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Hua Yan was born in Shanghang, Fujian province but spent most of his life in Yangzhou selling paintings to earn a living. Skilled in painting figures, landscapes, birds, flowers and insects, he was particularly well-known for his bird-and-flower paintings. He learned painting by modeling after the clear and elegant flowers in the boneless technique (mogu fa) by Yun Shouping (1633-1690). He also drew upon the fine brushwork of the bird-and-flower paintings of the Song dynasty (960-1279) and blended it with free sketching, forming an elegant and simple painting style which had far-reaching influence on his contemporaries and later generations.
A cypress with winding and stretching branches stands tall. In the tree, mynah birds are chirping merrily between each other. under the cypress day lilies are in full blossom. The luxuriant and vivacious spring scene gives an auspicious flavor. The painter applied different touches to different objects. The mynahs are vividly delineated in both realistic and free-sketch techniques; the small and overlapping cypress leaves are conveyed through thick blue-and-green dots; the square and hard rocks are freely sketched in heavy ink with color wash; the beautiful day lilies, however, are rendered through the boneless technique. The exquisite depiction underscores the refinement of the painting which, at the same time, demonstrates the special aesthetic values of the painter. The freely sketched strokes, while being easy and graceful, are refined and restrained. It reflects Hua Yan's extraordinary attainments in bird-and-flower painting, in addition to his masterly application of various kinds of painting techniques.