The founding president of Hangzhou Art College and a teacher of the school, Lin Fengmian encouraged his students to have an open mind to learn from the natural landscape and the endless inspiration it brings. Whether it was in Hangzhou, Chongqing, or in Taiwan, artist Chu Teh-Chun adhered to this lesson and approached the natural landscape with the intention of experiencing the nature to its fullest form (Figure 1).
While teaching at the Department of Fine Arts at National Taiwan University, Chu The-Chun often brought colleagues and classmates to the BaXian mountain to sketch. Chu was infatuated with the scenery of the BaXian mountain area and would at times stay there for up to two weeks, every morning studying the details of layers of ridges and peaks, cotton and downs, and the fog and was deeply in awe with the ever-changing nature scene (Figure 2).
In 1955, Chu Teh-Chun, arrived in Paris, and was exposed to the big city for the first time. This dramatic change of scenery is reflected in his painting at the time when he began to paint scenes of Paris-themed streets where urban high-rise streetscape was his inspiration.
It was not until late 1956, when Chu Teh-Chun began to return to focus and paint the natural landscape scene, this time moving toward abstract landscape painting.
Chu Teh-Chun was profoundly inspired by the Song Dynasty landscape paintings he saw as a child and its reminiscence is evident in his abstract paintings. In Chu's view the mountains and rivers of China and the European Alps were no different.
In 1965, Chu Teh-Chun received an invitation from Dr. Paul Gay to attend a local art fair in the Haute-Savoie region of France. During his stay with Dr. Gay, they visited Chamonix and climbed Mont Blanc where they looked down upon a strikingly beautiful scene of misty, snow-covered mountains. The vision of the majestic nature impressed Chu deeply and continued to linger in his mind. Later, in 1985, he encountered the Alps once again when traveling for his exhibition in Geneva. This time, the impact was so great that his initial memories, which had fermented over a 20 year period, poured out in a burst of creative work that marked the beginning of his renowned series of paintings on snow scene. His wife, Mrs. Dong Jingzhao, commented that every year when the snow started to fall, Chu would be seized with an excitement in reminiscence of his first sight of the beautiful snowy landscape back in 1965. In Chu's Snowscape Series, the artist applied all his insight and mastery, bringing together the finest concepts and techniques of both East and West; the result was a highly distinctive series that would stand as one of the great peaks of his career.
In Untitled (Lot 6), Chu Teh-Chun deliberately eschews a detailed depiction of the forest, instead using dripped, splashed, and flowing pigments, in slightly unsettled forms and colours, to capture this fleeting, instantaneous impression of a snowy forest. The dynamic beauty of this scene and its swirling snowflakes is dramatically different in character from the static, immobile visions of winter forests so often portrayed in traditional Chinese landscape paintings. Chu depicts in the work a dynamic charm and a translucent aura of the falling, swirling snow. These gracefully moving and floating lines, set in the midst of a woven flurry of snowflakes, seem to become distant mountains floating in the haze. While the painting displays a direct outpouring of feeling inspired by Western Abstract Expressionism (Fig. 1), its essential Chinese elements can also be strongly sensed. The snow scene that sweeps so freely across Chu's canvas has far transcended any deliberately accurate portrayal of the scene he once saw in the Alps over 20 years ago. Chu has reshaped the scenic image in his mind by years of reviewing, sifting, and restructuring his own memories. At a spiritual level, the viewer transcends the barriers of space and time to connect with Chu's own experience and to share with him the moment of wonder and emotion at the scene he once glimpsed. The work testifies to the concept once set out by Wang Wei in his treatise on paintings, which is that the artist should "begin from the nature's essence and complete the work of creation." Since ancient times, the Chinese have passed down from generation to generation a tradition in which nature is not necessarily painted directly from life, in other words, en plein air ; instead, the ideal of learning from nature has been taken to mean allowing one's impressions of the natural world to accumulate, to internalize the concrete physical sensations of hearing, seeing and breathing in the midst of nature, and to sublimate and transform into a more intangible and meditative experience. Then, getting close to the canvas in the confines of your own studio, the grandest scenes of nature will pour out if you follow your feelings and let them flow naturally from your brush. Philosophically, in Untitled, Chu hews very closely indeed to the spiritual ideals of the literati painters of ancient China, in the sense that the imagery in mind he presents is a creation that alludes to and recalls nature, yet remains unfettered by the need to give strict, realistic shape to its forms. French critic Pierre Cabanne echoed this outlook when he concluded, after a viewing of Chu Teh-Chun's work, that "the most truthful painting comes from memory."