Chu Teh-Chun’s HK$120m Painting Set to Break Auction Record for the Chinese Abstract Master

In the first round of Hong Kong autumn sales, Zao Wou-Ki’s largest painting took the centre stage after selling for a whopping HK$510m (US$65m), the record price for an oil painting by an Asian artist. The second round will soon begin starting this weekend with Christie’s Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale. The sale will be led by an untitled work (1963) by celebrated Chinese abstract master Chu Teh-Chun (1920-2014), valued at HK$120m (US$15m). It is set to break the auction record for the artist once the hammer is brought down at a price within the estimate range.

Born in Hangzhou in 1920, Chu Teh-Chun graduated from School of Fine Arts of Hangzhou, China in 1941, where he studied under Lin Fengmian (1900-1991), a visionary artist with an expansionist Pan-Asian aesthetic who wanted to reconcile Chinese traditional art with Western Modernism.

Chu Teh-Chun moved to Paris in 1955

Chu moved to Paris in 1955 and received the silver medal from the Salon of French Artists in 1956. Chu established himself as one of the most representative and important Chinese abstract expressionist artists. He was widely acclaimed for his pioneering style integrating traditional Chinese painting techniques with Western abstract art. Chu Teh-Chun together with Wu Guanzhong and Zao Wou-Ki were dubbed the "Three Musketeers" of modernist Chinese artists trained in China and France.

Chu Teh-Chun and Zao Wou-Ki

Zao Wou-Ki

In recent auctions, we have observed a frenzy over Zao Wou-Ki paintings, some of which are sold for record-setting prices in different occasions. Meanwhile, prices for paintings by Chu Teh-Chun, Zao’s contemporary, are also rising steadily in the art market. Christie’s is now picking up the trend and further lifting it up in its upcoming contemporary art evening sale. Carrying the highest estimate of the sale – which are usually Zao’s masterpieces in the recent auctions – is Chu Teh-Chun’s Untitled, a diptych measuring 195 by 129.5 cm, estimated at HK$120m (US$15m).

Created in 1963, Untitled embodies Chu Teh-Chun’s abstract painting achievements, as a recapitulation of a monumental landscape revealed from the depths of the artist’s emotions in front of nature. In 1963, Chu Teh-Chun’s visual interpretation of the world surrounding him had already entirely shifted to abstraction, in an effort to free form to its purest representation. Chu Teh-Chun’s Untitled diptych, by its monumental size, its flamboyant colours and its large sweeping strokes, establishes a key transition in the artist’s work over the ensuing decades.

Chu Teh-Chun. Untitled (1963). Estimate: HK$120,000,000

Li Tang’s Wind through the Pine Valleys (1124)

Strongly reminiscent of Li Tang’s Wind through the Pine Valleys painted in 1124, both works break free from dimensional depth to depict a mountainous landscape amid fog, and exist solely based on the dominance of the painter who transfers his own imagination, sensibility and inner character onto the painting surface.

Untitled was last sold at auction at Christie’s in 2013 for HK$70.68m, the then auction record for the artist until it was reset by the artist’s Vertige Neigeux (Snowy Vertigo), a diptych that sold for HK$91.82m in 2016. Once the present work is successfully sold at a price within the estimate, it will shatter the auction record for Chu Teh-Chun.

Chu Teh-Chun’s Vertige Neigeux (Snowy Vertigo) (1990-1999) was sold for a record HK$91.82m in 2016

Chu Teh-Chun. N°313 (1969). Estimate: HK$90,000,000

Another diptych by Chu Teh-Chun, N°313 from 1969, is estimated at HK$90m (US$11.5m), the second highest estimate at the sale. In No. 313, Chu sets out a screenlike background in vivid reds, against which he applies vigorous, sweeping lines of fresh blue with a broad brush. Washes of ink-black pigments link this upper area with more finely detailed vertical lines, brushed on with short pressure strokes in the bottom of the canvas. in his arrangement of space, Chu borrows the distributed perspectives of Chinese ink-wash painting.

This abstract work shows off Chu’s mastery of abstraction through the lens of figuration: that he can pinpoint the essential forms and shapes from nature and turn that essence into colour blocks, geometric shapes, and lines infused with Eastern calligraphic influence.

Zao Wou-Ki. 22.07.64 (1964). Estimate: HK$75,000,000

Zao Wou-Ki’s 22.07.64 from 1964, measuring 161.5 x 199.5 cm, is estimated at HK$75m (US$9.6m). Zao's principal palette in 22.07.64 consists of only three colours: bright yellow, inky black, and pure white. Various gradations and hues, derived from combinations of these colours, mix and overlap, spilling out onto the canvas to create a space full of tumultuous colour and action.

In 22.07.64, Zao Wou-Ki loads his brush with black pigments tinged with ochre and lays down broad sweeping strokes. With strong wrist action he forms resolute lines in inky black, producing a rough 'Z' figure that snakes upward in the center of the canvas like a dragon flying through clouds and mist.

Zao Wou-Ki. Untitled (Golden City) (1951). Estimate: HK$60m

Zao Wou-Ki’s Untitled (Golden City) from 1951 carries an estimate of HK$60m (US$7.6m). In 1950, two years after arriving in Paris, Zao Wou- Ki embarked on a European tour: travelling across Switzerland, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and more, Zao visited countless museums and monuments and immersed himself in art and nature. Created in 1951, Untitled (Golden City) is an exemplary piece from Zao’s period of grand travel. Atop the canvas festooned with gold, Zao creates a rich world using countless fine interconnected lines: the forms of buildings, plazas, and people are delicately placed within the canvas space.

Please stay tuned with The Value and see if the two abstract masters are going to make the headline at the evening sale on 24 November.


Chu Teh-Chun (1920-2014). Untitled

Lot no.: 21
Created in: 1963
Size: 195 x 243.5 cm (diptych)

  • Galerie Henriette Legendre, Paris, France
  • Catherine Charbonneaux Maison de Ventes, Paris, 16 June 1991, Lot 36
  • Loudmer Commissaires Priseurs S.C.P., Paris, 6 April 1993, Lot 84
  • Private Collection, Europe
  • Anon. Sale, Christie’s Hong Kong, 23 November 2013, Lot 13
  • Private collection, Asia (Acquired from the above sale by the present owner)
  • The authenticity of this artwork has been confirmed by the Fondation Chu Teh-Chun, Geneva.

Estimate: HK$120,000,000

Chu Teh-Chun (1920-2014). N°313

Lot no.: 20
Created in: 1969
Size: 260 x 185 cm (diptych)

  • Acquired directly from the artist by the previous owner
  • Anon. Sale, Sotheby’s London, 29 June 2011, Lot 67
  • de Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong
  • Private Collection, Asia
  • The authenticity of this artwork has been confirmed by the Fondation Chu Teh-Chun, Geneva.

Estimate: HK$90,000,000

Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013). 22.07.64

Lot no.: 4
Created in: 1964
Size: 161.5 x 199.5 cm

  • Guy Genon-Gatalot Collection, Paris, France
  • Acquired directly from the artist, and thence by descent to the previous owner.
  • Anon. sale, Christie’s Hong Kong, 26 November 2011, Lot 1006
  • Private Collection, Asia
  • This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Zao Wou-Ki, dated 15 December 2004.

Estimate: HK$75,000,000

Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013). Untitled (Golden City)

Lot no.: 25
Created in: 1951
Size: 89 x 116.5 cm

  • Cadby Birch Gallery, New York, USA
  • Private Collection, New York, USA
  • Lin & Keng Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Private Collection, Asia

Estimate: HK$60,000,000

Zeng Fanzhi. I/We

Lot no.: 38
Created in: 2004
Size: 215 x 330 cm

  • Artist Collection
  • Gallery Artside, Seoul, Korea
  • Private Collection, Asia

Estimate: HK$24,000,000 - 32,000,000

Zhou Chunya. Red Hugging Lovers

Lot no.: 39
Created in: 1998
Size: 250 x 200 cm

  • Galerie Loft, Paris, France
  • Collection of Guy & Myriam Ullens
  • Anon. Sale, Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 2 October 2011, Lot 166
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner
  • Private Collection, Asia

Estimate: HK$16,000,000 - 26,000,000

Yue Minjun. Big Swans

Lot no.: 42
Created in: 2003
Size: 200 x 280 cm

  • CP Artspace, Jakarta, Indonesia
  • Acquired from the above by the previous owner in 2005
  • Anon. Sale, Christie’s Hong Kong, 24 May 2008, Lot 159
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
  • Private Collection, Asia

Estimate: HK$6,500,000 - 8,500,000

Lin Fengmian (1900-1991). Opera Figures

Lot no.: 51
Size: 68 x 68 cm

  • Anon. sale, Christie's Hong Kong, 29 April 2001, Lot 36
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
  • Private collection, Asia

Estimate: HK$6,000,000 - 8,000,000

Auction details

Auction house: Christie’s Hong Kong
Sale: Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)
Location: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
Lots offered: 55
23 November 2018|10:30am - 6:30pm
November 2018|10:30am - 7:00pm
Auction date: 24 November 2018|6:00pm