Wang Jiyuan was born in Wujin, Jiangsu province, with ancestry in the adjacent province of Anhui. He graduated from the Jiangsu Second Normal University in 1912 and was one of the founding members in 1920 of the Heavenly Horse Society (tianmahui), an early group in China that studied western paintings. In 1926, he went to Tokyo and Paris to do research on art and held art exhibitions. From 1931 to 1934, he was a member of the Storm Society, where he served as an adviser for many younger fellows. He was also the dean of Studies of the Shanghai Fine Art School and a tutor in the Research Institute of Western Painting. Wang settled down in the United States in 1941 and founded the Huamei Painting Academy to teach Chinese painting and calligraphy.