Kim Hoang - A unique folk painting
According to Associate Professor, PhD Truong Quoc Binh, Kim Hoang is named after thea famous painting genre in Kim Hoang Village, Hoai Duc District, Ha Tay Province (Ha Noi today). Kim Hoang folk paintings appeared in the 18th century under the reign of the Le dynasty. The tradition of making picture flourished from the 18th to the 19th century when Kim Hoang along with Dong Ho and Hang Trong paintings was “must – have” items in Lunar New Year festival.
However, the tradition was lost in the middle of the 20th century. According to elders in Van Canh Commune, many engravings of Kim Hoang paintings were lost in 1915 when the village suffered from heavy flooding. The unique genre of painting officially fell into oblivion in 1945, when the villagers faced crop losses and famine. Since then, Kim Hoang paintings can only be seen in old books. Today several authentic pictures of Kim Hoang painting are found only in museums or fine art galleries. However, the art of making Kim Hoang painting is still considered a symbol of traditional culture and aesthetic value of Viet Nam.
Kim Hoang paintings exhibited at the Ha Noi Museum (Source: VOV5)
The distinct feature of Kim Hoang painting is the several lines of a poem or vertical sentences written in Chinese characters on the left corner of the painting. In addition, different from Dong Ho and Hang Trong paintings, which are printed on white and yellowish paper, Kim Hoang paintings are called red paintings because they are printed on scarlet paper.
Kim Hoang craftsmen only used the woodblocks to create the black outlines and then drew and coloured details by their own hands. Thus, pictures, in spite of being outlined by the same woodblock, are slightly different from one to another. With artisan’s skillful hands, paintings become more valuable and attractive to customers.
Woodblocks used for printing Kim Hoang paintings were made from jack tree trunk or canary-wood with sophisticated carvings. Villagers say in the early 20th century, after the harvest in October, Kim Hoang residents were in an eager bustle of making paintings. Scarlet paper was bought at Hang Ma Street in Hanoi. After ink from the woodblocks was applied, the paper was slightly rubbed to polish up the lines and dried. Then, the pictures were colored with brushes, which were made from straw. Kim Hoang paintings look joyful and animated.
With bright colours, the paintings’ main topics were drawn from the daily life of people in the northern region: buffaloes, pigs, roosters, the rural landscape and daily activities. Kim Hoang folk paintings used to be an indispensable spiritual food for the people in the northern delta. Today, the paintings are fading away as very few families preserve the woodblocks and engage in this line of work.
Kim Hoang painting will disappear forever if it doesn’t catch the attention of arts collector Nguyen Thi Thu Hoa, who has a deep passion for folk paintings. Stunned by the charm of the genre as well as its unique production technique, Hoa came up with the idea of reviving the folk painting.
Preserving the cultural heritage
In an effort to revive the beautiful genre of Kim Hoang folk painting, Nguyen Thi Thu Hoa, Director of the Ha Noi Ceramics Museum launched a project in 2015. The project receives the support of Kim Hoang villagers and the People’s Committee of Van Canh Commune.
This project aims to restore 50 old painting designs and create new ones. Thanks to the project, the director and her staff will confer with the elderly in Kim Hoang village about the painting making, find the same type of paper as the traditional one, and learn the original printing method.
Arts collector Nguyen Thi Thu Hoa and folk paintings. (Source: NDO)
The project is being carried out in three stages. The first task is to recover 50 signature samples of Kim Hoang folk paintings, based on documents sourced from Imagerie populaire Vietnamienne (Popular Images in Viet Nam), a book by Maurice M. Durand published in France in 2011. Accordingly, most Kim Hoang paintings featured the daily life of the people or illustrated popular fairy tales. They were drawn on orange-red coloured paper, using simple and thin strokes and painted in three major colours of white, light green and pink-purple.
In the second stage, woodcarving artists Nguyen Duc Hoa and Tran Nguyen Dan are invited to produce new samples of woodcut paintings for the genre, with the topics referenced from images engraved at Kim Hoang’s communal house.
In the third phase, Hoa plans to ask for permission from local authorities to start the construction of a place for producing and exhibiting Kim Hoang paintings.
Initially, there were many difficulties to carry out the project, such as searching for reference documents, finding out the right ink colour, the right kind of paper as well as the most suitable background colour for the paper for producing the paintings, etc.
In December, 2016, Kim Hoang folk paintings were officially introduced to Ha Noi dwellers and foreigners for the first time at a Food Festival held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is a big step in the genre’s journey back to its golden age.
Currently, artisans have recovered about 20 painting templates, accounting for 5% of Kim Hoang traditional paintings. Over the past ten years, collector Nguyen Thi Thu Hoa has travelled throughout the country to find out precious folk paintings. At present, she has collected at least 12 painting genres, including Dong Ho, Hang Trong, Sinh Village, Thap Vat, Kinh Hue, Goi Vai, etc. In the coming time, a book featuring 25 folk paintings will be published so as to preserve the unique cultural heritage.
It is expected that, with the determination, bright-coloured Kim Hoang paintings will return to the arts market this spring as a strong signal proving that the vitality of the genre is still being nurtured and revived in a methodical way.