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Pan Yuliang is a Chinese woman, born in China (birth place not verified) on May 22, 1899 and deceased in Paris, France on July 22, 1977. She was born into a poor family and orphaned at an early age. She was married to Pan Zanhua, a revolutionary who later became a government official of the new Republic after the fall of the Qing Dynasty.
Pan Yuliang studied in 1918-1921 at the Shanghai Art Academy with Hong Ye and Wang Jiyuan.
In 1921 she was accepted into a program of the Republic of China to send students abroad to help modernize China in all fields of study. She matriculated at the Academy Franco-Chinoise in Lyons, France and then in 1922 or 1923 went to Paris to study at Le Grand Chaumiere in the studio of Lucien Simon. She may also have studied at the École nationale superieur des beaux-arts in Paris. From 1925 to 1928 she studied painting and sculpture in Rome and then returned to China at the invitation of Xu Beihong to teach western painting at the National Central University in Nanjing. She also taught painting at the Shanghai Art Academy.
In 1936, she returned to Paris to wait out the war. At the end of WWII, civil war between the Nationalists (Chiang Kaishek) and the communists (Mao Zedong) lasted four years until a communist regime was established in China at which time government policies decreed that art must serve the needs of the people, and so Pan Yuliang’s nudes, portraits, and still lifes were deemed decadent. Pan Yuliang never returned to China. After her death, some 4000 works of art, sketches, paintings, watercolors, prints, and sculpture were deposited at the Cultural Division of the People’s Republic of China’s embassy in Paris where they remained until Deng Xiaoping relaxed the strictures against artistic works and her artwork was returned to Pan Yuliang’s family in Anqing, Anhui Province. During the period after her death, when her artwork was thought unsuitable, many of her paintings inexplicably disappeared.
The majority of her work is now kept at the Anhui Provincial Museum, with some paintings in the collection of the Fine Art Museums in Beijing and Shanghai.
Her work in oil on canvas was originally post-impressionist, closely emulating mostly Cezanne and Matisse. Eventually she began to combine the ancient technique of brush and ink on xuan zhi, an excellent watercolor paper produced in Anhui, with watercolor and the use of colored dots instead of washes. Her work in this style was mostly of nudes and still life paintings. She also worked in wood block prints and bronze sculpture, most notably producing portrait busts of René Grousset, Zhang Daqian, and Maria Montesorri.
Between 1950 and 1977 Pan Yuliang exhibited in dozens of Salons in Paris such as l’Indépendants and d’Automne, as well as at the Royal Academy in London, in Brussels, Greece, and the USA. She never affiliated with a gallery and supported herself by some direct sales of art and by giving art lessons. She was active in the Society of Chinese Artists in France, and several times served as its president. The Cernuschi Museum in Paris included her in two major exhibitions during her life and has several works of hers in their collection.
Pan Yuliang lived a life of poverty, but was fulfilled in her dream to become a recognized artist. She has been the unfortunate subject of articles, novels, a TV series, and a movie depicting her as a prostitute who lived a depraved life yet still became a famous artist. There is no truth to this spurious legend which has spread only because of a lack of factual data about her life.
Submitted by Sara Sheldon, Associate Director, Leanin' Tree Museum and Sculpture Garden of Western Art, who is completing a biography of Pan Yuliang after 15 years of research in China and Paris, with personal interviews with the remaining members of her family and others who knew her, in museums and libraries throughout China and Europe.