Lin Fengmian's landscape paintings demonstrate techniques and stylistic expressions that can be attributed to the influence of Western modern art, in particular Impressionism and Expressionism. While the subject of his landscapes was always China, he used an array of colours not found in any traditional Chinese landscape painting. Lin expressed his poetic feelings through the beauty of nature. There is no specific scenery as a reference point, instead, he painted his landscape based on impression and memory, creating an artistic style full of characteric images.
In Autumn in the Village, Lin covered the whole painting with pigment, contrary to the traditional Chinese painting practice of leaving most parts of the surface blank. In this dense composition, ink is employed in various tonal washes to depict the mountain ranges in the background; while colour is painted in layers of varying translucence and opaqueness to portray the autumn forest and village in the middle ground, as well as to represent the trees, rocks and streams in the foreground. It captures the subtle light and atmospheric effects of nature in autumn: a season of serene yet forceful beauty with a specific form and charm. In terms of colour and composition his painting looks Western, yet his use of ink and brush in a rhythmic and graceful way renders simultaneously a Chinese look to the painting.
Chinese opera offered Lin Fengmian a colourful world of stylized and decorative forms and ample room for his imagination. In 1951 Lin returned to Shanghai and became close with Guan Liang, whom often invited Lin to go to the Chinese opera. Since then, this national performance art became a source of inspiration for Lin Fengmian, leading to his exploration of time and space through cubism. Under the stage, Lin recorded the characteristics and colours of the costume, make-up and stage properties of the opera figures, so that he could paint them back in his studio.
A favourite and recurring Chinese opera theme of Lin Fengmian, Lotus Lantern is based on a Chinese legend about a son, Chenxiang, regaining the Lotus Lantern, which belongs to his goddess mother, Sanshengmu, and finally rescuing her from Lotus Peak for a family reunion. In this brightly-coloured square painting, fluid lines and movement direct our eyes to the figures immediately. The goddess mother Sanshengmu is on the right with her arms outstretched and arched forming a crescent moon, while the son Chenxiang is on the left behind the lotus lantern. The bright yellow lines in the background and those framing intermittently the two figures and the lotus lantern suggest the source of light coming from the back. The flying white sleeves not only signify the rich flavor of Chinese dance but also suggest an instantaneous movement. Lin modernized the colours, movements and emotions seen in traditional Chinese opera in an innovative way.
Lin Fengmian also took a special liking to egrets. Painted in a square composition, Two Egrets depicts a close-up of one bird looking for food while the other prepares to take flight into the sky. With a few graceful yet forceful stokes of gray, Lin accurately outlines the egrets while expressing their vitality and vividness. The special quality of monochrome ink is evident in depicting a backdrop of cloudy sky, grasses and reeds, which contrasts strikingly with the radiant snow-white birds with their black-tipped wings and black legs. The result is a watery effect in which dry and wet intermingle, and light and heavy touches of the brush in light blue and mustard yellow display the soaked quality of the ink wash.