(ZHU DEQUN, French/Chinese, B. 1920)
signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN'; signed in Chinese (middle right)
oil on canvas, diptych
right: 195 x 129.5 cm. (76 3/4 x 51 in.)
left: 195 x 114 cm. (76 3/4 x 44 7/8 in.)
overall: 195 x 243.5 cm. (76 3/4 x 95 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1963
Galerie Henriette Legendre, Paris, France
Private Collection (Acquired from the above)
Catherine Charbonneaux Maison de Ventes, Paris, 16 June 1991, Lot 36
Loudmer Commissaires Priseurs S.C.P., Paris, 6 April 1993, Lot 84
Private Collection, Europe (Acquired at the above sale by the present owner)

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Lot Essay

Although Chu Teh-Chun's abstract painting seeks to metamorphosize form into the formless, its inspiration ultimately comes from nature and the invisible power which lies therein. The thought process behind this artwork is intimately tied to the view of the universe described in the Book of Changes or "I Ching" in which the manifold elements of nature regenerate their life cycles external to their own volition. Chu's formless landscapes are filled with the energy of life; drawing from his observation, meditation and clear understanding of the alternating passage of the four seasons. These abstract landscapes can also also be seen as the artist's tangible manifestations of traditional Chinese philosophical thinking. Untitled (Lot 13), a diptych produced in 1963, resembles the massive horizontal landscape scrolls of the Song and Yuan dynasties: myriad lines of ink move across its length and breadth; sometimes thick and rugged, or sometimes delicate and subtle, with a vigour and vitality to their density that harnesses the eye of the viewer. Chu follows a distributed composition of multiple axes, adopting the perspectives of modern painting and the medium of oil in order to spur the rebirth of the "splashed colour" technique from Chinese landscape painting, which consequentially appears both graceful and powerful.
His brushwork begins with broad, horizontal strokes delivered with a sense of speed, leaving behind row after row of black marks in order to establish the subject of the composition - the profound sense of traversing a mountain. Between the fluid marks of black ink there is a stone-green toned wash that blooms forth brilliantly as winding ribbons of colour, suggesting emerald vegetation covering a mountain. Across the light swathe of hilltops there are two strokes of yellow ochre faintly covered by gray which forms the vision of a mountain peak just touched by the first light of dawn - cleverly indicating that the artist has set his scene at the precise moment of the growing light in the east. Within the mid-ground and foreground, dense areas of of warm, khaki pigment represent the hollow, white negative spaces found in traditional painting. This characteristic retains the rich brushwork at which Chu has always excelled. Black lines, as thin as needles, dance freely up and down and side to side, continuing without end and forming an axis that traverses the centre of the composition horizontally until it reaches the corners. They appear subtle, but affect the vitality of the entire painting like a pulse. The beginning, continuity, undulations, and conclusion of each brushstroke reveal the deep foundations in calligraphy which Chu accumulated since childhood; the surging process of writing, outlining, and washing in ink reveals exuberant layers, which results in a richly exquisite visual experience.
The structure of brushwork is executed through exercising the full energy of the arm, in combination with the thin translucence that comes from flowing, diluted ink and colour washes. This alternates with the thicker and darker calligraphic-style painting and washing that is tempered and refined over the course of the composition, which forms the substance of the landscape. It is these alternating and converging aspects that reflect the character of the piece, bringing forth a momentary atmosphere of disillusionment which recalls the painting Zhang Daqian created in Brazil in 1967, Contemplating upon an Autumn Landscape. In the late 1960s Zhang's sight was failing, which spurred him to leave behind his meticulous gongbi style and reach new heights with his unique reinvention of "splashed ink" and "splashed colour" practices. Within Zhang's autumn landscape, dazzling red maple trees appear indistinctly out of a deep blue and gray fog over an emerald Wuting Lake, a perfect reference point for Chu Teh-Chun's peerless expression of colour and deployment of space in Untitled. Zhang has completely eliminated any anchor points, such as human traces or small structures, leaving only azurite blue, malachite green, bright red, and a few strokes of white against deep field of black, a magnificent, agitated surge of colour. Untitled was created four years prior to this painting but already it is evident that Chu selected a similar palette in order to express the lush green of vegetation in a mountain valley at the arrival of early fall, a beautiful landscape in which a few maples have just begun to turn red in the midst of a hillside forest. This echoes Chu's subtle shift between 1962 and 1963; from his use of low-key blacks and browns within his palette of the early 1960s to his gradual inclination towards large amounts of riotous colour.
This key transition establishes the important role that colour would play in Chu's work over the ensuing decades. Untitled employs a palette that is both extremely warm and extremely cool to dazzling visual effect, marking with deep historical import the artist's powerful expression of colour at an early stage. His mastery and awareness of the elements of colour can be traced back to his time at the Hangzhou National College of Art, where the pioneering breakthroughs of his mentor Lin Fengmian within the integration of rich colour into ink painting left a deep and lasting impression on Chu and his schoolmate, Wu Guanzhong. From this point on Chu would dedicate his efforts to the advancement of a western system of colour and eastern calligraphic line; melding the strengths of both in an effort to express in his art what ancient poetry could not express in word - an abstract realm which can only be sensed. This pursuit of essence in the vocabulary of painting would allow Chu to stand out from other abstract expressionist painters of his era with a unique and personal style.
In terms of painting and form, Chu Teh-Chun intertwines many different techniques in the use of the brush in Untitled, weaving together a rich sense of layers what are appropriately diluted through the application of oil in order to express the translucence of hazy mist over distant mountains, which can only be found within traditional Chinese ink painting. The profound charm of the brush exhibited here is wondrous. Untitled demonstrates the exuberance of Chu's work from the early 1960s. When the artist's son, Yvon Chu, reminded him of this piece in his later years, he was delighted with the full maturity of its expression, which became a point of pride in his recollection of his early work. If the sense of beauty attained in Zhang Daqian's Contemplating upon an Autumn Landscape could be said to extend the magnificence of Li Sixun's bright green school of landscape from the early Tang dynasty, then the expression of colour and concept achieved in Chu Teh-Chun's 1963 Untitled is certainly a strong rival. Indeed, Chu's painting even asserts its superiority in terms of the ink techniques of the outline and wash demonstrated in its negative space; a restrained and introverted grace dimly visible beyond its sumptuous grandeur.

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