(ZHU DEQUN, French/Chinese, B. 1920)
Douce quietude A
signed in Chinese; signed and dated 'CHU TEH-CHUN 05' (lower right); titled, signed and dated 'Douce quietude A Chu Teh-Chun 2005'; signed in Chinese (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
194 x 129 cm. (76 1/2 x 50 3/4 in.)
Painted in 2005
Marlborough Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Lot Essay

The early works of Chu Teh-Chun were painted in the more naturalistic realist style, but while he was studying abroad in Paris in the 1950s, he became deeply influenced by the abstract expressionism of Europe and the US, and gradually his works became less bound by form and more abstract. The Russian abstract painter Nicolas de Stael's "lyrical abstraction" had particular impact on him in his later works. He believed that paintings should include but not be limited by form, balancing both representational and abstract depictions. Abstract treatment gives the viewer more room for imagination, stretching and extending the painting's surface; while the inclusion of realistic details allows an existing space to be revisited and relived. Chu skillfully fuses his Western abstract painting skills into an Eastern cultural background, adding in his personal observations and abstract interpretation of form and developing a unique Oriental Abstraction.
In Douce quietude A (Lot 144), Chu used free, uncontrolled brushstrokes to draw high, rugged mountains in the middle of the painting, creating a powerful image. He puts a lot of emphasis on the fluidity and movement of the brushstrokes. Flowing brushstrokes are developed from Chinese calligraphy and feel automated and spontaneous. Comparing this piece of work with that of Russian expressionist Wassily Kandinsky, Kandinsky transformed musical notes into lines, while Chu's lines resemble Chinese calligraphy. Both add coloured dots and blocks in between lines, exaggerating the coexistence of the movement of the lines and the quietness of the blocks. The combination of geometrical lines and blocks brings liveliness to the overall picture. The interaction of dots, lines and surfaces, in addition to the light and shade of the painting, together form a harmonious symphony with a captivating melody and rhythm.
As for colour, this work effectively uses multiple layers of colours. The bottom of the painting is dark and mysterious, creating a cramped and constrained space, while the upper part is of lighter and brighter colours, gradually extending towards the frame of the painting, creating a space without boundaries. Chu demonstrated the freedom and constraints of space through the use of starkly contrasting colours and light and shade. The result is similar to Rembrandt's treatment of light and space and there is a heightened dramatic effect.
Artist Wu Guanzhong once accurately described Chu's work as "looking like Western paintings when looking from afar, but when examined closely, they look like Chinese paintings". The colour blocks and geometrical lines recall the abstract expressionist style, but the composition of mountains and rivers evoke the style of the Chinese Northern Song Dynasty. Chu divides the painting into three parts, the foreground illustrating rivers and lakes, the middle-ground comprising mountains and the background as the vast sky, achieving a sense of layering and depth. By incorporating Chinese calligraphic elements, the lines and brushstrokes resembles those in an ink painting though painted with oil, and the colour blocks carry colour wash effects. At the heart of Chu's work is a traditional Chinese landscape approach to painting, allowing him more freedom to express and to deliver even deeper spiritual insights.

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