In addition to further learning traditional oil paintings of 16th century Europe, which he had already been acquainted in China, Yan began to find his interest in the Impressionism between 1928 and 1930 when Yan Wenliang studied in Europe. He sought to employ the spirit of Impressionism, particularly in its brush stroke and the pursuit of colours and light, to incorporate them in his exhaustive inquisition in realistic paintings. In 1930, Yan returned to China and attempted to incorporate the language of oil painting he had learnt in Europe into the aesthetics of the East. Shifting away from the powerful, bold brushstrokes he used in Europe, Yan employed techniques of the meticulous, refined brushwork in traditional Chinese painting, and incorporate them into landscape paintings which he experts in. When talking about landscapes, Yan commented, "first and foremost, emotion. Landscapes without emotion are deprived of aura. The emotion embedded in the landscape beckons the same in the viewers, that is, ushers resonance. Next, beauty. Landscapes are meant to be beautiful, to be mesmerizing, so that viewers are led into the landscape with the artist. Finally, it is most desirable for landscapes to be elating, to be enveloped in euphoric, buoyant, proactive and uplifting feelings." To unveil genuine beauty, Yan set out his exhaustive, methodical inquisition into the language of oils as represented by color, composition, dexterity, light and shadow, prescriptive, and materials.
The Summer Palace (Lot 1087) perfectly exemplifies Yan's theory in oil painting. With skillful employment of the Western fixed-point perspective, Yan produced a sense of spaciousness in the small oil painting by the composition of active diagonals. The architectures upon the Kunming Lake and straight road by the lake form two great diagonals, which intersect at the centre of the painting. Yan emphasized on the careful arrangement in composition so that 'scenes and objects in the painting must be in close and strong association with one another, they cannot be floating or dislocated, nor should it be empty and rootless.' Regularly spaced along the edge of the terrace are several pots of yellow and red peonies, which rhythmically direct the viewers' gaze from the left to the centre onto the passer-by dressed in blue, whose footsteps lead the way to the Longevity Hill. As such, the scenes in the front, middle and rear are closely associated, every detail in the painting are made clear, density and spacing are orderly arranged, and scenes and objects are well coordinated. The leafless trees were painted with meticulously fine brush strokes creates great contrast with the free and lively brush strokes of the cypresses and the Longevity Hill; while the yellow and red peonies and the evergreen cypresses present another visual contrast with the leafless trees. In order to create balance with the wintery chill and vast expanse of the Summer Palace, Yan deliberately demonstrate a sense of vitality in life in the thriving plants which, fearless of the cold winter, blossom and grow as usual. The calm and still reflection on Kunming Lake seemingly symbolizes a certain return to peace and serenity after a past era of darkness. Through this work, Yan instills the unique aesthetics and values of the Chinese culture.