Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Amazing Pan Yuliang

Pan Yuliang "Self Portrait" oil on canvas 1924 Private Collection
Pan Yuliang 潘玉良 (1899-1977) is famous as one of the first Chinese artists with a successful career in "Western Style" painting. She was born Zhang Yuliang 張玉良 in Jiangsu Province on the Eastern Coast of the People's Republic of China, where it borders the Yellow Sea. Yuliang's parents died when she was 14, and her uncle sold her to a brothel.

She caught the attention of a wealthy customs official, Pan Zanha, who purchased her freedom from the brothel and married her as his second wife. He also ensured that she received an education. The family moved to Shanghai in 1920 and Yuliang was accepted into a Shanghai Art College. Shanghai was notable for Haipai, or East Meets West style, and Shanghai artists were open to all kinds of current trends, not focused solely on traditional Chinese culture. After graduation, Zanha sponsored Yuliang's further study in France and in 1925 she won a scholarship to study in Rome. In 1926 she won a major art prize in Rome, and a few years later, she returned to China to exhibit and teach. She had five solo exhibitions from 1929-1936 and taught in Shanghai and also at National Central University in Nanking.

Pan Yuliang "My Family" oil on canvas 1931-32 source: Self-Portraits of Color

Although her work was popular with Chinese audiences at the time, it was also criticized by the government as being too Western. In 1937 she sailed for France again, settling in Paris where she lived and worked the rest of her life. During her career she was on the faculty of the École des Beaux Arts and elected as the Chairman of the Chinese Art Association. Her work was exhibited widely and she won many prestigious prizes. She died at age 78 and is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

Her fascinating and colorful life is the subject of film and literature, the most recent being a fictionalized biography, The Painter from Shanghai, by Jennifer Cody Epstein (2008.) Much of Yiulang's work was returned to China after her death and is held by various national museums and cultural associations there.