With the popularity of ch'aekkŏri ("books and things") paintings under royal patronage in the late eighteenth century, seemingly mundane objects such as books, porcelain vases, bronze vessels, and fruits emerged as legitimate subjects in the art of Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910). Thus was born still-life painting in Korean art. This exhibition presents four screens of this genre dating from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, drawn from American collections, including one from the Metropolitan Museum. They illustrate an array of scholarly paraphernalia, antiquarian collectibles, and familiar and exotic vegetation; piles of tomes usually figure prominently in the pictures. Colorful, inventive, and irresistibly engaging, these screens embodied the scholar-gentlemen's pursuits of beauty and knowledge.
Many of the objects appearing in these screens are neither Korean-made nor of the austere aesthetic traditionally associated with the Confucian literati class, but are in fact ornate Chinese collectibles from the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). A selection of such objects from the Museum's permanent collection on view in the gallery complements the presentation. Also included in the exhibition is a large collage by the contemporary Korean artist Shin Young-ok, offering a modern interpretation of this traditional theme.