(ZHU DEQUN, French/Chinese, B. 1920)
Composition No. 7
signed in Chinese; signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' (lower left); signed, dated and titled 'CHU TEH-CHUN 1958 No 7'; signed in Chinese (on the reverse) oil on canvas
120 x 60 cm. (47 1/4 x 23 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1958
Christie's Hong Kong, 27 November 2005, Lot 219
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
The Ueno Royal Museum & Thin Chang Corporation, Solo Exhibition of Chu Teh-Chun, Taipei, Taiwan, 2007 (illustrated, p. 96).

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Lot Essay

Chu Teh-Chun completed Composition No. 7 (Lot 16) in 1958, two years after he moved to Paris to develop his abstract painting style. The period from 1956 to 1958 marks an important transitional time in the thinking and career of the artist: exploring various manners of painting, his style during those years changed constantly from one piece to the next. One of Chu's most important lessons occurred after he encountered the work of Nicolas de Staël in 1956. Composition No.7 prompt such questions as how one might escape the bonds of "form" in painting and shift freely between figuration and abstraction in order to achieve "formlessness." Chu's solution was to return to the Tang and Song dynasty landscapes familiar to him in his youth. In 1957, when he began to connect Chinese ink painting with abstract oil painting, diluted oil washes began to appear in his work. And with the gradual blend of colour and brush marks that seem to appear and disappear on the surface of the painting, an Eastern poetic quality emerges. In 1958, the year Chu held his first solo exhibition in Paris at Haut Pavé Gallery, the Chinese cultural elements in his work began to be expressed more profoundly and for a wide variety of reasons. That same year, black organic shapes began to appear in his painting, developing into a system of three balanced and mutually reinforced elements: color blocks, black shapes, and calligraphic lines. Composition No. 7 belongs to the first group of works produced during this stage. An analysis of this work produces an understanding of the key elements in Chu's work, including both the Western painting fashions of the time and the traces of Eastern culture in his style.
In both composition and earthy palette, Composition No. 7 contains within it the forms and colours of nature. Chu Teh-Chun's artistic practice begins with nature, and his geometric abstraction reveals the shadows of natural objects in a way that diverges greatly from Piet Mondrian's abstract style which pursues absolute simplicity and human patterns. Chu distills the elements of the landscape and produces symbols that represent its components which, ultimately, become forms and lines on the canvas. In terms of his research into form, Chu draws from both the geometric colour blocks of de Staël and his Chinese painting tutor from the Hangzhou National College of Art, Pan Tianshou, whose simplification of
the details of great mountains and large rock formations results in a steep keystone shape that reflects an Eastern artistic approach to the escape from the concept of form. In the vertically oriented oil painting Composition No. 7, rectangles of various sizes are intentionally scattered across the picture. Their edges are blurry and uneven, rather than hard geometric shapes. Although these objects are set into the same plane, they appear in stacks and layers. Against a background of ink wash effect there appears a layer of pigment dominated by brown rectangles, above which there are small, camel-coloured blocks; finally, on the top layer, there are dark black shapes and lines, making for at least four primary layers of paint. Chu then employs shadow, tone, and brushwork to enhance this sense of space and visual rhythm. Clustered in the centre, the small blocks in tones of cinnamon, camel, and khaki float above the dark brown and red brown rectangles. The brown rectangles are comparatively densely painted, and produce a light effect by which one layer appears tight and one loose, one dark and one light, balancing each other out. If the position of one box were moved even slightly, the harmony of the entire picture would be broken. The ink-black areas and thick lines on the surface layer mark the only place in the painting where curved lines appear; here Chu intentionally thickens the pigment such that it is the heaviest and least yielding colour that expresses the gentlest lines. At the top of the painting these lines appear almost representational, an abstract outlining of mountain forms that manifests the special role that line plays in traditional Chinese visual art and calligraphy. Chu Teh-Chun turns the things of form into formless spirit, using colour, shape, and line to produce a silent architectural cadence.

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