Korean painting includes paintings made in Korea or by overseas Koreans on all surfaces. It includes art as old as the petroglyphs through post-modern conceptual art using transient forms of light. Calligraphy rarely occurs in oil paintings and is dealt with in the brushwork entry, Korean calligraphy. Like arts of east Asia, beauty of space is important for Korean painting.
Generally the history of Korean painting is dated to approximately 108 C.E., when it first appears as an independent form. Between that time and the paintings and frescoes that appear on the Goguryeo tombs, there has been little research. Until the Joseon dynasty the primary influence was Chinese painting though done with Korean landscapes, facial features, Buddhist topics, and an emphasis on celestial observation in keeping with the rapid development of Korean astronomy.
Throughout the history of Korean painting, there has been a constant separation of monochromatic works of black brushwork on very often mulberry paper or silk; and the colourful folk art or min-hwa, ritual arts, tomb paintings, and festival arts which had extensive use of colour.
This distinction was often class-based: scholars, particularly in Confucian art felt that one could see colour in monochromatic paintings within the gradations and felt that the actual use of colour coarsened the paintings, and restricted the imagination. Korean folk art, and painting of architectural frames was seen as brightening certain outside wood frames, and again within the tradition of Chinese architecture, and the early Buddhist influences of profuse rich thalo and primary colours inspired by Art of India.
Korean painters in the post-1945 period have assimilated some of the approaches of the west. Certain European artists with thick impasto technique and foregrounded brushstrokes captured the Korean interest first. Such artists as Gauguin, Monticelli, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Pissarro, and Braque have been highly influential as they have been the most taught in art schools, with books both readily available and translated into Korean early. And from these have been drawn the tonal palettes of modern Korean artists: yellow ochre, cadmium yellow, Naples yellow, red earth, and sienna. All thickly painted, roughly stroked, and often showing heavily textured canvases or thick pebbled handmade papers.
Colour theory has been used over formal perspective, and there has yet to be an overlap between painterly art and pop-graphics, since the primary influence on painters is ceramics art.
The expected genres of Buddhist art showing the Buddha, or Buddhist monks, and Confucian art of scholars in repose, or studying in quiet often mountainous surroundings follows general East Asian art trends. Nimbus colours are not necessarily gold, and may be suggested by lighter colours. Faces tend to realism and show humanity and age. Drapery is done with some to great care. The face is generally two-dimensional, the drapery three-dimensional. As in medieval and renaissance western art, drapery and faces are done often by two or three artists who specialize in one particular painterly skill. Iconography follows Buddhist iconography.
Scholars tend to have the traditional stove-pipe hats, or other rank hats, and scholar's monochromatic robes. Typically they are at rest in teahouses near mountains or at mountain lodges, or will be pictured with their teachers or mentors.
Hunting scenes, familiar throughout the entire world, are often seen in Korean courtly art, and are reminiscent of Mongolian and Persian hunting scenes. Wild boar, deer, and stags, and Siberian tigers as well were hunted. Particularly lethal spears and spear-handled maces were used by horsemen within hunting grounds after archers on the ground led the initial provocation of the animals as beaters. Buddhas tend to have Korean facial features, and are in easy resting positions.
Goguryeo art, preserved largely in tomb paintings, is noted for the vigour of its imagery. Finely detailed art can be seen in Goguryeo tombs and other murals. Many of the art pieces has an original style of painting.
Goguryeo tomb murals date from around AD 500 during the Goguryeo period, 37 BC-AD 668. These magnificent, still strongly colored murals show daily life and Korean mythologies of the time. By 2005, 70 murals had been found, mostly in the Taedong river basin near Pyongyang, the Anak area in South Hwanghae Province.
During the Goryeo dynasty exceptionally beautiful paintings were produced in the service of Buddhism; paintings of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Korean: Gwaneum Bosal) are especially noted for their elegance and spirituality. The patronage of the Goryeo's leading families resulted in the production of the high quality Buddhist paintings like refined and detailed paintings of Buddhist saints or monks.
The influence of Confucianism superseded that of Buddhism in this period, however Buddhist elements remained and it is not true that Buddhist art declined, it continued, and was encouraged but not by the royal centres of art, or the accepted taste of the Joseon Dynasty publicly; however in private homes, and indeed in the summer palaces of the Joseon Dynasty kings, the simplicity of Buddhist art was given great appreciation - but it was not seen as citified art.
During the transitional period leading into the Joseon dynasty some Korean buddhist painters left for Japan. Yi Su-mun (1400?-1450?) who is considered the founder of Soga school of Japan, was a boat-companion of the older priest-painter, Shubun of Shokokuji when he returned from Korea to Japan in 1424. Japanese tradition declared that Yi was so skilled after his "Catfish and Gourd" painting that Shogun Yoshimochi claimed him to be a son of the legendary Josetsu, as an adoptive honorific. Yi painted alongside and influenced the originals of Japanese zen art; and was known in Japan by his Japanese name Ri Shubun or the Korean Shubun. The entire tradition of needle points in Japanese art began with Yi, and continued through his students, known as the Soga School, a more natural group of artists than the courtly school patronized by the Ashikaga shoguns.
While the Joseon Dynasty began under military auspices, Goryeo styles were let to evolve, and Buddhist iconography (bamboo, orchid, plum and chrysanthemum; and the familiar knotted goodluck symbols) were still a part of genre paintings. Neither colours nor forms had any real change, and rulers stood aside from edicts on art. Ming ideals and imported techniques continued in early dynasty idealized works.
Early dynasty painters include:
- An Gyeon, 15th century painter
Mid-dynasty painting styles moved towards increased realism. A national painting style of landscapes called "true view" began - moving from the traditional Chinese style of idealized general landscapes to particular locations exactly rendered. While not photographic, the style was academic enough to become established and supported as a standardized style in Korean painting.
Mid-dynasty painters include:
- Hwang Jipjung (born 1533)
The mid to late Joseon dynasty is considered the golden age of Korean painting. It coincides with the shock of the collapse of Ming dynasty links with the Manchu emperors accession in China, and the forcing of Korean artists to build new artistic models based on nationalism and an inner search for particular Korean subjects. At this time China ceased to have pre-eminent influence, Korean art took its own course, and became increasingly distinctive.
The list of major painters is long, but the most notable names include:
- Jeong Seon (1676–1759), a literati painter influenced by the Wu school of the Ming dynasty in China; much taken by the Diamond mountain landscape.
- Yun Duseo (1668–1715), a portraitist.
- Kim Hong-do (1745–1806?) aka Danwon in his pen name, did highly coloured crowded scenes of common and working-class people in many natural work activities - his paintings have a post-card or photographic realism in a palette of whites, blues, and greens. There is little if any calligraphy in his works; but they have a sense of humour and variety of gestures and movement that make them highly imitated to this day.
- Shin Yun-bok (1758-?) aka Hyewon in his pen name, a court painter who did paintings often of the scholarly or yangban classes in motion through stylized natural settings; he is famous for his strong reds and blues, and grayish mountainscapes.
- Jang Seung-eop (1843–1897) aka Owon in his pen name, was a painter of the late Joseon Dynasty in Korea and one of three great wons of Joseon Korea.
What calligraphy used is often discreetly done.
Other important artists of the "literati school" include:
Ahn Gyeon (?-?), Dream Journey to the Peach Blossom Land, 1447, Tenri University Central Library.
- Byeon Sangbyeok-dog.jpg
Byeon Sangbyeok (1730~?), Gyeondo (painting of a dog). 18th century, Joseon Korea.
Kim Hong-do (1745–1806?), Four Districts of Mount Geumgang, 1788, Landscape of Mt. Geumgang.
Kim Hong-do, A Cat and a Butterfly, 18th century, Gansong Art Gallery.
Shin Yun-bok (1758-?), A Boat Ride, 1805, Gansong Art Gallery.
Jo Hee-ryong (1797–1859), A House amongst Apricot Trees, Gansong Art Gallery.
Artists during the Japanese occupation
Korean artists from the middle 1880s til 1945, when Korea was freed by the allies after the unconditional surrender of Japan, had a very difficult time.
From the 1880s onward, The Japanese admired Western art and looked down on traditional Korea art. However, Japan philosopher Yanagi Sōetsu appreciates Korean folk art, trying to protect the Korean art.
Japan held an exhibition of the Korea art and produced many Koreans young artists such as Park Su-geun. To this date there has not been a retrospective show of the hidden art under Japanese occupation, or a discussion of the conflicts between those who were forced into compromise under Japanese artistic demands. It is an issue of great sensitivity, with artists who studied and worked in Japan and painted in the Japanese style forced into self-defense and justification of compromise without other alternatives.
Bridging the late Joseon dynasty and the Japanese occupation period were noteworthy artists such as:
- Chi Un-Yeong (1853–1936)
Major 20th-century Korean artists
21st-century Korean artists
- Kumja Paik Kim (2006). The art of Korea: highlights from the collection of San Francisco's Asian Art Museum. ISBN 0939117312.
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- Painting by Chi Un-Yeong (1853–1936) of the famous 11th-century Chinese scholar-poet Su Dong-Po
- artist.htm Contemporary visual artists with a focus on painters
- Online Collection of Modern and Contemporary Korean Paintings