Pan Yu-liang is the first renowned international female artist and sculptor in modern China's arts scene to study in Paris, Rome who was also one of the pioneers integrating Eastern and Western painting together thus developing a new scene in the arts. I n the beginning of last century, Chinese artists who managed to practice and study arts overseas could be counted by the fingers, and what more of a woman who was sold to the brothel and hails from a traditional society, who could still paint a glorious life of arts albeit living in such suppressing times. Both her life experiences and process of practicing the arts is extremely dramatic and this often leads to Chinese film and drama serials casting her story on screen one after another.
The forms of her compositions throughout her career included oil, water color, print, sketching and sculpture. These are often selected for the Salon and even in places like Europe and America; her works have participated in various arts exhibition, thus gaining honorable accolades from countries such as France, Belgium and Italy. In 1954, the detail of her artistic career was filmed into a documentary known as Les Montparnos by a French movie company. Of the few artists featured from the Montparnos zone, she was the only Asian artist selected. A French art periodical once made this comment, "The Musée national d'Art moderne, Musée Cernuschi and Musée d'Art Moderne de la de la ville de Paris are extremely proud to be in possession of the most successful compositions that she has created."
The biography of Pan Yu-liang was also recorded in "Dictionnaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs et graveurs" and French "Dictionnaire de la peinture Larousse" and her excellent career records is definitely comparable to any of the male artists who also went overseas.
The creative techniques and views that Pan Yu-liang has adopted reflect the impact from both Impressionism and Fauvism. However, when it comes to the portrayal and molding of the object, she is able to preserve her own style. As much as she is unrestrained in her use of colors and the images are much exaggerated, which reflects an obvious influence from Morden western painting, but due to a cultural blood tie with China which is not easily severed, her works often portray a bold and special quality in her lines and an exaggerated wash up effect which is a characteristic often found in traditional Chinese brush and ink painting. When traditional Chinese paint master Zhang Daqian saw Pan Yu-liang's colored ink painting in an exhibition held in Paris in 1956, he could not resist but to deliver some inscriptions on her paint, commending that she is "being a truthful follower of Chinese paint with her justified use of brush and ink "
A contemporary of Pan Yu-liang Liu Haisu has always given his highest degree of recognition for her works since the days in the Sanghai Academy of Arts. He once said, "The composition content found in Pan Yu-liang's works are healthy and the technique is adept. The strokes are both vigorous and powerful without losing a touch of genius. It does not have the flaws of female artists of being too delicate and amongst fellow Western painters, she is a topnotch character." Museum curator of Paris Musée d`Orsay, Vadime Elisseeff has also commented before in Pan Yuliang's exhibition catalogue: "Madame Pan is able to match up with the trends of the times without compromising her views on art. Independent from both sects of representational art and abstract art, she uses Chinese calligraphy and painting techniques to depict all creation thus making a rich contribution towards the Contemporary Arts." (Please refer to Hu Yi-xun, "Unraveling Pan Yu-liang, her works and person", The Art of Pan Yu- Lin, National History Museum, Taipei, 1995, p. 130) Thi s paint ing of "Four Beaut ies after Bath" was an interesting work completed by Pan Yu-liang in 1955. It is made up of self portraits depicting four di fferent expres s ions being combined into a group of nudes in colored ink. In the life of Pan Yu-liang, "nudes" are often the classical themes used. During this period of time, she has already been in Europe developing her career for nearly twenty years and is enjoying a certain status in the arts scene. However, in order to practice more on the theme of the female body, she once suffered under critical eyes and experienced all difficulties. During the period when she was living in Shanghai, as she was so obsessed with the depiction of the beauty of the female body, she even went into common bath toilets to observe and sketch and this caused much disapproval amongst the society and its culture. In the end, she could only be her own model and strip to her skin in front of her mirror and draw. Even though it was so, when people came to know about the details later, they once again took her background as a topic for discussion. In order to seek more freedom in her space for painting, she thus decided to go abroad to further her studies. In the ten years of development in Europe, the female body had always been the theme for her research repeatedly. In the face of art, she confronted her body without any cover ups and faced her cultural origins through using Chinese brush painting to outline female nudes. This is viewed as a new composition style by Pan Yu-liang in this series of works.
The nude female in the bath or "Baigneuse / Bather" is one of the most eye catching theme amongst the Western Impressionism and it is one of the prized possessions that France holds after the societal revolution in the 19th century. The word "bather" refers to a nude female in outdoor scenery and this especially refers to the nymphs beside the river in classical paintings with its allusion tracing way back to the moon goddess, Diana in the bath. In La Toilette, the background however is indoors and its earliest allusions could be traced back to the biblical story. Realistic painter Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) was the first to lead in challenging the limits of "Bather" by pursuing a return to the ideals and traditions of beauty in classical paintings and this caused many turbulent waves in those times. After having failed to be chosen to take part in the Salon, Edourd Manet (1832-1833) broke free from the limitations of historical paintings with "Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe", thus creating uproar within the academy. By dedicating the later half of his career to nudes and the themes revolving around the bathtub and towels, Edgar Degas (1834-1917) has also created many works based on the themes of "La toilette", with its subject mostly being prostitutes. As for Paul Cézanne whose majestic theme of featuring nude walking from the indoors towards the outdoors, or that of a huge bather bathing in the outdoors surrounded by nature, to that of the bathing nudes by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), all these once caused an wave of critique. Towards the later half of the 19th Century, both the Conservative and Avantgarde engaged in a see-saw struggle around this topic and this interesting piece of art history greatly impacted Pan Yu-liang who is always seeking freedom in composing and striving towards independence in female thinking and at the same time, greatly affecting the feelings of all.
Although the "Four Beauties after bath" is a multiple self portrait of the artist herself, however, the portrait of the group of bathers does indeed hints of the artist paying her deepest respects towards the few Western Impressionist maestros and through the structure and powerful bearing, it does indeed exudes an air of a great master. From "Four Beauties after bath", one could still see the influence that the Impressionistic technique of pointillist being uphold in the work. As the painting executes a light made up of skin color with a rose colored background, the color used between the bather and the seat cover and its image depicts a strong flavor of Fauvist artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954). However, as the lines follows the tradition of Oriental art, in which it is bold and striking, thus inheriting the delicate and vigorously graceful tradition found within Chinese painting, therefore as the incisive tip of the brush sketches the outline of the female, it then displays the willowy figure of the female and at the same time, gives off a character of self determination. With its unique combination and creativity, Pan Yu-liang has already developed her individual style of painting. During this period of time, Pan Yu-liang has indeed reached a certain standard of maturity in painting, and from looking at her technique, it can be found that there is a diminishing trace of discovering Western art trends in her work and in place of it, what we will find is the definition of beauty which she has set independently.