Here are some paintings by Pan Yuliang: You may have noticed that the book cover is pretty generic and recycled. On a technical level, this isnt a bad novel, and Pan Yuliang had an interesting life; the book is very readable. Not irredeemably so, if you're looking for a light read, but it's all the more frustrating for the unrealized potential. This isnt a book that depends on unpredictability--the prologue, set in 1957, gives away a lot--but youve been warned.) The Painter from Shanghai is fairly interesting and competently written. Once it gets past the (admittedly, less fluffy) Memoirs of a Geisha retread, Yuliangs life began to interest me more: her romance is touching, her time as a starving artist in Paris fascinating (and breezed through all too quickly), and her struggle for acceptance as a western-style painter of nude portraits among the increasingly conservative and inward-looking art society of China of the 1930s has a lot of potential. Epstein does include a bibliography, but how, for instance, The Rape of Nanking, dealing with an event that occurred after Yuliangs departure and the end of the book, informed this story, I have no idea. And now I've complained a lot about this book--not because it's irredeemably awful, but because while it's interesting and competently written, it was ultimately unsatisfying.
Which explains why this book was left untended to for about 2-3 weeks before lack of alternate reading materials forced me to pick it up.
Innocent but with some learning in the way of embroidery her uncle sees in her a promise of something better than he has and educates her in poem's, culture and all the things a young female child should be taught to make her a perfect wife. Poor Yuliang does not know what is happening to her at the age of fourteen when her uncle takes her away from the sheltered life in which she has been living for the last eight years. He leads her to believe that she is going to a place where she can learn embroidery but it is not long before she finds out just how different life's surprises can truly be. This will give her a new life of choice, education, love and happiness which is rare for a prostitute.
THE PAINTER FROM SHANGHAI, a fictional biography of the artist Pan Yuliang, opens 20 years after she has left China to pursue her life as an artist in Paris. You understand?' The remainder of the book explores the imagined memories of an extraordinary life that began in the final years of the Dowager Empress' reign, and ended in the last quarter of the 20th century. Those memories include an assortment of fascinating characters: Her failed scholar, drug addict uncle, Wu Ding, who sells her into prostitution when she is 14; her one friend, the beautiful, imaginative, charismatic Jinling; the naïve idealist and follower of Sun Yat-sen, Pan Zanhua; and Xing Xudun, a political activist who turns his artistic skill to help the new Chinese Communist Party. What this book fails to convey, however, is a real sense of Pan Yuliang as a person. One can well imagine this one as a play with Pan Yuliang as the narrator of her life, a portal to a conflicted time filled with ultimately tragic but rich and colorful characters. Like the mirror-girl she paints in her self-portraits, or the moon that symbolizes so much of the Chinese aesthetic, her light shines brightest as a reflection rather than the thing. A biographical film of Pan Yuliang's life was made in 1994: A Soul Haunted by Painting.
In this fictionalized story, the author seemed to have burrowed into Pan's mind and make the readers feel for and identify with her. The detailed descriptions in this book would drive you into believing every scene is the actual happening in Pan's life.
Im always attracted by novels with a backdrop of art, controversial times and exotic locales and quickly became engrossed in The Painter from Shanghai. This is the story of her origins and how she managed to leave that life to enter the world of art, something unheard of in those times, to become a well-known international artist and professor.
I read the book's review in NYT and picked it up due to its intriguing story about a painter from Shanghai's golden era who used to be a prostitute. While it is a work of fiction, the story is based on the real life painter Pan Yu Liang who is famous for her beautiful nude paintings which combine both the western and chinese painting styles.