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

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  • Chu Teh-Chun was a celebrated Chinese-French modern painter whose singular style unified traditional Chinese painting and Western abstract expressionism. Alongside friends and former schoolmates Zao Wou-Ki and Wu Guanzhong, Chu became known as one of the ‘Three Musketeers’ of Chinese modernist art 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 set sail for France in 1955. An extremely gifted realist painter, Chu made the astonishing decision to reject figurative painting and start anew following a revelatory visit to the abstract painter Nicolas de Staël’s retrospective in Paris in 1956. Abstraction gave Chu an unexpected way of bridging the artistic cultures of China and the West:


    “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 to which it testifies.” i


    Nicolas de Staël, Mediterranean Landscape, 1953, collection of the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

    Executed after decades of honing his expressive powers, Serin channels a sublime, spiritual energy and a poetic complexity of feeling. Over the years Chu had developed a captivating 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. The dreamy blue 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 foaming waterfall breaking through the stillness – 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 works 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 Serin. 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 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 Pavilion 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 Serin. ‘His bold lines are like downpours, while his thin ones are like whispers,’ Wu Guanzhong wrote of Chu’s paintings.


    Attributed to Mi Fu, Pavilion of Rising Clouds, circa 13th-14th century

    "His bold lines are like downpours, while his thin ones are like whispers" —Wu Guanzhong

    In recognition of the artist’s contribution to 20th Century Chinese art history, the National Museum of China in Beijing will hold a major retrospective of Chu Teh-Chun’s work in March 2021 to celebrate the centenary of the artist’s birth, followed by a second exhibition in Suzhou, the city of his birth, focusing on his works on paper.

    i Translated from Pierre Cabanne, Chu Teh-chun, les Chemins de l’abstraction, Paris, 2013, n.p.

    • Provenance

      Galerie de Bellecour, Lyon
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1990

Property from an Important Private French Collection



signed and dated 'CHU TEH-CHUN [in Chinese and Pinyin] 90' lower right; further signed, titled and dated '"Serin" CHU TEH-CHUN [in Pinyin and Chinese] 1990' on the reverse
oil on canvas
162 x 130 cm. (63 3/4 x 51 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1990, this work is 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$3,000,000 - 5,000,000 

Sold for HK$6,300,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Associate Specialist, Head of Day Sale

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

Hong Kong Auction 4 December 2020