Chu Teh-Chun was an influential French-Chinese artist renowned for his synthesis of Chinese painting and calligraphic traditions with Western abstraction.Read More
Chu's artistic pursuits began at an early age, encouraged by his studies in Chinese calligraphy and poetry as well as by his father, who collected Chinese paintings. When the Chinese-Japanese War broke out in 1937, Chu had been studying at the Hangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and followed the university's temporary relocation to southwestern China. The artist then taught painting at the National Academy of Fine Arts and the National Central University of Nanjing, then both located in Chongqing.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Chu Teh-Chun made life-long connections with pioneers of Chinese and Taiwanese modern art, like Wu Guanzhong, whom he met in 1936, and Zao Wou-Ki and Li Keran, with whom he exhibited. Upon his relocation to Taiwan in 1949, Chu taught at the Taipei National Institute of Technology and National Normal University of Taiwan, where he worked closely with the prominent modernist Lee Chun-Shan.
While many of Chu's early works were lost, Fondation Chu Teh-Chun—founded in 2017 to conserve the artist's legacy—describe them as figurative oil paintings with influences by French post-Impressionists Paul Cézanne, André Derain, and Henri Matisse. Chu gained attention for these in Taiwan, receiving a government commission in 1953 and holding his first solo exhibition at Sun Yatsen Hall, Taipei, in the following year.
Chu left for Paris in 1955, where he reunited with Zao Wou-Ki and met other Chinese expatriate artists and intellectuals including Pan Yuliang, Sanyu, and Xiong Bingming. In Europe, he encountered the works of Goya and El Greco, and it was Nicolas de Staël's abstract landscapes that steered Chu's practice towards abstraction.
In the following years, Chu Teh-Chun experimented with modes of abstraction and figuration in such works as N17 (1959) and N56 (1960): oil paintings and gouaches on paper characterised by broad brushstrokes and planes of bold colours, punctuated by dark or black lines. Strokes evocative of Chinese calligraphy also entered into Chu's new explorations, as can be seen in the 1962 works EP Composition 4 or N136.
In 1983, Chu visited China for the first time since his departure. Inspired by the landscapes of his childhood, he created paintings emitting a sense of vastness and lyrical movement. The large-scale painting Les éléments confédérés (1983—1984) depicts expanses of green and blue with spots of yellow and red across five panels, in reference to the five elements found in traditional Chinese cosmology. The work also alludes to Beethoven's Symphony No.9, to which Chu often listened as he painted.
In 1997, Chu Teh-Chun became the first French individual of Chinese origin to be elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts. In 2001, he also was awarded the Légion d'Honneur. The artist exhibited internationally in his lifetime, and more recent solo and retrospective exhibitions were held at the National History Museum of Art, Taipei (2008); National Art Museum of China, Beijing (2010); and Pinacothèque de Paris (2013).
In 2020, Fondation Chu Teh-Chun organised the travelling retrospective exhibition The CHU Teh-Chun Odyssey to celebrate the centenary of Chu's birth. Postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it is scheduled to open at the National Museum of China in 2021.
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020