GALLERY 2600 | EAST ASIAN ART
For more than a thousand years, the most admired works of art in China and Korea have reflected a deep appreciation of nature. While the subjects of East Asian secular paintings are diverse—landscapes, flora and fauna, figural representations, and narrative scenes—landscape paintings have been given pride of place. The works in this section feature Korean landscapes from the Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910) and Chinese landscape paintings by literati and professional artists from the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties.
The term for landscape painting in East Asia translates as “mountains and water” (Chinese: shanshui; Korean: sansu; Japanese: sansui)—fitting for a genre that always features these two elements, often in the form of a grand mountain peak and a waterfall or rolling hills along a river. Whether real locations or imagined settings, painted landscapes evoke the experience of being in nature and offer a virtual means of escape from the hardships of urban living.
Throughout the Song dynasty (960–1279), naturalistic depiction was the primary goal of Chinese painting. During the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368), literati painters—scholar-gentlemen who had mastered the arts of the calligraphic brush—denounced the highly polished, conventionally realistic works of professional artists, instead exalting the expressive value of brushwork. While landscapes by court painters and professional artists of the succeeding Ming and Qing dynasties achieved an impressive level of topographic realism, influential literati artists and art critics from these periods promoted the ideal of landscape painting as an expression of the artist’s learning, ethics, and personality. This concept also gained popularity in Korea during the Chosŏn dynasty and within certain schools of Japanese art during the Edo period (1615–1868). Korea, in particular, adopted many Chinese aesthetic and cultural values, transforming them over time into new, distinctively Korean styles.