Pan Yuliang

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Pan Yuliang(潘玉良), born Zhang Yuliang (張玉良, 1895–1977), was an award-winning Chinese painter, renowned as the first woman in the country to paint in the Western style. She had studied in Shanghai and Paris. Because her modernist works caused controversy and drew severe criticism in China during the 1930s, Pan returned to Paris in 1937 to live and work for the next 40 years. She taught at the École des Beaux Arts, won several awards for her work, had exhibits internationally in Europe, the United States and Japan, and was collected by major institutions. In 1985 after her death, much of her work was transported to China, collected by the National Art Museum in the capital of Beijing. Her life as an artist has been portrayed in novels and film in China and the United States.


Early life and education[edit]

Zhang Yuliang was born in 1895 in Jiangsu Province, China. After the death of her parents when she was 14, she was sold by her uncle to a brothel, where she was raised to become a prostitute. She attracted the attention of Pan Zanhua,[1] a wealthy customs official, who bought her freedom. He married her as his second wife and helped with her education; she adopted his name as her surname.[1]

They moved to Shanghai, where she passed the exams to enter the Shanghai Art School in 1920,[2] where she studied painting with Wang Jiyuan. After graduating from there, she went to Lyon and Paris for further study, sponsored by Pan Zanhua. In 1925, she won a scholarship to study at the Roman Royal Art Academy in Italy.[1]


In 1926, Pan Yuliang won the Gold Prize for her works at the Roman International Art Exhibition. In 1929, while she was still in Rome, Liu Haisu invited her to teach at the Shanghai Art School and she returned to China. She had a solo exhibit in Shanghai, where she was honored as the first Chinese female artist to paint in Western style. She was also invited to be a professor of the Art Department of the National Central University in Nanjing. She gave five solo exhibitions in China from 1929 to 1936, but her work was severely criticized during this period by government officials and conservative critics - in part because she featured paintings of nudes.[1]

Pan left Shanghai for France in 1937, and settled in Paris.[3] There she won some acclaim. After moving to France to pursue her work, Pan joined the faculty of the École des Beaux Arts.

She worked and lived in Paris for the next 40 years. Chinese expatriate artists in France elected her the chairman of the Chinese Art Association. Her works were exhibited internationally, especially in the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, Japan, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and Greece.

Pan died in 1977 and was buried in the Montparnasse Cemetery of Paris.

In 1985, many of her works were returned to her native country, where they are held by the National Art Gallery in Beijing and the Anhui Provincial Museum in Hefei.

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • 1926, her works won the Gold Prize at the Roman International Art Exhibition.
  • 1959, she won the Paris Gold Prize and the Belgium Silver Prize.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Her story is loosely told in the novel Hua Hun (A Soul Haunted by Painting) (1984) by Shih Nan. It was adapted as the Chinese film by the same name, which was released in 1994 starring the actress Gong Li as the artist.

Marie Laure de Shazer, specialized in Chinese language, wrote a book about Pan Yuliang, "Pan Yu Liang, La Manet de Shanghai". She depicted how Pan Yuliang became a great painter like Manet in France. Her novel is based on the life of Pan Yuliang in France and in China.

  • Her life story is re-enacted in the 2004 TVB Drama "Painting Soul" where her role was played by Michelle Reis.


  1. ^ a b c d "Pan Yuliang's painting of bathing nudity", China Daily, 11 Nov 2006, accessed 1 January 2008
  2. ^ Zheng, Jane (2007). "The Shanghai Fine Arts College: Art Education and Modern Women Artists in the 1920s and 1930s". Modern Chinese Literature and Culture 19 (1): 206. 
  3. ^ Sullivan, Michael Art and Artists of Twentieth Century China ISBN 978-0-520-07556-6 p. 38

External links[edit]