Chen Yifei was admitted by the Department of Oil Painting in Shanghai Fine Arts College in 1963, in which he was guided by Professor Yu Yunjie, who was professionally trained in the field of oil painting in the Studio of Konstantin Mefodyevich Maximov (1913-1993), which established solid foundation for his realistic skills. Meng Guang, the teacher who introduced Chen Yifei to the field also taught him how to express and appreciate the aesthetics beauty which had a significant influence on his later works. In 1980, Chen Yifei went to the U.S. to pursue further studies. During the period he had the opportunity to familirize himself with a variety of Western classic arts, which strengthened his understanding of Western arts and his own skills. In addition to Classic Realism, Chen also had the chance to view the representative works of Neorealism, such as the works of William De Kooning. Finally, Chen finally chose to focus on the Realism which demanded strict training and persistent practices, as he believed that Realism could give the viewers a strong visual impact, and invoke their imagination and touch their deepest affection.
Journey at Dawn (Lot 910), recorded in Chen Yifei (1990, Beijing Chinese Arts Publishing House), is a mature work based on his extensive research on the water villages at the South of the Yangzi river. This work displays a scene of the Jiang Nan area, full of spirit and tranquillity. By delicately layering thick layers of oil on the canvas to achieve a frosted effect, Chen Yifei catches the moment of sun rising at the crack of dawn; the sunshine sheds on the houses of black tiles and white walls by the peaceful river and the restful boats must have been ever haunting to his heart and memories. The morning fog is painted so vividly that the water villages lay still in deep silence, seemingly under a layer of light silk. All the details are simplistically composed, generating an effect so graceful and eternal, like a romantic and touching poem that is full of nostalgia; it can wash away from the soul the dust and last in the viewer's mind for a long time.
Chen Yifei once said that his mother was the source of his inspiration. As a devoted Christian, Chen's mother would bring her children to church on religious festivals. The powerful resonance played from the organ, the harmonious sound by the choir, and the dignified angelic sculpture with tender curves as well as the stained-glass windows and colourful paintings on the domes all enlightened Chen's first aspirations on the arts. Lady with Clarinet (Lot 911) and Lady with Flute (Lot 909) depict two foreign women playing their musical instruments, joyfully immersed in the music. The heavy hair, alabaster skin, charming eyesight of the violinist, the silk and her paillettes dress are all depicted so vividly with the artist's delicate skill that arouse the viewers' tactile appeal. Although there are few portrait paintings by Chen Yifei that include landscapes, this piece sets St Mark's Basilica of Venice as the backdrop. Chen always paints light conscientiously and carefully, catching the sunset in the at the exact moment that creates a moving atmosphere. Alternatively, in Lady with Clarinet, painted with no distinct sense of time, a lady stands in a liberal bright black coloured background, allowing her facial outlines and graceful body curves to be highlighted. The figure is depicted in meticulous details that evoke similarities to a fully rendered sculpture, possible only through the Chen's proficient skills of painting works that induce such natural sensations of grace and nobility. Both works were painted as part of the series when Chen Yifei travelled in Venice in 1989, and exhibited at the Solo-Exhibition of Chen Yifei in the Seibu Department Store in Tokyo in 1990.
Chen Yifei's pursuit of aesthetic and appreciation of diverse culture can easily be found in his works of water villages and musicians. Though people have varied opinions on beauty due to our individual experiences, everyone inevitably finds themselves on a journey to explore beauty. Chen Yifei devoted his whole life in visual arts that he believes the art "should have the fundamental social functions besides, to be purely appreciated and adored by people. It creates not only beautiful visual arts, but also preserves a harmonious environment, regulating humanity, sustaining morality and purifying our spirits."