Two young women sit beside each other, their affection for one another is affluent by their touching arms and relaxed gait. Their nudity is immediately striking; more so due to their seeming ease with being naked. In this composition, Yang Feiyun perfectly captures the closeness of a young, female friendship and their extreme comfort both with each other, and with themselves. Their figures are softly rounded and exhume femininity, echoing Botticelli perfection to their form. Aside from the peach of their skin, dark muted tones dominate the tableau of the work. The carpet, the wall and the indiscernible seat upon which the two women rest is of a dramatically dark hue, thus perfectly contrasting the pale of the subjects flesh and further heightening their nudity. Whilst the subject to the right of the canvas gazes directly at the viewer, the other appears to be captured in a movement; her limbs appear awkward and off-balance, as though she is attempting to stabilise herself or is shifting position. Meanwhile, the gazing female subject places a re-assuring arm around the other girls shoulder, presumably to affectionately draw her closer towards her or perhaps to stabilise her motion. 'Nudes' (Lot 214) is a work displaying Yang Feiyun's consummate showmanship of brush technique and harmonious composition. As a master of Chinese Realism, Yang Feiyun excels in his ability to capture exquisitely delineated portraits and figure paintings that exhibit substantial mastery of refined techniques.
In Western classical painting, the nude portrait will most often represent a lone figure, strewn before the artist who records his or her likeness. In portraitures that feature one or more naked women, the scene is generally one that depicts either a shared moment of femininity, such as washing by a lake or in a bathhouse, or it bears mythological significance. The appearance of two nude female figures alone is rare in classical Western painting. In such a rare example, Gustave Courbet's 'Two Nude Women' (fig.1) features two naked women entangled on a rumpled bed. Unlike the child-like innocence that Yang Feiyun's subjects exhume, Courbet creates a far more erotic scene of suggestive intimacy.
After the invasion of China by Western powers during the 19th century, a movement advocating self-strengthening and reform surged through Chinese society at the opening of the next century that encouraged the study of western knowledge and technology. Cai Yuanpei, president of Beijing University, believed that a new China could be built through more modern education, and advocated science, technology, and reform of the university system, hoping to produce a new generation equipped with the tools of scientific thinking and capable of producing innovation. Cai also advocated a work-study program to allow students to study abroad, a program that the government put into effect in 1919 and 1920, carefully selecting the most outstanding candidates in each field to receive government grants for study overseas. The nation placed high hopes on these individuals, who began returning from abroad at the end of the '20s. With their new knowledge and their personal visions broadened by experience, they did indeed contribute new ideas toward the solution of problems faced by society in various areas. And, as Xu Beihong and other artists returned home, the outlook and spirit associated western classical painting also found a new home within China's artistic society.
Many 20th century Chinese artists have been readily inspired by artists of the 19th and 20th centuries such as Miller, Gustave Courbet, Jean Baptiste Camille Corot, Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh. Yang Feiyun pioneered a new campaign of drawing on European classical style; New China oil paintings was mostly products from a combination of Xu Beihong's realistic system and Soviet realism that predominantly drew upon Suricov's influences.
Yang Feiyun's key style evokes the captured beauty and innocence of his subjects, with an almost photographic sharpness and surreal smoothness to which Chinese academic training aspires; "I was influenced most by Durer and Leonardo. Perhaps in the West it is too late to have a fresh response to this work, but for me it was easy and natural. Until recently, this work was unknown here. My work is contradictory to Western taste. I cannot accept the Western way of rejecting the past, or even of rejecting your own past, of starting anew all the time. The pursuit of perfection is more important than choosing many ways. People have said that art has no limit, but this is true only when art stays in its own hemisphere. When West and East meet, art does have limits."
The artistic depiction of nudity in modern China has been subject to much controversy. In 1964, a motion was put forward to prohibit the use of models in art departments. This was a fatal blow to fine art education, and in particular to the mediums of oil painting and sculpture. In discord of this movement, a number of art teachers from the Central Academy of Fine Arts attempted to address the issue to Chairman Mao. Mao's response was somewhat surprising, and he concurred that to prohibit the portrayal of models was "feudalistic ideology" and improper, declaring that if the effect of modeling and nudity was negative then it was still a necessary sacrifice for art. Despite this support, the dominant ideas were against art modeling - especially nudes - until 1978. In that year a news story emerged that discussed the first recruitment of models by fine art academies, which resulted in a vast number of women who applied, many even accompanied by their husbands. In 1988 a book entitled 'Theory of Nude Art' was published by art theorist and painter Chen Zui; the first book within this risque category in China. The publication sold over 200,000 copies - a surprisingly vast number in China's publishing circle at that time.
In reflection of his remarkable artistic oeuvre and continuing passion for artistic expression, Yang Feijun concludes;
"Painting has been my companion in my past life time since I was young. My fondness of painting never fades. It gives me undescribable joy and the colour it increases to my life is beyond description. Fortunately it becomes my career and when it combines with my life-value, the instinct and self-amusement are not qualified to symbolise its significance"