Go to contents

5-generation portraits of a Joseon noble family to be on display

5-generation portraits of a Joseon noble family to be on display

Posted December. 20, 2017 08:20,   

Updated December. 20, 2017 09:01


The portrait of Kang No (1809-1886), the great-grandson of Pyoam Kang Se-hwang (1713-1791), one of the most well-known aristocratic painters of the Joseon Dynasty, has been clawed back from the United States. Pyoam was the teacher of Danwon Kim Hong-do, and Kang No was a Jwaeuijeong (a position of a vice prime minister) in the late 19th century. As the four portraits of direct ancestors of Kang No in four generations have remained at the National Museum of Korea, this is the first time in Korea to see the portraits of the five generations of a family of aristocrats of the Joseon Dynasty all at once.

“We found out that the portrait of Kang No was submitted to Everard Auctions and Appraisals in Savannah, Georgia, the United States, in October 2017, so we conducted a verification on genuineness,” the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation said Tuesday. “We purchased the cultural heritage at the actual place and brought it to Korea on Dec. 8.” This portrait had been purchased by an American at a Catholic church, and the process how it went out to overseas has not yet been figured out yet. According to the Kang family union of Jinju, the portrait is assumed to have been stolen during the Korean War.

According to the “painting journal” written on the portrait, this portrait was painted for Kang No’s 70th birthday in 1879. The detailed style of painting, which shows wrinkles on skin, smallpox marks and thick beard, is impressive. Kim Ul-lim, a researcher of arts and sciences at the National Museum of Korea, eval‎uated the portrait as “a masterpiece that viewers can feel ‘the soul of the person in the portrait,’ which expresses not only the person’s looks but also the inner side.”

Kang Hyun, the first generation, and Kang Se-hwang, the second generation, were from Giroso (a government office honoring high rank officials of age 70 and over). Kang Yi-oh, the fourth generation, passed the entrance exam for military leadership, and was a famous painter. Kang No, the fifth generation, was hired by Heungseon Daewongun, and served as the minister of war and a vice prime minister. The portraits of Kang Hyu, Kang Se-hwang and Kang Yi-oh are designated as national treasures.

The National Museum of Korea is scheduled to exhibit six portraits, including the five generations of the Kang family, and that of Kang Min-cheom, an official during the Goryeo Dynasty and the progenitor of the Kang Family of Jinju, in August next year.

Sang-Un Kim sukim@donga.com