(Roma 1870 - 1948)
Portrait of Pan Yuliang
Measures: cm 83 x 58
Technique: oil on canvas
Inscriptions: top left, vertical: “COROMALDI”: top right: “高和馬二第”(Chinese transliteration of the name “Coromaldi”).
On the back: cartouche with number 36 (referable to the Milan exhibition of 1929).
Exhibitions: Umberto Coromaldi, Scopinich Gallery, Milan 1929
Pan Yuliang (Yangzhou 1895 – Paris 1977) was a painter and a sculptor. She is considered to be one of the most important Chinese artists of the 20th century. Her extraordinary life inspired writers and directors – an example is the book Hua Hun, or A Soul Haunted by Painting, written by Shih Nan in 1984, which was later made into a film with the same name directed by Huang Shuqin. Her birth name, Chen Xiuqing, was changed into Zhang Yuliang when she was adopted by her maternal aunt. Because of the extreme poverty of the family, Yuliang was later sold to a brothel and forced into prostitution. There she met Pan Zanhua, a customs officer who fell in love with her and ransomed the woman by paying a large sum to save her from that life. They got married and Pan Yuliang changed her name for the third time, now paying homage to her rescuer. At this stage she went through a rebirth phase where she came into contact with the world of art. After attending the academy in Shanghai, she moved to Europe and studied in Lyon first, then in Paris, and eventually won a scholarship at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome where she attended Umberto Coromaldi’s painting courses. Returned to China in 1929, Pan Yuliang was offered a professorship at the Shanghai Art School where her prosperous career as a modern and emancipated artist started, and it wouldn’t stop until 1937 when the Chinese government decided to shut down the art school, and she moved to France permanently.
Before she went to China in 1928 – most probably by 1927 – Coromaldi made two portraits of her: one was given to Pan Yuliang as a souvenir of her stay in Italy, and the other one remained in his studio at least until March 1929, when it was displayed in Milan at the Scopinich Gallery (Biancale 1929, p. 18, n. 36) in an exhibition that confirmed the Roman painter’s success. In that second portrait, only recently rediscovered, Pan Yuliang is wearing an elegant cheongsam (a traditional Chinese dress) while holding the ever-present fan in her left hand. Compared to the painting given to Yuliang, which shows a more conventional approach, this half-length portrait seems to reveal the artist’s desire to indulge in a divertissement that, with the exotic subject, aligned with international Art Deco atmospheres. The lively spirit of the portrait is also confirmed by the way the artist placed his signature, with a double inscription: one was placed at the top right corner, written in Chinese characters that correspond to the phonetic transcription of “Coromaldi” (these kanjis could also be translated into Italian as “second brother”, a demonstration of affection from Pan Yuliang to her maestro), and the other is at the top left corner, written in capital letters arranged in a vertical line as if imitating the writing of the Far East.
Umberto Coromaldi, exhibition catalogue edited by M. Biancale (Scopinich Gallery, Milan 16 – 31 March 1929), Milan: Rizzoli, 1929