(ZHU DEQUN, French/Chinese, B. 1920)
No. 121
signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' in Chinese & Pinyin (lower right); signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' in Chinese & Pinyin; titled and dated 'No. 121 1962' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
73 x 101 cm. (28 3/4 x 39 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1962
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in the 1960s

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Lot Essay

An Unfolding, Poetic Narrative of Space

Chu Teh-Chun's artistic transformation from representational to abstract reached its heights in the 1960s, when he produced magnificent works each year. Like the series of 1961 works in this sale, Chu strove to bring forth the essence from abstract landscapes in this work No. 121 (Lot 13). Furthermore, in No. 121, a deliberate construction of poetic atmosphere comes to fore. Jean-Clarence Lambert once described Chu Teh-Chun as one of the great "cosmic dreamers" in ancient Greece, saying that his art has already surpassed any fixed category of "abstract art." Lambert, a poet and art critic saw in Chu Teh-Chun's art "an unlimited space filled with vitality and unceasing change, a space that is alive, "a statement that showed his unreserved appreciation towards Chu as well as his "poetic meditation" of the world.

While constructing the landscape composition, Chu Teh-Chun applied bright colours filled with poetry and romance at the tip of his brush. Gradually he built a dreamlike depiction reminiscent of the works by William Turner (1775-1851) (Fig. 1). Such traces of changes can also been seen in a work on paper, No. 134 (Lot 141), made in the same year. The work marks Chu's departure from a robust, majestic style defined by classic painters like Fan kuan and Li Tang. At the same time, he forgoes the singular vision of achieving variations in ink-wash. Instead, Chu aims at a softer approach to technique and composition, suggesting his intent to make paintings a vehicle to imply mood and atmosphere outside of the confine of canvas. This development brings Chu even closer, at a metaphysical level, to early Chinese painters and the lyrical, poetic imagery they produced with their emphasis on projecting feelings naturally and effortlessly through brush and ink (Fig. 2).

When the French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) found the poetic imagery in the paintings of Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), it seemed a kind of brand new discovery for Western culture. Poetry and painting had long been regarded as completely different and separate fields of endeavour in the western idiom. However, works of the Chinese literati, the convergence of landscape paintings and poetry has already begun as early as the Wei-Jin dynasties and has ever since become a basic canon of artistic approach and creation. Wang Wei's groundbreaking landscape poetry and ink paintings in tang dynasty deepened the traditions of merging the two forms of art. This tradition reached its peak during the song dynasty, when Su Dong-Po and Mi Fu advocated a union of poetry and painting. Hence it became a part of the unique intellectual heritage of China. Chu Teh-Chun certainly inherited such mode of thinking, in which "poetry and painting follow the same rules and rhythms." in No. 121 , hues of red, yellow, blue, and black intertwine in the foreground; Chu simply passes the middle ground and extends directly onto a vaulting sky in the distance. Our gaze is lost in whirling roar of the warm tone in the foreground, reminding us of the sunset. The pictorial plane unfolds horizontally, extending and transforming into a broad, unbounded expanse. Chu here creates a perspective beyond the three types defined by the earlier Chinese painters, which are "high distance," "horizontal distance," and "deep distance." What he manages to bring into being is referenced as "broad distance" in Pure and Complete Essays on Landscape Painting written by Han Zhuo, a song dynasty intellectual. "Broad distance" describes a sense of ambience that is as far-reaching as possible. Chu's No. 121 fully exhibits ease and breadth, and the solitary distance spoken of by poet Wang Wei: "the river runs beyond heaven and earth, to where the hues of distant mountains can hardly be discerned." in his exploration of abstract painting, Chu Teh-Chun returns and takes up once again the traditions passed onto him by the early Chinese painters, expressing the poetic nature with his abstract forms. No. 121 is imbued with the artist's attachment to the past while he strives to pave the way for the future.

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