Lot 1014
  • 1014

Chu Teh-Chun (Zhu Dequn)

4,200,000 - 5,800,000 HKD
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  • Chu Teh-Chun
  • Sans titre
  • signed in Pinyin and Chinese, dated 87
  • mixed media on paper mounted on canvas
executed in 1987


Important Private Asian Collection


The work is overall in very good condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

“When I make paintings, my work is based on the emotions of my life’s journey. There are some impulses that can’t be suppressed in the moment. Sometimes they occurred long ago. Perhaps they are even faded memories, and the canvas reawakens them. In this way, the canvas is like a living thing. All I have to do is face the canvas, and my senses are stimulated, stirred by either external scenery or internal media...”
Chu Teh-Chun
Chu Teh-Chun left China in 1955 with the spirit of a traveling scholar of antiquity: it is better to walk ten thousand miles than read then thousands books. Armed with Chinese culture and the historical wealth of Eastern aesthetics, he embarked on his journey of modernizing Chinese art, stopping in Saigon and Cairo before settling in Paris. Indifferent toward fame and wealth, Chu Teh-Chun was always true to himself in his painting, and he never changed his style to cater to the market. His paintings were expressions of the emotions and transformations that affected his life. Indeed, it was Wu Dayu, his teacher of Western painting at the National Hangzhou School of Art, who imparted these words to Chu Teh-Chun: “Painting is both the painter’s experience of nature and also an instant of truth within the cosmos”. The inspiration for the Snow Series that Chu Teh-Chun developed in 1985 came from his travels abroad. On a train trip from Paris to Geneva, he saw the Alps shrouded in pure white snow and dense mist. Although the whole scene was white, there were layers of shading and density, suggesting profound transformations that suddenly triggered the artist’s inspiration. Chu Teh-Chun recalls how his heart pounded in that moment: “At the time, my heart was filled with this scene of clouds and mist shifting around a white land, surging in layers. My spirit seemed to float and sink with those variations in depth and mass, and all of a sudden, several images from Tang Dynasty poetry appeared in my mind”.
“Blending East and West is about blending ideas, not knocking together East and West. I was educated in China, so my oil paintings are abstract paintings that possess Chinese poetic sentiments. I am relatively inclined towards the creative concepts of the Tang and Song dynasties. Traditional Chinese painting includes abstract ideas that contain humanistic thought. Abstraction is originally a Chinese thing closely related to Chinese poetry and lyrics. It can’t be described in language; therein lies its marvelousness”.
Chu Teh-Chun
Chu Teh-Chun came from the East and drew on his experiences in the West to extend the spirit of Chinese painting, creating his “formless” paintings with Tang-Song aesthetic thought at their core. After the 1960s, his abstract works could be seen as Eastern landscape paintings, but they were not traditional Chinese landscapes; rather, they took Chinese landscapes to another level. Back in 1965, Chu Teh-Chun had travelled through the Alps, where the snowy peaks had stirred his heart. After more than twenty years of exploring Western oil painting and abstract formal language, he painted his Snow Series between 1985 and 1989. These paintings took the art world by surprise and brought his career to new heights. Chu Teh-Chun believed that new ideas did not appear out of thin air; he knew that they came from new approaches to age-old ideas. This spring, Sotheby’s evening auction features Sans titre (Lot 1014), completed in 1987. Having fully mastered Chinese and Western aesthetics, Chu Teh-Chun chose from the strengths of each, replacing realism with xieyi (freehand), and successfully expressing his perceptions of immaculate scenes of snowflakes adrift amid snowy peaks.
“My paintings are filled with light. Light and colour are related: when you have light, then you have a spatial structure for variations in colour. I believe that lightless picture planes are flat and lifeless. The light in Rembrandt’s paintings make them appear more deep, vigorous, and strong. I think he is one of the greatest painters. He was a pious believer, and the light in his paintings is the light of belief. I am different: I don’t have religious beliefs, and my paintings are my internal light, the light of my inspiration”.
Chu Teh-Chun
It snowed heavily in Paris in the winter of 1987. At the time, Chu Teh-Chun had a studio on the top floor of an eighteen-story building in the Bagnolet neighbourhood to the east of Paris. The balcony of the studio faced south toward the Bois de Vincennes, giving Chu a panoramic view of the snow-covered city. He painted Sans Titre in 1987 using a dynamic brushstroke method that attains a musical expression of abstract form. The daubs and marks of his brush rise, fall, leap, and fly across the canvas, brimming with emotional movement, and emphasizing the similarities between a moving painting and a meditative piece of music. Unlike the mountain peaks he painted in 1985, the snowscape of Sans Titre from 1987 combines modern painting techniques of dot, line, and plane. Chu Teh-Chun broke from the compositional practices of traditional Chinese landscape painting in favour of an overlooking perspective that gives the viewer a sense of viewing a mountain range from a commanding position. His use of colour is also more bold and bright; the colours pile together, creating a deep and layered perspective that draws the viewer into the picture plane. Black, blue, and white are the base tones of Sans Titre; Chu uses blue, his favourite colour, to express the rhythmic motion of snow from a different perspective. Dots of vermilion and sapphire, precisely strewn across the upper half of the tableau, make the overall snowscape dance with motion. The distribution of colourful dots has its own significance: depending on the viewer’s perspective, they might look like a battlefield, city streets, lamplight, or cosmic elements. In the words of Wu Guanzhong, “Chu Teh-Chun has learned how to refine the abstract essence of beauty within the figurative, [allowing the viewer to] see diverse figurative elements within the abstract”. Chu imbued his brushwork with a sense of worldly timeliness, as if capturing a glimpse of reality. The composition of line, the structure of space, and the variety of colour create a rhythmic tableau that is naturally vivid and harmonious: a classic expression of the artist’s most consummate internal aesthetics. In this way, Chu Teh-Chun uses his unique painting language and passionate expressive voice to share his inspired feelings with the viewer.