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Details & Cataloguing

20th Century Chinese Art

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Hong Kong

Chu Teh-Chun (Zhu Dequn)
B. 1920
COMPLEXITÉ HIVERNALE
signed in pinyin and Chinese and dated 85; signed in pinyin and Chinese, titled and dated 1985 on the reverse
oil on canvas
117 by 89 cm. 46 1/8 by 35 in.
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This work will be included in the artist's forthcoming catalogue raisonné, being prepared by Atelier Chu Teh-Chun (Information provided by Atelier Chu Teh-Chun and Mrs. Chu Ching-Chao).

Provenance

Important Private European Collection

Catalogue Note

Important Private European Collection
Transforming colours and light:
Complexité hivernale

In his treatise Famous Paintings of the Sacred Dynasty (Shengchao Minghua Ping), Liu Daochun, a prominent Northern Song dynasty aesthete, identified the key to distinguishing fine paintings: "qi and harmony combined with power." Qi implies not only vigour or aura, but also the universal philosophical precept of transcending physical limitations. Harmony refers to allure and resonance, the fascination and substance hidden within objective representation embodying human inspiration and creativity. As a true aficionado of Song paintings, Chu Teh-Chun always makes art with Chinese aesthetics in mind. Fully conversant with oil painting by the 1980s, Chu completed Complexité hivernale, a masterpiece into which he poured his heart.

Realising an Otherworldly Vista

"Looking from afar, your paintings are Western, but with a closer look, they are Chinese. A Chinese painting impresses upon the viewer the delicacy of gauze or silk, as if the canvas is transformed, and the images depicted are like jade hidden within stones—you try to pry it open, yet you can't extract the gem. That's how it feels: a piece of jade hidden inside a piece of stone." Wu Guanzhong's description is also applicable to Complexité hivernale. A snowcapped mountain, filtered through the painter's eyes, is interpreted on the canvas with deepening significance: colorful dots represent buildings, vehicles and people, encapsulating the painter's emotional response to the nature of these objects—the epitome that is the essence of the universe and the power of all things. This landscape has touched the painter intensely. He has grasped its quintessence in a process that is not only artistic but also philosophical.

The delicate intertwining of oils and watercolours

French art critic Pierre Cabanne once praised Chu Teh-Chun with the following words: "Whatever the circumstances, Chu Teh-Chun strives to express the most profound and genuine aspects of nature. Rather than praising Chinese painters for their exquisite technique, we should attribute their extraordinary artistry emanating from the tradition of Chinese calligraphy." Under the influence of his father, Chu took up the brush at a very early age. He then pursued studies at the National Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou under the tutelage of such Chinese ink-painting masters as Pan Tianshou. Chinese ink-painting has long existed in Chu Teh-Chun's genes. Although he went as far as Europe, he never gave up the Chinese brush. Complexité hivernale, which was completed in 1985, attests to a painter at one with his brush. In setting out his composition, Chu skillfully applied oil paints in the manner of watercolours. He used colour gradations typical of Chinese ink-painting to differentiate objects in a distance, middle-range or close by. The power of light and the sense of movement in objects close by are revealed from the contours of the brush strokes. Taking a closer look at the dried paint, we can detect the artist's swift and confident brushstrokes validating his artistic determination and masterful wrist work.

Heritage from masters both East and West

The Alps has been the subject of countless painters because of its natural beauty and the culture it exemplifies. For example, J.M.W Turner created Snowstorm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps imbued with a sense of history and desolation, now a widely acknowledged masterpiece. Two centuries on, Chu Teh-Chun interpreted the same topography with a completely different mindset, painting a characterful series of snowy landscapes matching in artistry with those European masters.

Most people considered French painter Nicolas de Staël (originally of Russian descent) as a primary influence on Chu Teh-Chun's abstract landscapes. Indeed, Chu has stated numerous times that Staël was his inspiration as he entered into the world of abstract oil painting. But after thoroughly understanding Western art, Chu emphasised even more so the spirit and technique of Chinese painting, bringing forth new elements to his own artistry and to the entire Western art world. Among the many painters of the Song dynasty, Chu Teh-Chun favours Fan Kuan. Fan was an expert in painting snowy landscapes, and his Landscape of the Snowy Forest skillfully depicts snow-capped peaks and valleys shrouded in frozen mist. Chu Teh-Chun's Complexité hivernale achieves similar effects, despite using techniques that are poles apart. The subtle mixing of clouds and snow is the result of a multi-layered application of white paints as well as the splattering of pigments. Although the two painters used different techniques, their textures of snow are closely comparable.

Rarity in the competitive market

Chu Teh-Chun's snowy landscapes are always in the limelight whenever they appear in the market. Up till now, snowy landscapes rank both first and second among the highest sales records of Chu's paintings. Of Chu's fifteen highest-priced paintings, six feature landscapes with snow. This painting series is prized not only because of Chu's high level of artistry, but also because of their limited supply. Discounting a few special cases from the 1960s and around the millennium, Chu Teh-Chun only devoted himself to snowy landscapes between 1985 and 1990. Because of their rarity, and also due to the fact that many belonged to European private collectors for decades, such paintings inevitably attract tremendous attention whenever they appear in the market. In comparison with those six snowy landscapes among Chu's top fifteen, Complexité hivernale contains far more vibrant colours, its brushwork more varied as Chu freely used a wide range of brushes on the single canvas. Whether from the perspective of inspiration or technique, Chu has absorbed the best of the East and West. Apropos the delicate balance of artistry and style, this painting is a true rarity. Whether we trace Complexité hivernale's chronology within Chu's oeuvre or assess its artistic value, this is a premium masterpiece and a leading exemplar of epoch-making art.

20th Century Chinese Art

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Hong Kong