Chen Yanning painted Chairman Mao Inspects the Guangdong Countryside in 1972 during a time when artistic creation in China were in part for Mao Zedong's political campaign. Chen began to use painting as a mean of personal expression by portraying subjects based on daily life after China open its doors to welcome Western ideologies in the 1980s. Skilled at naturalistic depiction, he excelled at analyzing facial expressions, and successfully captured the psychological spirit and disposition of his subjects. He painted many famous figures, including a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in 1999. Chen moved to the United States to study in 1986, to further develop his technical skills in figure painting and portraiture. Through his unique depiction of light and composition, the subjects are rendered in a poetically moving manner. In Water Lilies (Lot 1301), Chen intentionally places the two seated ladies wearing Chinese qipaos before a tranquil lotus pond, accentuating their elegant composure and expressing that their pure nature remains untainted by the ills of modern society. He adeptly articulates the delicate features of the women, the lustrous silk of their qipaos and the coarse textures of the rocks with his exceptional skills to depict a scene as convincing as if the viewer were able to stand right in front of the lotus pond to admire the beautiful scene himself.
Created in 1999, Imagery (Lot 1304) not only exhibits Chen's mastery in naturalistic rendition, but also captivates and invites the viewer into a visual space for imagination. Besides conveying the charms of feminine beauty, Imagery creates a dialogue between the nudes and the traditional Chinese qipao. While their bodies are covered by the silk qipaos when viewed from the front, we can in fact see the nude backs of two ladies from the reflection in the mirror. Through this imagery, Chen questions whether the charm and beauty of the ladies are derived from the elegant clothes, or are naturally exuded in spite of the gowns. Chen makes use of fluid lines, dramatic lighting, and overlapping layers of images in this intriguing composition that expresses his poetic vision. Realism was not the only artistic style prevalent in China in the 1980s; however, artists like Chen found naturalistically depicted imageries a direct and immediate way to convey his moving messages about the life and culture in modern China. Realism henceforth became the primary tool for Chen's artistic creation.