Auction | China Guardian (HK) Auctions Co., Ltd.
2019 Autumn Auctions
Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art

Pan Yuliang (1895-1977)
Lady Bathers at the Seashore

Oil on canvas

61 x 50 cm. 24 x 19 5/8 in.

2000, Ching Wan Society Millennium Exhibition, Chang Foundation Museum, Taipei, p.274
Oct 2000, Ching Wan Society Millennium Exhibition, Chang Foundation Museum, Taipei

25 Oct 1998, Christie's Taipei Autumn Auction, Lot 15
7 Apr 2014, China Guardian Hong Kong Spring Auction, Lot 418
Important Private Collection, Asia

Great Ambition Brings a Distant Land Nearer
An Artistic Masterpiece by Pan Yuliang

In 1959, a solemn scene played out in the church of the University of Paris, with the mayor of that city declaring: “Esteemed madam Pan Yuliang, I would like to congratulate you on being awarded the Thorlet Award from the University of Paris.” This was the first time a female artist received the prestigious award and on this occasion the recipient was from China.

From Paris to China – Global Fame
This was not the only time Pan Yuliang played the role of pioneer. Indeed, at the same time as she received the award, Pan's sculptures were collected by the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the first works in the museum's collection by a female Asian artist. She was also the first Chinese artist whose works were collected by the Louvre. In the four decades Pan lived in Paris, from 1937-1977, she received 21 awards and her works were shown at important salon exhibitions and national art museums on 47 occasions, as a result of which the Parisian art world dubbed her “The First-class Chinese Western Style painter”.
In China, Zhang Daqian said Pan's works represented: “the orthodox use of brushwork and ink in Chinese painting,” whereas Liu Haisu praised her as “a first generation female master” and Xu Beihong said simply she was “a heroine.” Indeed, Pan Yuliang was a sought after “star” in Chinese Republican art circles and the leading Chinese woman artist of her era.

Song of Freedom, First Woman Artist in China to Pain Nudes
When Pan Yuliang was young her parents died in quick succession and her uncle sent her to work in a brothel. It was only after Pan Zanhua, who she later married, secured her freedom that she was in a position to pursue her interest in art and artistic ideals. Based on her own natural talent Pan came first in the entrance examination to Shanghai Fine Arts School and later received public funding to study in Europe where she embarked on a life as a professional artist.
“Female nudes” were an important motif throughout Pan's artistic career. She was the first female painter in China to use nude models and the first woman artist to set an example by herself. During her time at Shanghai Fine Arts School the popularity of “nude models” was at its peak, on top of which Pan's attitude to art and life were informed by the belief of Principal Liu Haisu that students should “strive for freedom, progress and innovation.” After arriving in France to continue her studies, Pan finally had a stage on which she was able to freely express herself.

Lady Bathers at the Seashore: A Unique Approach to Female Nudes
In 1923, Pan Yuliang passed the entrance exam to École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts where she studied under Pascal Jean Dagnan-Bouveret. Unlike her schoolmate Xu Beihong, Pan did not take the path of realist classicism choosing instead to follow the modernism of the Impressionist School. In the 1940s, Pan organically combined the “stylistic beauty” depicted by the Impressionists with the vital and free moving “line beauty” of Chinese painting. Indeed, this dialogue between Eastern and Western cultures and art histories remained an integral element in her classic works and with two global art tours in 1953 and 1959 Pan Yuliang became a world famous artist.

The work Lady Bathers at the Seashore on sale at the autumn auction is an excellent example of Pan's classical “female nudes” motif and comes from a renowned series of the same name in which the artist depicts the physical aesthetic of Eastern and Western women. This series includes 17 oil paintings, many of which are small rough sketches, with only seven works measuring 50cmx50cm or larger, five of which are part of the collection of Anhui Art Museum. In other words, Lady Bathers at the Seashore is one of only two works to reach the market and as such extremely rare, making this event a once in a lifetime chance for collectors. The painting was owned by a senior collector from the “Ching Wan Society Collection” and featured in the society's albums for many years, an example of its aesthetic value and importance as a collectible work of art.

Heartfelt Scenes in Eastern and Western Art History
In Lady Bathers at the Seashore, two Asian women are seen bathing at the seaside. Their graceful postures and full figures are on full display, in praise of female vigor and vitality. One cannot help but think of Baroque master Peter Paul Rubens' The Three Graces from the 17th Century. However, the many years of academic art training received by Pan Yuliang enabled her to combine the body type associated with classical Western beauty and the facial features of Asian women, while creating the solemnity of a classical painting. In the distance, we can see a woman casually swimming, making this a “painting of three beauties” imbued with worldly appeal.

Pan Yuliang very much focuses on the arrangement of color, composition and physical posture, with the precise presentation of the nudes a product of much consideration. Later, after encountering the Impressionist School, Pan started to focus more on reflecting modernism in her expressive forms. In Lady Bathers at the Seashore the physical proportions are slightly exaggerated, creating a clear contrast between the thickset posteriors and thighs of the women and their more delicate arms and necks, which brings to mind the line drawings of female nudes by Sanyu, who was in Paris at the same time as Pan. The elongated body images can be traced back to neoclassicist painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and one of the most transcendent depictions of the female form in Western art history in The Valpinçon Bather. The simple and solid lines depict the elegant curve of the women's backs in a way that combines the rich beauty of Renoir with the sketched lines and profile compositions of Degas. The exaggerated curves of the woman on the left of the work is an iconic feature Pan often used when depicting the human body that borrows from the expressive structure of Western modernism. The arrangement of the figures in also represents a salute to Paul Gaugain's classic painting Tahitian Women Bathing, and as such is an extension of the dialogue between Pan Yuliang and the masters of Western art history through her paintings.

Transcendent Eastern Lines
Compared to the softness of Renoir, Pan is more interested in creating a three-dimensional feel that combines the color expressionism of Western oil painting with the undulating line rhythm of Eastern painting, to showcase an atmosphere of grace, poise and health. Moreover, after gaining a better understanding of the genre, Pan Yuliang discovered that Western modernism originated in the East which piqued her interest in line drawing brushwork. This gradually evolved into her distinctive fine “depiction” strokes that perfectly highlight the hard-soft beauty of Asian women. Indeed, the edges of the women's bodies in Lady Bathers at the Seashore are presented in an approximation of flowing fine ink lines, with changes in the lines substituting for the role played by light, shade and color in shaping bodies in Western art. In this way, Pan shapes figures using distinctive Chinese calligraphic lines, complemented by a light blue hue that appears almost filled in. This approach, together with the way in which the blue sea and sky dissolve into an elegant and subtle background, gives voice to a beauty that is clearly imbued with Eastern inner meaning.

In the same way that Gaugain transformed the female nude into a powerful symbol of freedom, choosing a wild Garden of Eden ahead of the complexity of civilization, Lady Bathers at the Seashore is a spiritual representation of the inner purity of Pan Yuliang. Informed by her independence of character, the female nudes in this work radiate a life essence that is forever pure and unsullied.

Price estimate:
HKD: 8,000,000 – 15,000,000
USD: 1,020,000 – 1,912,500

Auction Result:
HKD: 17,400,000



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