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Dwelling by a Mountain Stream

A rare Korean treasure from the George Gund III bequest
Sooa Im McCormick, Assistant Curator of Asian Art
December 16, 2016
Mountain Market, Clear with Rising Mist, early 1500s. Korea, Joseon dynasty (1392–1910). 2015.517

The museum’s collection of Korean art was quietly but dramatically enhanced in 2015 through the acquisition of four Korean Joseon dynasty paintings as part of the George Gund III bequest. The jewel in the crown is Dwelling by a Mountain Stream, a painting first on view at the museum in 2000 in Ink Paintings and Ash-Glazed Ceramics: Medieval Calligraphy, Painting, and Ceramic Art from Japan and Korea, an exhibition of works from the Gund Collection. Plans are now under way to reintroduce this magnificent work in the galleries.

One of a small number of extant early Joseon dynasty landscape paintings, Dwelling by a Mountain Stream testifies to the survival in medieval Korea of the conventions of Northern Song dynasty Chinese monumental landscape painting, which is evident in its stylistic features: stippling texture dots, “crab claw” strokes to render gnarled wintry trees, and modeling ink wash. Yet the composition is realized as distinctly Korean through the off-centered towering mountains and a strong emphasis on an interlocking of voids and solids.


The work bears no inscriptions identifying the artist or the theme of the painting. Nonetheless, it clearly depicts a scholar who lives as a hermit in tune with nature while maintaining his intellectual and refined lifestyle through visits from friends and occasional trips to the city. Several vignettes allow us to follow the red-robed traveler’s footsteps. In the lower left corner, the hermit welcomes a guest in his courtyard (above left). As they proceed across a bridge, they encounter another traveler and exchange greetings (above right). He continues on to the compound of another friend, and the two walk together to a terraced cliff, where they enjoy a mountain vista and the fragrance of an old pine tree carried by the gentle wind (below left). Then he is off across a winding wooden bridge with his servants. Beyond the colossal rocky mountain, a panoramic view of a bustling marketplace unfolds, perhaps the hermit’s destination for books, paper, and brushes, all essential to his scholarly life (below right). 


The painter dramatically unfolds the heroic vision of monumental landscape traditions while poetically narrating an intimate human story. Based on its masterful brushwork, this scroll must have been created for the Korean royal house. We welcome you to visit the museum’s Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Japanese and Korean Art Galleries in early fall 2017 to study this work firsthand.