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WINTER 2008 Vol.22 No.4
Beauty of Korea
Byeoru (Ink Stone)
Background and Development of Korean Kimchi
Kimchi Ideal Health Food for a Well-being Lifestyle
Regional Influences Create Wide Varieties of Kimchi
Sharing Kimchi with Consumers Around the World
Seoul Hosts XXII World Congress of Philosophy 2008
Poet Ko Un “I am my own future!”
Archery Craftsman Yoo Young-ki Blends Strength with Resiliency
Elegant Earthenware Figurines Reveal Silla’s Spirituality
Magnum Korea Exhibition Images of Korean Society’s Diversity
Kevin O’Rourke Passionate Translator of Korean Literature
Sung Shi-yeon A Humble yet Forceful Presence at the Podium
Jeongseon’s Natural Beauty Endures the Passage of Time
Yaksik Rice Cake Tasty and Healthy Treat
Korea Delivers with Speed and Agility
Dance of Exorcism at the Fringe of Existence
SPRING 1996 Vol.10 No.1
  The Art of Kim Hong-do Remembered
  Lee Won-bok
National Museum of Korea
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The largest exhibition of Choson Dynasty paintings ever, featuring the works of Kim Hong-do, was held from December 19, 1995 to February 25 this year at the National Museum of Korea. The exhibition, commemorating the 250th anniversary of Kim's birth and the last held at the soon-to-be demolished National Museum building, attracted thousands of enthusiastic viewers each day. The large exhibition was also unique in that it was jointly sponsored by the National Museum and two private institutions, Kansong Art Museum and Ho-Am Art Museum.
Kim Hong-do, also known by his pseudonym Tanwon, was one of the three most famous painters of the Choson era, the others being An Kyon, active in the 15th century, and Chang Sung-op (1843-1897) of the latter Choson period. Together with the gentry painter Chong Son (1676-1759), Kim was one of the most prolific painters of the late Choson era. He is most commonly thought of as the master of genre painting, but he was actually skilled in all painting styles.
He first gained fame with portraiture and paintings depicting Taoist and Buddhist themes. Later, as a reward for painting the king's portrait, he was appointed to a ranking government post, at a level comparable to a county magistrate. Although he was a professional painter born to a commoner family, Kim was also accomplished in poetry and music. With the patronage of King Chongjo (r. 1777-1800), he created a classical painting style that epitomized the proud qualities of Choson art.
Although quite different in scale from the most recent exhibition, there were five exhibitions of Kim Hongdo's work in the past. In 1965, the National Museum held an exhibition of 56 paintings, mainly of genre and figure paintings; unfortunately, no catalog was published.
Eight years later, in the spring and autumn of 1973, and again in the spring of 1985, the Kansong Art Museum, which has the largest collection of Choson paintings, held special exhibitions, each featuring 30 to 50 of Kim Hong-do's paintings. And in October 1990, the National Museum held an exhibition honoring Kim as the "Cultural Figure of the Month," also displaying paintings owned by the Ho-Am Art Museum and private individuals.
The most recent exhibition is much larger in scale with about 300 paintings exhibited, including The Immortals (Kunsondo), National Treasure No. 139; 20 paintings from a 1796 album Pyongjinnyon-hwach'op, Treasure No. 782; and 25 paintings from the Tanwon Collection of Genre Paintings (Tan won P'ungsokhwach'op), Treasure No. 527.
The Ho-Am Art Museum spent over two years preparing for the exhibition, while the National Museum examined all of Kim's works in its depository and painstakingly selected 80 of the best, including those previously unexhibited. The Kansong Art Museum contributed more than 50 masterpieces, including Eight Scenes from Kwandong (Kwandong p'algyongdo), Historical Figure Paintings (Kosa inmulto) and Paintings of Birds and Animals (Yongmodo). In addition, the museums of Seoul National, Korea and other universities, public and private museums, and individual collectors lent paintings from their collections.
The special exhibition displayed works in almost every style of Kim's painting, including landscape, genre, historical figures, Buddhist and Taoist figures, portraits, flowers and birds, birds and animals, flowers and insects, fish and crabs, the "Four Gentlemen" (plum, orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo) and calligraphy, providing a rare glimpse at the life of this painting genius and the artistic world he created.
The most noteworthy landscapes belong to the Album of Kumgang's Four Counties (Kumgang sagunch'op) from a private collection. The 5-volume album consists of 60 paintings painted by Kim at the age of 43 in the autumn of 1788 after a visit to Mt. Kumgangsan under orders from King Chongjo.
On the cover of each volume is the title "The Complete Paintings of Kumgangsan," written in India ink. Originally kept in the royal palace, these paintings have never been publicly exhibited before, except for four black-and-white reproductions introduced in two essays on Kim Hong-do by Yi Tong-ju.
The seals affixed to the paintings were added later, but all 60 paintings feature place names written in India ink by the same person. These early landscapes differ from Kim's other, more well-known landscape paintings in their delicate and detailed touches.
In addition, three paintings from The Complete Paintings of Kumgang (Myogilsangdo, Ongch'ondo, and Piryongp'okp'odo), belonging to the National Museum collection, were made public for the first time.
Chu Hsi's Virtues (Chubujashiuido), a six-panel screen which was brought back from Japan a few years ago and is now in a private collection, is one of the most outstanding historical figure paintings. According to records from the reign of King Chongjo, the screen originally consisted of eight panels. But, after it was taken to Japan, it was reduced to six panels following the Japanese style. The screen is executed with restrained brushstrokes fit for the king's inspection, depicting the eight virtues promoted by the great Chinese Neo-Confucian Chu Hsi. Each panel contains poems written in an impeccable hand The paintings were drawn when Kim was age 55.
Shin'onindo, which contains an unusually long foreword in the yeso writing style of ornamental characters by Kim's preceptor Kang Se-hwang, uses India ink to depict unique subjects. Although the painting is in poor condition, its extraordinary brushwork is noteworthy. The colophon reveals it was painted in 1773 when Kim was 28 years old.
The paintings from Historical Figure Paintings (Kosa inmulto) are mounted on hanging scrolls, but were originally produced for screens. This was the first time they have been exhibited together in one place. Admiring Apricot Flowers from a Boat (Sonsanggwanmaedo), from a private collection, depicts a boat ride, the same subject as a piece of ship poetry recently confirmed to have been composed by Kim. Its existence has long been noted in painting records, but this was the first time it was exhibited.
Nine paintings of birds, animals and flowers, from the 1796 album Pyongjinnyon-hwach'op owned by the Ho-Am Art Museum were included in the exhibition. It was also the first time all eight panels of Paintings of Birds and Animals (Yongmodo), from the Kansong Art Museum collection, were exhibited They clearly reveal Kim Hong-do's true talents in this style of painting.
The exhibition will long be remembered for having offered the public a rare chance to see how Kim Hong-do flawlessly portrayed Korea's beautiful natural scenery through his realistic landscape paintings and the hard life of the common people with humor and passion.
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