CHU TEH-CHUN (ZHU DEQUN, French/Chinese, 1920-2014)

Synthèse hivernale (Wintry synthesis)

Synthèse hivernale (Wintry synthesis)
signed in Chinese; signed ‘CHU TEH-CHUN’ (lower left) signed in Chinese; CHU TEH-CHUN 1985 Synthèse hivernale (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
80.5 x 65 cm. (31 ¾ x 25 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1985
Private Collection, Asia

This work has been proposed for inclusion in the forthcoming Chu Teh-Chun artist catalogue raisonné, being co-edited by Atelier Chu Teh-Chun and Mrs. Chu Ching-Chao.

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Lot Essay

"... I saw the Alps covered in snow. When the mists were moving, there were distinct layers and shifting tones between the white of the mists and the white of the snow. In my mind I could see nothing but scenes of those mists moving over the white lands and the depths appearing within them. My heart seemed to rise up and subside in time with the shifting colors, from deep to shallow, from dense to light, and immediately images from Tang poetry came to mind. As soon as I returned home I could hardly wait to start painting."
—Chu Teh-Chun

In 1985, when Chu Teh-Chun was 65, he received an invitation to hold a joint exhibition at the Galerie Pierre Hubert in Geneva. During his journey to Geneva, the scenes he saw of the snow-covered Alps filled him with inspiration, and he began his classic and intriguing series of snow scenes. Chu's Synthèse Hivernale (Lot 17), presented here, employs a cool-toned palette with a large amount of white, while varied layers of blue and green tones produce a sense of visual depth, tranquility, and enshrouding vapor. Scattered blocks of darker black or brownish tones further highlight the pure white of the snow. Chu gives a perfect expression of the image of nature in Chinese poetry, "entwined in the air like curling mists," with his spattered specks of white and the lines that fly across the canvas with total abandon. The scene is peaceful and harmonious, but not static, as it also displays a light and graceful sense of motion throughout.

Viewing Chu's Synthèse Hivernale in light of the painting from the Song Dynasty, Clearing After Snow in the Min Mountains (Fig. 1) provides clues as to how to read his painting. We see even more clearly, in the midst of this winter scene, the dimly visible forms of a mountain range receding into the distance, and in the lower right, also how Chu's horizontal lines provide an imaginary pathway that leads the viewer toward the white tones at the center, from which the light of the painting emanates. We are led, at the same time, toward the deep and hazy distance that Chu creates with a few simple strokes in the upper right. Chu Teh-Chun's ability to control his abstract structures was deeply rooted in a combination of mental imagery with the aesthetic cultivation of the Song Dynasty landscape painting. It was this ability that allowed him to project the vast breadth of heaven and earth within the confines of a single canvas, in a scene where the viewer can roam at leisure.

In Synthèse Hivernale, Chu makes use of the abstract elements of points, lines, and planes, building a snowy landscape full of living energy and movement and transforming the soul of the natural scene into an intoxicating visual experience. The "written" character of his lines and the washes of color that spread like ink even further reveal Chu's deep sensibilities, the way he reflected the outlook of the ancient Chinese literati, their breadth of mind in "communing with the spirit of heaven and earth, while not looking down on the myriad ordinary things." In contrast with some of his earlier works, the colors of Synthèse Hivernale seems especially more elegant and natural. Chu’s feelings are expressed in a more intangible way, demonstrating that the artist has advanced to a richer and more mature realm.

The great 19th-century British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner, at his age 67, produced one of his classic works, Snow StormSteam-Boat off a Harbours Mouth (Fig. 2), which, in its color and expression of light, is similar to Chu The-Chun’s Synthèse Hivernale. Both works possess great energy and a lofty grandeur. The natural scene Turner paints is romantic, conveying the violent energy of nature, its immeasurable strength, and the smallness of humanity in its midst. To evoke this visual and emotional experience, Turner chose to paint from his memory, using abstract brushstrokes to capture the feeling and the atmosphere. Chu Teh-Chun employs the same method in an even more vivid manner. Portrayal of a realistic scene is no longer a goal or a limitation; instead, the goal is to call on the remembered scene in pursuit of its truth in the viewer’s mind. As a French critic Pierre Cabanne once said, "A real painting is derived from memory," Chu Teh-Chun's abstract snow scenes capture the essential character of the scenes without depicting their external appearance, and are imbued with the aesthetics of both the modern West and the ancient East. They exude both the splendor of the natural world and the highest level of human cultural endeavor. Chu's snow scenes, such as the one in Synthèse Hivernale, have proven themselves to be among the greatest masterpiece produced in the 20th Century Modern Chinese Art.

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