Self Portrait by Edgar Degas, c.1863
Self-portrait sketching at a table, 1916, Winifred Knights
Julius Exner – Self-Portrait, the Artist’s Last Work, 1910
Pan Yuliang (1895-1977)
Although I have written a short paragraph or two on this amazing woman, in my ‘Some Awesome Female Avant-Garde Artists’ post, I have been wanting to do a longer post to describe Pan Yuliang’s life a little more in detail. Born in the late 1800’s in Yangzhou, Pan Yuliang was sold to a brothel by her uncle, after being orphaned at the age of 14. While forced to work as a prostitute, she met Pan Zanhua. Pan Zanhua became infatuated with her. He bought her freedom and she became his second wife.
With the meeting of her new husband, Pan Yuliang’s new life began. She enrolled into the Shanghai Art School in 1920. She also studied and lived in other countries such as Italy and France, winning numerous prizes for her talent. The French audience was particularly enamoured with her avant-garde works. China, on the other hand, had very differing and controversial views on the world of art – especially that of female artists who were former prostitutes. Pan Yuliang is actually regarded as the first Chinese female artist to paint in Western style. On the spectrum of people who regarded her work – one side was fascinated by such a modern type of work being done by a Chinese artist, while on the other – particularly government officials – did not regard it as art and aimed to destroy any respect she gathered by drawing attention to her old profession. One incident even included someone actively ruining one of her works, tearing it to pieces, and noting “This is a prostitute’s carol to a whoremonger.” As a result, Pan Yuliang understandably spent most of her career in France.
As for Pan Yuliang’s works, she aimed to combine “Chinese and western paintings into one.” While she worked in inks, sculpture, and other mediums, her oil works are my personal favourite. Because of her personal life, the nudes she received so much hate for has been debated for their origin. Did they relate to her work as a prostitute? Was it a Western influence, or simply painting the beauty of the female form? Or was it her way of making a political statement to the oppression of women in her country? Whatever way you take it, her pieces are lovely to admire and I believe she certainly achieved her desired Chinese-Western hybrid style.
Pan Yuliang died in 1977 and was buried in Paris. Many of her works were sent to China some time after her death. Her pieces can be found in many museums, most notably France and China (such as China National Museum of Fine Arts and China Anhui Museum). Her life has been depicted in books, tv shows, and a movie, such as Jennifer Cody Epstein’s fictional book: ‘The Painter from Shanghai.’ The 1994 movie called ‘A Soul Haunted by Painting’ (Hua hun) is also available on Youtube if anyone is interested.
Edvard Munch – Self-Portrait with a Bottle of Wine, 1906