In Vietnamese painting history, there is one kind of paintings that has more meaning than an ordinary work of art, and that is the propaganda paintings. So what is a propaganda painting?
The name of the propaganda painting itself consists of two elements:
First, a painting is an artwork that uses lines and colors to reflect reality. Propaganda paintings belong to the type of graphic paintings - the art of creating images on a 2-dimensional surface indirectly through printing techniques.
Second, propaganda is a form of communication aimed at mobilizing the public in different ways such as: "advising, using books, pictures, dramas... to attract and encourage people to participate in social-political activities".
For propaganda purposes, propaganda paintings have the characteristics of focusing and generalizing specific artistic images, so the form of paintings is usually simple, with fresh and contrasting colors. In addition, the information given to viewers through two parts of images and the text in the poster should be very clear with a quick and strong impression, making it easy to understand and remember.
For that purpose, propaganda paintings have appeared in Vietnam since the 40s of the 20th century, have a history of development associated with the history of Vietnam's revolution, have a great significance in social life and become an important part of the spiritual life of the Vietnamese people. Propaganda paintings have been continuously created by generations of Vietnamese artists in graphic language in order to promptly bring the guidelines and policies of the Party and Government to the people. Besides the task of visual propaganda, propaganda posters have become a unique graphic art genre of Vietnam's revolutionary fine arts, making a significant contribution to the cause of national defence and construction.
2. The 1945 - 1975 propaganda paintings of VNMH
The VNMH is keeping the largest collection of propaganda paintings including 1,225 inventory units with the number of 1,880 artifacts (preservation units). The main part of the collection is 1,492 posters created by Vietnamese artists from 1945 to the present, besides 388 posters of international friends expressing their support for the Vietnamese people in the resistance war against the US.
Since its inception, propaganda paintings in Vietnam have become a powerful spiritual weapon, effectively serving political tasks and mobilizing the masses to participate in the revolution. The Việt Nam Độc lập (Vietnam Independence) founded by Nguyen Ai Quoc was the revolutionary newspaper with the most issues and the longest circulation in the pre-insurrection period. Among 127 issues of the newspaper preserved so far, there are about 20 issues with illustrations and three separate pictorial issues (released in May, July and July 1945). In particular, the drawing of “Việt Nam Độc lập” playing the trumpet on the front page of the 103rd issue of August 21, 1941 is a unique and valuable illustration in the genre of political propaganda. This illustration has been evaluated as a complete political propaganda picture and is one of the first few political propaganda works of the Vietnamese revolution.
The painting "Vietnam Independence” playing the trumpet
Nguyen Ai Quoc was very creative when he used the words "Việt Nam Độc lập" - the name of the newspaper and a sacred slogan to form a person wearing a hat and playing the trumpet. This image bears the characteristics of the Vietnamese people and symbolizes the image of the Vietnamese nation struggling for independence. To strengthen the propaganda power of painting, there is also a poem composed by Nguyen Ai Quoc as a caption:
“Việt Nam Độc lập plays the trumpet
For calling upon Vietnamese people
Let’s unite like a block of iron
To save our country together!"
The work "The Việt Nam Độc lập - Thổi kèn loa" on the front page of the Vietnam Independence newspaper No. 103 published on August 21, 1941.
In the 2nd pictorial issue of the Vietnam Independence released on June 25, 1945, there is a large picture encouraging the spirit of solidarity and determination to decimate the Japanese fascists with the image of five men wearing costumes and holding 5 objects represent 5 occupations in society: intellectuals - farmers - workers - merchants - soldiers. It can be said that this is the first propaganda painting to start a line for the method of using symbolic objects such as hammers, sickles, guns, pens, and scales, which are still very popular in Vietnamese propaganda paintings to this day.
Drawing number 2 in the newspaper “Vietnam Independence”, published on June 25, 1945
Taking a closer look into the 1945 - 1975 propaganda paintings of the VNMH, it can be seen that besides the artistic value, the propaganda paintings in this period also carry a historical message about the two heroic resistance wars of Vietnamese people. These paintings are words of encouragement, urging the Vietnamese people to work and fight with the spirit of solidarity and decesive victory.
The number of propaganda paintings in the 1946 - 1954 period of the VNMH is 221 artifacts (139 inventory units) with five main topics: Propagandizing for policies - movements; Fighting against invaders; Military-people relationship; Typical role models; Celebrating major holidays.
In difficult wartime conditions, the propaganda paintings were made by hand, with rudimentary technical tools, the paintings were printed on stone, on woodblocks, using self-produced paper made from bamboo. However, with a strong visual language and the inheritance of traditional colors in folk paintings, the artists have turned propaganda posters into effective propaganda tools to encourage the Vietnamese people to fight and produce, contributing to encourage the entire people and army to firmly believe in the nation's long-term resistance war.
In the war against the French, Lang Son Information Company published propaganda propaganda titled "Careful Guard”.
Propaganda paintings of this period, besides the slogans and captions, were also added to poems and verses with folk songs to help the masses remember and understand. Therefore, the paintings have effectively conveyed guidelines and policies of the Party and Government to all classes of people, including those who are illiterate, greatly contributing to the victory of the revolution. This can be seen from the propaganda posters for the "Soldier Winter" movement launched by the government in 1946.
A propaganda painting issued by Information Office of Dai Tu distric (Thai Nguyen) for the "Soldier Winter" movement in 1946
Most of the propaganda paintings in the period 1946-1954 were anonymous. Because according to some painters of that period, serving the resistance was their happiness, and artists often thought that their efforts were in the efforts of many people. Therefore, artists often did not sign the paintings.
During the resistance war against the US from 1955 to 1975, Vietnamese propaganda paintings reached their peak with many famous artists participating in the composition such as Luong Xuan Nhi, Pham Lung, Huynh Van Gam, Duong Anh, Tran Mai... and their works have both artistic value and propaganda effectiveness.
The number of the 1955 - 1957 propaganda paintings of the VNMH is 409 artifacts (190 inventory units) focusing on the following topics: praising the Vietnamese Communist Party and President Ho Chi Minh; celebrating major holidays; reflecting producing and fighting acitivities in the North and the South. In which, the paintings reflects the fighting spirit, serving the battle have the largest number. The paintings posted in the center zones of cities and villages had a strong impact on the viewers, creating a lively atmosphere, a high determination to fight and sacrifice for the country. Typical examples are paintings like "Uncle Ho goes along with us on the march" of Huy Oanh and Nguyen Thu, "Cutting along Truong Son to save the country" of Xuan Hong, "Keep going ahead and ignore the threat of enemy" of Dao Duc, "Le Ma Luong - the most beautiful life is on the front lines against the enemy" of Duong Anh, "Fight! fight to the end, determined to defend the North, liberate the South, unify the country" of Co Tan Long Chau; "Determine to execute the Uncle Ho’s words" and "The rear competes with the front” by Duy Truc.
"Army and people are like fish and water" of Nguyen Tien Canh
"Overcome and fight to defeat the American invaders"of Huynh Van Gam
The theme reflecting the victory of the resistance war against the US and unifying the country also has many famous paintings such as: "Spring 1975 - Celebrating the Liberation of the Central Highlands" of Le Thiep; “Hooray for the liberation of Hue” of Nguyen Tien Canh; “April 30, 1975: Complete victory for Vietnam” of Pham Lung…
During the two resistance wars against the French and the US (1945-1975), propaganda paintings were present on all roads, in every difficult, arduous and heroic historical moment of the nation. The propaganda paintings are living evidence of a special historical period of the Vietnamese nation in the 20th century. During this period, this kind of paintings played a pioneering role in propaganda tasks, aiming to arouse patriotism, encourage the people to move forward to fulfill the goal of defending national independence and reunification.
With these meanings, the 1945 - 1975 propaganda painting collection of the VNMH is really valuable in terms of history, culture and art. The Vietnam National Museum of History has been carrying out activities of additional collecting, preservation, documentation, digitization, and information supplement for every single artifact of the collection in order to effectively present its values to the public.
MA. Pham Thi Mai Thuy