(ZHU DEQUN, French/Chinese, B. 1920)
L'hiver poétique I
signed in Chinese; signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' (lower right) ; signed in Chinese; signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN'; titled and dated 'L'hiver poétique I 1989' (on reverse)
oil on canvas
96.5 x 130 cm. (38 x 51 3/16 in.)
Painted in 1989
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 1991

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Lot Essay

Chu Teh Chun was exceedingly impressed with the beauty of the Xi Hu (West Lake) , particularly the "Remnant Snow on the Bridge in Winter" - one of the famous "Eight Scenic Sites of West Lake" which he visited during a trip he took while studying in Hangzhou School of Fine Arts. Subsequently after his first sight of the Alps in snow, his deep sentiment towards nature was expressed within L'hiver poétique I (Lot 17), a representation of snow-covered landscapes composed of a perfect fusion of East and West, and a deeply unique artistic vocabulary. Chu Teh Chun selected scenes from different visual perspectives - low level, eye-level, and elevated; in order to build spatial structure in depicting the rise and fall, and layered formation of the mountains. This spatial manipulation is similar to that used in Remote View of Streams and Hills by Xia Gui in the Song Dynasty. The artistic focus of Xia's classical work was situated at the bottom right section, while the left plane was filled with the shape of mountains outlined in pale colors. The contrasts created between dark and pale shades, and the alternation with blank space worked in synchrony to build spatial perception between the near and far scenes of a receding landscape.
The combination of colors and a construction of strokes are the basic organic components in drawing. Thickly and thinly applied black tones on the work's surface form different textural levels which imbue the work with fluidity and atmosphere; while other shades of muted color added the perfect finishing touches to complete the magnificent snowy landscape. Chu made reference to classical Chinese landscape painting, of which the key lies in the varying tones of ink. He applied the Oriental theory of "Five Categories of Ink" (Thickness, Thinness, Dryness, Wetness and Black) into a predominantly western subject matter in order to fully evoke the blurry view of mountain ranges. Chu excelled in manipulating the 'dry, wet, thick and thin' capabilities of oil paint in a single shade; which medium is always mistakenly believed to be pigment-intense and too viscous to permit much technical variation. While the artwork might resemble a free-form painting, Chu in fact exercised precise technical application of simple colors to construct the richly detailed layering and complex visual effects in his portrayal of mountains amidst snow.
"Artistic mood comes before techniques in landscape painting" - while Zhu Dunru of the Song Dynasty expressed softness of line within his cursive calligraphy, Chu applied unrestrained strokes to show the blend of beauty and power, which could emanate softness in its unique state while attracting attention from viewers with its momentum and rhythm. Wu Guanzhong, a close friend of Chu, once commended the rhythmic sensation delivered by the effect of his criss-crossing of lines as "His bold lines are like downpours, while his thin ones are like whispers." The same type of rhythm is presented in the works of abstract expressionist artist Pollock within which he built imaginary and rhythmic spaces through spontaneous daubs and energetic strokes which varied according to his body's tempo. Chu made great strides in imbuing the Chinese landscape painting theory: "Extracting the Essence from a Physical Form" into his abstract works. He successfully translated this traditional technique into a unique modern artistic vocabulary; delivering a scene within which temperament precedes form, expressing his deep sentiment towards the magnificent snowing scenes.
Chu's abstract landscapes are also strongly poetic in nature, drawing inspiration from literature. Chu once mentioned, "I love Chinese poetry. It blends naturally into my painting. It is not a coincidence that Western art critics see my work as poetically inspired abstractions." The tradition of melding poetry with calligraphy in their work has a long history amongst Chinese painters. A perfect fusion between the two modes of expression delivers profound meaning, articulating the depths of one's mind for the viewer's perception.
Chu depicted the pristine beauty of the Alps amidst torrential snow with clean lines and poetically bold brushstrokes, maintaining the intent to "visualize the breathtaking scene, express the expansive emotions which are beyond words." Within this peerless composition, Chu painted not only mountains in snow, but the truth of his mind and soul.

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