traditional vietnamese folk painting
Local Guide,  Visual Arts

Traditional Vietnamese Folk Paintings – The Art of Daily Life

… Art is like history, but somehow art is history. Alongside the history of a nation, art has changed and grown…

Located in the east of Indochina Peninsula, Vietnam is a remarkable country not only because of its unique S-shaped but also its traditional art. To talk about Vietnamese art, we can’t simply to wrap it with some words. So, the post today is dedicated to the form of art which expresses both the simplest and the most sophisticated of Vietnamese culture. This is Vietnamese traditional folk paintings.

The introduction to traditional Vietnamese folk painting

As you might know, paintings are one of the oldest ways that people used to demonstrate their daily life. And, Vietnamese is not an exception. Most of Vietnamese folk paintings depict the life of ancient Vietnamese people under various dynasties. However, not all paintings are about normal life. Vietnamese has the tradition of worshiping ancestors as well as the intention of explaining natural phenomenon by deifying them, which was also inspired Vietnamese artists to create invaluable cultural materials. Therefore, in the past, these paintings were used for decoration and spiritual purposes at sacred places.

Beside interesting themes, these paintings draw international tourists with their colors. The colors used in these masterpieces were made from natural resources. Moreover, the combination of colors is also unique depending on the historical era, the location, etc.

Through this form of art, we also can enjoy the quintessence of traditional Vietnamese art. If you think that all paintings were made with the same materials, you must be wrong. Each line of painting has various features and use different materials to make. For instance, craftsmen used Giay Diep (seashell paper) for Dong Ho paintings, but Giay Xuyen Chi (Chinese Calligraphy paper) was used for Hang Trong paintings.

To get more specific features for some famous lines of Vietnamese folk painting, keep scrolling and read with your curiosity.

Dong Ho painting

Dong Ho woodcut painting is one of the most popular lines of traditional Vietnamese art. It’s originated in Thuan Thanh village, Bac Ninh province. The flourishing period of Dong Ho painting was from 17th to 19th century. Despite of various changes in the history, making Dong Ho painting is still preserved as a tradition of this region.


Dong Ho painting (Source: Google)

Besides its history, Dong Ho painting is unique thanks to the techniques that people use to create it. These techniques have been existed for thousand years and passed through generations. Moreover, to create an authentic Dong Ho painting, craftsmen have to use special materials. For instance, the type of paper for Dong Ho painting is Giay Diep, which contains some elements including seashell and glutinous rice. And, thanks to these special elements, Diep paper can provide a natural sparkling background for the painting. The colors used for painting are made from natural materials, which makes the paintings vivid.

Here are the sources of basic colors in Dong Ho painting. To make the others, the artists will combine these colors.


Black Burnt bamboo leaves

Powder of egg shells

Red Powder of red gravels


Senna flowers
Green Cajuput leaves
Blue Verdigris


Dong Ho painting makes Vietnamese art popular among tourists not only because of its special making but its interesting themes. This kind of painting always conveys the traditional aesthetic value, people’s desires and social philosophies. Therefore, the themes of Dong Ho paintings varies from historical stories to social commentaries. Besides, people’s daily lives are also depicted with a purpose of expressing their wish.

Hang Trong painting

If you have been to Vietnam, you might have spent lots of time in the Old Quarter. This area attracts people with some historical relics or the dynamic nightlife. But, not many people know that one of the most famous lines of traditional Vietnamese folk paintings was born here. Yes, we are talking about Hang Trong painting.


Hang Trong painting (Source: Google)

Different from the former, Hang Trong paintings are no longer made and we only can find them in the museum. In the past, this kind of painting used to play an important role in the Tet holiday. People tended to buy them to decorate their house alongside with peach tree or kumquat tree. Although this tradition almost disappears now, the art of making Hang Trong painting is still considered as a representative for aesthesis of Hanoian as well as Vietnamese art.

The themes of Hang Trong paintings are quite similar to those of Dong Ho paintings. However, demonstrating spiritual and cultural values is the main theme of this line. The most common symbols are white tiger or carp, which is influenced by Buddhism and Taoism. Another noticeable feature is that Hang Trong paintings tends to illustrate the urban life, which is different from countryside life of Dong Ho paintings.

To make a Hang Trong paintings, craftsmen has to use a special type of paper called Xuyen Chi paper. This paper don’t have natural color like Giay Diep, but it helps to maintain the tone of colors longer. Colors in Hang Trong paintings are always bright and attractive because instead of naturally-made colors, people use pigments.

Kim Hoang painting

Traditional Vietnamese art can’t be completed without the last line of folk painting – Kim Hoang painting. This line of painting was created at Kim Hoang village, Hoai Duc, Hanoi. During the 18th and 19th century, Kim Hoang paintings gained a huge reputation in this area. Like Dong Ho and Hang Trong painting, Kim Hoang was used to decorate the house for Tet holiday. The popularity of this line declined in the middle of the 20th century. And, now authentic paintings are only found in some museums or art galleries.


Kim Hoang painting (Source: Google)

Kim Hoang paintings share lots of common themes with Dong Ho because they were all produced in the countryside. These themes are people’s daily activities, folklore stories, spiritual signs, etc. The most outstanding feature of this line is that at the left corner of each painting there are lines of poem which help to highlight the meaning of the painting.

The procedure to make a Kim Hoang painting requires lots of skills. Craftsmen use sheets of paper which are dyed with red or yellow for the paintings. The red one is called Giay Dieu Hong and the yellow is Giay Vang Tau. People also make colors from natural materials or use Chinese ink. The most interesting thing here is that to make the colors more durable, the craftsmen mix the colors with a kind of glue extracted from buffalo skin. For Kim Hoang paintings, the craftsmen only used the woodblocks for making the black outlines. Then, they drew and colored the painting by hand. This feature makes all the paintings different from one to another although the same woodcut is used.

Sinh Village painting

While Hanoi has Hang Trong paintings, the northern has Dong Ho, the central of Vietnam is famous for Sinh Village paintings. This line was created at Sinh village located in Phu Vang district, Hue city. So, now, you know that Hue not only has famous Royal Court Music but also Sinh Village paintings.

If the three lines above always try to convey people’s life, Sinh Village paintings are mostly dedicated to worship purposes. People tend to buy those paintings to practice their belief and religion, so they are usually hung at the altar. Some people said that they find peace in these paintings. Therefore, we can say that SInh Village paintings represent for spiritual value for Vietnamese art.


Sinh Village painting (Source: Google)

There are three main topics which are exploited in Sinh Village paintings. They are characters, animals and objects. The characters here can be human, gods who can protect human from evil things. This type of painting can be burnt when a year ends. Animals in Sinh Village paintings are 12 zodiac which represent the ages of people in Asian culture. These animals also play as protectors for the owners. This idea came from the culture and life of people in the central. In this area, people have to deal with various difficulties coming from the nature, so they tend to lay their belief in gods and hope for a better life.

The techniques used to make a Sinh Village painting are not too different from others. Craftsmen use woodblocks to imprint the patterns of the paintings on the paper. Then, they color them by hand, which requires lots of time and effort. This is because one painting is created by 5 colors and each of them has to be painted separately. So, the artists have to wait for one color to dry before apply another one. The colors in Sinh Village paintings are also made from natural materials.

Traditional Vietnamese art in modern days

While in the past, these paintings were used for decoration, they have invaluable values now. For Vietnamese art, these lines of traditional folk paintings represent the creativity and investment of Vietnamese artisans. And, for Vietnamese people in general, these precious paintings have become an essential part of the nation’s history and culture.


For more insights into Vietnamese folk paintings and visual arts:











Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *