The masterpiece was sold at Sotheby’s Auction House in Hong Kong last Sunday, but the identity of the buyer is not known.
It had been valued at $900,000-$1.2 million. At the auction, the reserve price was $500,000, but the bids kept rising until it went past $2.5 million, and cost $3.1 million after tax and fees.
‘Portrait of Mademoiselle Phuong’ by Mai Trung Thu. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.
The previous record of $1.36 million was held by Le Pho’s ‘Young Girl With Peonies’ last year.
Portrait of Mademoiselle Phuong is a 135.5×71 cm oil on canvas work done in 1930, which the auction house described as “…this masterpiece, beautifully rendered in the oil medium, is exceptionally rare as the artist devoted himself to painting in silk for most of his career.
“The beguiling portrait also captures Mai Thu’s deep admiration of its sitter, a noble lady rumored to be the artist’s love interest. Encapsulating his affections for Ms. Phuong, this work is special within Mai Thu’s oeuvre, as there are only two known works painted of this subject.”
The work was first exhibited at the École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine in Hanoi in 1930 and then at the 1931 Exposition Coloniale Internationale de Paris.
It was previously owned by Dothi Dumonteil, a Vietnamese woman who migrated to France as a child, and her husband Pierre Dumonteil, an art collector, until recently.
It appeared in the award-winning 1993 Vietnamese film, ‘The Scent of Green Papaya,’ directed by Tran Anh Hung, which went on to become Vietnam’s first ever entry for the foreign-language Oscar Award in 1994.
Thu was a famous modern art painter in the early years of the 20th century. He lived and worked most of his life in France.
Associated with silk paintings of women, children and everyday life in Vietnam, he was named along with Vu Cao Dam, Le Thi Luu and Le Pho as the four most prominent artists of the golden age of Vietnamese modern art.