• Chinese 20th Century Art (Day  auction at Christies

    Sale 2725

    Chinese 20th Century Art (Day Sale)

    30 November 2009, Hong Kong

  • Lot 1359


    Price Realised  


    (ZHU DEQUN, B. 1920)
    Lumieres ardentes
    signed in Chinese; signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' in Pinyin; dated '90' (lower right)
    oil on canvas
    80 x 65 cm. (31 1/2 x 25 1/2 in.)
    Painted in 1990

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    My devotion and love for painting lead me into great flights of fantasy-the quest to achieve beauty is the central necessity of my life. Nature inspires me and impels me: after 60 years of unceasing effort, my constant pondering, experience, and comprehension of nature have gradually brought me a kind of facility, a unity with my subject and with my paintings, so that now my feelings flow naturally into the canvas. - Chu Teh-Chun
    The most fundamental difference between the painting styles of the East and the West is that the lines produced by the calligraphy brush has always been essential to Chinese painting, whereas in the European tradition, which may have taken line as a starting point, there was a gradual shift toward the objects that the lines set out, meaning a greater attention to light and shadow, mass and weight, and various ways of softening or blurring outlines that end up reducing the importance of line. Imbued with the essence of Chinese painting, Chu's paintings exhibit the masterfully abstract use of brush and ink by Chu in expressing personality, mood and conception. During and after the Sung dynasty, the personal, subjective aspects of artists' work became more and more a part of Chinese landscape painting, until their spiritual or psychological reaction took precedence over reproducing nature's forms and appearances. Chu Teh-Chun's style of abstraction, one that radiates the pure feeling of the artist, is likewise less involved with symbolism than it is with personal, lyrical expression. One can easily imagine mountain landscapes, waterfalls, and gushing springs from the free, evocative spaces of his paintings, spaces where you find yourself in communication with the artist, but even more, with nature and the universe
    Composition No. 168 (Lot 1360), based entirely on tones of burnt umber, is a rarity in the oeuvre of an artist who is as well known for color as Chu Teh-Chun, but precisely for this reason it allows us to sense all the more easily the strong feeling of Chinese landscape implicit within this monotone palette. The primary color palette of traditional Chinese ink-wash paintings was centered on black; as Tang Dynasty artist and poet Wang Wei said, pointing out ink's central importance in the Chinese systemof aesthetics, "In the Tao of painting, ink-wash surpasses all; it begins from the essence of nature and completes the work of creation." Many generations of painters have drawn upon the combination and structuring of ink and color for their most basic elements and motifs, which allowed them to convey the strongest impressions with the smallest means in terms of color. Oil pigments, under Chu Teh-Chun's brush, immediately took on a new character, losing their thick viscosity and gaining a new fluidity, along with the weightiness of charcoal black ink applied with a dry brush. Here, the artist uses an ink-wash type of effect with a single oil pigment to create the "six colors" of black, white, thick, thin, dry, and wet, and in his seemingly bold sweeps of the brush he utilizes the simplicity of deep inky color with great precision. The result is a visual organization that creates rich, fine layering and a clear distinction between foreground, middle distance, and background, building a sense of space and depth in the picture space. This sense of limitless space in a canvas of smaller dimensions may be what Sung writer Fan Zhongyan meant when he said, in his essay "On Yueyang Tower," "it holds the mountain ranges in the distance and swallows the waters of the Yangtze. Vast and mighty, it seems virtually boundlessK"
    In Untitled (Lot 1361), the strong, agile rhythms of the burnt umber lines moving across the surface immediately echo the clean dexterity of cursive script in Chinese calligraphy and the strong, beautifully flowing movement of Chinese martial art sword work. Chu uses his characteristic agile brushwork, suggestive of the sweeping "flying white" (feibai) strokes in Chinese calligraphy, matching them with blocks of white or other light hues, to create the elegant flowing quality of clouds or rushing waters.

    For Chu, 1980s was a decade of free artistic expression. He employed large washes of color and sweeping, striated brushstrokes with even greater skill while his color became richer and more brilliant, with larger areas of high-intensity hues. Chu's Impression Verdoyante (Lot 1362) takes blue and green as its basic palette in an imposing and magnificent composition built up from layering and tonal juxtaposition. Chu once described his feeling that blue has a greater breadth of feeling and expansiveness than any color in nature; it is a color that possesses both poetry and imagination and a deep familiarity. The earliest life that appeared in the world originated in blue-the blue of the oceans. With broad sweeps of blue-green and cobalt blue, Impression Verdoyante leads us into an oceanic world; the silent and mysterious world at the sea floor and the continuous pulsing of rolling waves appear before our eyes, a shimmering light reflecting from its waves and casting its varied colors throughout that world. Leaving behind the aggravations of the everyday world, we can for a time simply drift through this new world, where Chu Teh-Chun shares on canvas his universe of peaceful but vivid color, while also demonstrating his mastery in creating limitless depths of space through the use of that color.

    In 1985, as Chu Teh-Chun was returning by rail from Switzerland to France, he was privileged to view a snowstorm in the Swiss Alps from his carriage window. The experience left him sleepless with excitement, and later, Chu began an exceptional series of snow scenes. By contrast with the still, silent scenes of forest and snow most often found in traditional Chinese paintings of wintertime landscapes, Chu Teh-Chun's Hivernale A (Lot 1363) presents the beauty and dynamic presence of a snowy blizzard, and while the painting displays a direct outpouring of feeling inspired by Western Abstract Expressionism, it is one whose essential Chinese elements can also be easily sensed. Fine and gracefully controlled brushstrokes move across the upper part of the canvas, calling to mind the calligraphy of Tang monk Huai Su and the cursive calligraphy style of his "Dong Shu Tie" (a famous sample of his calligraphy), which has been described as "silk threads floating in air." These gracefully moving and floating lines, set in the midst of a woven flurry of snowflakes, seem to become distant mountains floating in the haze. In the foreground, Chu adds freestyle strokes of black which help create its semi-transparent palette of warm and cool colors and its sense of multi-layered space. Chu abandons depiction of specific landscape vistas and applies his paints with great freedom, sometimes in partially open, striated brushstrokes that reveal the colors beneath and sometimes in heavy, flowing applications that drip down the canvas, creating unstable forms and colors with a sense of the instantaneous change and movement of a snowstorm. While it was European scenery that sparked his imagination, Chu's intent in Hivernale A was not to imitate western naturalism but to take advantage of his own ethnic roots, the special knowledge of his own culture, to perhaps touch the bit of eastern awareness we may possess within us. What Chu presents in this scene is therefore not the startling, breathtaking views of snowy mountain heights, but a scene that contains hints of spring as described by Chinese author Lu Xun: "The Jiangnan snows are beautiful, enriching, and beneficial. They conceal within them hints of the coming spring, as appealing as the skin of a young woman still in the healthy flush of youth. The snowfields abound with the colors of ruby red camellias, greenish-white single-petal plum blossoms, and wintersweet with petals of apricot yellow. Cold green grasses still hide beneath the snow cover. Butterflies are not yet to be seen, but whether there are bees already hovering above those flowers is something I don't recall. But I can almost see them buzzing in front of my eyes and hear their droning sound K."

    In "My Painting Career," Chu quotes Paul Klee as saying, "Art is not the re-presentation of the visible; it is to take what cannot be seen, and make it visible." In the center of Chu's Lumieres Ardentes (Lot 1359) is a gentle and warm orange, a lively glow which exerts an attraction that pulls together and unites the visual elements of the composition, whose vitality spreads through all the changes in color we see. But the artist's aim here is not so much to display anything like real flame, despite the overlapping and interwoven yellows, oranges, and vermilion that flash and leap across the work, but instead to display the essence of fire-the essence that cannot be seen-through impressions of its fierce, scorching heat. The darker tones that hover around the edges of the painting serve to enhance the contrasts of light and shadow and display their dramatic effects in a manner that seems to have come straight from Rembrandt. Emotion spills across the canvas with dramatic tension, and, as Chu Teh-Chun has described, "What I paint is the inner light, the light that comes from my soul." No specific scenes or objects appear in Chu's picture space, which is devoted solely to vivifying the rich inner moods and feelings of the artist and exploring the basic logic behind all of nature's tremendous variety. Such an artistic purpose injects into the light and color of the abstract composition a lyricism and a broader spiritual meaning; Chu Teh-Chun "has learned from the example of western experience, developing the aesthetic outlook of the Tang and Sung periods into his own 'formless' style of painting, further developing and extending the essential spirit of painting."

    In Chu's works, we often find a sense of freedom and joy in the direct outpouring of expression, and at the same time we can also experience the poetic imagery reminiscent of Chinese landscape painting. The artist's Eastern cultural background has found a perfect union with the western aesthetic, allowing him to adeptly express his personal qualities like boldness and breadth of vision through his works. Vigor and forcefulness combined with cultivated and graceful expression are what make Chu Teh-Chun's works so appealing. Since antiquity, the art of painting has rested on experiencing and observing the objective physical world. Chu Teh-Chun's mode of thought stems from his Chinese heritage, especially from his appreciation for its philosophy and poetry. As he once said: " Despite I had been living abroad, what has always guided me in my behaviour and relationship with others is the spirit of Chinese culture that I have comprehended when I was young. " Our ancestors left us with an inexhaustible cultural heritage, and as I've grown older, I can feel this 'China' coming out in me more than ever before." In addition to a rich and fully developed vocabulary for expressing contemporary abstract ideas, Chu Teh-Chun has also used his painting as a vehicle to help keep the spirit of traditional Chinese culture alive in contemporary society.


    Private Collection, Asia


    The Ueno Royal Museum & Thin Chang Corporation, Solo Exhibition of Chu Teh-Chun, Tokyo, Japan, 2007 (illustrated, p. 230).
    National Museum of History & Thin Chang Corporation, Chu Teh-Chun 88 Retrospective, Taipei, Taiwan, 2008 (illustrated, p. 150).


    Tokyo, Japan, The Ueno Royal Museum, Solo Exhibition of Chu Teh-Chun, 23 June-10 July, 2007.
    Taipei, Taiwan, National Museum of History, Chu Teh-Chun 88 Retrospective, 19 September-23 November, 2008.