Zodiac animal paintings decorated for Tet holidays

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A Dong Ho folk painting entitled “Pigs”. The pig symbolizes wealth and prosperity.

When the lunar New Year comes, Vietnamese painters tend to paint on the theme of the particular zodiac animal of that year, creating an interesting genre of Vietnamese fine art. 

2019 is the Year of the Pig which is the last animal of the 12 zodiac signs. As the Pig symbolizes material wealth and optimism and bodes well for a prosperous year, a number of people are looking to acquire a painting of a pig in the hope of gaining happiness and prosperity. Ms. Nguyen Thu Phuong of Nam Tu Liem district, Hanoi, is very excited about the beautiful painting of a pig she just bought.

“The pig is the last animal in the zodiac cycle. It is also my personal zodiac animal. So this year, I want to decorate my house with a picture of a Pig that will bring my family a prosperous and happy year. I want to maintain the habit of buying a painting for each Tet holiday in the years to come,” Phuong said.

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A pig in the Kim Hoang folk painting genre.

Each year corresponds to one of the twelve animals of the Vietnamese zodiac: the rat comes first, then the buffalo or ox, followed in order by the tiger, cat, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, cock, dog, and lastly, the pig.

Of these animals one is mythical (the dragon) and four (rat, tiger, snake and monkey) are wild, shunning contact with humans. Seven are domesticated. Every twelve years, the cycle renews and reverts back to the first animal. Of the 12 zodiac animals, the Pig is one that is very familiar to Vietnamese people. It has closely accompanied  hard-working Vietnamese farmers for 4,000 years. The image of a rustic pig has many associations. History Professor Duong Trung Quoc says the Pig has a spiritual meaning.

“The Pig is associated with the yin-yang symbol, which means it is attached to the highest human spiritual aspirations. Every nation has a slightly different view, but the Pig is always seen as friendly and associated with giving people a better life,” Quoc said.

Zodiac animals have long appeared in Vietnamese folk paintings by the likes of Dong Ho, Hang Trong, and Kim Hoang. The Dong Ho painting “Pigs”, which depicts a mother pig  and a group of piglets, symbolizes wealth and prosperity.

In recent years, painters across Vietnam have explored the theme of zodiac animals for lunar New Year or Tet. The image of zodiac animals in the hands of Vietnamese painters is changeable and vivid, appearing in different positions and patterns, thanks to a combination of modern and folk styles.

Famous painter of zodiac animals Le Tri Dung said the main characteristic of Tet paintings is that they must be painted in bright colors to symbolize happiness and hope, and an awareness of  people’s wish for a prosperous and fertile new year. This year, Dung conveyed the sense of prosperity for the Year of the Pig with acrylic paintings titled “Fullness” and “Affluence”.

Painter Nguyen Minh Nam took photos of pigs to explore unique angles of the animal in his work. 

“The Pig is a very beautiful animal which I like and admire. These 3 paintings of mine were done in 2015. Whenever I saw a striking pig, I captured it with my camera from several angles. I studied those photos carefully before creating my paintings,” said Nam.

Through their paintings, these painters want to remind younger generations to preserve the traditions of the Tet holiday and convey to everyone their wish for a prosperous and happy new year.

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