A Nobleman In His Palanquin Returning With Soldiers To His Misty Palace Complex
Ink & Watercolor Painting On Paper
Korean / Choson Dynasty
approx. 20 x 51 inches
Set in mountainous river landscape, the regal figure carried through the hilly foreground on the side of a lake surrounded by his military entourage, on another promontory opposite a family is gathered to watch the procession, in the middle distance are serried rows of rice paddies to one side and a harbor with numerous ships, and in the background is a palace complex shrouded in mist with a mountainous backdrop.
For a short discussion of painting in the Korean peninsula see Arts of Korea, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, (Contributors: Chung Yang-mo, Ahn Hwi-joon, Yi Song-mi, Kim Lena, Kim Honggnam, Pak Youngsook, Jonathan W. Best; Contributing Editor, Judith G. Smith), New York, 2000, pp.161-201. The development of painting began with the early wall paintings of tombs of the Kingdom of Koguryo (37 BCE - 668 CE); a handful of Three Kingdoms period or the subsequent Unified Silla (668-935) and Buddhist devotional works during the Koryo dynasty (918-1392). Evidence of painting is more complete for the Choson dynasty (1392-1910). Early Choson is best represented by the landscapes of An Kyon (act. ca. 1440-70), who drew upon Chinese themes, techniques and critical traditions but he developed a distinctly Korean landscape idiom that was continued by his followers. Among the more important of thsese is Chong Son (1676-1759), traditionally acknowledged as the leading exponent of true-view landscapes, a new trend in painting in Korea in the eighteenth century that advocated the depiction of actual Korean scenery as an alternative to the classical themes of Chinese painting. Genre painting, whose master practitioners included Kim Hong-do (1745-1806) and Sin Yun-bok (ca. 1758- after 1813), portrayed the daily life of the Korean people.
According to Burglind Jungmann, Pathways to Korean Culture, Paintings of the Joseon Dynasty, 1392-1910, London, 2014, pp.207-211, following the ideas of Chinese literati traditions, the focus in painting research was very focused on the painters' individuality, literary education and knowledge of stylistic traditions as conveyed through brushwork. In contrast, colourful decorative paintings done by anonymous artists were regarded as Minhwa or 'folk painting'. Recent scholarship, however, has shown that many decorative paintings formerly considered to be Minhwa were in fact done by highly trained court painters. Several paintings can be linked to court events, of which written documents exist that give information on the date of production, the purpose of the paintings and its producers. For many paintings, however, there is no such information and thus it is difficult to determine their place in history. Moreover, the boundary between paintings done for the court or for the private use of the elite and those produced for a non-elite clientele is blurred, because the same subject matter is often done in a in a most sophisticated professional manner but, in other examples also presented inn a fairly naive 'folkish' style with infinite grades between the two extremes. From this situation it becomes apparent that a wider audience sought to imitate the court and the cultural elite by commissioning the same kind of decoration for their commoner households.
Obviously, court painting needs to be approached in different ways from literati painting, and can be best understood through its symbolism and the context of its function in the event for which it was produced. While literati paintings may reveal how painters saw their environment, nature and people, court paintings tell us more about the historical and political circumstances under which they were produced and about the rituals, beliefs and aspirations of people at court. Subjects included coronations, military processions, presentations to foreign envoys and other such ceremonies. Minhwa imitating court paintings followed the same court ritual and served a similar purpose for instance at marriages and birthday celebrations for the common people.