“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
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Song of Spring: Pan Yu-Lin in Paris – Asia Society, Hong Kong till 6th January 2019

Posted: November 27th, 2018 | No Comments »

Pan Yu-Lin

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.

20th Century Chinese Female Artist Series

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.


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).

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