Pan returned to China in 1928 and was hired to work at the Shanghai Art Academy, becoming their first ever Chinese female tutor, and travelled to Tokyo to hold a solo exhibition at Shiseido, Ginza. Her level of association with the Western art world at the time was unmatched by any Asian female artist; and even within the relatively less conservative domain of the West, female artists were still few and far between. Pan’s courage, talent and experiences can be considered no less inspirational than those her modern art female contemporaries from the West, such as Berth Morisot, Marie Cassatt, Suzanna Valadon and Marie Laurecin.
Academically, Pan received critical acclaim from both the East and West. As early as the 1950s, Pan held a solo exhibition at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, London, and her works were shown frequently at Musée Cernuschi, Paris. They were considered as being of such significance that the French Customs Office prohibited the shipment of her works to overseas destinations. Pan and Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita became the only two Asian artists featured in Jean-Claude Bernard’s documentary Chez ceux du Montparnasse, and, thereafter, Pan received numerous accolades and recognition from Académie Française and University of Paris. Well into the 21st Century, Pan’s popularity was far from dwindling; if anything, her influence was ever more prevalent with advancements in the female social status. In popular Chinese culture, Pan’s legendary story has been adapted into multiple television series and feature films with leading actresses such as Gong Li and Michelle Reiss playing the artist. New York author Jennifer Cody Epstein spent 10 years of research in preparation for her English-language novel The Painter from Shanghai, based on Pan’s life. Pan’s oeuvre was rather prolific, yet, after her death, most of her works were transported back to China and acquired into the collections of National Art Museum of China, Beijing, and Anhui Museum. As such, there exists only very few works in the market for public viewing. Only in June 2015, when Fan Di An published the catalogue rasionné Twentieth Century Chinese Art: The Complete Works of Pan Yuliang, did the public have access to the full documentation of the artist’s works. Last year, in 2018, Shenzhen Museum hosted a solo exhibition of Pan’s works, which was immediately followed by the major presentation Song of Spring – Pan Yuliang in Paris at Asia Society Hong Kong Center. Both exhibitions were successful in attracting collector interest and renewed curiosity in the artist’s life and works.
The resurgence of interest in Pan’s oeuvre has been reflected in recent prices achieved for her works. Sotheby’s Spring Modern Art Evening Sale saw Baigneuse, a painting only 50 by 65cm, sell for HK$27,684,080, at four times its high estimate. This season’s Evening Sale presents Bouquet de churysanthemes roses (Lot 1021) measuring 45 by 55cm; a painting which first belonged to the collection of Pan’s old friend, Mrs. Aznif Hodaghian. The pair met in France after the Second World War, where Mrs. Hodaghian acquired the piece from Pan and kept it well conserved for decades, even maintaining the work in its original hand-carved wooden frame. Pan was partial to chrysanthemums for its perceived elegance and uniqueness. An embodiment of her circumstances, Pan shared her fondness for chrysanthemums with her husband Pan Zanhua. When both were together in Shanghai, the couple’s garden was full of chrysanthemums. As such, in the days of her wanderings overseas, the subject of the chrysanthemum became imbued with emotions of longing for her family and homesickness; so much so that she inscribed into her notes Wen Yiduo’s poem In memory of Chrysanthemums, which may be said to be the inspiration for this painting. In the Anhui Museum collection can be found a series of ink and colour on paper works which may represent earlier renderings of the present Bouquet de churysanthemes roses in both dimensions and the subject matter of vase and flowers; and yet, the present oil on canvas seems to better depict the vividness of the subject matter, breathing life into the piece. In 1944, not only was China faced with military conflict of the Second Sino-Japanese War, but in France, Parisians were confronted with German Nazi occupation. At one point driven out of her own studio by the German troops, trying times and experiences like these only further inspired the artist’s resilience and fearlessness, emotions which permeate the present work.
Pan’s style of oil painting is reflective of her training received in Paris and Rome, and her skilled use of Western media is adept in her portrayal of form and colour. Furthermore, when in Paris from the 1930s, the artist settled in Montparnasse, thus developing a style influenced by the Impressionist and Parisian schools of painting. Her style of colour use and brushstrokes evidences inspiration from the works of Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Marie Laurencin, creating works that are at once full of life and exuberant, thoughtful and reflective. Pan’s chrysanthemums in vases are favoured by collectors for they flourish gracefully and are imbued with the meaning of beauty and goodness. Her ink and colour on paper titled “Chrysanthemums in a Green Vase” sold for HK$17,440,000 in Sotheby's Hong Kong 40th Anniversary Evening Sale in 2013, establishing a new artist record. Offered at Sotheby’s Modern Art Evening Sale this season, Bouquet de churysanthemes roses can be said to ricochet “Chrysanthemums in a Green Vase” in both form and disposition to more thoroughly epitomize Pan’s manifestations expressed through the language of flowers.
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