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Thein Han

Thein Han (1910-1986) was a major Yangon (in Burma) painter of the post-World War II era who produced a number of memorable works and who had an abiding influence on the evolution of the more conservative painting styles in Burma in the decades that followed. Thein Han was one of the six original apprentices who lived with and studied under Ba Nyan after Ba Nyan returned from his art studies in London in 1930. Three of these apprentices became major painters in Burma and Thein Han was one of them. Other painters such as Ngwe Gaing and Kyaw Hlaing had spent long periods studying with Ba Nyan but not as a live-in apprentices at his home. In Burma, there is a certain sentimental attachment to those painters who studied under Ba Nyan as full-fledged apprentices, perhaps because this training was reminiscent of the training painters of the Traditional School had received as far as memory could recall. Thein Han spent an unusual nine years studying with Ba Nyan and never rebelled against his style and thus remained a realist and naturalist throughout his painting career. For this reason, he was sometimes referred to as the "second U Ba Nyan" in Burma. 

During Thein Han's painting career, he won six gold metals for oil painting, six gold medals for watercolour painting, and six silver medals awarded by the Burma Artists’ Association. Despite this impressive array of awards, which do indicate his standing and respect in the Burmese art community, the long list must be taken with a grain of salt for in Burma associations that have little do with art or with little knowledge of it, are prone to give out such awards. Before World War II, Thein Han took a position as a drawing teacher as Myin Chan High School in Central Burma. After the war, when the government opened up the Rangoon State School of Fine Arts in 1952, he joined the staff as an instructor of oil and watercolour painting, with an emphasis on colour composition. He taught at the State School of Fine Arts until the age of 67. It was here at the State School of Fine Arts, that he left a large impact on the subsequent development of Burmese painting, passing down the techniques of realist and naturalist painting which he had learned from Ba Nyan. It must be said that his taste in painting was conservative, yet he also steeped Burmese painters in a solid, formal foundation of techniques.

Thein Han was not a zealously prolific painter, yet a number of his works are famous in Burma, particularly three oil paintings: She of his wife, Artist U Ba Nyan (1950), and a well-known self-portrait entitled Artist U Thein Han (1972). All three works appear in a softback publication entitled The Great Master Myanmar Artist U Thein Han’s Descendant U Lun Gywe. The book includes 30 of Thein Han's works and 30 by the contemporary painter Lun Gywe, one of his students. Like Ba Nyan, some of Thein Han's best works are portraits, but he also did landscapes and still life. His son, Han Htut, has written an unpublished article on his father's history, entitled “Artist U Thein Han (1910-1986)” which lists 16 of his most important oil works. But perhaps three score or more works are undocumented.

While a teacher at the Rangoon School of Fine Arts and after his retirement, Thein Han often invited students to his home for lessons. After retirement he volunteered to teach for the Yangon University Art Club, and had classes at his home twice a week. In the history of Burmese painting pedagogy, Thein Han is a transitional figure in many ways. His own instruction came entirely through his apprenticeship with Ba Nyan, but he later became an instructor in a government school where his exposure to students was wide and not always intimate. Yet he tried to retain the intimacy of the old apprenticeship system by inviting students to his home to learn. Because so many art students came in contact with him as an instructor at the Rangoon State School of Fine Arts or as a master-in-residence at his home, he influenced a great many of the painters who were born in the 1940s and still paint in Burma today, influenced distantly by the work of Ba Nyan. Many of these painters today are quite successful. Two of Thein Han's most notable students were the major painters Ba Yin Galay (1916–1988) and Lun Gywe (b. 1930). Thein Han died at the age of 76 in 1986.