Chu Teh-Chun (Chinese/French, 1920-2014)
Chinese artist Chu Teh-Chun was born in China in 1920, in the province of Jiangsu. The province of his birth is an important fact, as this region is also known as water country and would later become an influence on his painting style. Chu Teh-Chun was among a small group of Chinese artists who eventually moved to Paris, due to the political situation in their country. Teh-Chun is also known for incorporating Chinese traditional art to the art of the West. The majority of Chu Teh-Chun’s paintings were produced in the West, France, to be more precise, but he is considered to have significantly contributed to the Chinese modern art movement. Chu Teh-Chun was trying to produce paintings which could be easily understood and loved by everyone, and he clearly accomplished this goal. But it wasn’t just the paintings being created by Chu Teh-Chun. His artistic abilities were wide ranging – from creating large-scale paintings, graphics, diptychs and triptychs, to working with ceramics. His style was unique and he created marvelous artwork.
Chu Teh-Chun was born into a family of doctors. From the very beginning of his life, Chu Teh-Chun was familiar with Chinese art and calligraphy, as his father and grandfather were collectors of traditional Chinese paintings. His family supported his artistic side, so in 1945, at the age of 15, Chu Teh-Chun entered the National School of Fine Arts in Hangzhou. One of Teh-Chun’s professors was Lin Fengmian, the father of modern Chinese art. He was blending the Western and Eastern art, like Chu Teh-Chun’s paintings would later and this possibly influenced his decision to move to a mythical France and settle there.
The artist Chu Teh-Chun didn’t just learn techniques of traditional art in France; he became familiar with the work of the major impressionists artists as well, such as Renoir, Matisse, Picasso and Cezanne. Impressionism fascinated Chu Teh-Chun and in it he discovered another technique. At this time he befriended two other Chinese artists – Wu Guanzhong and Zao Wou-Ki. These were important friendships for all three artists as they ultimately influenced each other’s artwork throughout their lives, and they were also lifelong friends.
In 1941, Chu Teh-Chun graduated from school and started working there as an assistant professor. He was teaching architecture from 1944 until he transferred to Taipei in 1949. In 1948, Teh-Chun married Liu Han and had a daughter with her the following year. In 1951 he started working as a professor at the National Taiwan Normal University, where he fell in love with a student whom he later married. Chu Teh-Chun’s social status was high at the time, but he was still dreaming about moving to Europe and leaving his profession. In 1953, he had his first one-man show.
In 1955, at the age of 35, Chu Teh-Chun moved to Europe with his new wife. The journey was long, and one of their stops was Egypt. He visited Cairo and discovered Pharaonic art – a first contact with western art. He arrived in Paris in 1955, and settled there. This is also when he was introduced to modern art. That same year, Chu Teh-Chun artist and painter visited the exhibition of the late Nicolas de Staël in the Denise-René gallery, and it was around this time that he abandoned figurative painting. He was moved by unrestrained brush strokes, and Chu Teh-Chun moved on to new abstract techniques color combinations. Chu Teh-Chun artist works started to display rich colors with light and dark contrasts. The artwork of Chu Teh-Chun also began to incorporate calligraphy in his abstract paintings, thereby connecting the art of the West with the art of the Far East.
Chu Teh-Chun’s new artwork became an immediate success. That same year, he entered and won the Silver Prize at the Paris Spring Salon for a portrait of his wife Tung Ching-Chao, which was later described as ‘’Mona Lisa of the East’’.
Ultimately, Chu Teh-Chun was to become an abstract artist, inspired by his life in Paris. He continued to produce paintings linked to China, but replaced the traditional urban views with lively colors and shapes. Chu Teh-Chun paintings present both real and the imaginary, based on his experience. His main sources of inspiration were nature and its landscapes, and climatic phenomena. It was during the next few years that the artwork of Chu Teh-Chun made a name for him as an artist.
In 1958, the first Chu Teh-Chun artist exhibition was held in Paris. The exhibition was a huge success, and he was offered a 6 year contract with the Legendre gallery. This allowed Chu Teh-Chun to invest in his own workshop. While working in the gallery, he met some other Parisian artists, such as Kijno and Feraud and he became a part of Parisian artistic life.
Abstract art gave Chu Teh-Chun artistic freedom to express himself and communicate more easily and ultimately abstraction became a necessity for him. In 1964, Chu Teh-Chun artist works were exhibited at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. This exhibition gained him an international reputation. After that, Chu Teh-Chun paintings were exhibited in Jerusalem, Athens and at the Sao Paulo Biennale in 1969. In the 1970s Chu Teh-Chun took up calligraphy again. This connected Teh-Chun to his Chinese roots and he practiced something he hadn’t done since he was young. He incorporated elements of calligraphy in his paintings and this would be one of Chu Teh-Chun’s most popular styles of painting.
In 1980, Chu Teh-Chun artist and painter became a French citizen. In 1983 he met his old teacher in Paris and renewed his friendship with Wu Guanzhong and the other Chinese artists in France. That same year, the department of Fine Arts of the University of Hong Kong invited Chu Teh-Chun to be on the final year examining board.
In 1987, The National Museum in Taipei made it possible for Chu Teh-Chun artist works to be exhibited, 32 years after his leaving. That was the first time Chu Teh-Chun had an exhibition showing all his artwork. In the 1990s, Chu Teh-Chun moved to the suburbs – to Vitry-sur-Seine in Val de Marne. There he created paintings in his big workshop and on large formats. Artist Chu Teh-Chun exhibited his diptychs and triptychs throughout Europe, the US and Far East. In 1997, Chu Teh-Chun was made a member of the Academie des Beaux-Arts.
In 2001, Chu Teh-Chun artist works became widely recognized. He became a Chevalier of the Order of Academic Palms and the President of France appointed him as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. Chu Teh-Chun considered the painting The Aura of Revival to be his best work. In 2003, he donated the painting to the Shanghai Grand Theatre and the painting was temporarily displayed in the lobby. In 2006, Chu Teh-Chun was appointed as the Officer of the National Order of Merit. That same year, Chu Teh-Chun received the European Gold Medal of Merit in Luxembourg. During that period, Chu Teh-Chun’s artwork was described as the meeting between cultured Chinese tradition and contemporary French painting. In 2008, Chu Teh-Chun artist works began to include ceramics and during this period he produced a series of 56 vases. The name of the collection was “De Neige, d’or et d’azur”.
In 2009, Chu Teh-Chun had a stroke, which made it impossible for him to continue with his work although he would continue to live in Paris until his death.
In 2010, a retrospective exhibition of Chu Teh-Chun artist works was held at the National Museum of China.
On March 26, 2014, not long after the death of his artist friends Wu Guanzhong, who died in 2010, and Zao Wou-ki, who died in 2013, the renowned artist, and the last of the ‘’Three Musketeers’’ Chu Teh-Chun artist dies at the age of 93. With him gone, the generation of Chinese painters who lived in Europe was gone. His death was labeled as the end of an era.