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Joseon art in the eyes of foreigners

Posted January. 15, 2021 07:30,   

Updated January. 15, 2021 07:30


Foreigners’ interest in “Korean arts and culture” should no longer come as a surprise. “A Journey to Find Yourself: Research of Korean Paintings by Foreigners” at Kimdaljin Art Archives & Museum displays approximately 100 works, including books, exhibition materials and pictures, about foreigners who studied Korean art.

A German book entitled “History of Korean Art (Geschichte der Koreanischen Kunst)” whose old blue cover features a painting of a turtle-shaped stone with a stele was written by Benedictine priest Andre Eckardt, also known as Ok Nak-an, in Leipzig, Germany in 1929. The 225-page book, which has a painting of a statue of four Buddhist protectors of the world inside, was launched in London, England at the same time. The author wrote the book a year after he arrived in Germany from Joseon where he had spent 19 years since 1909 as a missionary. The book contains about 500 images including illustrations and maps of the Korean Peninsula.

Eckardt asks if Joseon has its own art before he goes on to elaborate on the history of Korean art. The author, who also explains in detail the pronunciation of the language of Joseon in the book, sums up his view of Korean art as follows:

“There is amazing simplicity in the art of Joseon. Their lines and forms are beautifully created with sophistication and their statues with control. Artists in Joseon do not have a fondness for gloss, a common feature in Chinese art. However, they lack persistence and could be complacent about discovering new forms of beauty.”

The woman who was taken a picture with Lee Eung-no, Do Sang-bong, Lee Ma-dong and Kim Yeong-gi in white suits in 1957 is Ellen P. Conant, an Asian art professor of the University of Georgia. A Dong-A Ilbo article, which was published on August 21 in the same year, is displayed together with the black and white picture. “Ms. Conant introduces about 70 Korean modern artworks at a famous art gallery in New York,” it states.

Taek Kyoon Sohn sohn@donga.com