Pang Xunqin’s Wartime Paintings, 1937-1946

Yang, Qingkang 楊慶康
Supervisor: Prof. D. Clarke

This study examines Pang Xunqin 龐薰琹 (1906-1985)’s wartime paintings created between 1937 and 1946. An artist who studied art in Paris in the 1920s, Pang actively promoted Western modernist art in Shanghai in the 1930s after returning to China and fled to the southwestern China when the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, along with numerous Chinese intellectuals and institutions. During this journey, he joined the Central Museum then in Kunming and undertook a task to study the folk art and culture of ethnic minority people in Guizhou and accumulated abundant textual and visual materials, which later became the main sources and inspirations of his wartime paintings.

Depicting the ethnic minority people and their native handicraft, Pang’s wartime paintings seemingly bear no direct visual relationship with the war; it is argued in the first chapter however that his depiction of the ethnic people belongs to an important type of wartime art displaying the new environment and people that artists encountered in western China. While many artists became interested in and travelled to the west frontier area independently, Pang’s encounter with ethnic people occurred within an ethnographic project designed by the Central Museum. The second chapter, by exploring the founding background of the Museum and the social contexts from the 1920s to the 1940s, unveils how the Guizhou Study relates to the museum’s vision and function to display a complete and modern China, and how it fits into the social contexts of wartime national crisis.

Distinctly different from the usually biased and utilitarian illustrations of ethnic minority in early Chinese history, Pang’s paintings meticulously depict the highly characteristic ethnic costumes and decorative patterns, based on respectful and admiring attitudes. At the same time, many textual and visual evidences also show Pang’s conscious beautification and idealization of the ethnic figures and environment in his painting. The third chapter, by analyzing comparative visual examples, discusses how Pang’s methods affect the reception of his art in the specific context of wartime period. The fourth chapter discusses Pang’s various methods in the representation and application of decorative patterns in his paintings. Linking the interest in fabric patterns to Pang’s practice in design, this chapter reviews Pang’s design approach and theory developed from the 1920s to the 1940s, and argues that Pang’s paintings were impacted by his design in terms of pattern application and composition method.

Ultimately, Pang Xunqin’s wartime paintings with modern subjects and a synthesized style reflect the artist’s effort to modernize his art by assimilating various sources and inspirations. Comprehensively charting and analyzing the artistic life and art creation of Pang Xunqin during the wartime period, this thesis examines his wartime paintings from different new perspectives by situating it in corresponding social and historical contexts and aims to shed lights on this important topic.