(ZHU DEQUN, French/Chinese, B. 1920)
No. 109
signed and dated 'CHU TEH-CHUN 1962'; signed in Chinese; dated and titled '1962 No 109' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
55 x 100 cm. (21 5/8 x 39 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1962
Galerie Henriette Legendre, Paris, France
Acquired from the above by the present owner in the 1960s

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Lot Essay

Chu Teh-Chun's artistic transformation from representational to abstract reached its height in the 1960s, with magnificent works produced each year. By 1962, Chu was striving to express the essence of abstract landscapes and deliberately brought a poetic atmosphere to the fore. The poet and art critic Jean-Clarence Lambert once described Chu Teh-Chun as one of the great 'cosmic dreamers' in ancient Greece, whose work had already surpassed any fixed category of 'abstract art'. Lambert saw in Chu's art "an unlimited space filled with vitality and unceasing change, a space that is alive," a statement that demonstrates his unreserved appreciation of Chu and his 'poetic meditation' on the world.
In composing the landscape No. 109 (Lot 14), painted in 1962, Chu applied with the tip of his brush vibrant colours filled with poetry and romance, gradually building a dreamlike space that alludes to basic human emotions. The work is reminiscent of Mark Rothko. This development in Chu's technique is seen clearly in other works made in the same year, showing a clear change from his works of 1960 and 1961 and marking Chu's departure from the strong, majestic style defined by such classical painters as Fan Kuan and Li Tang. At the same time, Chu forgoes the singular vision of achieving variations in ink-wash. Instead, he aims at a softer approach to technique and composition, suggesting his intent to make paintings a vehicle to imply mood and atmosphere outside the confines of canvas. This development brings Chu even closer, at a metaphysical level, to early Chinese painters and the lyrical, poetic imagery they produced with their emphasis on projecting feelings naturally and effortlessly through brush and ink. Similar expression can be found in abstract works of the early 1960s by Singaporean artist Cheong Soo Pieng.
When the French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) found the poetic imagery in the paintings of Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), it was a new discovery for Western culture, in which poetry and painting had long been regarded as completely different fields. However, the convergence of landscape painting and poetry had begun in China as early as the Wei and Jin dynasties (from 220). Wang Wei's groundbreaking landscape poetry and ink paintings in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) deepened the tradition of merging the two forms of art. This tradition reached its peak during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), when Su Dong-po and Mi Fu advocated a union of poetry and painting. Hence it became a part of the unique intellectual heritage of China.
Chu Teh-Chun certainly inherited such thinking, in which "poetry and painting follow the same rules and rhythms". In No. 109, hues of red, yellow, blue and black intertwine in the foreground; Chu simply passes the middle ground and extends directly onto a vaulting sky in the distance. Our gaze is lost in the whirling roar of the warm tone in the foreground, reminding us of the sunset. The pictorial plane unfolds horizontally, extending and transforming into a broad, unbounded expanse. Chu here creates a perspective beyond the three types defined by the earlier Chinese painters - 'high distance', 'horizontal distance' and 'deep distance'. What he manages to bring into being is referenced as 'broad distance' in Pure and Complete Essays on Landscape Painting, written by Han Zhuo, a Song Dynasty intellectual. 'Broad distance' describes a sense of ambience that is as far-reaching as possible. Chu's No. 109 fully exhibits ease and breadth, and the solitary distance spoken of by poet Wang Wei: "The river runs beyond heaven and earth, to where the hues of distant mountains can hardly be discerned."
In his exploration of abstract painting, Chu Teh-Chun returns and takes up once again the traditions of the early Chinese painters, expressing the poetic nature with his abstract forms. No. 109 is imbued with the artist's attachment to the past while he strives to pave the way for the future.

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