Culture Culture

21/01/2020 - 07:45

Late Ton That Dao’s art gallery revived

Late artist Ton That Dao’s family has recently had dozens of his paintings partly restored. These works used to be so seriously degraded that they were thought hardly to be salvaged.

His children, grandchildren, generations of students and painting-lovers have been delighted at this revival. The late artist Ton That Dao (1910-1979), who graduated from the Indochina College of Fine Art, was a descendant of the Nguyen royal family and the first rector of Hue College of Fine Art (now known as The University of Fine Art, Hue University).

Searching and restoring objects associated with Ton That Dao’s career

The journey

Many years ago, Ton That Dao’s paintings were seriously degraded owing to the humidity within the house and the unprofessional methods of preservation. By 2015, many paintings were framed together with musty and degraded outlines.

The invaluable silk paintings such as Ngu Mount, An Old Man Portrait (1946), Spring Garden (1955) and The Country Scenery (1965) … faded and their frames were broken. Dozens of his oil on canvas paintings at different sizes were in similar conditions.

Many art specialists, painters, painting-lovers of this reputable artist were regretful when they visited the gallery. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Phan Thanh Binh, former rector of the University of Fine Art, Hue University was greatly concerned about the degradation of the paintings and discussed the plan with the late artist’s family to salvage them because the paintings are part of the heritage of Hue.

However, not until the sculptor Phan Thanh Quang (lecturer at the University of Fine Art) became an in-law member of the late artist’s extended family and lived in “the art heritage space” did the painting revival journey start.

With a lot of assistance, Quang started to preserve the precious paintings at any cost in the challenge of time. Through his networking, he invited art specialists and artists experienced in preservation to evaluate the degree of degradation and make long-term preservation plans to cope with the harsh climate and the humidity within the house.

“I know it’s difficult and costly, but if there’s no plan for restoration, his heritage may be gone with the time,” said Quang. The most damaged and most difficult to restore are the silk paintings.

Painting space at the late artist’s home

Reviving a space

Based on the degree of damage, Quang started different stages of restoration with care and appropriate techniques, ensuring the integrity for the works. One of the causes to these damages was the degradation of the covering, including the wooden frame, the glass and the wood boards. All these are replaced by new ones.

Unfortunately, a large number of works, most of which are silk paintings, are very hard to restore as they have been severely damaged.

“Our family has the specialists from the University of Fine Art, Hue University preserved those works. We will have them restored by a reliable lab when we have budget,” Quang said, adding that it will be costly because they may send the paintings abroad where there is advanced technology for restoration.

The restored paintings were hung at their original place, around the family altar of Ton That Dao at 53 Mac Dinh Chi Street, Phu Cat Ward, Hue City. The space has been paneled on the top, installed with glass doors and windows around and with air conditioning system to cope with the harsh weather in Hue.

Mrs. Tran Thi Lien Phuong, the eldest daughter-in-law of artist Ton That Dao was full of emotion when she looked at her father-in-law’s gallery. Due to her lack of understanding and specialist consultation, she used to preserve the paintings by drying them in the sun as suggested by acquaintances. Regrettably, one of the precious paintings was stolen.

One of the paintings by the late artist Ton That Dao

In addition to the restoration of damaged works, Ton That Dao’s descendants are searching and collecting valuable documents related to his career. Many objects such as brushes, glasses, ink slab and seal have been displayed in the gallery, making the atmosphere lively and telling a real story about the reputable artist.

Quang revealed that the family was having Ton That Dao’s bust cast and a biography board erected in the house as the younger generation’s gratitude to the older. The good news is that a number of tourist agencies have recently investigated the house with the intention of taking Ton That Dao’s art space as a destination for their art tours.

Late Ton That Dao’s paintings have become more and more valuable

 “In my opinion, Ton That Dao’s paintings have become more and more valuable and his painting space is a cultural destination. Therefore, it is necessary to have a more professional space that meets the preservation requirements of a painting gallery in the long run. To this end, there should be supports from the local authorities and agencies.” said Assoc. Prof., Dr. Phan Thanh Binh, former rector of the University of Fine Art, Hue University.

Story and photos: PHAN THANH