C hu Teh-Chun’s importance in the art world cannot be overstated. He was in 1997 the first Chinese member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts of France in its 200-year history, and the only Chinese artist to hold the distinction in the twentieth century. Born in the early period of Republican China, Chu studied at the National Academy of Art in the 1930s, travelled to Taiwan in 1949, and settled in France in 1955. Thus, his life was closely tied to the experiences from all the places he called home. The artist was known for his gentle temperament as well as a demonstrated fortitude in the face of tremendous challenges. When Chu made history in 1997, he not only summitted his own career peak but also set a historical height that has been unrivalled in the past century of Chinese and Asian modern art history.
Chu Teh-Chun’s Beethoven-Inspired Symphony of Abstraction
Chu Teh-Chun’s Les éléments confédérés, a highlight of Sotheby’s upcoming evening sale and a masterwork completed in 1984, was painted upon the artist’s return to Asia and marked the beginning of a new chapter in his career. It reflects an abundance of artistic inspiration, as well as a strong sense of national revival. Chu Teh-Chun’s emblematic painting also successfully brings together the spirit of two cultures, according to Madame Chu Ching-Chao.
Measuring 650 cm long and 162 cm high, Les éléments confédérés is the largest of Chu Teh-Chun’s oil painting still in private hands and his only pentaptych. He chose the format in reference to the five elements: wood, earth, water, metal and fire. This framework describes the essential constitution of nature according to the traditional Chinese concept of the universe. The work is also a loving tribute to Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, as Chu Teh-Chun would frequently listen to this mighty and triumphant work as he painted.
Chu Teh-Chun regarded Les éléments confédérés as one of his most important exhibited works, beginning in 1987, when the National Museum of History in Taipei held a large retrospective exhibition for the artist, marking his formal return to Asia after having lived abroad for a period of 32 years. A few years later in 1990 and 1991, Chu held “Grand Formats” exhibitions at the Pyramid Pernod in Créteil, and Musée d'Art Contemporain in Dunkerque, France. In 2010, Chu held a major retrospective at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing. In all of these shows, Les éléments confédérés would become been the focal point, and the work graced the cover of the exhibition catalogues for the 1987 and 2010 events. Les éléments confédérés stands apart for its extraordinary importance, and its prominence in these exhibitions demonstrate Chu Teh-Chun’s long-standing love for and satisfaction with this piece.
Despite his many years in Paris, Chu Teh-Chun never lost his sense of connection to his homeland. He was well-versed in Chinese poetry, especially those of the Tang and Song dynasties. In his work La Lune, he calligraphed a poem by Su Dongpo, which dates from eleventh century Northern Song dynasty. The famous poem was composed on the occasion of the Moon Festival, during the poet’s sojourn in Mizhou, Shandong province. All night long, Su Dongpo would gaze up at the sky while drinking wine. The full moon evoked an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and longing in the poet, far as he was from his family. He called upon the moon to shine its brightest light in every corner of the world. The momentary sense of isolation and the desire for connection are themes that feel timely in a modern context.
Mrs. Ching-Chao Chu, on behalf of Fondation Chu Teh-Chun and in collaboration with the Galerie Nelombos, is consigning the calligraphic work by Chu Teh-Chun to Sotheby’s for charity. The donation will benefit the research of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and provide support to those affected – in particular, to Chinese families and friends. All profits from this sale will be donated to Han Hong Love Charity Foundation.
Presenting alongside the above two works, Terre du Nan-King is a fine and self-expressive piece by Chu Teh-Chun from the earlier years of his career. He arrived in Europe just as the new wave of Lyrical Abstraction was making its way into the forefront of the painting scene in the mid-1950s. Paris was a rich source of inspiration for the Chinese artist. By 1958, Chu's unique abstract language caught the eye of Maurice Panier, director of Galerie H. Legendre, and they signed a six-year contract. Terre du Nan-King was created during this time. The imposing ochre background and the hearty, bold black lines that zigzag up and down, passionately surged through the work.
While Terre du Nan-King marked the embrace of a new painting style, the work was also a nod to the artist’s past. Nanjing was China's post-war capital and home to many talents, including Chu had lived and worked there before he moved to Taiwan in 1949. During his three-year residence in Nanjing, he met many prominent figures in artistic and political circles, who were duly impressed by Chu’s modesty, scholarly values, and general disregard for fame or fortune. It was the encouragement of his true friends that gave Chu the confidence to leave China and push his art onto the international stage. These treasured memories and the artist’s optimism are all expressed in the brushwork of Terre du Nan-King, opening up a sense of boundless dynamism to all who behold this work.