Bui Xuan Phai

Alleged fake work of eminent Vietnamese painter auctioned for US$102,000

Shortly after coming under the hammer for US$102,000 during a charitable auction in Ho Chi Minh City last week, Hanoi Old Quarter, a painting claimed to be by famous Vietnamese late painter Bui Xuan Phai has been called out as a counterfeit work.

Phai’s son Bui Thanh Phuong was among the most vocal accusers, saying his father had never painted such a work. “There are only five or six art collectors in Vietnam, so who is keeping whose paintings is a shared knowledge. There is no way a painting by my father that nobody including me has ever heard of just appears out of nowhere,” Phuong claimed.

Bui Quoc Chi, owner of Duc Minh Gallery which had put the painting up for auction, affirmed that the painting was authentic. “I will take full responsibility before the organisers [of the auction],” Chi said.

Despite Chi’s reassurance, many Vietnamese artists have weighed in their opinion on the matter with suspicion.“It does not take Bui Thanh Phuong’s words to know that the painting is a fake, as anybody who has decent knowledge in the field can tell apart the differences,” painter Nguyen Thanh Binh commented.

Binh’s comment was echoed by many other experts in the field, as they all found the painting lacking a sense of Phai-ness.

Their suspicion is founded, as Phai is perhaps the most copied artist in Vietnam, to the point that there’s a saying among insiders that goes “Phai paints more when he’s dead than alive”.

Museum admits all paintings in high-profile exhibition are fake

The Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts publicly apologised for failing to verify the authenticity of 17 paintings on display at an exhibition that have been confirmed as fake.

A panel of famous artists and experts and officials found 15 of the paintings, supposedly the works of legendary artists such as Nguyen Tu Nghiem and Bui Xuan Phai, were copies.

Two others were found to be works of other artists. At least one living artist, Thanh Chuong, has claimed one of the two paintings as his.

All the paintings at the show are owned by Vu Xuan Chung, who claimed to have acquired them from Jean-Francois Hubert, a known expert on Vietnamese art and a former senior consultant for giant auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s.