Vietnamese art: history + tips for art fans visiting Vietnam

Vietnam’s art history is colourful and fascinating, while the modern-day art scene in the country has become famous worldwide. Here’s our lowdown on Vietnamese art.

A potted history of Vietnamese art

The earliest examples of Vietnamese art date all the way back to the Stone Age. Most examples of art from this time are in the form of clay pottery. Much of this pottery has been found in the area surrounding Bac Son in north-east Vietnam, so this is a must-visit area for anyone interested in ancient art.

Vietnamese art: history + tips for art fans visiting Vietnam

During the Bronze Age, much of the Vietnamese art discovered has been in the form of drums. Giving insight into life around this time, these drums depict farmers, warriors and elaborate clothing from times past.

Vietnamese art: history + tips for art fans visiting Vietnam

The Chinese ruled Vietnam for 1,000 years from 111BC, which had a distinctive influence on art during this time. In particular, a number of ceramics using Chinese techniques have been discovered from this era.

Vietnamese art: history + tips for art fans visiting Vietnam

The 12th century saw the birth of one of the most distinctive Vietnamese art forms – water puppetry. Puppets stand in the water while being manipulated by puppeteers using long poles hidden under the water. Various storylines and depictions of traditional Vietnamese life are the usual format for these shows, which are still popular in the modern day.

water puppetry

Between this time and the 19th century, Vietnamese art really bloomed, with three-colour ceramics, porcelain art and the performing arts – ranging from Imperial Court music to chamber music – all coming into their own.

Vietnamese art: history + tips for art fans visiting Vietnam

In the 19th and 20th centuries, French influence in Vietnam extended into the art scene. The École Supérieure des Beaux Arts de l’Indochine was founded in the country and European artistic methods were taught. As a result, art from this time embody French techniques and materials, including silk and lacquer.

A potted history of Vietnamese art

Modern Vietnamese art

In Vietnam today, there is an eclectic variety of art. A mixture of more traditional artists still use European techniques and materials, while other artisans are keeping traditional crafts alive that were first established centuries ago, from pottery-making to woodblock painting. Vietnam’s 54 ethnic tribes all have their own form of traditional dance that is still practiced today and this is possible to see when visiting localities including the mountains beyond Sapa. Vietnamese silk painting was first established from the 19th century onwards and is still popular to this day, helped by the abundant silk farms in the country.

Modern Vietnamese art

There is also an emerging generation of Vietnamese artists who are at the forefront of defining the global direction of art. Some of the most renowned art institutions in Vietnam include the Nha San Collective in Hanoi and RMIT University Vietnam, which has a highly praised art collection.

Nha San Collective

Other top places to see art include the Fine Arts Museum in Ho Chi Minh City and the Art Vietnam Gallery in Hanoi, but there are numerous galleries to be explored across the country, particularly in these two large urban centres. Some of the top Vietnamese artists show their work in Vietnam and globally, such as these top ten Vietnamese artists as listed by Culture Trip.

Fine Arts Museum in Ho Chi Minh


Take in Vietnamese art, culture and history in trips by Mr Linh’s Adventures.
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