Pan YULIANG — one of the first female graduates of the Shanghai Art Academy

HerArt Podcast
5 min readJun 15, 2020

Disclaimer: The information provided in this episode comes from multiple sources and is not my scientific studies or discoveries. All authors and sources are credited at the end of this article. Thank you!

Welcome to HerArt podcast, a project for art lovers, especially art created by women. In our third episode, we will talk about Pan YULIAN —one of the first female graduates of the Shanghai Art Academy. My name is Nata Andreev and I am going to tell you seven curious facts that you didn’t know about the artist that overcame the obstacles faced by modern women by demonstrating a strong commitment to her chosen path which resulted in outstanding achievements.

Curious Fact #1

Pan’s parents died very early so she has been entrusted to an uncle who sold her to a brothel in Wuhu at age 14. There she met a rich official, who married her as his second wife. After she began to learn painting from a neighbor, her work came to the attention of Liu Haisu, a friend of her husband and director of the Shanghai School of Painting, renowned for its avant-gardism and teaching of western techniques, especially drawing from life.

Curious Fact #2

In 1918 she became the first woman to join the institution, from which she graduated at 26. For her teachers, French impressionism had a deep appeal; Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse and Georges Seurat embodied a compositional language that seemed to refute Chinese artistic traditions. Her specific interest in nudes — a taboo subject in China at the time — led her to carry out her studies at public bathhouses, for which she was met with hostility. She also used herself as a nude model, going against prevailing conventions and conservatism.

Curious Fact #3

Encouraged by her husband, Pan studied art in Shanghai and went to France and Rome for higher art education. After achieving great success and recognition in Europe as an artist, she came back to China to teach art at China’s famous art schools. Due to the socio-political situation in China that did not support the idea of a woman, who had been a former sex worker, teaching life drawing, Pan had to leave for France where she lived till the end of her life, constantly missing her homeland.

“Lady Bathers at the Seashore 海邊浴女” by Pan Yuliang, oil on canvas

Curious Fact #4

Pan chose the female nude as the subject of most of her paintings to depict the vitality, healthy beauty, and maternity of women. She was a master of Expressionism and Realism, and skillful at combining traditional Chinese art style with Western art to create a unique style. Inspired by Chinese Calligraphy, Pan used bold and curved lines to define her figures. During that time nude figure paintings were viewed as vulgar and cheap, and consequently, Pan was criticized by the Chinese for painting and exhibiting her nudes in the conservative Chinese society. Her self-portraits are meant to be viewed as the artist’s expression of her inner feelings, depicting her sorrow, her desire for a family, and her loneliness. Of the 4,000 paintings Pan left behind, more than half are nudes of non-white women. As scholar Phyllis Teo observes, in Western art, white women are presented as the idealization of beauty and femininity, while the bodies of non-white women have persistently been used to signify what the art historian Stephen F. Eisenman describes as intellectual, physical and moral depravity, morbidity and inferiority’

Curious Fact #5

The social net­work of Pan Yuliang’s emerging career as a mod­ernist artist and art edu­cator in the Republican period res­onated with larger sociopo­lit­ical move­ments at that time: from the cul­tural con­struct of “New Woman” and the New Culture Movement to the rev­o­lu­tion and reform launched by the Nationalist Party and early Communists, and the rise of modern nation­alism in China; from the end of the First World War to the Japanese inva­sion in 1937. While many male peers and acquain­tances advo­cated their social, polit­ical and cul­tural visions in the public and made their way into the main­stream his­tory, Pan Yuliang’s own accounts related to major deci­sions on changes in her life and her artistic moti­va­tion were nowhere to be found.

“Lady in blue dress” created by Pan Yuliang, in 1942, oil on canvas

Curious Fact #6

Pan lived 42 years in China (mostly Shanghai) and 40 in Paris. A chronology compiled by her family includes entries on her repeated hopes to repatriate — 1949, 1951, 1954, 1956, 1965, 1973, 1976 — and notes that, in 1956, her departure was delayed because ‘French authorities would not let her take her works’. She was 78 when severely ill, she was said to be desolate with homesickness. The chronology lists ceaseless exhibitions, commissions, recognition, illnesses, and disappointments.

Curious Fact #7

Pan died in 1977 and is buried at Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. She is absent from almost all narratives of the Parisian artistic circles in which she lived, even as she received honors from them during her lifetime. Teo notes that her remaining works in France are ‘mostly possessed by institutions that either take a special interest in Asian artifacts or are pieces of interest only to collectors’. Recent retrospectives of her work and rising auction prices may change the way we see Pan Yuliang.

“Nudes and Masks” created by Pan Yuliang in 1956, ink and color on paper

Thank you so much for listening to the sixth episode of season three, of HerArt podcast — a project for art lovers, especially art created by women. If you want to follow more of what I do, find me on Facebook and Instagram. And don’t forget to tune in next month, when I am going to tell you about Toyin Ojih ODUTOLA — the artist who reimagines black experience. This is the fourth episode I am recording during COVID-19. I hope everyone is safe and takes care of themselves and their loved ones. And don’t forget BLACK LIVES MATTER!


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HerArt Podcast

-a project for art lovers, especially art created by women-A bilingual podcast (Ro and Eng) about female creators that changed the world