‘Hunting Scene’ painting of ‘barbarians’ finally returns home

The eight-part Hunting Scene folding screen, known as Horyeopdo, was bought by the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation at a Christie’s auction last September. [CULTURAL HERITAGE ADMINISTRATION]

When an eight-panel folding screen with a hunting scene went up for auction at Christie’s last September, officials from the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation said, “They immediately and instinctively felt that the painting was of great value and that it should be returned his motherland. ”

With a successful bid, the Foundation managed to bring the painting back and organized a special exhibition to celebrate her homecoming at the National Palace Museum of Korea in central Seoul from February 18. The eight-part folding umbrella measures 392 centimeters. long and 154.7 inches high.

This painting, titled “Hunting Scene” has a style called Horyeopdo, which means “Hunt for Northern Barbarians”. It shows the Emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1616-1912) enjoying a hunting exhibition.

Horyeopdo is not a rare type of painting.

There are dozens of such paintings in other museums around the country, as well as one in the British Museum and one in the Cleveland Museum of Art. According to the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation, the recently acquired painting is of superior quality and “shows characteristics of a high quality court painting with great expression the landscape and the exquisite representation of human figures ”. In contrast, the Foundation says that the existing ones in Korea “are mainly focused on the style of folk painting”.

The man in the blue outfit is the emperor of the Qing Dynasty. [CULTURAL HERITAGE ADMINISTRATION]

The man in the blue outfit is the emperor of the Qing Dynasty. [CULTURAL HERITAGE ADMINISTRATION]

As the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) entered the era of the reign of King Jeongjo (1776-1800) the so-called “Reformed monarch”, a strange art collection fad spread among the royal family and nobles. It was supposed to own and hang a Horyeopdo painting of the Qing Dynasty emperors, which the Joseon people called “barbarians”.

There are even records that state that many Joseon nobles tried to get their hands on the pictures by asking envoys traveling to the Qing Dynasty for locally made Horyeopdo.

The person who took the lead in this strange fashion was King Jeongjo. He ordered one of Joseon’s most famous painters, Kim Hong-do (1745-1806), to paint a horyeopdo to hang in the palace, and had the royal family and courtiers watch him.

Why did he want a painting with the “barbarians” who brought the previous King Injo to his knees in a humiliating surrender?

According to the Cultural Heritage Administration, the Joseon people at that time felt ambivalent about the Qing Dynasty people.

The Joseon Dynasty was occupied twice by the Manchu Forces, once in 1627 and again in 1636, forcing King Injo to surrender to Qing’s Hong Taiji. Because of this, the Joseon Dynasty viewed the Qing Dynasty as a “barbaric nation.” Towards the end of the 18th century, some 140 years later, with the cultural influx of the Qing Dynasty, which was the most powerful nation at the time, the Joseon people’s sentiment towards the Qing Dynasty began to change and interest in it began increase quickly. Against this complex background, and in line with King Jeongjo’s military policy, such a painting style began to multiply in Korea.

The painting style is similar to the famous artist Kim Hong-do from Joseon.  Experts revealed that it was a replica of Kim's painting. [CULTURAL HERITAGE ADMINISTRATION]

The painting style is similar to the famous artist Kim Hong-do from Joseon. Experts revealed that it was a replica of Kim’s painting. [CULTURAL HERITAGE ADMINISTRATION]

Historians believe that King Jeongjo’s desire to emphasize the importance of knowing who your enemies were and being prepared for war gradually became a cultural fad among the people.

“The recently returned Horyeopdo is the most artistically complete and of the highest quality,” said Chung Byung-do, professor of art history at Gyeongju University.

When it was auctioned off by Christie’s it featured the painting as Kim Hong-do’s, also known as the artist who first painted this style of painting on the orders of King Jeongjo. However, after research by local experts, it was concluded that it was a recreation of Kim’s works by a later generation painter.

“It appears that Horyeopdo’s landscape expression, which was converted this time, is very similar to Kim Hong-do’s paintings, drawn by a Dohwaseo painter in the late 18th or early 19th centuries,” said Chung.

“The returned painting is expected to expand the scope of research on paintings on the subject, which so far has mainly focused on folk painting and is used for various purposes including exhibition and education,” said Kim Byeong-yun, an official with the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation.

BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [[email protected]]

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