(ZHU DEQUN, French/Chinese, B. 1920)
Renaissance de la nature
signed in Chinese; signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' in Pinyin; dated '81' (lower right); signed in Chinese; signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' in Pinyin; dated '1981' (on a label on the reverse)
acrylic on paper
34.5 x 54.5 cm. (13 1/2 x 21 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1981
Private Collection, France
Christie's Hong Kong, 27 November 2010, Lot 1018
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Felix Yip
Felix Yip

Lot Essay

In 1965, Dr. Paul Gay invited Chu Teh-Chun to a village art fair in the Haute-Savoie region. When he flew over the Alps, the artist had the chance to overlook this grand nature for the first time in his life and was stunned by the magnificent landscape of snow. It was not until later the artist began his series of snowscape from 1985, but he had obviously made the attempt in 1981, to portray the snowy scenery with acrylic paints on paper in Renaissance de la nature (Lot 2007). Perhaps inspired by the property of his translucent, quick-drying paint, Chu depicts in the work a dynamic charm of the falling, swirling snow. 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 free-style strokes of black which help create its semi-transparent palette of colours 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 colours beneath and sometimes in heavy, flowing applications that drip down the canvas, creating unstable forms and colours with a sense of the instantaneous change and movement of a snowstorm. Undulating lines stretch themselves from the top to the bottom, scramble and twine around the entire image like vines; the thickly inked black colour blocks, on the other hand, stand loftily on the sides and the central foreground like mountains and mounds, swamping the work with the vibrancy of traditional Chinese landscapes. Blanketed by the enormous white, all these abstract imageries seem at once graceful and taciturn, resting quietly amidst the powdery, fluttering snows. The desolate and frosty snowscape is embellished with scatters of cyan, red and yellow, hinting revival against the bleak and lonely field. Dots of white are sprinkled among them, enlivening the variegated grayish black tone and hence enrich the mood peculiar to ink-wash.

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 Renaissance de la nature 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. Chu Teh-Chun and Wu Guanzhong, two of the most celebrated Chinese abstract modernists, had been lifetime close friends since they studied together at Hangzhou Art Academy. Though later parting and based in different places, Chu and Wu headed towards the same journey of exploring the transition from the representational to abstraction around the 70s. In time, lines and points become more abstract, coming close to the spontaneous dripping style of the American Action Painting, yet, at the same time, inheriting the traditions of Chinese ink painting. Wu's East Flows the Yellow River, created five years later than Renaissance de la nature, shall be one of the best examples to compare and contrast their artistic achievement at that time. Chu and Wu's dots and lines both achieved to bridge the gaps between the East and West, but quintessentially the linear sentiments and spontaneity intrinsically incline to the East, for the contrast and balance of lines and points have long had their place in many Chinese poems-frisking spots and the twirling lines on their canvas are just like the poetic motifs of falling blossoms and flowing river as seen in Chinese traditional literature. Their paintings of the 1980s both convey an ephemeral and intricate quality from the ambiguity between the figurative and abstract. While Wu sought the transcendental notion through the dominant empty spaces in the interwoven, net-like composition, Chu instigated a vigorous visual dynamic in his abstract snowscape from the substance of the ink-like black colour blocks juxtaposed with the scattering snowflakes.

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