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Orchids and Rocks

Orchids and Rocks

묵란석도 (墨蘭石圖)

1897-98

Yi Ha-eung

(Korean, 1820-1898)

Eight-panel folding screen; ink on silk

Overall: 185 x 52.6 cm (72 13/16 x 20 11/16 in.); Each panel: 111.9 x 1.5 cm (44 1/16 x 9/16 in.)

John L. Severance Fund 2015.138

Description

Yi Ha-eung was one of the most influential men in late 19th-century Korea. Acting as the regent for his son, King Gojong (1852−1919), who ascended the throne at age 13, Yi ruled Korea from 1866 to 1873 and remained the center of politics for the next two decades.

In addition to his illustrious political career, Yi was also one of the most celebrated artists who led the revival of literati art in Korean art of the late 1800s. In particular, Yi was recognized as the master of orchids, one of the “Four Gentlemen” themes (plum, orchid, chrysanthemum, and bamboo). Orchids, which often grow wild, widely spreading their strong fragrance, were often associated with the perseverance of principled gentlemen.

Solely using monochrome ink, Yi depicted the curvilinear silhouettes of cymbidium orchid leaves dramatically hanging from cliffs. On the upper right corner of the far left panel, Yi wrote a short inscription stating that he painted the work at the age of 80. This work demonstrates Yi’s mature brushwork, which harmonizes vigor and grace.

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