About Shin yun bok the great artist of Joseon

Posted On August 25, 2010

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Shin Yun bok, better known by his pen name Hyewon, (born 1758) was a Korean painter of the Joseon Dynastyy. Like his contemporaries Danwon and Geungjae, he is known for his realistic depictions of daily life in his time. His genre paintings are distinctly more erotic than Danwon’s, a fact which contributed to his act of expelling from the royal painting institute, Dohwaseo. Painting was frequently a hereditary occupation in the Joseon period, and Hyewon’s father and grandfather had both been court painters. Together with Danwon and the later painter Owon, Hyewon is remembered today as one of the “Three Won” of Joseon-period painting.

Not much is known about Shin Yun-bok’s life. He was the son of royal court painter Hanpyeong, who had participated in painting the royal portraits of Yeongjo and Jeongjo. Hyewon reached the official rank of cheomjeoljesa (officer) at the Dohwaseo and was adept at different styles of painting; genre, landscape, and animals. It is speculated that he left a great number of paintings due to the popularity of genre paintings during that era. There are different studies and theories regarding his life, that he may not have ever been a member of the Dohwaseo (Dohwaseo was a governmental office in charge of all affairs on pictures, playing a role of employing and training an artist) nor was he on close terms with Kim Hong-do who was also one of great artists at that time.

Shin Yun-bok, despite being greatly influenced and overshadowed by Kim Hong-do during his career, developed his own unique technique and artistry. Along with Kim Hong-Do, he is known foremost for his genre paintings of the Joseon era. Whereas Kim depicted everyday life of peasants with a humorous touch, Shin showed glimpses of eroticism in his paintings of townspeople and gisaeing (sometimes called ginyeo, were female Korean entertainers. Gisaeng are artists who work to entertain others, such as the yangbans (The yangban were part of the traditional ruling class or nobles of dynastic Korea during the Joseon Dynasty.) and kings. His choice of characters, composition, and painting method differed from Kim’s, with use of bright colors and delicate paint strokes. He also painted scenes of shamanism and townlife, offering insight to lifestyle and costumes of the late Joseon era. His ink landscape paintings used clear light strokes in a method similar to that of Yoon Jehong , the pioneer in new style painting of the late Joseon era. He is also known to not have used the traditional method of leaving empty space in his paintings, usually filling the whole canvas. Although he placed short verse and his seal on most of his paintings, none indicate the neither date nor time of their creation and it is difficult to define the progression of his painting style. As one of the pillars of genre painting in the Joseon era, he influenced many other painters afterwards. His album, Hyewon pungsokhwacheop, contains 30 of his paintings and was designated the 135th National Treasure of South Korea  in 1970.

“Portrait of a Beauty”

“Scenery on Dano day

“Holding a drinking bout”

“Resounding Geomungo, praiseworthy lotus”

“One amusing spring day in a field

“Dance with two knives

“Lovers under the moon”

“A young boy plucking an


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