Born in Suzhou, Yan Wenliang first developed his interest in art under the influence of his father . In 1909, he worked at Shanghai Commercial Press Ltd and was initiated into Western art by a Japanese painter and an etching artisan. He later went to Japan to study Western painting. In 1922, he founded the Suzhou Art Academy with Zhu Shijie (1900-1990) and Fu Cuizhong (1899-1974), and served as the Academy Director. In 1928 he went to Paris to study at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts. In the Salon du Printemps of 1929, Yan's gouache "Kitchen" won an honorable mention. Despite his success in Paris, Yan decided to return to China in 1931 to resume his post at the Suzhou Academy. He remained there until 1952 when he was appointed a deputy-dean of the art department of Nanjing Central Academy. Afterwards he taught at the Zhejiang Fine Arts Academy as Vice Director. His painting was selected into the sixth National Fine Arts Exhibition and became a permanent collection of National Art Museum of China in Beijing.