Friday, May 27, 2011

Lives of ancestors in brushstrokes of bamboo, orchid paintings

Rain failed to stop art lovers from visiting a renowned private art museum in northern Seoul on May 20. A long line of people were waiting to enter the Kansong Art Museum to enjoy the paintings of “Sagunja” or four noble plants from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) period.

Visitors flocked together in the main hall to gaze at the painting “Pungjuk” or “Bamboo in the Wind” drawn by Lee Jung (1554-1626) who is famous for his black-and-white bamboo paintings.

"Pungjuk" features four bamboo trees enduring strong wind. “Although they are swept backwards, the leaves are stretched to the tips, as if to say that they will never give into outside power,” said Choi Wan-su, the head researcher of the art museum.

“Bamboo shoots up without crooks or bends, weathering the harsh winter with an empty trunk and a shield of hard shiny bark,” explained Choi, adding that ancient Korean painters and scholars loved the plant due to such distinct characters.

Three other noble plants are plum which sends fragrance through chilly winds in early spring, orchid which fills the mountainside with a soothing scent of its flower and chrysanthemum which shows off its integrity by blossoming in late autumn frost.

An important theme in East Asian still-life paintings, the four plants represent human virtues that ancient Korean scholars and painters emphasized: righteousness, strength, purity and modesty.

Also attracting visitors were orchid paintings, on the second floor of the museum, by Lee Ha-eung (1820-1898), a late Joseon painter better known to Koreans as father and a regent of King Gojong in the late 1800s.

“Lee expressed sharp orchid leaves by pressing down and releasing his brush in quick strokes,” Choi said.

Lee must have been as adamant in his painting as he was in his international policies, resisting the unavoidable globalism. “Be strict enough not to be deceitful in a painting that many look and point at,” wrote Lee in a collection of his paintings.

Other eye-catching works among some 100 paintings on display are those by black-and-white painter Kim Hong-do (1745- ?) and calligrapher Kim Jeong-hee (1786-1856). Famous for drawing low-class people, Kim Hong-do boasted talent in still-life as well. Two paintings ― "Baekmae," or “White Plum Blossom” and "Sinjukhamro" or “Dew-Laden Bamboo” ― are on show. Also featured are three orchid paintings by Kim Jeong-hee, who is recognized for developing his own calligraphic font style called "Chusa," adopted after his penname.
The museum also features the oldest ever painting of chrysanthemum in Korea, “Osangjeolgae,”or “the Lonely Honor that Withstands Frost,” drawn by Shim Sa-jeong (1707-1769). He conveyed a poetic rhythm by varying the density of ink.

The biannual exhibition, whose admission is free, will continue through Sunday at the museum, a 10-minute walk from Hansung University subway station on the No. 4 metro line, exit 6. It is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call (02) 762-0442.


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