Leeum shows art from latter Joseon periodDecadence has always been a key factor in describing the social mood of the late Joseon dynasty. In contrast, however, a great deal of modern culture and art emerged during this period of transition, challenging the Confucian outlook on traditional values.
“Paintings of the Late Joseon Dynasty,” at Leeum, is an extensive display of paintings and calligraphy by the dominant figures in the art world and their varied artistic styles during the closing years of the dynasty.
The exhibit looks at three major painting styles ― those practiced within the court, orthodox paintings praised within the mainstream art world and new influences adopted by the artists.
One of the key works that encapsulate the radical artistic changes of the time is “Blossoming Red and White Plum Trees” by Yu Suk.
The work, a lush painting of plum trees highlighted in pink and green, illustrates a dramatic shift in plum painting, a subject that often embodied the integrity of scholars, from a formal to a much more ornamental, freehand style. Further marking this change, the painting was mounted into a screen, a method of display that had never been used before.
In the section of court paintings, the exhibit presents commissioned work by court painters, using brilliant colors and elaborate techniques. Typical examples of the genre are portraits by Chae Yong-sin, who used lush colors in the royal costumes and precise details in the facial expressions, almost to the point of photorealism.
As a highlight of the court paintings, the exhibit includes works by Jang Seung-eop (whose life story was made into Im Kwon-taek’s film “Chihwaseon”), who often distorted the objects he painted, adopting styles from Qing China.
The orthodox paintings, which gained popularity during the latter half of the Joseon period in the southern part of the peninsula, features works by some of the most critically-acclaimed artists of the time.
Led by Chusa Kim Jeong-hui, the artists distinguished themselves from their predecessors for focusing on painting as a reflection of their ideas and philosophy.
One of the most interesting works in the section is “Landscape of Eight Artists,” a series of paintings by eight students of Chusa, the most esteemed calligrapher and art critic of the time. The series deliberately mimicked Chusa’s artistic style.
The paintings, which are startlingly similar in style and form, are accompanied by the artists’ names, brief biographical information and criticisms of them by Chusa. The work makes it clear what power Chusa had for artists of the time, serving as a critical document of a mainstream art world dominated by a single figure.
In the new currents section, the exhibit shows new painting techniques adopted during the Joseon period. Works from the section clearly show signs of being influenced by Western art, whether in an emphasis on gradation or the bright colors employed. It includes paintings of opulent flowers and butterflies on silk by Nam Gye-wu, postcards of neighborhood scenes that were produced specifically to sell to foreigners in Korea and a map of Korea.
A satellite exhibit features the calligraphy of Kim Jeong-hui.
by Park Soo-mee
“Paintings of the Late Joseon Dynasty” runs at Leeum through Jan. 28. From Hanganjin subway station, line No. 6, exit 1, walk straight for about five minutes. For more information, call (02) 2014-6901.