Exhibit shows Joseon paintings recovered from Japan

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Exhibit shows Joseon paintings recovered from Japan


“Bangmokdo,” or “Grazing,” artist unknown (circa 15th-16th century) Provided by the gallery

As the mother tiger looks down on her cub, it is her nose that gives her a serious air. And unlike the tigers that dance with humor and wit in folktale-like renderings of the revered animals, the tiger in this painting, which was created during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), wears a stern expression, conveying something about the time in which it was made.

Stepping into the main entrance of the Hakgojae Gallery in Sogyeok-dong, central Seoul, that picture of the tiger family is the first thing greeting visitors. The gallery is filled with several tiger pictures, assembled for the Year of the Tiger, which is this year. What makes these pieces special, however, is the fact that they have just found their way back to Korea after having been sent to Japan a long time ago.

The exhibit, “Return Home after 500 Years - Joseon-era Paintings Return from Japan,” consists of 30 rare paintings originating from the early to late Joseon Dynasty period. It is a continuation of the gallery’s January 2009 exhibition, “The Rediscovery of Modern Korean Paintings,” which showed writings and drawings dating back to colonial Korea.

Woo Chan-gyu, the director of Hakgojae, said that he has traveled to and from Japan many times over the past 10 years, collecting Joseon-era art pieces from auctions and private collectors. Woo said his goal was to aid research on Korean paintings created before the middle years of the Joseon Dynasty, only a few of which have been successfully passed down.


A tiger and a magpie, artist unknown (circa 17th-18th century)

“An increasing number of Joseon-era paintings are now returning to Korea from Japan, which indicates that the Korean economy has grown to such a degree that we are now able to re-purchase the items from Japan,” Lee Tae-ho, a professor of art history at Myongji University, said.

“It also seems that Japan’s taste in Korean art is changing - the older generation in Japan who appreciated high-class art pieces such as paintings and porcelain is disappearing,” he added.

The most striking painting in the exhibit is “Bangmokdo” (“Grazing”), a large piece displayed in the center of the gallery. The piece was estimated to have been made between the 15th and 16th centuries, and it is remarkable that this painting, rendered on silk, has survived for 500 years. When you look at it, you can feel that the Buddhist paintings of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), or the murals of Goguryeo (37 B.C.-668), have come to life on the silk. Vivid and elaborate, the scenic beauty of the pastures depicted glows with deep, brilliant hues. Even the white horse rolling on the ground as if to relieve the itch on its back is well-expressed.

Through the Japanese collection, the exhibition allows viewers to see the similarities and differences in the aesthetics of the cultures of Korea, China and Japan. Now, it falls to Korean researchers to match the unidentified art pieces with the artists who made them and the periods in which they were created.

*The exhibit “Return Home after 500 Years - Joseon-era Paintings Return from Japan” will run until April 25 at the Hakgojae Gallery in Sogyeok-dong, central Seoul. Go to Anguk Station, line No. 3, exit 1. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays through Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, contact the gallery at (02) 720-1524 or visit http://hakgojae.com.

By Chung Jae-suk [estyle@joongang.co.kr]
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