Set behind the Temple of Literature, the Hanoi Fine Arts Museum is not usually a part of group tours, but should be. Although not world-class, the museum is one of the best in Vietnam and provides a good insight into the country’s culture and history.
The main building of the museum is a huge three-storey colonial style building that is a work of art in itself. The structure and form appears very classical with oriental touches on the roof and its other exterior details.
Upon entrance to this museum in Hanoi, you will see that the first room contains ancient archaeological finds that are more than 10,000 years old. Bits and pieces of culture and history can be found such as axes and spear heads that are impressively old but fascinatingly intricate in design. These also include sandstone sculptures of the Funan and Champa Kingdoms. A great overview of Vietnamese art done before 1800 can also be seen around the ground floor of the museum. All displays are well-captioned despite some being only reproductions of work. Each gallery features a flip-book of detailed information in English, French, Chinese and Japanese.
Another gallery houses the exquisite offerings from the Le Dynasty that includes the “thousand-eyed, thousand-armed” goddess Guan Yin and two huge models of the Bodhisattva. There is also a “Reclining Buddha”, also known as “Buddha Entering Nirvana”, which is made up of lacquer wood that remains extremely sensuous and feminine in design. The figure indeed tries to communicate the bliss of the nirvana of Buddha.
The visual arts are more heavily represented in the upper floors. Much artwork imitates European trends but some authentically Asian works on rice paper offer a more inspiring aesthetic experience. Upon the turn of the Communist era, social realism takes over and the art becomes as meaningful as a simple mailbox.
The top floor of the museum houses some of the best artworks the country has ever produced. Although the Tay Son Dynasty was short-lived towards the 1700s, realistic and figurative sculptures during this period remain outstanding to the eyes. Sculptures are massive and made of lacquer wood which has its own creepy presence and intense personality. Most sculptures are meant to be monks but some claim that the artists of the period used religious art to express something very humane about the common people. Actually, one of the best reasons to visit the museum is noticing the evolution of lacquer wood being used as a fine art in Vietnam. From its first floor, you’ll see an increasing refinement of the use of lacquer in its sculptures as the same is found in the different eras.
The Hanoi Fine Arts museum also has an in-house store that sells reproductions of art. If you are a serious art collector, some of the contemporary art on display can be purchased. Even better, they can be shipped to your home country as you wish. The museum is located along Nguyen Thai Hoc Street and is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 8 to noon and from 1:30-4:40 in the afternoon. Discover the rich legacy and colorful traditions of Vietnam at the Hanoi Fine Arts Museum as it promises an account of the greatest developments of the country’s artistic flavor.