Yu Fei’an (1888-1959) was born in Beijing with the name Yu Zhao. At the beginning of his career, he worked as a journalist but soon turned to art. His first teacher was the folk artist Wang Runxuan. However, the highly elegant and meticulous style for which he became known was learned from copying and studying ancient masterpieces in the imperial collection in the Palace Museum, where Yu Fei’an began working in 1935. The refinement and sophistication of the bird-and-flower paintings of such Song-dynasty masters as Ma Yuan, Tang Di, and other court artists are apparent in Yu’s paintings. Particularly striking is his adoption of the distinctive “slender-gold” calligraphic style, which is most closely associated with the hand of the preeminent imperial collector Song Huizong.
Complimenting this arrangement of fruits and vegetables, Yu Fei’an inscribed the poem “Eating Wild Vegetables” ???by the Song poet and official Lu You (1125-1209). Despite the strong influence that art of the Song dynasty exerted on the artist, he concludes with a reference to Yuan-dynasty artists, whose paintings of fruits and vegetables have delicacy and “no bones”. In Chinese painting, this term refers to paintings without outlines but only pigment, as seen here particularly well in the persimmon, radish, and cherries.
As can be seen in his biography and in this painting, Yu Fei’an was heavily indebted to the work of past masters. However, he modernized and personalized his paintings with his use of jewel-like mineral pigments, often extensively applied, and strong graphic sensibility. Furthermore, as noted in his painting manuals and inscriptions, compositions such as this were inspired by the local vegetable market and his own garden.