Pang Xunchin was born in the early 20th century and studied in France early in life. On his return to China in 1932, he founded the Storm Art Society in Shanghai with artists such as Guan Lilang, Sanyu, and Ni Yide, beginning the modernist painting movement in China. For six years, the modern painting exhibitions they held had a startling impact on the conservative Chinese art world of the time. The Storm Art Society nurtured the earliest vanguard of modernist pioneers in China, and Pang Xunchin, as one of them, was often a leader and innovator. His painting style, while retaining the colour and brushwork of Western oil painting, also conveyed a Chinese feel and displayed some of the decorative aspects of the traditional, colourful gong bi (detailed realist) style.
Between 1972 and 1979, Pang completed a series of floral-themed still lifes in oil, seemingly focusing all his thought and energy, during that short period of time, on the still life genre. He studied the branching patterns of various plants and flowers, their structures, and what gave them their particular appeal. In part, he sought to assuage his feelings over the loss of his wife, while also expressing his deeper thoughts through paintings of flowers and plants. Pang's Azaleas (Lot 28), dating from 1979, is rich in elements reflecting Pang's early specialty in design and decorative arts, and while the composition of this cluster of flowers appears to have been freely and spontaneously painted, many details still reveal the painstaking attention and care given to its arrangement.
Looking closely at Pang Xunchin's Azaleas, we see first how, with Pang's casually assured brushwork, the densely bunched flowers appear like lightly fluttering butterflies, their scent almost real enough to attract dancing butterflies around them. Azaleas exudes a spring-like feeling, yet also hints at a deep sense of longing. Pang depicts these closely bunched blossoms in shades of pink, peach-red, and mauve, the depths of these different shades producing a composition with extra layering and adding a lively, bouncy energy. Of note is the fact that the composition retains its integrity even if we restrict it to blooms of only one shade; Peng's balanced but varied distribution is part of his ingenuity in creating a rich visual experience for the viewer. And despite its use of the oil medium, Pang's style in Azaleas still evokes aspects of the Eastern scholar-painter tradition. He paints his flower stems in a mostly symbolic manner, their number too few to support the rich cluster of blooms, but for that reason giving way and granting visual prominence to the azaleas. Painting only a slight reflection of the flower vase also shows Pang Xunchin abandoning depictions of space or realistic reflections of light and shadow, and instead, approaching his subject as closely as possible and painting from the heart.
The beauty of this Pang Xunchin work recalls the classicism of the French painter Ingres, as well as the poetic quality of the French landscape painter Corot. But Azaleas is also informed by the culture of the East, displaying the beauty of line found in ink-wash painting, as flowing and elegant as a long fall of hair and with its own special charm and appeal. The number of extant oils by Pang Xunchin is unfortunately very small, as many were lost or destroyed in the historical turmoil of earlier eras, while the greater number of his floral-themed works are already in the collections of the National Art Museum of China and the Jiangsu Provincial Art Museum. Azaleas is thus valuable as one of the few extant floral still lifes by Pang Xunchin.