The tomb of Da Yu in Shaoxing is known as Xian Ruo Ting; the name 'Xian Ruo' is taken from the Book of History. It means the state in which all things follow their nature, accord with their times, and obtain what is right for them.
--Xian Ruo Pavilion, by Yu Youhan
After 2000, Yu Youhan's art returned to the essentials. He found inspiration in the details of daily life, and expressed through his painting the truth, goodness, and beauty. Xian Ruo Pavilion, the largest-scale painting in Yu's series of scenes from the Yimeng Mountains, shows a traditional pavilion set amid natural surroundings. Exuding a harmonious and tranquil atmosphere, Xian Ruo Pavilion evolves from Yu's earlier works of the 1970s and 1980s, mostly still lifes and landscapes painted from life, in which he sought a kind of noble simplicity. Yu was influenced by both Eastern and Western philosophy; he once said that this noble simplicity derives from both our loftiest impulses and the natural inclinations of the heart. The kind of quiet solitude evoked by the painting is always the rendering of simplicity, and in it, the natural scenery and the pavilion possess a quiet grace. In Xian Ruo Pavilion, Yu creates the striking contrasts between its forms and empty spaces with only a few simple strokes. He shapes and outlines the pavilion and forest grove with heavy, assured brushstrokes, his manner revealing influences he must have absorbed during his earlier study and careful reproduction of Wu Changshuo's Calligraphy in Stone Drum Script.
Yu Youhan once said the special quality of traditional Chinese aesthetics can be found in its humanistic feeling: the artist follows his impulses, rather than mechanically reproducing a stereotyped version of what he sees. The theme of his painting, "xian ruo," refers to one saying of the profound philosophy embedded in emperor's education in ancient times: 'follow your nature, find accord with your times, and you will obtain what is right for you.' Yu's addition of an inscription to the painting (quoted at the opening of this essay) only adds a deeper note of humanity. It expresses the artist's conviction about the wisdom of the Da Yu culture; he admired the way the ancients sought to embody nobility and grace in their paintings. The aesthetic outlook of Yu's Xian Ruo Pavilion in fact reflects the concept of the ideal 'poetic image' that shaped the classical gardens of China. The artist, painting the scenery of this garden park, enters into deep sharing with the viewer; adding the poetic inscription deepens the conception even further, and brings artist, viewer, poetry, and painting closer together. The poetic atmosphere of this landscape evokes is reminiscent of a painting jointly produced by Shen Zhou and Wen Zhengming, two of the 'Four Masters of the Ming.' Their painting, Landscape, also sets a pavilion within a grove, and they too convey both hard and soft forms with brushstrokes in ink that are sometimes thick and heavy. Both paintings exude classic elegance and simplicity, and a nostalgic appreciation for things of the past. They also exemplify qualities emphasised in a 1631 Chinese essay called 'The Garden Treatise.' In it, the author describes principles by which ancient buildings were made to blend harmoniously with their surroundings: 'the layout should seem fortuitous and unplanned, but it should be the product of a conception, and should follow the natural forms that are present' (Ji Cheng, The Garden Treatise, Ming Dynasty). In recent historical periods, Shanghai, with its reputation as the "Paris of the East" and its "Shanghai School" culture, came to represent a mingling of Eastern and Western culture. This has been expressed in its outstanding architectural designs and its literature and art. As a youth, Yu Youhan discovered a book on Impressionist paintings at the home of a well-to-do old-school painter in Shanghai, and it exerted a great influence on his later style as a painter. The depictions of street scenes he produced in the old French concession area between 1973 and 1985 displayed his grasp of Impressionism. Here, in Xian Ruo Pavilion, the artist mingles his earlier inspirations from the Impressionists with a more personal artistic vocabulary to create a highly distinctive contemporary landscape. Yu's pleasing combination of dense and more open brushwork conveys the rural atmosphere of freedom and simplicity, while his use of vivid colours recalls Impressionist Paul Czanne, who similarly employed rich and subtly changing colours to capture nature's vitality. Further, the richly varied depths of light and shade in the forest demonstrate Yu's mature control of colour and chiaroscuro. In the earth in the foreground, his heavily daubed orange-pink pigments impart a rich life to the scene in the same manner as the extravagant pinks used by Fauvist Henri Matisse in his own painterly odes to life. Yu's Xian Ruo Pavilion conveys a delightful sensory experience, inviting viewers to immerse themselves in the poetic atmosphere of the painting and its idyllic world.