Mixture of Orient and Occident
Among the many attractions in Ho Chi Minh City, the interest of many tourists, especially those from overseas, is drawn by a building with a particular architecture, situated in the center of the city. This edifice, or “Mr Hoa’s house” as the Saigonese prefer to call it, is now known as the Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts Museum.
See more Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) travel guide at here.
From a private edifice of a legendary businessman…
The house is located in the center of old Sai Gon, (97A Pho Duc Chinh, District 1), in a pretty quadrilateral block of 4 streets: Pho Duc Chinh – Le Thi Hong Gam – Calmette – Nguyen Thai Binh. This was once the private edifice of a businessman, a Chinese capitalist named Hui Bon Hoa or “Mr Hoa” as the Saigonese often call him.
Hui Bon Hoa’s Chinese ancestors emigrated to Southern Vietnam and settled there in the 17th century, when the Dang trong (the South) was managed by the Nguyen dynasty. Until now, the stories about Hoa remain a mystery, but his works still fill us with wonder. In the early 20th century, Hoa was considered the richest businessman and the biggest property investor in Sai Gon and Indochina.. Starting his carreer as a rubbish collector, he soon became a rich property manager. . At its best record, the Hui Bon Hoa Company owned 20,000 houses in Gia Dinh – Sai Gon – Cho Lon. Some of the remaining buildings, which play an important role in Saigon city, are the Majestic Hotel, Tu Du Hospital, Sai Gon Emergency Center, Ky Vien Pagoda, Government Guest House at Ly Thai To street, as well as many business and bank headquarters in District 5…
Among a variety of Hui Hoa’s works, the Ho Chi Minh fine arts museum stands apart due to its special architecture.
Completed in 1925, the Hoa house stands in a large area with surrounding iron fences. The four-storey house is directed towards the East for sunshine in the morning, and was constructed with a well-matched reinforced concrete area to create a courtyard. Designed by French architects, it is a blend of contemporary European and Asian fine arts, featuring Art-Deco style: an architectural tendency strongly developed in the West in the early 20th century, to renounce Greek and Roman artistic decoration in the Renaissance. The architectural hallmark and materials are expressed in the project’s scale as well as in details such as a forward balcony, high roofs and sophisticated iron patterns. The entrance is located on the first floor with a high anteroom, two staircases on both sides and large pillars.
The main door was designed in arch with a steel – glassy frame. The initials of the owner H.B.H (Hui Bon Hoa) are stylizedly engraved on the arch. This is a particular and spectacular feature of the architecture. Interiors blend European style with classic ionic pillars and embossed patterns on the ceiling. Stepping inside, a U-shape main staircase with skillful curved handrails leads us to the upper floor. Very conveniently, there is also an elevator in the middle of the staircase, making this house the first building to boast one in Saigon. Elevators were regarded as a luxurious product in the Saigon of the 1920s. This particular model is made of wood, decorated and carved as a Chinese palanqueen and appears as decoration for the house.
Each floor is tiled with flowered bricks of various patterns. The stair is tiled in marble. Outside window frames and staircase windows are equipped with colored glass, in a truly European manner.
The Oriental features harmonize skillfully with European style, manifested mainly in the sloping roofs, red double tiles and green enamel tiles on the edges. Handrails, hall banisters and pillars are enameled in deep blue. This enamel material was used in several other places such as the decoration around the gate arch, pillars at the back door, or the banister pillar at the back house row. Blue flower enameled tiles are decorated in a range – the azimuth cross line at the architecture’s surface in the 4th floor under the roof. Many décors also feature Orient hallmarks such as Chinese scripts on the two sides of the main entrance , the roof water pipe decorated with a fish, and the “Wan” or swastika which ornaments the window on the 4th floor.
The edifice has a large roof to shelter from rain and sun and an airy space with round air-gates underneath.
…to the Fine Arts Museum
After many political and social changes, historic upheavals and thrilling stories about the house, Mr Hoa’s house has become a fine arts museum – one of Saigon’s cultural heritage buildings.
The Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts Museum was founded in 1987 and opened for public use on March 28 1989. With the great effort of many contributors, the support of the city and the assistance of artists, the museum now owns more than 20,000 objects, including paintings, statues, folk masterpieces and well-known relics, sculptures and historic objects.
Objects are displayed in an area of 2,890 m2 indoors and over 1,623 m2 outdoors. The ground floor is used for painting galleries. The first floor is to hold cultural and artistic shows while the second floor is a display space for modern fine arts, valuable works of famous Southern artisans and other Vietnamese artists such as Diep Minh Chau, Nguyen Gia Tri, Nguyen Sang, Nguyen Sien, Dinh Ru... The battle sketches made by many painters and soldiers are also an important addition. Most particularly, the museum offers its audience an outstanding masterpiece of art – a lacquer painting entitled “Spring garden of Centre, South and North” by the painter Nguyen Gia Tri. The third floor displays ancient, contemporary and traditional collections of fine arts.
Traveling to Ho Chi Minh City, visiting Mr Hoa’s house – the Fine Arts Museum - , visitors will have the opportunity to both explore artistic masterpieces and contemplate magnificent architecture, an outstanding mixture of East and West.
See more Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) travel guide at here.