Zhu Dequn Photo: CFP
Dubbed as one of "the three musketeers" of Chinese artists learning Western art in France in the 1950s, 94-year-old Zhu Dequn passed away in Paris on Wednesday. Together with the other two "musketeers," Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010) and Zhao Wuji (or Zao Wou-ki, 1921-2013), Zhu was one of the most revered Chinese artists of today and widely acclaimed for his pioneering style of integrating traditional Chinese painting into Western abstractionism.
Zhu was elected as a lifetime academician by the French Academy of Fine Arts in 1997, the first Chinese to enter the academy. Born in 1920 in Suzhou, Anhui Province, Zhu started to learn drawing in the Hangzhou Arts School in 1935. At the school, he learned Western art from Wu Dayu (1903-88) and traditional Chinese painting from Pan Tianshou (1897-1971), both artists representing the highest level of their fields. It was during this time that Zhu gained a solid foundation in these two very different art styles.
As schoolmates at the Hangzhou Arts School, Zhu, Zhao and Wu were later all elected as academicians by the French Academy of Fine Arts. When it comes to Chinese art history, the three are often grouped together as being the most representative Chinese artists of their generation.
Deeply attracted to the art of Monet, Cézanne and Henri Matisse, in 1955 Zhu arrived in France where he lived until his passing. There he began to boldly combine traditional Chinese water color art with Western abstract art. As his skills advanced the style of his painting became increasingly wild and unconstrained.
Although Zhu left China early on in his career, he is not a stranger to Chinese collectors. In the 2014 Hurun Art List released last week, Zhu ranks NO.2 among 100 Chinese artists, with the total sales volume of his works reaching 280 million yuan ($45.08 million) over the past year.
For now his most expensive work, the interestingly titled Untitled (1963), was auctioned at the price of HK$70.68 million ($9 million) in Christie's HK auction last November. "The 1960s was an important period for Chinese abstract painting," said Zhang Dingyuan, director of Christie's department of Asian 21st century and contemporary art, "Untitled is the most representative, on one hand it reflects traditional Chinese painting, but on the other looks very Western in its color usage."