Female empowerment and equality in modern societies has been a much debated topic dating back over a century. While the diverse achievements of female talents across different fields have gained better light in recent years, female artists remain an under-represented and under-appreciated segment in many societies and even more so across Chinese communities.
Yet the emergence of female artists in 20th century China was a testament to both the country’s social progress and the various redefinitions of modernity that were adopted in a historical context complicated by wars and disasters. Female agency in society was among the issues argued and promoted in the mass media of the time and retains lasting ideological power today. In scholastic studies and exhibitions, however, attention has been focused on modern Chinese male artists. Exhibitions featuring the creative attainments and influences of their female counterparts from the period are few and far between, and rarely in monographic presentations.
Asia Society Hong Kong Center’s 20th Century Chinese Female Artists Exhibition Series (“the Series”), the first of its kind in Hong Kong, aims to reclaim the story of female artists. By providing local Hong Kong audiences with important examples of their artistic accomplishments, we hope to honor them with the public recognition they deserve for their contribution to the making of modern China.
From a wider community context, the Series fits into the discourse on female empowerment and equality in today’s Hong Kong, where research indicates that women continue to face challenges in male-dominated industries as well as gender stereotypes in the media and the workplace. Through education programs for children, students, families, and the general public, we will highlight achievements of women in various industries while connecting to the lives and careers of the unique female artists presented in the Series.
The second exhibition in the Series focuses on the life and works of Pan Yu-Lin, and is made possible by The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust. It also includes the “Jockey Club Art Education and Female Empowerment Series” which are educational talks and activities targeting participation from the local community.
Song of Spring: Pan Yu-Lin in Paris is sponsored exclusively by The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust, and represents the second instalment in Asia Society Hong Kong Center’s 20th Century Chinese Female Artist Series.
Belonging to the first generation of Chinese students to study fine arts in France, Pan Yu-Lin (aka Pan Yuliang, 1895-1977) was a pioneer in modernizing Chinese art with western painting at a time when it was rare for women to achieve independent careers as professional artists. Pan was distinguished for her individual style that synthesized eastern and western sensibilities as well as her academic contributions as one of the first female art professors in modern China. Unlike most of her compatriots who built their careers back home after overseas education, Pan came to live and develop her individual style in the competitive Parisian art world until her death.
This exhibition explores Pan’s unique trajectory and significance to modern Chinese art history by focusing on her second period in France, with over sixty works across four chambers dedicated to the themes of portraiture, nudes, cityscape and landscape, and dance figure painting, alongside archival materials and videos that delve into a comprehensive look at the art world of Pan Yu-Lin.
Important note: Nudity is depicted in this exhibition and parental guidance is recommended for younger viewers. Please consult our exhibition educational materials here, or send your enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chamber 1 – A Studio in Montparnasse
This chamber features Pan Yu-Lin's studio work during the 1940s shortly after she returned to Paris. Pan lived in the artistic hub of Montparnasse, where she frequently attended life drawing sessions in the Academy of the Grande Chaumière. There, she began to break away from the rules of academic painting to develop her own style. While Pan created many interesting group portraits in the open studios, it was in her private home studio that she created her most significant self-portraits. They reveal her unique identity as a cross-culture modern woman and independent artist. Highlights in this chamber include Self-Portrait in Red (c. 1940), Portrait of Friendship (1940) and A Doll (1942).
Chamber 2 – The Challenge of the Nude
The chamber features Pan Yu-Lin’s works in the nude genre. Life drawing was the cornerstone of her Western fine art training, and she excelled in academic figure drawing as a student in the 1920s. After she returned to Paris, she started to break away from academic tradition and experimented with vibrant nudes inspired by the work of Heri Matisse (1869-1954). In the 1950s, she began painting nudes in ink and color on paper. She combined the fluid lines of Chinese calligraphy with Western pointillist coloring to capture the female body naturalistically, and developed a unique style embracing the East and the West. Highlights in this chamber include A Woman Lying on Her Side (1938), Sweet Dreams (1940), and Women Peeping at the Window (1968).
Chamber 3 – The Invisible City
This chamber features Pan’s paintings of Parisian parks, gardens and countryside. Although she lived in Paris from 1937 until 1977, Pan rarely painted urban scenery. Instead, she preferred to capture the interaction between humans and nature. Hence, her landscapes are filled with animals or groups of figures immersed in daily leisure activities. Highlights in this chamber include Children Playing (undated), Street Scene (undated) and sketches on eight separate canvases that provide a glimpse of Pan Yu-Lin's most impressive group portrait: My Friends Talking About Painting (1943), which is unfortunately lost today.
Chamber 4 – Song of Spring
This chamber traces the origin of the theme, “Song of Spring,” in Pan’s work with her dance figure paintings. Ever since the 1920s, Pan was inspired by her study of European art to paint groups of female nudes in nature evoking the “Golden Age” theme popular since Western antiquity. In the 1950s, she started to inject this theme with traditional Chinese elements and experiment with different compositions and figures to create her own motif of dancers. Her innovations present a personal vision of the dynamic female body combining Eastern and Western aesthetic to express the exuberant beauty of spring. Highlights in this chamber include
Annex – Artist Chronology
The annex features Pan Yu-Lin’s important print and bust self-portraits; of which, the sculpture is probably one of her last self-portraits. An artist chronology, as well as two rare video recordings of Pan’s Paris studio and demonstration of Tai Chi are also on view.
Born in Yangzhou to humble origins, Pan came of age when China underwent rapid modernization influenced by western science and democracy. During the radical 1919 May Fourth Movement, co-ed higher education was sanctioned and Pan seized the chance to enter the Shanghai Art Academy, thereafter traveled to France in 1921 on government scholarship to study fine arts.
She spent almost a decade studying drawing, painting, and sculpture between Lyon, Paris, and Rome. The cornerstone of her western training was life drawing; she excelled at figure painting, which foreshadowed her signature mature works of female nudes. Yet, it was not so long ago that life drawing was still banned from women, as it was considered morally improper. Art historian Linda Nochlin identifies this restriction as a significant obstacle to women’s artistic potential, because the highest forms of painting all require mastery of painting the human figure. The taboo of life drawing in China continued through to the 1930s and Pan constantly had to confront and overcome the contentious emancipation of the female body in her art-making.
In search of creative breathing space, Pan returned to Montparnasse, Paris in 1937 to find new inspiration for her own visual language. The many striking portraits she completed in this period opens the exhibition. In western art history, portraiture had historically asserted the status of the sitter. The fact that Pan, a Chinese woman artist, often depicted herself at the easel is an assertion of her individual identity and the appropriation of western art modality for new expression in modern Chinese art.
Pan’s iconic works of the nude continue the exhibition. Depicted in sketches, ink and color, and oil, Pan’s female nudes reveal how she could capture natural expression of the body involved in various activities, with her subjects often oblivious to our gaze, completely at ease in their physicality. Many of Pan’s nudes combine the fluid lines of Chinese calligraphy with western pointillist approach to color, creating a unique modern aesthetic that bridges eastern and western sensibilities. Pan also often represented women of color, speaking to her experience as an émigré artist in France. The exhibition concludes with Pan’s humanistic vision in a series of dancing women that spotlight free expression of the female body in idyllic visions, and reveal her ability to translate the vitality of three-dimensional human body on canvas.
This first-ever solo exhibition of Pan Yu-Lin in Hong Kong brings treasured works, many grade one cultural relics, from the Anhui Museum to local audience in a rare presentation. The life and art of Pan Yu-Lin is invaluable for learning about the impact of Western painting on modern Chinese art and the significance of revolutionizing culture in the making of modern China. Pan’s embodiment of the learned and independent new Republican woman also speaks to the greater history of Chinese female emancipation and sheds light on contemporary gender discourses that are increasingly urgent today.
This exhibition is guest curated by Dr. Eric Lefebvre, Director of Cernuschi Museum in Paris, with Joyce Hei-ting Wong as assistant curator.
Pan Yu-Lin (1895-1977) belonged to the first generation of Chinese students to study fine arts in France. She was a pioneer in modernizing Chinese art with western painting at a time when it was rare for women to achieve independent careers as professional artists.
She studied in Europe for nearly eight years between Lyon, Paris, and Rome. At the National School of Fine Arts in Paris, Pan was the first Asian student to win a scholarship to study at Accademia del Belle Arti di Roma, where she studied sculpture and painting. She returned to China in 1928 and was immediately hired by the Shanghai Art Academy, her alma mater, as the head of western painting—the first woman to assume such a high academic position. She also taught at the Nanjing Central University Fine Art Department from 1931 onwards, and remained as a researcher and tutor at the Shanghai Art Academy’s painting research institute Yiyuan. Throughout her decade in China, she held four solo exhibitions and established various art societies. In 1937, she traveled to Paris again in search for her independent visual language.
Pan Yu-Lin remained in Paris until her death. Throughout her relocation to France, her works were widely exhibited in the salon circuit. Pan was the first Chinese artist to be collected by the City of Paris and followed by the National Museum of Modern Art in 1955. She won numerous awards overseas throughout her career, with her proudest achievement being the 1959 Thorlet award from the University of Paris granted by the municipal government.
Dr. Eric Lefebvre is the Director of the Musée Cernuschi, the Museum of Asian Arts in Paris. Lefebvre studied at INALCO (National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations) and was the curator of Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy at the Musée Guimet (MNAAG) in Paris from 2013 to 2015. Between 2003 and 2013, he was the curator of Chinese collections at the Musée Cernuschi for ten years, in which he organized an array of exhibitions including, most recent Chinese Artists in Paris, from Lin Fengmian to Zao Wou-ki (Paris, 2011) and The Shanghai School of Painting (Paris, 2013). Lefebvre holds a doctorate in art history from Sorbonne University, with his dissertation focusing on Ruan Yuan’s collections as example of the transmission of cultural heritage in pre-modern China. His main research focus is on the history of collections of Chinese art in late imperial China and modern Europe. Between 2002 and 2014, he was an associate lecturer at the Sorbonne University and École du Louvre, where he has curated numerous exhibitions devoted to Chinese art, particularly paintings in France and abroad.
Joyce Hei-ting Wong is a Curator at Chantal Miller Gallery, Asia Society Hong Kong Center. She holds a BA from the University of Hong Kong, double majoring in English Literature and Fine Art (2015). Exhibitions she has worked on include Life is Only One: Yoshitomo Nara (2015); Bat Cave: Treasures of the Day and Creatures of the Night (2015), Shen Wei: Dance Strokes (2016), Shahzia Sikander: Apparatus of Power (2016), Roaring Guardians: The Mari-Cha Lion with Asian Traditional and Contemporary Art (2017), Breathing Space: Contemporary Art from Hong Kong (2017). Most recently, she assisted the inauguration of ASHK’s 20th Century Chinese Female Artist Series with Painting Her Way: The Ink Art of Fang Zhaoling (2017) curated by Kuiyi Shen and Julia F. Andrews, the first instalment preceding Song of Spring: Pan Yu-Lin in Paris.
“Expressing Self – Inspired by Pan Yu-Lin”
To encourage participation in art creation and promote the appreciation of art, Asia Society Hong Kong Center invites all visitors to give in to their imaginations and engage in a dialogue with Pan Yu-Lin’s work and her world through this open art competition and exhibition. Winning and selected works will be exhibited in the Chantal Miller Gallery.
Themes of the entry: Expressing Self – Inspired by Pan Yu-Lin
Pan Yu-Lin’s work is an artistic expression of her feelings and a visual representation of her true self. She persists in “fusing East and West to become one” in her artistic pursuits. Throughout her long lifetime, Pan produces over five thousands of artworks, comprising but not limited to oil paintings, ink wash paintings, and drawings. She mainly projects herself and her feelings into her plenty of portraits and self-portraits. Through her audacious style and exquisite artworks, Pan also makes us think about the questions of expressing self by art.
Do you think art is conducive to knowing and depicting self? Does Pan’s work inspire you and give you courage? Create a drawing or a painting to express your true self, as inspired by Pan. The art work can be of any themes or styles inspired by Pan Yu-Lin’s art.
A) Children division: Aged 10 or under
B) Youth division: Aged 11 - 17
C) Open division: Aged 18 or above
September 12, 2018 to 12:00pm (HKT) January 6, 2019
Please go to https://goo.gl/forms/fsmPLJNwatXvJ4iJ3 for entry form, artwork digital image(s) and artist statement submission. Applicants are required to keep the original works for further exhibition. Finalists will be contacted individually via email by January 11, 2019.
All submissions will be judged based on three criteria:
Up to 10 winners will be selected in each division. Winners in each division will receive:
|Certificate of Excellence (up to 7 per division)||
All winners and finalists will receive a Certificate of Excellence, and their art works showcased at an exhibition at Asia Society Hong Kong Center’s Chantal Miller Gallery in January 2019, along with invitation to the awards ceremony.
Award Ceremony and Exhibition Opening: January 19, 2019
Expressing-Self: Art Competition Exhibition
Exhibition Period: January 19-27, 2019