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earliest know Korean paintings were murals painted on walls of tombs of the
Three Kingdoms period (57 B.C. - A.D. 668). The paintings of Koguryo were
generally dynamic and rhythmic, those of Paekche, elegant and refined, while the
paintings of Shila were somewhat speculative and meticulous. Little is
known of the painting o the Unified Shilla period (668-935) as only one example
survives, but it is believed that painting flourished during this culturally
rich and harmonious period.
In the Koryo period (918-1392), painting
flourished in great variety, with the heavy Buddhist influence reflected in
temple murals and Buddhist scroll paintings. Many master painters produced
works of the so-call Four Gentlemen Plants (the plum, orchid,
chrysanthemum and bamboo). Early Chosun painters were unable to free
themselves from conservative styles, but later painters showed increasing
creativity and originality, and began painting genre paintings depicting scenes
from everyday life. Understandably, during the Japanese annexation period,
traditional painting suffered although Western painting was introduced and
became prevalent. After liberation, interest in both traditional and
Western painting grew rapidly, and today, both styles flourish in Korea.
Korean painting has developed steadily throughout its long history from the
Three Kindgoms period (57 B.C. -A.D. 668) to modern times. The earliest
examples of the Three Kingdoms' paintings are found on the walls of Koguryo
tombs in southern Manchuria and near P'yongyang (third-fourth century); and in
Tomb 155 in Kyongju, capital of Shilla (sixth century). It is said that
while paintings of Koguryo are dynamic and rhythmic, the paintings of Shills are
somewhat speculative and meticulous.
In the Koryo period (918-1392), painting flourished in great variety, inheriting
the artistic tradition of Unified Shilla which marked the golden age of
painting. Artist of the era created temple murals and Buddhist scroll
paintings, marking a flourishing Korean Buddhism. many master painters
produced works of the so-called Four Gentlemen Plants (the plum blossoms,
orchids, chrysanthemums and bamboo) portraits and Buddhist painting.
During the early Choson Dynasty, distinguished painters were still unable to
free themselves from conservatism, remaining engrossed in the official style of
the Chinese Northern and Southern Schools. A significant eparture took
place during the 18th century Choson. Chong Son (1676-1759) was awakened
to the national identity of Korean painting and subsequently poured his passion
into painting the real landscape of Korea. Among his works, Mt.
Inwangsan after Rainfall, The Diamond Mountain (Mt. Kumgangsan( and
Fresh Breeze Valley show his characteristic uniqueness.
the latter half of the 18th century, European science and technology were
introduced to Korea by Catholic missionaries, and the Sirhak movement led
artists to seek the truth in reality. They began to paint secular
paintings on the themes of daily life of the common people called genre
paintings. This trend can be said to reflect Choson Dynasty's changing
attitude toward modern society. As the pioneering artists in genre
paintings, Kim Hong-do (1745-1806) and Shin Yuk-bok (1758-?) left several
notable works which give us a taste of what life was like in Choson
society. Paintings by anonymous artists, though less sophisticated in
style than those by the Confucian artist-scholars, dealt more with the daily
life of average Korean and their aspirations and dreams. Colorful and
vivid, these paintings were free of conventional restraints. They attract
remarkable interest today both in and outside of Korea.
Following the political disorder and Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910, the
traditional styles of painting tended to deteriorate under Japanese colonial
policies. Western oil painting was introduced at this time and grew to be
very prevalent. After liberation from Japanese rule in 1945, the tradition
of Korean painting was revived by a number of outstanding artists. A great
number of Korean artists educated in Europe or the United States have played a
major role in introducing to Korea up-to-date trends and styles in contemporary
art. Both tradition Oriental painting and Western-style oil painting
flourish in present-day Korea with several prominent artists displaying creative
genius and originality.
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