Chen Yifei's artistic career began in the 1960sand 1970s. He received critical acclaim for his paintings depicting modern Chinese historical events and subjects, such as The Seizing of the Presidential Palace, Red Flag and Thinkingof History at My Place. In 1980, Chen Yifei, who was already a famous artist in China, left for New York to pursue further study. In the1980s, Conceptual art, Pop Art, installation art and new media art dominated the art scene in the US. Chan retained and developed his unique artistic style that infuses the essenceof Chinese art into Realism and Romanticismin classical Western art, gaining his place in the Western art world with his singular aesthetics.
In 1982, he travelled to Europe in the summer,and then to the water villages in Jiangnan for inspiration. After his return to New York,Chen dedicated his time to the first group of the 'Water Villages' series. In Hut Village (Suzhou) , Chen divides the composition into parallel sections of the water canal, the greens and the water villages on the sides. As the water villages are enveloped in the misty lights of dawn, the viewer's mind strolls by the empty boats to the dewy grassland.Chen's refined brushwork is almost concealed in the dream like scenery, which stirs with atouch of tender mystery. Hut Village (Suzhou) embodies the calling of the heart, or a sense of belonging. Below the Garden (Suzhou) revealsa Jiangnan woman is doing the washing by theriver, and the water ripples as the boat crossesthe river. Chen uses a delicate technique offrosting with thick layers of color to depictthe red walls and white tiles and the wooden boats in the hazy scenery of Jiangnan. In both paintings, Chen applies the theory of being faithful to natural lights, first put forward by Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the UK in the19th century. In Below the Garden (Suzhou),Chen captures the instantaneous changes of natural lights and the shadows of villagers,evoking the subtle relationship between light and shade in paintings of European classicism. In Below the Garden (Suzhou), the scenery is lit up in the complex lighting of dawn. Chen transforms light into a language of art in order to express the profound emotions embedded in the scenery, as well as the hazy and romantic atmosphere that is unique to Jiangnan.
Chen received recognition for his ‘Water Villages' series in the US. In 1983, 1984 and 1985, his work was exhibited at the New York Hammer Galleries, Brooklyn Museum and the New England Center for Contemporary Art respectively. In 1984, The New York Times and Arts News described Chen's artistic style as 'romantic realism', which brought the 'Water Villages' series to greater attention in the US. Below the Garden (Suzhou) and Hut Village (Suzhou) were both exhibited at the New York Hammer Galleries, and they have been in the collection of the present owner ever since.