A Closer Look at “Auspicious Beauty”

October 6, 2011

On Friday, we officially open Auspicious Beauty: Korean Folk Painting in our Focus Gallery. This exhibition focuses on paintings from Korea’s Joseon Dynasty, which ruled from late 14th to the late 19th century. The origins of these works are just as fascinating as the subject matter itself– we examine the meaning of the motifs while also considering why these symbols were important to those who owned them.

The Joseon Dynasty was the longest-ruling Confucian dynasty in Korea, and encouraged these ideals throughout an increasingly consolidated Korean state. This period also saw the height of the classical arts and unprecedented growth in trade and scientific advancement.

The artistic golden age featured a genre of painting called minwha, or folk painting, that reflects societal values, religious ideas, and popular humor. Usually placed in a room in folding screen format or hung on walls in scroll format, this genre illustrates various subjects including scholars’ equipment, characters related to Confucian virtues, and natural themes such as birds-and-flowers and a range of animals. These minwha not only decorated the rooms of many households but were also understood to bring good luck, ward off evil spirits, and show moral virtues. In contrast to highly revered literati painting by scholar-gentlemen, minwha received little respect as an art form but continued to enjoy strong support among the growing middle class during periods of political stability.

In our exhibition,we’re showcasing an  eight-panel screen of flowers and rocks we recently acquired (shown above). The motif represents wealth and eternity, and would likely have decorated a women’s personal space to fill the household with auspicious meaning. A screen such as this one would have been prepared as a wedding dowry and cherished as a family heirloom for generations.

Auspicious Beauty: Korean Folk Painting opens Friday, October 7 and runs through March 25, 2012. But don’t wait to come see it– we’re kicking off its opening day with a special Korean Arts Council mixer following Friday’s Art and Coffee, which will discuss two key Korean pieces in our about-to-close 40 Years of Building the Pacific Asia Museum Collection. Other related programs include a Free Family Festival and a Curator’s Tour, so make sure you keep an eye on our Events Calendar so you don’t miss out!

Image:  Screen of Flowers and Rocks, Korea, Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910); 19th century. Ink and mineral pigments on silk, Pacific Asia Museum Collection, Gift of Dr. Don W. Lee in loving memory of his parents, Lee Bum-Soon and Min Young-Eui. 2009.16.4