A ‘national treasure’ painting, which took 20 years to complete, has been ruined by an amateur restorer who used dishwasher soap and sandpaper to ‘clean it’.
‘Vuon Xuan Trung Nam Bac’ (Spring Garden of the Central, South and North Regions) was the final major work of renowned artist Nguyen Gia Tri before his death in 1993.
However, art lovers noticed a big difference when it went back on display at the Fine Arts Museum in the southern city of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, after cleaning.
The iconic gold colour of the original lacquer painting had been almost completely washed out creating white blotches.
Siu Quy, vice-president of the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Association, said the painting had been irreversibly damaged.
He said 70 per cent of the painting’s “essence” had been lost and added: “It’s a regrettable loss for Vietnamese arts.”
And Nguyen Xuan Viet, a close protege of the artist, said the two month cleaning process had ruined the appearance of the painting and “destroyed its artistic intent”.
An official report into the damage confirmed the Fine Arts Museum had entrusted an amateur lacquer artist with cleaning the painting.
The artist, named as Luu Minh P., had used dishwasher soap, cinnabar powder and sandpaper during the cleaning process, causing serious damage.
Vi Kien Thanh, director of the Department of Fine Arts, Photography and Exhibition, said the process had “destroyed the grace and subtlety typically found in Nguyen Gia Tri’s lacquer arts”.
He recommended in his report that the Fine Arts Museum come up with detailed proposals for the expert restoration of the painting.
Painted over 20 years between 1969 and 1989, ‘Vuon Xuan Trung Nam Bac’ is listed as a national treasure by Vietnam’s Department of Cultural Heritage.
It depicts girls in traditional costumes and – at 540 centimetres (17 ft 8 ins) by 200 centimetres (6 ft 7ins) – is the largest lacquer painting ever completed by a Vietnamese artist.