latter is then covered in paint and the image printed on dó (poonah) paper, a style of paper used widely in Việt Nam which is coated with white powder made from baked shell. Finally the print is coloured with natural materials, including black from charcoal, red from ochre, brown from yam and yellow from lily flower pollen.

Historically, creativity in the carving of woodblocks was discouraged. Instead, their primary purpose was to relate a well-loved and well-known story or theme. Since the emphasis was on recognition rather than artistry, older Vietnamese prints rarely carried the name of the artist. Instead, they bore the name of the location where they were produced.

During the course of the 20th century the techniques of traditional Vietnamese woodblock printing were adapted for use in modern art.

In pre-colonial times Vietnamese art performed a mainly functional role. Paintings and woodblock prints were generally used to adorn temples or served a decorative purpose during Tết (New Year) or other festivities. Meanwhile, unlike their Chinese counterparts, the Vietnamese mandarin class displayed relatively little interest in silk painting or calligraphy, opting instead to hone their literary skills.

The groundwork for the development of Vietnamese modern art was laid in 1925 with the establishment of the École supérieure des beaux-arts de l'Indochine (Trường Cao đẳng Mỹ thuật Đông Dương) in Hà Nội.

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- http://www.culturalprofiles.org.uk/viet_Nam/Directories/Vi_ACYAIw-7879_ADs-t_Nam_Cultural_Profile/-3675.html

- http://www.culturalprofiles.org.uk/viet_Nam/Directories/Vi_ACYAIw-7879_ADs-t_Nam_Cultural_Profile/-3666.html