Chu Teh-Chun - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Thursday, December 3, 2020 | Phillips

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  • “Chu Teh-Chun is not a painter of landscapes rigid in their immutability and grandeur, but a painter of nature, of all that is changing in nature, moving, momentary. A landscape is something you look at. You enter nature by light, air, rain, wind and the changing of the seasons.” – Pierre Cabanne (translated by Ian Pont) Chu Teh-Chun holds a prominent place in the canon of art history and is celebrated internationally for his unparalleled synthesis of classical Chinese painting with Western abstraction. In 1997, he became the first ethnic Chinese artist to be elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, consolidating this French-Chinese artist’s status as one of the greatest painters of his generation.


    After his move to Paris in 1955, Chu eschewed figurative art and turned to abstraction, particularly inspired by his encounter with the work of French artist, Nicolas de Staël and his abstract landscapes rendered in thick impasto. Le 30 mars 1981 is a beautiful example of Chu’s successful harmonisation of French lyrical abstract style with a Chinese philosophical approach, and his stylistic evolution of the 1980s, absorbing the viewer into the chaotic rhythm of brushstrokes and luminous flickering colours of light.


    Nicolas de Staël, Composition 1950, 1950, Collection of Tate St Ives. 

    © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

    A Master of Light


    “The uncontainable nature of ink allows a surprising ‘uncanny result’ with ‘superlative craftsmanship.’ While practicing ink painting, I wondered why don’t I integrate this ‘superlative craftsmanship’ into oil painting? Going through numerous challenges and experiments, I discovered ‘another world lies beyond.’” – Chu Teh-Chun

    Le 30 mars 1981 is exemplary of Chu’s stylistic developments of the 1980s, featuring dynamic feathery brushwork that sweep the canvas in different directions. By the start of the decade, Chu’s exploration of Chinese ink painting and ways in which to integrate oil paint, had led to a significant shift in his oeuvre, and his paintings became decidedly lighter and more ethereal in their appearance. Gone are the artist’s use of opaque colour, solid brushstrokes and striking black calligraphic lines, that were typical of his oeuvre in the late 1950s and 1960s (see for example, Lot 22 - Composition No. 65 (1960)), and present instead are soft, blurred brushwork that intermingle and blend harmoniously as a transcendent whole.


    Chu masterfully renders light in his works of the 1980s, and his gleaming, luminous celestial landscapes reflect the influence of Rembrandt through the artist’s exquisite use of chiaroscuro, the interplay of light and dark. After attending an exhibition in Amsterdam commemorating Rembrandt in 1970, Chu was particularly taken by the Old Master’s ability to depict a glowing light in an otherwise dark scene. In Le 30 mars 1981, Chu’s dramatic use of chiaroscuro adds to the sublime nature of this painting, creating a sort of ‘cosmic’ or spiritual vision ii that speaks to a divine communion with nature. Glowing orbs of red and green light shine through the fog, contrasting with the black rocky mass at the bottom of the painting, as well as the ochre storm of the atmosphere.



    Rembrandt van Rijn, Philosopher in Meditation, 1632
    Collection of the Louvre, Paris


    A Painter of Nature

    The influence of this work derives from a seminal flight across the Alps i, after which Chu depicted a number of snow-filled visions, whirlwinds of whites, greys, blues and brown hues. The patches of white, representing snow, collide with brushstrokes of ochre and blue, conjuring the rocky form of a mountainous peak that merges with the stormy atmosphere of tumultuous, dramatic strokes above. This chaotic mass of brushstrokes brings the viewer into the heart of the snowstorm, through which glowing flashes of yellow, blue and green pierce the misty atmosphere. The artist uses oil paint as if it were ink, implementing techniques common to calligraphy in a completely new manner. Recalling the early traditional landscape painters of the Song dynasty (960-1279), Jean-Paul Desroches has commented upon Chu’s placement of the horizon within the composition of the image, at the centre of the painting ii. This can be seen in Guo Xi’s calligraphy painting, Early Spring (1072) which is not dissimilar to Le 30 mars 1981 in the way it presents elements of the landscape vertically with a lightness of hand, placing the viewer in its midst. There is also a certain lyrical and rhythmic quality in Le 30 mars 1981, which echoes the poetic nature of delicate Tang and Song aesthetics. This integration of the elements of Eastern calligraphy and philosophy with Western abstraction, bridges the cultures of China and the West in a way that celebrates them both equally. 


    Guo Xi, Early Spring, 1072
    Collection of National Palace Museum, Taipei

    Collector’s Digest 


    After establishing his international reputation in the 1960s, following the success of his 1964 exhibition at the Carnegie Art Museum in Pittsburgh and his participation in the 1969 Sao Paulo Biennial, Chu has been the subject of significant institutional retrospectives, and his work is featured in more than 50 museums around the world, including the Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, and National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan, amongst others. A major retrospective exhibition commemorating the centenary of the artist’s birth in 1920, originally scheduled for April 2020 but postponed due to the pandemic, will take place at the National Museum of China in Beijing in the spring of 2021, and will travel to Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the United States. 



    i Jean-Paul Desroches, Chu Teh-Chun, London, 2009, p. 5

    ii Pierre Cabanne, CHU TEH-CHUN, Paris, 2000, p. 26


    • Provenance

      Private Collection, France (acquired directly from the artist in the 1980s)
      Private Collection (acquired from the above by descent)
      Christie's, Hong Kong, 29 May 2016, lot 398
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Literature

      Pierre Cabanne, CHU TEH-CHUN, Paris, 2000, no. 31, p. 105 (illustrated)

Property from an Important Asian Collection


Le 30 mars 1981

signed 'CHU TEH-CHUN [in Chinese and Pinyin]' lower right; further signed, titled and dated 'CHU TEH-CHUN [in Pinyin and Chinese] "le 30 Mars 1981"' on the reverse
oil on canvas
160.5 x 80.3 cm. (63 1/4 x 31 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1981, this work is to be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist's wife, Chu Ching-Chao. This work will be included in the artist's forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the work of Chu Teh-Chun, being prepared by Fondation Chu Teh-Chun. (Information provided by Fondation Chu Teh-Chun and Mrs Chu Ching Chao.)

Full Cataloguing

HK$5,500,000 - 7,500,000 

Sold for HK$7,752,000

Contact Specialist

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 3 December 2020