Portrait of CHU Teh-Chun, 1995. Photo by Jeff Hargrove.

Chinese artist CHU Teh-Chun, who died aged 93 in 2014, is to be the subject of a major retrospective at The National Museum of China, Beijing, next year. While based in Paris most of his adult life, the artist staged many shows in his homeland, beginning in the 1980s. However, this exhibition, which will include more than 200 works, including calligraphy, gouache, oil and ink, will be the first to fully explore the diversity of his practice.

The exhibition has been arranged with the the museum in collaboration with the Fondation CHU Teh-Chun, which was launched in the UK on the 19th November 2019 by the artist’s family to promote his work across the globe.

CHU Teh-Chun is counted amongst the painters of the New School of Paris and his work is categorised as being part of the Lyrical Abstraction movement — broadly, painters who sought to move the spectator emotionally. His work also reveals the influence of Contemporary American abstract artists such as Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, Mark Tobey and Alexander Calder, in particular his mobile works, and by Rembrandt and Turner.

Fondation CHU Teh-Chun, which is based in Geneva, Switzerland, is led by his widow, Ching Chao CHU, the President, with the support of their son, the architect, Yvon CHU, and his wife, Anne-Valérie Sceau.

Of the forthcoming Beijing presentation, Yvon CHU, the Fondation’s Vice-President, says: ‘We wanted to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of my father’s birth and the National Museum of China welcomed the idea with enthusiasm. This presentation will give us the opportunity to uncover other facets of his work as an artist and to show the diversity and the complementary nature of all the media he used.’

Born in Jiangsu province, China, in 1920, CHU Teh-Chun came from a family of scholars and art collectors who encouraged him to practice calligraphy. In 1955, he travelled to Paris to study the works of the Western masters, such as Cézanne, Renoir, Picasso and Matisse. There he studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. A year after making the city his home, he was awarded the silver medal in the Spring Salon for a portrait of his wife. The picture was nicknamed the ‘Mona Lisa of the East’.

While in Paris, he saw for the first time the works by Nicolas de Staël. He was particularly moved by the layered forms, colours and impasto of his paintings and began to reassess his own approach to making work. Rather than ‘Westernising’ his technique, CHU Teh-Chun developed a unique stylistic language that incorporated Chinese traditions, melding his training as a calligrapher and a painter to create works which intricately coalesced both mediums. His paintings, which are vibrant and full of movement, were heavily influenced by the strong brushstrokes of calligraphy and carry a profound sense of depth, poetry and musicality, as evidenced in the painting below Sans Titre, 1970.

‘Sans Titre’ oil on paper mounted on canvas, 165x127 cm, 1970 ©

Of his practice, CHU Teh-Chun once commented: ‘The artist absorbs what he sees in nature and refines it in his mind, and it is the power of the artist’s imagination, his sensibility, and his inner character that are revealed on the canvas.

, Calligraphy, 40x42 cm, 2008 ©

CHU Teh-Chun spent much of the 1960s engaged in research and experimentation. This resulted in his unique abstract style, a blend between Chinese and French cultures imbued with lyricism and poetry. He is considered to be the only painter of his generation to have successfully achieved a symbiosis of these two cultures.

, Gouache on Paper, 57x76 cm, 1997 ©

A prolific artist, he participated in many exhibitions. In 1959, he had three shows at different galleries in Paris. Solo and group presentations followed — in France, where he worked with the Legendre Gallery, and abroad, where he regularly exhibited in Switzerland. Notable shows included the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh (1964), the Sao Paulo Biennial (1969), and the Charlottenburg (Museum in Copenhagen 1967).

, Ink on Paper, 34x46 cm, 1990 ©

The 1980s and 1990s saw the artist renew and make deeper his ties with China. He was invited to Hong Kong and then to Beijing by the China Artists Association, and while there he took the opportunity once more to immerse himself in the landscapes that populated his imagination, exploring new nuances and light and depth which became a feature of his later paintings. In this period, he exhibited often in Taiwan, and in 1982 the Musée des Beaux Arts André Malraux in Le Havre staged his first retrospective.

In 1997, he was elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts of France, the first Frenchman of Chinese origin to be invited to do so. He became a French citizen in 1980 and was also made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques and Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 2001. CHU Teh-Chun died in Paris in March 2014, aged 93. His works appear in many public collections such as the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, Columbia University in New York City, the Museum of Dhaka in Bangladesh, the Cuauhtemoc Museum in Mexico, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Liège in Belgium, the Musée Guimet in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in Beijing.
Instagram: @FoundationCHUTehChun
Facebook: @FoundationCHUTehChun

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