Chu Teh-Chun - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 23, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Pinacothèque de Paris, Chu Teh-Chun: Les chemins de l’abstraction, 11 October 2013 - 16 March 2014, p. 90 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Chu Teh-Chun was a celebrated Chinese-French modern painter who pioneered a singular style unifying traditional Chinese painting techniques and Western abstract expressionist art. Trained at the National School of Fine Arts in Hangzhou under the tutelage of Wu Dayu and Fang Ganmin, both of whom were considered fathers of Chinese oil painting, Chu became known as one of the ‘Three Musketeers’ of Chinese modernist art alongside friends and former schoolmates Zao Wou-Ki and Wu Guanzhong, whose inventive and influential practices made them famous throughout the East and West.

    Eager to learn more about the art of Monet, Cézanne and Renoir, Chu left his professorship at the National University in Taipei and set sail for France in 1955. An extremely gifted realist painter, he won a silver medal at the French Artists Art Fair for an academic portrait of his wife which was dubbed "the Mona Lisa of the East". But in 1956 a visit to the retrospective of the abstract painter Nicolas de Staël at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris left Chu strongly shaken, and he made the astonishing decision to reject figurative painting and start anew. Chu later explained:

    De Staël was a great revelation for me. Previously, I was an objective painter, but now I am no longer interested in this way of painting, because after having begun to study abstract painting, I profoundly and obviously felt the freedom of expression which it testifies to.” (translated from Pierre Cabanne, Chu Teh-chun, les Chemins de l’abstraction, Paris, 2013, n.p.)

    Exploring abstraction led Chu to an unexpected way of bridging the artistic cultures of China and the West, without diminishing the virtues of either. Throughout the 1960s he developed a captivating, dream-like style of abstract landscape painting, with expressive brushwork and an intense palette giving rise to a new dynamic interplay of harmony and energy in his works. Heavily influenced by his love of Chinese poetry and calligraphy, Chu Teh-Chun believed poetry and painting followed ‘the same rules and rhythms’, and a distinctly lyrical quality pervades all of his abstract works.

    The creation of Le 30 mars 1982 marked a crowning moment in Chu’s life and a milestone in his growing critical success: the inauguration of an important retrospective of paintings and drawings made since Chu’s 1955 arrival in Paris, showing at the Musée des Beaux-Arts Andre Malraux at Le Havre. Now at the height of his expressive powers, Le 30 mars 1982 channels a sublime, spiritual energy and a poetic complexity of feeling. The blue oceanic expanse echoes the fateful journey by boat which brought Chu to France, the same journey where he crossed paths with his future wife Ching Chao and encountered for the first time the exotic lands of Cairo, Djibouti, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. The quiet, contemplative mood is pierced by a luminous ray of light breaking through the thick, dark clouds – a motif Chu developed throughout the 1970s following his encounter with Rembrandt’s strikingly-lit oil paintings in the Netherlands.

    Dramatic chiaroscuro and the interplay of light and shadow gave Chu’s 1980 works, in particular Le 30 mars 1982, a stirring gravity and depth unmatched by his artistic peers in the East or West. Chu’s training with the modern ink master Pan Tianshou at the National School of Fine Arts had also taught him the art of caoshu (‘rough script’), a form of cursive calligraphy in which the characters are executed in one controlled yet spontaneous stroke - a technique which lends an intensity and vigour to the washed technique of Le 30 mars 1982. The union of abstraction, calligraphy and poetry in Chu’s work points towards China’s unique intellectual heritage, in particular the Song Dynasty artists Su Shi, an acclaimed poet-painter who saw art as an outward expression of the artist’s interior experience, and Mi Fu, who pioneered a technique known as ‘splashed ink’, using moist washes and textured strokes to evoke the misty and rainy landscapes of the region (see for example Tower of Rising Clouds which is attributed to him). Upholding the rigour and spirit of Eastern calligraphy and philosophy in brushwork and composition gave Chu’s deep, richly coloured brushstrokes the ability to transcend the dichotomy of abstraction versus figuration, and to reconfigure the Western mode of abstract expressionism in Le 30 mars 1982. ‘His bold lines are like downpours, while his thin ones are like whispers,’ Wu Guanzhong wrote of Chu’s paintings.

    With a transcendental universal aesthetic that sets him apart from Western abstractionists and his Chinese peers, Chu has been the subject of major institutional retrospectives. 2020 will be a significant work for Chu’s legacy, with a large travelling retrospective exhibition scheduled to open at the National Museum of China, Beijing, in April 2020, followed by a second exhibition at the end of 2020 in Suzhou, the city of Chu’s birth, focusing on his works on paper.

Property of a Distinguished French Collector


Le 30 mars 1982

signed and dated 'CHU TEH-CHUN. [in Chinese and Pinyin] 82.' lower right; further signed, titled and dated 'CHU TEH-CHUN [in Pinyin and Chinese] "le 30. mars 1982" ' on the reverse
oil on canvas
146 x 113 cm. (57 1/2 x 44 1/2 in.)
Painted on 30 March 1982, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Fondation Chu Teh-Chun.

HK$4,200,000 - 6,200,000 

Contact Specialist
Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 24 November 2019