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Colonial-era French ad posters preserved on Hanoi street
Jenna Duong 22:11, 2024/03/04
Vintage posters, once the impressive hallmark of French colonial painting, are now on display in the heart of Hanoi.

A mid-20th-century French advertising poster in Hanoi, covered up shortly after its discovery in early 2023, was recently unveiled as a highlight of the Cua Nam Flower Garden art project.

The French colonial advertising poster has now been preserved as part of the Cua Nam Flower Garden Renovation Project. Photo: Jenna Duong

Precious heritage of the French colonial period

Passing by the Cua Nam intersection in Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, these days, people are intrigued to see an antiquated poster on the wall of the transformer station on the traffic island.

The poster contains mostly French print, advertising Goodyear car tires at the top and Evian-Cachat bottled water at the bottom. It has survived to this day thanks to an accidental shield - the community house built next to the wall. Only in early 2023, when the People's Committee of Cua Nam Ward cleared the site for the construction of the traffic island, did the secret come to light.

According to Le Van Quy, a resident of Cua Nam Ward, almost no one in the area knew about the existence of this poster. "Because this place used to be the community house of Residential Group No.1. But just a few days ago, when the house was demolished, this picture was exposed." He thought it was made in the 1940s.

 The new look of Cua Nam Flower Garden.

The revelation of the antique has excited many people interested in history and heritage, as the print is almost entirely in French and appears to date from the French colonial era.

Phong Dao, a Vietnamese student in Germany, explained that the print on the poster read: "A tire that's tough enough to bite the road can only be made by Goodyear."

As for Tran Phuong Nga from Cau Giay District, who was born and raised in Hanoi and loves the old charm of the city, when information about the ad went viral, she rushed to see it herself.

"With time, the images are no longer intact, but I'm really impressed by the way advertising posters are drawn like this. This can also be considered a highlight of the capital, a mark of a historical period worth remembering," she said.

Amid the public excitement, the local government temporarily covered the work with a tarp to protect it. According to Pham Tuan Long, Chairman of the Hoan Kiem District People's Committee, the poster has both aesthetic and historical value.

A copy of the silk painting titled Spring Flower Market by the late painter Luong Xuan Nhi (1914-2006) on one side of the Cua Nam Power Cabin.

Meanwhile, painter and cultural researcher Phan Cam Thuong agreed that French advertising posters like this one should be preserved. He argued that these advertising materials of the past, whether beautiful or not, all remind us of the commercial society that was emerging in Vietnam at that time.

Painting project revives the monument

A year has passed and the poster has made its comeback with a fresh look of the Cua Nam Flower Garden. Preserved in its original state, with parts peeling off, it's no longer alone but has many new 'friends'.

Hoping to enhance the appeal and meaning of the poster, the artists participating in the Cua Nam Flower Garden Art Project proposed an interesting plan: to decorate the three remaining walls of the power cabin with replicas of paintings and posters from the French colonial era - with some reference to the said poster or the location.

The Le Mur Ao dai advertising poster, designed by Hanoi artist Nguyen Cat Tuong (1912-1946) on the old-style posters.

According to artist Nguyen The Son, the curator of the project, the team's idea was to tell a fascinating story about the advertising industry in Hanoi before 1954, with clients including famous international and domestic brands.

In particular, the painters wanted to remind visitors of Le Mur Ao dai, designed by Hanoi artist Nguyen Cat Tuong (1912-1946). As a result, a number of advertisements for this brand, as well as dated posters using its images, were searched for, selected, and reproduced on the wall opposite the preserved poster.

The remaining wall was painted with a copy of the silk painting titled Spring Flower Market by the late painter Luong Xuan Nhi (1914-2006). The beautiful painting not only harmonizes with the poster, but also with its creator's old house on Cua Nam Street, where the painting was born.

The power cabin in Cua Nam is decorated with more advertisements for cars with Goodyear tires dating back to the French colonial period.

Artist The Son added that in the coming time, the project would install more models of women wearing ao tu than and ao ngu than (traditional Vietnamese four- and five-piece dresses) scattered on the lawn of the flower garden.

In addition, the opposite area of the garden will feature a stone sculpture that recalls the architecture of the ancient Cua Nam City Gate.

According to the Hoan Kiem District People's Committee, in the near future, the district will assign the District Construction Investment Project Management Board to continue the overall renovation of the Cua Nam Flower Garden to make it more pleasing to the people.

The Flower Garden will have its walkways paved with appropriate materials, more lawns and trees planted, and urban furniture such as trash cans, benches and lighting uniformly added, among other improvements.

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