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No. 195, Avant Le Printemps (Before The Spring)

No. 195, Avant Le Printemps (Before The Spring)
signed in Chinese, signed and dated 'CHU TEH CHUN 66' (lower left); signed in Chinese, signed, titled and dated 'CHU TEH-CHUN 1965-66 No. 195' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
146 x 114 cm. (57 1/2 x 44 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1965-1966
Private collection, Paris, France
de Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong
Acquired from the above by the present owner

The authenticity of the artwork has been confirmed by Fondation Chu Teh-Chun, Geneva.

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued on 9 June 2011 signed by Mrs Chu Ching-Chao.
Chu Teh-Chun: Nature in Abstraction, exh. cat., de Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong, 2012 (illustrated, cover & p. 21).
Pioneers of Modern Chinese Painting in Paris, exh. cat., de Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong, 2014 (illustrated, p. 83).
Lucerne, Switzerland, Galerie Raber, Chu Teh-Chun, February - April 1967
Hong Kong, de Sarthe Gallery, Nature in Abstraction, Chu Teh-Chun, 5 October – 3 November 2012.
Hong Kong, de Sarthe Gallery, Pioneers of Modern Chinese Painting in Paris, 13 May – 21 June 2014.

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡)

Lot Essay

“The inspiration for my paintings is entirely from nature, what I paint is how I feel about nature, and also how nature makes me feel. Basically, they are the fusion between nature and my soul.” – Chu Teh Chun


One day in 1964, Chu Teh Chun heard French composer Claude Debussy’s La mer—Trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestre (The Sea – three symphonic sketches for orchestra) on the radio. It is a grand symphony about nature, with gentle wind chimes narrating glistening sea saves, soothing violins echoing waves that caress the beach, sonorous clarinets and trumpets singing of the breathtaking expanse of a sea at dawn, when nature and music marry perfectly for a spectacular aesthetic experience. Chu was greatly inspired by the music and was moved to develop a new visual vocabulary, one that brings together the sound waves of nature and the lines and colours from abstract art and calligraphy, so he could sample nature and evoke a majestic and boundless imagination. Among his new works using this new vocabulary, No. 195, Avant Le Printemps (No. 195, Before Spring) is the most ambitious, profound, and technically excellent example – it was selected as the catalogue cover at his 2012 solo exhibition Chu Teh Chun: Nature in Abstraction. Entering the market for the first time after over half a century, this is an exceedingly rare opportunity. Chu captures many aspects of nature in this painting, and connects them with dots, lines, planes, colours, tones, rhythms, and melodies, “composing” a resplendent symphony of nature.

The link between calligraphy and music was already a subject of study over two millennia ago, during the Western Han dynasty in the Book of Rites, “All the modulations of the voice arise from the mind, and the various affections of the mind are produced by things (external to it). The affections thus produced are manifested in the sounds that are uttered.” This means that music originates from external things that touch people’s heart, after which people use their bodies to play instruments, finally realising the music in sound. Therefore, music is the sound of the heart, as calligraphy is the painting of the heart. Two seemingly-opposed artistic language, both tracing their origins back to the same source. In the 1960s, Chu truly broke free of the constraints of verisimilitude, and dedicated himself to create formless representations of psychological scenes, by visiting nature and then turning nature’s form into formless depictions of his feelings. Therefore, the landscape in No. 195, Avant Le Printemps looks like a scene of awakening from hibernation, when vitality begins to blossom, reflecting Chu’s meditation on the circle of the seasons and the nature of time.

In No. 195, Avant Le Printemps, viewers are treated to a feast of Chu’s multifaceted brushwork – definitely the most impressive example from his work during the ‘60s – with twists and turns converging harmoniously, like Debussy’s piano prelude Les collines d'Anacapri (The Hills of Anacapri) with its rapidly changing notes and rhythm, producing the perfect harmony of nature. Chu uses his paint brush to extend the aesthetic, technique, spirit, and philosophy of Song dynasty paintings. He applied the eastern theory of “five colours of ink” into this painting, using dense, diffuse, dry, wet, and light brushing to create oscillating and contrasting textures, so that the composition and spatial arrangement crisscross on countless visual levels, not unlike Debussy’s development of fragmented short phrases in deliberately unbalanced ways to induce a sense of mystery while demonstrating the transience of matter. Chu’s brushwork is light and heavy, fast and slow, concentrated and diffuse, flowing or jagged, resulting in a musical rhythm that is lively and filled with energy.

Perhaps, the most impressive aspect of Avant Le Printemps is Chu’s use of black oil paint as ink, so that the inky blackness covers the whole painting, and despite the extremely pared down colours of blue, red, and ochre, he still managed to erect an ode to the grandeur and scale of nature. This technique to create richness out of singular elements is yet another match with Debussy: the composer paints with his piano, adeptly using the contrast between notes and the mixing of overtones , relying on the range and timbre of a single instrument to generate the richness of an orchestra. The occasional intertwined octaves and second intervals among the high notes are like the nebulous clouds in Chu’s painting, spreading far and wide with commanding presence. While the rapid repetition of the semiquavers, plus the awe-inspiring melody built on the pentatonic scale, are like the austere mountains soaring high and piercing the clouds, with bold layers bringing out cool and warm hues among the peaks, reminding one of the roaring water droplets out of a waterfall cutting through the rocky outcrops in a valley. The undulating and overlapping mountain ranges are like the swelling and falling of a harp. As the tempo vacillates and builds in intensity, we see the hazy shadow of the faraway mountains and the sharp contours of the summits in the foreground. Chu took a leaf from the ethos of Guo Xi’s Early Spring, making the far, medium, and close distances work together to cultivate a rich and delicate visual experience. The calligraphic strokes outline a zen-like frame of mind, constructing a harmonious balance among nature and all existence.

Great artists have the ability to leap beyond cultures and domains, and it takes a perceptive and sensitive mind to see deep into the natural splendour of life and nature. Much like Debussy’s keen interest in eastern cultures, with his introduction of the pentatonic scale into western symphonies to infuse them with a hint of eastern charm, Chu dedicated himself to western abstract paintings while bringing with him the essence of eastern ink wash landscapes including their composition and the freehand style of expression. From his lines to his brushwork, to his use of colours or his rhythm, we can all see his Chinese cultural heritage and calligraphy foundation on display. As Chu stood at the intersection between the East, the West, music, art, and nature, No. 195, Avant Le Printemps is his masterpiece reflecting the artist’s genius at fusion and harmony.

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