The Foreign Ministry agreed to lend the Hue Monuments Conservation Center (HMCC) money to bring home a Nguyen Dynasty rickshaw from France, marking the country’s first successful effort to retrieve royal antiques from an auction abroad.
HMCC's Director Phan Thanh Hai said Vietnam's ambassador in France Duong Chi Dung informed the center of the ministry’s agreement.
Hai joined the auction in Tours by the phone after after pulling strings to raise €33,000 from Thua Thien-Hue Province government. The funds were added to the €10,000 in contributions from the overseas community collected by Vietnam's Embassy in Paris and €3,000 the center raised itself.
The rickshaw that King Thanh Thai, the tenth emperor of Vietnam’s Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), commissioned for his mother Tu Minh, was auctioned at €55,800 (US$76,300)--leaving the center €9,800 short.
King Thanh Thai, who ruled from 1889 to 1907, was known as a patriotic king who was one of three rulers -- including his predecessor Ham Nghi and his son Duy Tan -- to be dethroned and banished for opposing French colonial powers.
The bed of King Thanh Thai, the tenth emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, was bought by his descendent at an auction in France on June 13, 2014. Photo credit: Phan Thanh Hai / Hue Monuments Conservation Center
His ornate rickshaw, made of rare hardwood trac (Dalbergia cochinchinensis) and inlaid with mother of pearl, and bed were sold at the Rouillac auction on June 13.
Ta Van Quang, a descendent of the king, bought the bed for €124,000 ($168,000) and is making plans to send it back to Hue, where the Nguyen family established their kingdom.
Research suggests that the king transferred his assets to his chief French guard, Prosper Jourdan in a note written prior to his banishment in 1907, and the children were auctioning the items.
The foreign ministry has agreed to fill in the missing money for the rickshaw as well as pay for its transport to Hue.
Hai said his center is scrambling to raise funds from the province to pay back the ministry.
The rickshaw will not be shipped home until the middle of September. Hai said he decided to let the Guimet Asian Arts Museum in Paris borrow it for an exhibition called “The Flying Dragon - Royal Art of Vietnam” from July 9 to September 15, 2014.
Guimet had sought to buy the rickshaw following the auction, citing the priority of state organizations in the host country.
Following protests from Vietnamese abroad and the diplomatic community, it agreed to step back.
“To show the beautiful friendship between two countries, we decided to let Guimet borrow [the antique] to exhibit, and then we will process to bring it home,” Hai said.
For the treasure’s safety, he said, he plans to ask Guimet to package the rickshaw before the embassy ships it home.
The center participated in a Drouot auction in Paris in November 2010 for the Déclin du Jour (Decline of the Day) -- painted by King Ham Nghi (1872-1943), the eighth emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, who reigned 1884-1885 and was exiled to Algeria in 1888.
"The biggest challenge to the recovery of antiques overseas is that we still don't have quick access to funds" -- Phan Thanh Hai, director of Hue Monuments Conservation Center
The center gave up after the price was pushed from €1,000 euros to €8,800 bid by a French collector, Hai said.
A Vietnamese woman named To Nga stopped at €8,600 euros.
“That auction showed that the biggest challenge to the recovery of antiques overseas is that we still don't have quick access to funds,” Hai said.
Future efforts are expected to go more smoothly with the establishment of a heritage preservation fund that the government just authorized the National Cultural Heritage Council to establish.
Prof Luu Tran Tieu, chairman of the council, said the fund is undergoing a series of paperwork changes before being officially launched, so it cannot help with the rickshaw yet.
Tieu said it is a social fund and not a state-funded one.
He and members are working on gathering VND5 billion with which to start the fund. Regular expenses will be paid through interest accrued through the fund.