The Face of Korean in Painting


The appearance of figures in our old paintings shares the common history with the painting itself; from incised rock drawings in pre historic age through painting on the wall of tomb, buddhist paintings, folk paintings of Chosun dynasty. According to the traditional classification, a figure painting is divided into Dosuk-inmulwha or painting of an immortal, Sanyuwha or painting of beauty, and a portrait.
Now, we will see the faces of our ancestors in a portrait, and a genre painting. The oldest existing portrait is the image of one man painted on the wall of one of the old tombs of Koguryo. In Koryo dynasty, the kings and literati are known to portrait themselves. Some of the portraits are existing. In Chosun dynasty in which the confucianism was predominant over the society, many portraits were enshrined for memorizing and respecting the ancestors and old wise. Besides, there were Ujin or a portrait of King, Gongshin-chosang or a portrait of meritorious vassal, portraits of ordinary man, and sometimes portraits of woman.
Most of them were drawn by professional painters in government employ, but some literati such as Gang, Seiwhang and Yun Duseo painted their own portraits.
The Korean portraits are famous for its brilliance and, especially compared with Chinese and Japanese one, unique originality. We cannot mention the Korean painting history without figure paintings, most of which are portraits. Though most of the subjects are limited to the men of special class, the Korean portraits are characterized by the pictorial technique, which is unparalleled anywhere in the world. Without any exaggerations, the subject was drawn realistically ; every feature of the face such as speckles and beards was lively described. Futhermore, on the face, we can see the mind and character of the subject.
Unlike a portrait, the person from various social classes appears in folk painting. They are real people in the real life, not supernatural beings in the painting of Conceptual Nature. All of them in the painting of Kim Hongdo and Kim Deukshin have a lively and bright looks of a sweating smith, a tiling worker, a selling couple, farmer in rice fields, sellers in a fish market, which seems to respond the economic and cultural development in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Besides, among the genre paintings, there are the ones of play in which we can see various persons. And, in the paintings of Shin Yunbok whose main subjects were the loving couples, we can meet women with a beautiful shy or enchanting looks.
In the portraits and genre paintings we meet our ancestors whose looks are magnificent and dignified, or generous, naive, and humorous.