CHU TEH-CHUN (1920-2014)
CHU TEH-CHUN (1920-2014)

Composition No. 290

CHU TEH-CHUN (1920-2014)
Composition No. 290
signed in Chinese; signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN' and dated '68' (lower right); signed in Chinese, signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN', titled 'No. 290' and dated '1968' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
147.3 x 115 cm. (58 x 45 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1968
Private Collection, Europe

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Eric Chang

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Lot Essay

The study of Chu Teh-Chun's artistic achievements occupies almost half a century. The large volumes of literature and historical documents that are dedicated to the understanding of his works have given us unprecedented depth and breadth on the subject. Scholars from both East and West agree unanimously that Chu Teh-Chun masterfully used the painting language of the West to extol Chinese cultural philosophies and aesthetic traditions - a harmonious coexistence of the duality was accomplished. The major areas of study include the artist's Chinese ink painting brushwork, figures and landscapes, and the Rembrandtesque use of light. They are being researched with the aid of composition and pigment analysis. By applying the methodology of Western classical art history of laying out the regional progression on the axis of a timeline to the career of Chu Teh-Chun, it would be apparent that he is unequivocally one of the giants of modern art.
Published in 1915 by Swiss art historian Heinrich Wölfflin, Principles of Art History still stands as one of the most respected authorities on methodology. It excludes subject matter or technique in the analysis, and considers solely the formal elements in artistic representation. The text proposes five sets of dichotomic principles to bring out the characteristics and differences between the art works produced during Renaissance and Baroque: linear and painterly, plane and recession, closed form and open form, multiplicity and unity, and lastly, absolute clarity and relative clarity.
Applying these principles to this work Composition No. 290 (Lot 23), the linearity is apparent in the use of lines - the fine brushwork in orange and yellow assuredly delineates the features of the work at the center of the painting. The demarcation between the imageries is clear. In this instance, the lines dictate the flow of the visual experience (Fig. 1). In Baroque painting, planes of the object are modeled after light and shadows are introduced in a painterly fashion - this treatment can be found in the lower right quadrant of Chu's painting. A strong and directional golden light diffuses the fine brushwork in the surrounding darker regions. The broad brushstrokes in dark green are forceful and sweeping. All the colours in the adjacent region are melded together as a result (Fig. 2).
The composition of this large-scale painting by Chu Teh-Chun is constructed based on the backbone of a series of broad strokes coming from the lower-right and the upper-left, dividing the work in two-halves symmetrically. All the corresponding lines sprawling from this compositional axle are parallel - this produces the effect of a plane. The drama and action in Baroque painting are synthesized by the placement of multi-directional viewpoints. Depth in the painting is generated by the interaction of these discreet elements and not by the unity in the overall composition (Fig. 3).
The structure of Composition No. 290 is dominated by three elements: symmetry in the closed-form, two cloudy horizontal sections bracketing the middle strip from top and bottom, as well as a fundamental sense of clarity. The exuberant brushwork in the middle section causes instability amidst this balanced composition, and it triggers an eruption of energy. The searingly bright section on the left fractures the left-right symmetry and thus displaying the characteristics of the open-form (Fig. 4). Despite being an abstract work, this painting possesses a distinct sense of multiplicity and unity: any section or colour patch could exist independently with no loss in meaning. Yet, each individual element acts in concert with the overall picture. Abstract paintings supposedly do not carry the detailed depiction of representational objects, yet Composition No. 290 is most definitely blessed with the encompassing and ever-changing nebulous beauty of the relative clarity principle.
The two artists Chu Teh-Chun admired the most were El Greco of the Spanish Renaissance (Fig. 5) and Rembrandt of the Baroque (Fig. 6). The development of art is driven by the cycle of dialectics. This analysis returns to the investigation of the nature of art. How the path of the artist in terms of style and underlying philosophies was sub-consciously influenced through the study of Western painting is made evident in this study. These five principles are not absolutes in Chu Teh-Chun's painting. They are perspectives that viewers can adopt by examining the artist's creative process and the interaction between complimentary and contradictory concepts.

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