(ZHU DEQUN, French/Chinese, 1920-2014)
Composition No. 145
signed in Chinese; signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' (lower right); signed in Chinese; signed, dated and titled 'CHU TEH-CHUN 1963 No. 145' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
81 x 100 cm. (31 7/8 x 39 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1963
Private Collection, Asia
Galerie Arlette Gimaray, Chu Teh-Chun, oeuvres des annés 60, Paris, France, 1992 (illustrated, unpaged).
Artist Publishing Co., Overseas Chinese Fine Arts Series II: Chu Teh-Chun, Taipei, Taiwan, 1999 (illustrated, p. 106).
Galerie Enrico Navarra, Chu Teh-Chun, Paris, France, 2000 (illustrated, p. 61).
Hebei Educational Press, Chu Teh-Chun, Edition des oeuvres des academiciens de l'Academie des Beaux-Arts de l'institut de France, Hebei, China, 2005 (illustrated, plate 30, p. 82).
Pierre-Jean Rémy (ed.), La Diff?rence, Chu Teh-Chun, Paris, France, 2006 (illustrated, p. 97).

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Lot Essay

Chu Teh-Chun acknowledged that early in his artistic career, he paid special attention to the composition concepts of the Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne. Following the French artist's footstep, he achieved the ideal of letting the landscape yield to the trinity in composition: forms, colours, and light. The artist reviewed his painting journey in search of when he started infusing Chinese visual art elements and pursued the freedom in expression. He pointed out that this turning point occurred roughly in 1952 to 1953 - two or three years prior to his sojourn in France. In the monthly journal Literature & Art Studies (2000 September) published by the Magazine of the same name based in Beijing, Chu Teh-Chun expressed in the article titled "My Painting Journey":
"In retrospect, the two or three years prior to my departure, I was already in search of a freer expression. However, my pursuit was hindered by the form. From my trip to paint en plein air in Pasianshan, Taiwan, I understood the expressions of spaces in clouds and hazes in Chinese ink painting. This contrast between the tangible and intangible had sown the seed of abstraction expressions."
From the misty mountains of Pasianshan in Taiwan, Chu Teh-Chun gained insights of the tangibility and intangibility in Chinese ink painting: from the crisscrossing of the pines and cypresses, he understood the brushwork in Chinese calligraphy. Objectively analysing the creative output between 1951-1953 such as Wulai Waterfall (1952), Alishan (1952), and Autumn (1953), these works all share vertical structures and abundance of lines. From these commonalities in expressions, we can deduce that Chu Teh-Chun yearned for an expression that is as boundless as the height of the sky and the breadth of the land. The robust and determined vertical strokes thoroughly expressed the majesty of nature. The vertical composition and the sense of robustness in painting have long been the interests of Chu Teh-Chun since 1951. It was not until when the artist first arrived and encountered what he described as the "freedom and shrewdness of expression in Nicolas de Staël's works" did he feel a special affinity and validation. Moreover, in the 1953 work Pa-hsien Mountain, the clear skies are replaced by mist and clouds. Although the various shadings of these atmospheric effects are not as stark as the robust lines that he painted when he first arrived in Paris, they would return and influence him again in the 1960. Such treatment would become the major inspiration in his abstract art in the 1960s.
When he first settled in Paris, he was confronting a myriad of different styles of abstract art. A saying by Laozi came to Chu Teh-Chun's mind:
Unclear and indistinct like a trance
Within it there is image
Indistinct and unclear like a trance
Within it there is substance
What Laozi referred to as "Unclear and indistinct like a trance" is the Chinese understanding of abstract art - it is the representation of an object deduced from abstraction. Chu Teh-Chun speculated that this could be the Chinese way of reading abstraction. The spiritual rendering of the fine line between abstraction and representation derived from Chinese Taoist (Daoist) philosophies became the foundation of Chu Teh-Chun's lyrical expression in abstract art.
The art of Chu Teh-Chun drew inspirations from nature. In the latter part of the 1950s, he started painting geometric abstractions by using geometric shapes painted with unmodulated colours and black contours as the core. Although these works drastically differ from Piet Mondrian's pursuit of absolute minimalism and hard-edge finishes, geometric planes can still clearly be seen. The beginning of 1960s was a crucial juncture of transformation: the tightly bonded and opaque geometric shapes were gradually transformed into airy translucent planes, and the stern contours were morphed into the silky curves of freehand calligraphy. Painted in 1963, Composition No. 145 is full of carefree sweeping strokes. Confidence exudes from Chu Teh-Chun's brushworks - the artistic conception drove the brush, as the composition was already completed before the execution. Early Qing dynasty scholar Zhang Chao expounded in his book The Shadows of a Ghostly Dream that there are four types of mountains and water (Chinese landscape), "the mountains and water in the natural world, the mountains and water in paintings, the mountains and water in dreams, and the mountains and water in the bosom". Chu Teh-Chun's Composition No. 145 is a reflection of "the mountains and water in the bosom". Through his personal travels, his horizons were broadened, and the positions of the mountains and water can be arranged in any ways that pleased him. The objective of painting the enormous strokes in the picture was to construct archetypes and to simplify - driving complexity with simplicity was the principle. The archetypal components symbolise the complex sum - this is also the essence of abstraction. Chu Teh-Chun used dense and bold black curves to delineate the forms of mountain ranges. This straddles on the border between calligraphy and painting in Chinese visual arts. The picture is formed by multiple layers of oil paint: the first layer is a translucent wash that does not completely shroud the painting. The translucency of the colours is thus preserved. The sense of fluidity of the diluted pigments can be seen on the lower left of the picture where translucent liquid drips are apparent. As the bottom layer of the colours was almost dried, subsequent layers were painted on top in the same manner with increasingly complex brushwork. A wide variety of brushstrokes were employed - these included heavy swipes, light presses, thin brushes, and thick smears. Colours transition from Chinese ink black to dark-brown, purple-blue, and red-ochre. Chu Teh-Chun's colouring technique was similar to the ink splashing technique pioneered by Zhang Daqian in the 1960s. Following the order from thin to thick, layers of ink were splashed. The subsequent layer has to be splashed moments before the previous layer is dried. The area of the new layer has to be smaller than the dried layers, and their positions have to intersect and stagger. This brings out the intricate effect of the cascading ink layers. Zhang Daqian declared:
Abstraction originated from Laozi of China. Did Laozi not say "The vision without an image" and "Great vision is without forms"? Abstract paintings break free from the limitation of the experiential world and bring us into a mystical place of being that is the core of the soul.
Two Chinese artists, Chu Teh-Chun and Zhang Daqian, used different painting media to interpret Laozi's Chinese philosophies. Zhang Daqian's splash ink is based on the expression of emotions and whimsies. This is akin to the spirit of abstraction. Chu Teh-Chun successfully integrated Laozi's aesthetics of depicting mental states with the spirit of abstraction and freely galloped through abstract art. Zhang Daqian recalled, "Since then, through the process of painting abstract works, I experienced the sense of freedom that Laozi described as "unfettered" and what Confucius described as "Roaming in art".

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