From 1920s to 1930s, Wang Jiyuan was an established oil painter and watercolorist in Shanghai, famous for his rich creation and teaching theory. He participated in many activities in Shanghai painting circles, actively popularizing the water-color art and canvas art. He had taken up the post as professor and dean of studies in Western Painting at the Shanghai College of Fine Arts for about twelve years. In 1920, he joined the Tien Ma Society in Shanghai, an organization to promote western style painting. In 1927, he founded Yi Yuan Painting Research Institute, and the efforts to explore and promote Wang's works have been widely praised in art circles. For example, he recommended Chen Chengbo to teach in Shanghai, and then helped Pan Yuliang organize a personal exhibition 'China's first Female solo exhibition'. From then on, the name Pan Liangyu became well-known and was engaged by Xu Beihong to be lecturer at Central University's art department. In 1940, he left China for U.S.A. during the Sino-Japanese war, and established the School of Chinese Brushwork to promote Chinese water-color painting and calligraphy. As he rarely attended Asia's regional art activities, relatively few Asian collectors were familiar with Wang Jiyuan.
A general survey of Wang Jiyuan's shows his skill in water-color at an earlier stage, holding numerous exhibitions in the thirties. At that time, Wang Jiyuan's Painting Album and Water Color Painting Copies were published, too, playing an important role in popularizing water color painting at that time, and he compiled a water color painting textbook for high school in early years - The Jiyuan's Water Color Album, which took charge of the whole field on the creation of water color paintings. Besides water color paintings, his traditional painting skills were of a tremendously high standard, excelling in traditional Chinese Paintings, taking advantage of both Chinese and western styles at that time. By the end of the 20s he already been to Europe and Japan to investigate and his own art. His oil canvas works during early stage still had the characteristics of the water color painting such as relatively thinner colors, and later his painting style was influenced by Cezanne, and he had begun to pay attention to skill and technical analysis to achieve the target object's composition. His paintings looked dense and thick, brush strokes became more smooth and more skillful too. Between 1940 and 1950 his study in the US focused his depiction of Western ladies and the painter's own self for personal portraits, painting many images and holding exhibitions. The four oil paintings of figures, Lady with Fan (Lot 921), Self-Portrait (Lot 922), Lady with Vase (Lot 933) and Lady Portrait (Lot 967), were supposed to be created during the period. Among them the self- portrait of the artist is a pretty unique piece.
Wang Jiyuan had many self-portraits (fig. 1, 2, 3), most of which depicted the artist himself in a neat suit or shirt working on paintings. Self-Portrait is a rare piece as the scene of the artist wears a plain tee, with a leisured look and the bright and piercing eyesight in a studio seldom appears in other similar type of works. It is not hard to tell the person in the painting is working at home by seeing his casual wearing and the posture of raising his left hand. The two paintings on the back wall and the landscape photo on the right cabinet reveals some details of the artist's daily life, which is obviously influenced and shaped by his enthusiasm and devotion to aesthetics beauty. As a highly sensitive life-being, the artist often get into his works and inspects and criticizes from the others' view. The self-portrait by an artist is usually not for sale, but more of an expression of his/her private heart-searching, introspection and philosophy, etc. Therefore, in the artists' self-portraits we usually learned of their reflection and question on life, history, politics and other important issues.
Vibrant and lubricant palettes are applied in the Lady with a Fan to depict the female's body. The graceful curve of a lady leaning on the desk and holding a fan in her hand is revealed in a realistic yet romantic way. A quiet, noble and elegant atmosphere is such created and the meticulous depiction on the background is also considered. Viewers will clearly feel the beautifulness conveyed by the painting. Lady with Vase represents a classy woman by composing an environment full with exquisite vase, delicately pink blossoms and paintings on the wall. The woman with her back faces us is set off as the background to highlight the rich and magnificent disposition of the front woman, who is in a black skirt with her face slightly turns to the right and hands on the vase. The bright red lip and the white skin in the Lady will give viewers a sharp visual contrast. The modest black coat, the tidy brown curls and the peaceful eyesight compose the real meaning of what we call as a "lady".
Compare with his oil paintings, the watercolor paintings by Wang Jiyuan usually appears in a distant yet vigorous feel. He often takes the flowers, fruits or still life as the painting subjects, which are the traditional taste appreciated by Chinese literati. Yellow Chrysanthemum (Lot 924) has a simple and charming composition, in which this elegant and lovely yellow chrysanthemum is vividly blossomed under the artist's extraordinary meticulous brush skill and accurate color application. We are able to further realize Wang's boldness in color application in the Flowers (Lot 925), in which he chooses various vibrant colors of titian, verdancy, brown-red and sapphire-blue. The unique combination brings the viewers not only the splendid visual experience but also a cheerful happiness.
We can find the artist's study in painting figures from the two sketches, Reclining Nude (Lot 967) and Reclining Nude (Lot 968). The deformed nude bodies convey the heritage from Henri Matisse, the leader of the Fauves in 1920s; while his simple and light sketch obviously reflect the influence of traditional Chinese art. Wang Jiyuan devoted in research the nuance of Western and Oriental art, and tried to find his own way to express them. These sketches are definitely his practices on combining the two different art traditions.