(ZHU DEQUN, French/Chinese, B. 1920)
No. 54 La montagne lavée par la pluie
signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' in Chinese & Pinyin (lower left); signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' in Chinese & Pinyin; dated '1960'; titled in Chinese and French (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
92.5 x 65 cm. (36 3/8 x 25 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1960
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in the 1960s
Hebei Education Press, Chu Teh-Chun, Hebei, China, 2005 (illustrated, plate 25, p. 74).

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Lot Essay

Chu Teh-Chun does not express space in his paintings in the traditional manner; we can say he employs multiple spaces. In the midst of his curving, bending brushstrokes he interjects elements that produce forms, elements which are typically applied in thick pigments for the effect of small blocks of colour...his inspiration usually derives from landscapes, or some lines in a poem.
M. Maurice Panier, 1959

In Chu's No.54 La montagne lavée par la pluie (Lot 8), the "blocks of colour" that Panier refers to above appear in the form of brilliant, richly coloured jewels, inlaid within the setting of this nearly black and white landscape. The colours and elements that create forms in No.54 La montagne lavée par la pluie ("After the Rain") derive from nature, yet transcend the actual expression of such forms and colours in nature. In this respect, there is a convergence between Chu's style in the painting and concepts employed by Cézanne, through which he recreated the structures of natural objects and their sense of weight and mass. During his student days under Wu Dayu at the Hangzhou Academy of the Arts, Chu grasped the essence of Western modernist styles, and of all the great modern artists, it was the pioneer of modern painting, Paul Cézanne, whom he most admired. The moment Chu made his first attempt by moving beyond figurative paintings and its traditional technical repertoire, Cézanne's geometrical forms of landscape naturally came to his mind, becoming an important source of inspiration to his own approach in reconstructing natural scenery.

In his presentation of space in No.54 La montagne lavée par la pluie, which dates from 1960, Chu employs an absolute minimum of spatial cues, drawing instead on lines that geometrically break the natural scenery into blocks of colour, just as Cézanne did in Bibemus Quarry (Fig. 1). Through those lines, he dissects and then re-presents the natural space of the scene in his own unique manner. Cézanne, who was a central figure in the French Post-Impressionist movement of his day, formed a bridge between tradition and the future as he aggressively promoted a more modern spirit and awareness, seeking innovations in painting technique and theory. What Chu found fascinating in Cézanne was his deep understanding of the visual elements that constitute a natural landscape, and his intensely experimental approach to analyzing and then deconstructing scenery or still life subjects to find the even simpler elements hidden just beneath their surfaces.

Though Chu had to confront and adapt to the concepts and forms of expression in Western art, in No.54 La montagne lavée par la pluie there is no simple imitation. On the contrary, we see Chu Teh-Chun probing deeply into the origins of Eastern painting and calligraphy to create an individual artistic vocabulary fusing Eastern and Western characteristics into a highly personal style. Both Cezanne and Chu Teh-Chun employed fragmentation of external forms, division of colours, break of proportions, and blocks of colour, through which they would first break down, then reintegrate, reinterpret, and, ultimately, replace the original forms of their subjects. But in his search for harmony and balance within the whole, Cézanne emphasized rational analysis, whereas Chu Teh-Chun, when deconstructing the nature, found a more lyrical and philosophical approach in following the moods of the heart.

Originality and Simple Expressions of the Complex

In No.54 La montagne lavée par la pluie, Chu employs a minimum of pleasant strokes in sepia brown with profound skills and control. These full, rounded strokes, some given more rugged edges by the tip of Chu's brush, overlap at varying depths within the painting, while beautiful mountain peaks rise swiftly on each side of the rushing stream (Fig. 2). The stream winds a downward course from its obscure beginnings in the remote distance and flows into the ravine in the foreground. Following the method of "multi-vanishing point perspective" often seen in ink-wash paintings, the artist intentionally leave out details that would render a middle ground. The result is a dramatic visual foreshortening in which the viewer's gaze penetrates the depth of the natural scene, moving in an instant from a far-away vantage point all the way to the tips of the ranging peaks in the distance. In the foreground which occupies nearly half of the canvas, dramatic ochre-ink stokes crawl and form a network of configuration, some sparse and others dense. Chu adorns the canvas with geometric shapes in thickly applied pigments, suggesting stones of black agate, diamond, emerald, ruby, and sapphire, pulsing and reflecting against each other in their transparent brilliance.

In his gradual transition from representational painting to abstraction, Chu Teh-Chun's deep Eastern culture foundation and aesthetic outlook is fundamental. The poetic and spiritual character of Chinese landscapes finds expression in combinations of geometrical points, lines, and planes, which are logically-oriented. In No.54 La montagne lavée par la pluie, Chu's presentation of gracefully arching branches and fallen limbs, of fluttering leaves and flower petals, forms a beautiful setting for the rushing streams hidden in between the moss-covered rocks (Fig. 3). The lyrical sweeps of Chu's brush are informed at every point by the imagery of Chinese poetry, painting, and calligraphy. Segments of liu-bai, meaning "leaving blank" in traditional ink-wash paintings, hover over the land and sky in the painting. The arrangement of white or empty spaces, along with Chu's cool-toned palette and geometric forms, sets off a strong contrast with the marvelous natural scene of overhanging cliffs and rushing streams. No.54 La montagne lavée par la pluie presents modern narratives of the abstract space. At the same time, through the otherworldly ambiance and the imaginative free style composition, we sense the depth of Chu's attachment towards traditional Chinese landscape paintings. The result is a scene that, in a very similar manner, exudes its own sense of easy charm and elegance (Fig. 4). Chu Teh-Chun's No.54 La montagne lavée par la pluie is a landscape that exudes a Zen-like atmosphere, it is also tinged with deep sentiments that connect the viewer. The tip of Chu's brush enlivens the floating clouds, rushing streams, stony cliffs, and graceful flowers, which are all the good and beautiful things from the mundane world that lift the human spirit.

Overall, in the creative period of the 1960s, Chu Teh-Chun sought to apply colour concisely and to focus on developing a new and expressive vocabulary of composition and form. For that reason Chu's works from early 1960s often employ monochrome backgrounds, to which he adds highly stylized, strong and nimble lines applied by a broad brush. This stage marks his attempt to move away from the realist-oriented "depiction" toward metaphysical "writing". The significance of the work, among his other works in the same early stage, lies in Chu's ambition for innovation and creativity during his transition period. At the same time, it displays a highly accomplished, progressive, and mature style, envisaging the kind of surging, musical energy that would characterize the astonishing works in his later career.

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