PAN YULIANG (CHINA, 1895-1977)Seated Nude Holding a Mirror
signed in Chinese, dated ‘56’ (upper left)
ink and colour on paper
91.4 x 61 cm. (36 x 24 in.)
Painted in 1956
one seal of the artistLot essay
Born in 1895, Pan Yuliang is one of very few female Chinese artists documented in modern art history. Her contemporaries were Xu Beihong, Lin Fengmian, Sanyu. After returning from overseas studies in Europe, Pan began her career as an artist and art educator in China in 1929-1936 during a time of social-political development. Movements for reform including the 'New Woman' and 'New Culture Movement' were launched by the political parties at the time before being stymied by the Japanese Invasion in 1937, prompting Pan’s move Paris in the same year. She lived there until her death in 1977. Visionary and enthusiastic, she served as the chairwoman of the Chinese Art Association elected by Chinese expatriate artists in France. For over the 40 years, Pan’s works have been exhibited internationally in United Kingdom, Germany, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, New York, San Francisco and Japan.
When she first moved to Paris, Pan lived in difficult conditions, relying on generous support from friends. To express gratitude, the painting Seated Nude Holding a Mirror
(Lot 20) is a gift from Pan to Dr. Louis Auguste Paul Rougier (1889-1982), a famous French philosopher and author of many influential books including Philosophy and the New Physics: An Essay on the Relativity Theory and the Theory of Quanta
published in 1919, and La mystique démocratique, ses origines, ses illusions
in 1929. Dr. Louis Rougier and his third wife, Dr. Lucy Elisabeth Friedmann (1903 - 1989), married in 1942. A post card from Pan to Dr. Louis Rougier and his wife in 1975 is evidence to their long friendship.
A post card with printed text on the upper left reads:
Buste de René Grousset (1885-1952)
par PAN YU LIN
Conservé au Musée Cernuschi, Paris
Hand written by Pan,
“bonne année pour 1975
Pan Yu Lin
Monsieur et Madame
VOLUME OF A LINE
Pan's figures has sculptural quality and with a sense of density. The body is delineated with delicate ink lines using a Chinese ink brush, marks from which are irreversible the moment the brush touches the paper’s surface. The fluidity and accuracy of line shows no hesitation, forming the seated body in natural proportion. Pan, as a graduate with honours from the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Art in Paris (1925) and Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome, Italy (1928), transplanted her training from western charcoal sketching and sculpture into the traditional eastern medium of ink. By exploring the possibilities of ink on paper, Pan innovates how female nude figures are depicted, imbuing her portrayals with a strong sense of volume and density. Chu Teh-Chun, one of Pan's contemporaries, described in Académie de la Grande Chaumière that, 'different from other artists, the sketch of model by Pan Yulaing is done by Chinese ink brush.1
Pan's unique treatment of the female nude figure, using solid curvaceous lines to define the body’s contour can be compared to the nude painted by Lin Fengmian (1900-1991), which further emphasizes Pan's pursuit of sculptural volume by ink.
The employment of sporadic ink shading on the body assists in building a sense of volume. Pan also uses sensuous, hatched strokes in different sizes throughout the background, combining the techniques of both ink and oil paintings to create a new perspective. The crisscrossing hatched strokes are crisp and short, interweaving into varying degrees of tonality that are reminiscent of Chinese cursive calligraphy, thus heightening a quality of freedom and expressiveness which is shared in the work of Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908-1992), a contemporary of Pan who applies strokes to present a space. Moreover, Pan carefully controls the density and strength of her ink application, using strong and soft applications of colour to form a contrast between dark and light tones and creating pictorial depth.
Pan's figurative works are multi-faceted, not only through their display of the physical state of their subjects, but also through presentation of the figure’s psychology. The action of the seated lady holding a mirror suggests a behavior of self-interaction, as she confidently poses with her right arm over her head.
Looking at Pan's figure is akin to entering a world of representation and the reflective 'reality' from the mirror. Pan is in fact depicting an image performed by the lady who is satisfying her own desire rather than fulfilling the needs of others.
In the image, Pan boldly presents the poised lady sans clothing, representing her self confidence and femininity. This is not only an image of a high-spirited individual, but also a symbol of empowerment and independence.
DISTORTION AND REFINEMENT
The figure’s cheeks are brushed with a beautiful rose colour while her eyes and lips are finished with detailed touches. On such a carefully drawn face, Pan intentionally withholds from including the figure’s nose. Such a unique treatment of the face can be found in other examples of Pan's works such as the two pieces collected by the Musée Cernuschi, the Asian Art Museum of Paris, and the Anhui Provincial Museum in China.
A face without nose is the choice of the artist. It is a representation of herself and can be read as a self-portrait of Pan who suffered for decades from sinusitis, a serious nose-related ailment. According to the artist's biography, the artist underwent surgeries to treat this condition regularly, the first surgery was in Shanghai, and continued in Paris. Chu Teh-Chun, one of Pan's contemporaries in Paris, once wrote, “Pan Yuliang suffered from severe sinusitis. She underwent painful surgery every six months.” Chu corresponded with his father who was a Chinese medical doctor to seek a therapy for Pan. Chu returned Paris with Chinese medicine after his holiday visit in China. While the medicine helped to alleviate some of the issues Pan was facing, it was insufficient for long term recovery and Pan had to continue to receive surgeries every year.
Such a distortion of face is similar to Modigliani's iconic elongated nose, discoloured eyes and cubist expression of exaggerated emotion. The juxtaposition of distortion and refinement represents Pan's artistic pursuit for authentic self and true emotion in which the origin of beauty is everlasting despite physical constraints and age.
Pan's residency in Paris was a period when artists of all nationalities, such as Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Romanian, Vietnamese gravitated to the French capital. This international conversation fostered an inspiring path of imaginative cross-fertilization. At that time, artists like Modigliani (Italian, 1898-1920), Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita (Japanese, 1886-1968), Sanyu (Chinese, 1901-1966), Jules Pascin (Bulgarian/ American, 1885-1930), also represented female subjects from their own perspective and methods. Recognition of Pan’s achievements are celebrated by Salon d’Automne or Salon des Indépendants.
1 Chu Teh-Chun, Hebei Education Press, China, 2009.
2 Same as above.Cataloguing & details
Gift by the artist to Dr Louis Auguste Paul Rougier (1889 – 1982) and Dr. Lucy Elisabeth Rougier (1903 - 1989)
Thence by descent to the present owner
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT AMERICAN PRIVATE COLLECTION