The paintings traded at the Waegwan

With the suspension of direct exchange through The Joseon Tongsinsa mission in the 17-18th centuries, the Choryang Waegwan emerged as the only place where Japanese could obtain Joseon paintings. Subjects of the paintings produced in the Waegwan were varied; tiger paintings, hawk paintings, flower-and-bird paintings, landscape paintings and more. Among them, tigers, hawks, and Southern-school landscape paintings, which were well known as Joseon's specialties, were the most popular subjects in paintings for trade with Japan. It was closely related to the taste of Japanese Samurais and the flourishing of Nanga Painting (Southern-school painting) at the time. You may take a closer look at the paintings produced and traded within the Waegwan area from the late 18th century to the first half of the 19th century.

Painting of a Brave Tiger under a Pine Tree (松下猛虎圖)

Kim Yanggi, Joseon dynasty, 19th century, ink and color on silk, 121.4×40.5cm, National Museum of Korea ⓒNational Museum of Korea

Japanese Interest in Joseon tigers may account for the large number of Joseon tiger paintings traded to Japan. In this painting, the court painter Kim Yanggi emulates the characteristic painting style of his illustrious father, Kim Hongdo, that gained widespread popularity in the late Joseon dynasty. He also adopts the common trope of positioning the tiger in an anthropomorphic cross-legged pose. The fact that Kim Yanggi also participated in producing so-called gumu* paintings for export to Japan, suggests that his father’s style was also popular among the Waegwan painters and their Japanese patrons throughout the Nineteenth Century.

*Gumu (求貿): Trade goods produced for export to Japan.

Click to see the paintings in detail

Meaning of "Joseon (朝鮮)" written next to the painter’s signature

One of the features of trade paintings distributed through the Waegwan is that terms referring to the country’ name were added to the names of the artists. For instance, "Joseon," "Joseon person," or "one from the Land of Joseon" were often added in front of the painter’s name in order to emphasize the painter’s country of origin. 

As a result, so-called gwanseo* that provide identifying information about a painting and its production, were included on a great variety of paintings ranging from relatively innocuous works by local artists to masterpieces of calligraphy left behind by Joseon envoys.

*Gwanseo (款署)

: A record of the title of the painting and associated information such as the name of the artist, location and date of production etc… that was inscribed on the painting after its completion.

Let’s think about it: 

What similarities do you notice between Korean Tiger Paintings and Japanese Tiger Paintings?

"Hilarious face and absurd posture with its left leg outstretched”

"Tail curved in an S-shape"

Let’s think about it:

What similarities do you notice between Korean Tiger Paintings 

and Japanese Tiger Paintings?

"Hilarious face and absurd posture 

with its left leg outstretched”

"Tail curved in an S-shape"

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