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

Montée Hivernale (Winter Surge)

CHU TEH-CHUN (1920-2014)
Montée Hivernale (Winter Surge)
signed in Chinese, signed and dated 'CHU TEH-CHUN 85' (lower right); signed in Chinese, signed, titled and dated 'CHU TEH-CHUN 1985 Montée Hivernal' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
129.5 x 96 cm. (51 x 37 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1985
Private Collection, Europe (acquired directly from the artist, thence by descent to the present owner)
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Lot Essay

Chu Teh-Chun's birthplace in Xiao County, Anhui Province, lies within the subtropical zone; it therefore enjoys a warm climate, where the brilliant whites of a fresh snowfall are rarely seen. Chu left Taiwan in 1955 to take up residence in France, and 10 years later, traveling to the east of France to take part in an art fair in 1965, his path took him past the Alps and Mont Blanc. Only then did he finally see the world covered in gleaming silver and white, and once he did, snowfall would inevitably became one of the most important subjects of his artistic career.
Prior to 1965, Chu Teh-Chun rarely employed large areas of white in his paintings, most of which instead featured palettes of earth tones, sapphire blue, brilliant tangerine orange, and scarlet in combination with black brushstrokes (Fig. 1). His first climb to the heights of the European continent touched him deeply with its views of mountains covered in snow and mist, stretching into the distance, and he began to ponder how to introduce white into his canvases. In colour theory, white has no hue, but has shades of varying brightness; a colour's brightness or darkness depends on the amount of black it contains. Whites with other colours mixed in that change its tone are called 'tints.' Chu began using white by covering every inch of the canvas with white tints in broad brushstrokes, producing a kind of pastel texture with a warm and tranquil feel (Fig. 2). That approach gradually evolved as he later added whites within unevenly mixed brushstrokes, creating layered gradations of colour in the backgrounds of his paintings, while adding linear, directional strokes of a more fragmented character. A sense of flowing light seems to emerge from their contrasting dark and bright tones (Fig. 3).
Light was the primary focus of Chu Teh-Chun's explorations in the 1970s, and his use of white is intimately connected with his light sources and the rays of light that emerge from within his lines. The creamy whites that appear with such frequency during this period foreshadow the series of snow scenes that Chu would produce during the 80s and 90s (Fig. 4).
During a trip to Geneva to hold an exhibition in 1985, Chu witnessed a snowfall in the Alps. Moved by its beauty, he began transforming the images of earlier snowstorms he still harbored after 20 years into an artistic language on canvas. Chu begins by setting out a supporting layer of white on the 'plane' of the canvas, which further evolves into 'points' and 'lines,' and thus begins what would become one of the summits of this artist's outstanding creative work. The artist's wife, Mrs. Dong Jingzhao, recalled that after his trip through the Alps, whenever Chu saw a new snowfall, he would still be seized with unquenchable excitement; this Mont?e Hivernale (Winter Surge) (Lot 26), from 1985, derives from the very source and fountainhead of his excitement.
Thin layers of oils, applied in vertical strokes above and in horizontals in the lower areas, surround more densely clustered blocks of colour, while the spreading effects of pigments, like inks spreading across Chinese xuan paper, convey the feel of hazy, refracted light. Amid this mix of dark and bright tones, and dense and open spaces, Chu's free, fluent brushstrokes of white sweep like a wind blowing through the painting, whooshing through flying flakes of snow. The scene suggests variously the withered, snow-covered branches of a chilly winter forest, or the winter's last fall of downy snow descending in misty layers. The spattered white flecks woven into the textures of the middle and upper parts of the painting join in a kind of 'dot composition,' with effects not unlike those seen in ink-wash works from the mature period of Wu Guanzhong (Fig. 5). Together, these two artists' compositions of lines and points, whether in black ink or white tints in oils, composed a new page in the history of 20th century abstract Chinese painting.
From the comparatively reserved spots of white in Mont?e Hivernale (Winter Surge), covering only a relatively small part of the canvas like bits of willow fluff floating in the wind, Chu's renowned series of snow scenes continued to develop during 1986 and early 1987. At that time, floating tai dian (or 'moss dots,' borrowing the name of an ink-wash painting technique) began to fill the canvas in strongly rhythmic depictions of thick, swirling snowfalls (Fig. 6); they evolved further in the webwork composition of La For?t Blanche II (The White Forest II), where 'moss dots' and brushstrokes in the 'wild cursive' calligraphy style meet, mix, and interweave. The silver-white snowflakes of a dense storm pour down like a waterfall, in a work of majestic power that stands at the summit of the entire series (Fig. 7). But the extraverted, urgent strength of such works seemed more tempered in the early 90s; in the last few canvases featuring snow images, the flakes of snow have lost some of their energy and pungency, and begin to merge with the background blocks of colour. Already they suggest an atmosphere more akin to the Chinese poem: "from afar you know they're blossoms, not snow, as the delicate scent wafts on the air." Beginning to take their place are larger blocks of deeper colour and fine, sharp brushstrokes, signaling the shift toward the brilliant profusion of colours and broad brushstrokes that would be the mainstay of Chu's late-period style (Fig. 8).

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