PAN YULIANG (1895-1977)
A Vase of Flowers
signed in Chinese; dated '59' (upper right)
ink and colour on paper
61.5 x 49 cm. (24 1/4 x 19 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1959
one seal of the artist
Private Collection, North America

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Lot Essay

Pan Yuliang, a name that is both familiar yet foreign to the ear.
Born in 1895 in Yangzhou, Pan traveled to France for the first time in 1921 to study. Pan, along with Xu Beihong, Lin Fengmian and Sanyu, were ranked as the first-generation of French-trained artists. Yet, only minimal accurate accounts of Pan's biographical information can be found in 20th century art history. Liu Haisu, principal of Shanghai School of Fine Arts, was friends with Pan, and he wrote the preface for Art of Pan Yuliang, published in 1988. These snapshots of memories became the most reliable source of record on Pan still extant. They told of the setbacks she suffered, and her persistence in artistic pursuits (Fig. 1).
Flowers of the Motherlandwers
Despite a late start, Pan displayed an impressive gamut of artistic talent as soon as she picked up a paintbrush. She excelled in nude portraits, landscape paintings, still-lifes and sculptures. Flowers were a recurrent theme in her still-lifes, which could be divided into two types: oil-on-canvas and ink-and-colour on paper. Inspired by Henri Matisse and Fauvism, Pan's oil paintings are both colourful and stunning (Fig. 2). Her ink and colour still-life flowers are often depicted with exquisite lines and sophisticated colours. when she painted A Vase of Flowers; it was her 26th year in France, and she was This piece, A Vase of Flowers (Lot 12) bears Pan's signature style of ingeniously integrating Western and Eastern artistic elements. Pan's ink pieces, like those by Lin Fengmian, were inspired by her experience with oil painting, boasting rich and dramatic colours. The blossoms and leaves are accentuated with the layering of ink to highlight the rich exuberance of the flowers. Next, a few sparse ink strokes are applied to outline the petals. Pan employed gossamer filigree tracing lines, an ink painting technique, to depict decorative patterns on the ceramic vase. The lines are extremely exquisite. Pan's precise brush application lends spirit and Eastern grace to the vase. In A Vase of Flowers, ink colour and line density in the background blossoms outward from the centre to intensify spatial depth: the tonality gradates from lightness to darkness, and the lines grow from sparse to dense. The varied lengths and quick crisscrossed brushstroke create an effect of interlacing colour and ink, giving the piece a spatial translucence.

A myriad of new theories on abstract spatial expressions emerged in European art community and Postwar American art circle in the 1950's. Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, an abstractionist painter, built the sense of space and depth with dots, lines, and surfaces. American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock used the movement of the whole body to paint. Pan, on the other hand, infused her work with conventional Chinese elements and created the impression of space with axe-cut strokes. This character trait became particularly prominent in another series of flower pieces produced in the late 1950's. White Chrysanthemum (Fig. 3), created in the same year, features layers of crisscrossed, rapid brushwork to effect the elegant, interlacing dance of colours and ink, and an impression of spatial penetrability. In A Vase of Flowers, Sunflowers (Fig. 4) and Tulip (Fig. 5), Pan, not only employs the Western structuralised spatial perspective, but also retains spaces of 'void' unique to Chinese paintings: flowers are featured in the centre as the main attraction. Pointillism and crisscrossing techniques are used to outline the spatial dimensions of varying distances, and the brightness and darkness of light and shadows in the void. She also expertly integrated the performances of spaces, depths and light in both Eastern and Western arts to achieve her unique, artistic personality.

The chrysanthemum, one of the 'Four Gentlemen' of flowers in Chinese tradition, was Pan's favourite flower. The turmoil and uncertainties of the time never dulled her deep love for China. Pan regarded Asia-grown chrysanthemums as an outlet for her nostalgia as she declared, 'Praise to the flowers of my motherland! I will praise my beautiful homestead!' Her masterful, boneless techniques created light halos surrounding the delightful lilac and pink flowers, and the proud and erect chrysanthemums were softened with a glow. Pan was 64 when she painted A Vase of Flowers; it was her 26th year in France, and she was nearing the end of her journey. While the toughness of her character had not faded with time, her longing for China remained: all she wished for was for a chance to revisit her homeland, and embrace her grandchildren. Pan's chrysanthemum painting was metaphorical of her ancestral root. A lone, dark-coloured chrysanthemum extends downward from the mouth of the vase, and Pan's spirit melts into the flower in stillness. It is reminiscent of Ink Orchid by Zheng Sixiao in the late Song and early Yuan Dynasties: the elegant orchid, though standing upright, is without a base or root. In portraying a rootless orchid, Zheng expressed his sorrows and loss (Fig. 6). Pan's heartbreak over the inability to go home was no less painful than Zheng's bereavement.

Pan had stated that 'if a Chinese artist learns Western painting without trying to combine it with the Chinese traditional art form, or creating a unique personal style, this artist must not have a proper artistic aspiration, nor will he/she succeed in arts.' For over 60 years she devoted to her arts, and refined her artistic roots with Western aesthetics. Pan's persistence in her creative pursuits and strong love for China were transformed into a steady, singing brook, and it flows melodiously in A Vase of Flowers.

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