Chu Teh-Chun, born 100 years ago, reaches new auction high

[20 Nov 2020]

The inspiration I have followed finds its only source in nature… and its preferred mode of expression is lyricism.” Chu Teh-Chun

The poet of pictorial abstraction Chu Teh-Chun would have been 100 years old this year and current tributes are – like his work – grandiose!

To mark the occasion, a new documentary film retracing his life and his work will be presented in preview at the Jérôme-Seydoux Foundation in Paris, at MAMCO in Geneva and then at the Grand Théâtre in Shanghai. A large travelling retrospective exhibition – initially planned to start April 2020 but postponed by one year because of the pandemic – is being prepared with a first stop at the National Museum of China in Beijing, the second most visited museum in the world, in the spring of 2021.

Born in Baitou Zhen in China in 1920, Chu Teh-Chun studied at the National School of Fine Arts, better known today as the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou where his association with WU Guanzhong and ZAO Wou-Ki played a decisive role. Nicknamed the Three Musketeers, the three artists were to profoundly influence contemporary Chinese art. Chu Teh-Chun moved to Taipei in 1949 and taught at the National University before leaving for Paris in 1955, a city where he was fascinated by the abstract works of the Russian artist Nicolas DE STAËL who encouraged him to move away from figurative painting. As a result he devoted himself to the development of an abstract artistic form, based on colour and emotions, directly inspired by nature and poetry. The period also coincided with his first Parisian successes, the first of which of was an exhibition organized by the Galerie du Haut-Pavé.

Chu acquired French nationality in 1980 and became the first Chinese artist to enter the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris, like his contemporary Zao Wou Ki. In 2001, he was awarded the title Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. He died in Paris in 2014. An eponymous foundation was created in Geneva three years later. The institution, headed by his wife and son, highlights the artist’s dexterity and multidisciplinarity throughout his career. His works have acquired by more than 50 museums around the world.

Prix index Chut Teh Chun EN

Price index of Chu Teh-Chun (up more than 2,400% in 20 years)



First appearing on the auction market in 1983, his first works only fetched small sums at the time. Today they are worth roughly 2000 times more… a value accretion comparable to that of Zao Wou Ki’s work. In two decades, Chu Teh-Chun has become the third most popular Franco-Chinese artist after Zao and SAN Yu. He is one of the few Chinese painters whose works still attract as many collectors in Europe as in Asia.

To mark the centenary of his birth, paintings by the master were sold in Paris, notably at Magnin Wedry on 27 October 2020 where his 23.9.1978, (1978) fetched $355,000 (excl. fees). Characteristic of his work from the 1970s, this painting is a clever blend of the modernity of Western lyrical abstraction with the heritage of the old masters and the delicacy of traditional Chinese aesthetics. The following day (28 October) Artcurial hosted a thematic sale celebrating the success of the most sought-after Contemporary Asian artists on the international art market and sold his Abstraction bleue et jaune (1989) for $389,000. The painting came from a key period in the artist’s development after his return to Taiwan (where his work was the subject of a retrospective in Taipei) for the first time since his departure in 1955.

Mostly collected in Asia, Chu Teh-Chun’s best results are usually hammered in Hong Kong. On 8 July last, Sotheby’s HK set a new auction record for the artist by selling Les éléments confédérés, a powerful pentaptych painted between 1983 and 1984, for $14.5 million. On 3 December, also in Hong Kong, Christie’s will be offering seven Chu Teh-Chun works with nearly half of the low estimates exceeding the $2 million threshold. There could well be some seriously vigorous bidding at that sale!


Top 5 auction results: Chu Teh-Chun

Work Price Date Auctioneer
1 Les éléments confédérés (1983/84)
$ 14,668,935 08/07/20  Sotheby’s, Hong Kong
2 Vertige neigeux (1990-1999)
$ 11,835,596 26/11/16 Christie’s, Wanchai
3 No. 268 (1967/68)
$ 9,672,122 30/09/18 Sotheby’s, Hong Kong
4 Untitled (1963)
$ 9,117,720 23/11/13 Christie’s, Hong Kong
5 Rouge lourd et vert léger (1959) $ 7,844,011 31/03/18 Sotheby’s, Hong Kong
copyright ©2020


Top 5 auction results: Zao Wou-Ki

Work Price Date Auctioneer
1 Juin-Octobre 1985 $ 65,204,488 30/09/18  Sotheby’s, Hong Kong
2 29/01/64 (1964) $ 25,944,956 25/11/17 Christie’s, Hong Kong
3 Et la terre était sans forme (1956-1957) $ 23,305,300 29/03/18 Poly Auction, Hong Kong
4 Triptyque 1987-1988
$ 22,677,376 25/05/19 Christie’s, Hong Kong
5 14/12/59 (1959)
$ 22,525,368 26/05/18 Christie’s, Hong Kong
copyright ©2020