The National Museum of Fine Arts (Bao Tang My Thuat Viet Nam) occupies a large French colonial building located on a leafy boulevard in the French Quarter of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. The collection comprises artefacts dating from prehistory to the present day, and ranges from Bronze Age archaeological materials, to contemporary oil paintings. Many of the artworks in the collection have great significance to the development of a distinctive Vietnamese artistic genre, other artworks document and celebrate key aspects in the recent political and military history of the People’s Republic of Vietnam. In 2004, an Asialink residency was established at the National Museum of Vietnam, to support the conservation treatment of a small oil painting Em Thuy, or ‘Little Thuy’, by the renowned Vietnamese painter Tran Van Can. The residency was the first time a western trained painting conservator had worked in the Museum, and with paintings from the collection.
The painting is extremely significant to the Vietnamese people, and is seen to artistically represent many qualities of the Vietnamese experience this century. The treatment of the painting aroused huge media interest and public debate focused attention on the painting, the condition of the collections, and the current state of the conservation profession in Vietnam. This paper will recount the treatment of the painting undertaken over a period of 3_ months. The treatment of the painting was relatively straightforward, involving cleaning,
consolidation, loss compensation and rehousing. There were, however, many unforeseen circumstances and issues to be negotiated which impacted on the progress of the treatment. The paper will discuss many of these circumstances, including the establishment of a working laboratory space, sourcing of local materials, training local museum staff and working as a professional in a foreign language environment.
While the Asialink residency supported a discreet project which culminated in the successful completion of the conservation treatment of Em Thuy, the residency also established important professional and personal relationships, which have since facilitated the development of several other professional placements including an Australian Youth Ambassador Development (AYAD) placement at The Ethnographic Museum in Hanoi. Future collaborative projects and opportunities for further involvement of Australian conservation expertise will be outlined.