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Rare exhibition to show paintings from Joseon’s cultural golden age

“Pungak Naesan Chongram” (Looking at the Inner Pungak Mountain), Jeong Seon’s portrayal of Mount Geumgang in autumn. (Kansong Art Museum)
“Pungak Naesan Chongram” (Looking at the Inner Pungak Mountain), Jeong Seon’s portrayal of Mount Geumgang in autumn. (Kansong Art Museum)
Paintings from the cultural golden age of Joseon will go on public display at the Kansong Art Museum starting Sunday.

It will be the first exhibition this year for the museum, a treasure trove of artwork including more than 10 National Treasures, which also marks the 50th anniversary of the death of its founder Jeon Hyeong-pil.

Named after Jeon’s pen name, the museum holds only two exhibitions a year, each free of charge and lasting two weeks. The doors and the windows at this venerable institution, dedicated primarily to research, are shuttered tight the rest of the year to prevent light from damaging the precious relics.

The upcoming exhibition will feature the paintings of Jeong Seon, who was at the forefront of developing a technique that would paint Korean landscape more realistically and beautifully during the Jingyeong Era, spanning 125 years from the mid- to late-Joseon period (1675-1800). It will also feature paintings by other celebrated painters whose works were influenced by Jeong.

Korean art had been strongly influenced by Chinese art, but artists of the Jingyeong Era developed styles and methods that reflected Korea’s own beauty as well as political and social circumstances.

“Jeong was able to depict both the rugged peaks of rocky mountains and thick forests harmoniously based on the harmony of yin and yang, one of the core tenets of neo-Confucianism, which was the dominant philosophy of the period,” wrote Choi Wan-gyu, director of the Center for the Study of Korean Arts, the museum’s research unit, in the exhibition catalog.
“Dosan Seowon,” by Jeong Seon depicts Dosan Seowon, a school of Confucian learning near Andong, North Gyeongsang Province. (Kansong Art Museum)
“Dosan Seowon,” by Jeong Seon depicts Dosan Seowon, a school of Confucian learning near Andong, North Gyeongsang Province. (Kansong Art Museum)

The landscape paintings feature people of the period wearing traditional robes and hats, which led to the emergence of genre paintings that depict scenes of ordinary people and their everyday lives.

Kim Hong-do was one of the painters during the late Jingyoung Era who focused on portraying the daily activities of common people.

Kim’s use of color and various composition techniques challenged Jeong’s established techniques, at the same time successfully adding more diversity to the style.

“For instance, a variety of composition techniques seen in Kim Hong-do’s paintings challenge the monotonous composition of Jeong Seon, characterized by the contrast of light and dark,” wrote Choi.

Other artists featured in the exhibition include Shin Yoon-bok, Lee In-moon, Kim Deuk-sin, who also complemented and further developed Jeong Seon’s painting style.

The exhibition runs from May 13-27 at the Kansong Art Museum in Seongbuk-dong, Seoul. The opening hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call (02) 762-0442.

By Lee Woo-young  (wylee@heraldcorp.com)
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