The sketches on this handscroll are by the famous artist, art theorist, and scholar Gang Sehwang. Born to a prosperous and prestigious family, Gang was a respected literati artist who mastered the three disciplines of poetry, calligraphy, and painting. His contribution to the history of Korean painting lies primarily in his attempt, through his work, to advance the tenets and doctrines of the Southern school of painting, which had been dominant among amateur scholar-artists in Korea since Chinese art historian Dong Qichang (1555-1636) first formulated the theory of Southern and Northern schools of art during the Ming dynasty. Gang Sehwang explored many different genres and subjects including portraiture, birds and flowers, and the Four Gentlemen (plum, orchid, chrysanthemum, and bamboo), as well as ideal and true-view landscapes. While protective of the styles and ideals of the literati tradition, Gang also challenged conventions and explored new artistic territory. He was the first painter to use Western techniques, such as shading, in landscape paintings in Korea, as seen in his depiction of Yeongtong Cave in Gaeseong, North Korea (fig. 1). Gang boldly applied shading in blue, green, and ocher pigments, especially in the rocks. When painting more conservative subjects such as the Four Gentlemen, Gang experimented by combining two or even three of the elements in one painting. Although he did not produce genre paintings, Gang wrote many inscriptions on works by the master painter Kim Hongdo (1745-after 1814). Gang was well connected among contemporary artists and literati, and he influenced many young artists of the next generation. Kim Hongdo and the literati artist Shin Wui (1769-1845) are his most famous pupils. Gang presented his views and art criticism in his inscriptions and in theoretical texts such as Collections of Writings of Pyo’am [Gang Sehwang]. Gang created many literati paintings of idealized landscapes, but he is especially known for his strong interest in true-view paintings, or jingyong. In an inscription on one of these landscapes, Gang reflected: Among painting subjects, there is none more difficult than landscape. In landscape painting, there is nothing harder than painting real scenes. The reason is that it is difficult to make it true to a real landscape. Moreover, there is no more challenging task than painting a landscape of our beautiful country. This is because there is no way to hide inaccuracy when depicting a real scene. It is clear from this inscription that Gang was deeply concerned with how to portray the landscape accurately in his paintings. He believed in careful observation of the real landscape when transmitting it to paper, and this is evident in the many paintings he created that record scenic sites. When he was forty-five, he went to Gaeseong, now in North Korea, and produced two albums of scenic sites. Later when he was seventy-six years old, Gang journeyed around the Geumgang (or “Diamond”) mountains, documenting his experience in another album. LACMA’s handscroll can be understood in the context of the artist’s passion to record his journeys visually. This handscroll has an interesting composition, because the artist inserted written descriptions of his travels between sketches of related scenes, suggesting that Gang might have made these sketches for a future painting. The painting begins with a view of Wugeum Rock (det. 1), which can still be found in Bu’an prefecture, North Jeolla province. The rock – called Wulgeum bawui in the indigenous Korean language – was legendary as the site where the Honorable Monk Wonhyo (617-686) meditated. The site is also of historical importance. In the seventh century, it was where Korean general Kim Yushin (595-673) of the Silla dynasty and Chinese general Su Zhengfang of the Tang dynasty met to discuss an alliance to defeat the neighboring Baekjae dynasty. Wugeum Rock is actually composed of two 131-foot-high boulders on top of a mountain that form a natural cave (fig. 2). Following this scene is a long inscription by the artist (det. 2), which also appears in his collection of writings, Pyo’am yugo,in the section titled “Travel Record of Wugeum Rock.” The trip presumably occurred around 1771, when Gang was visiting his second son, Gang Wan, in Bu’an. Gang Wan had been appointed magistrate of Bu’an in 1770. According to the inscription, Gang Sehwang and his companions embarked on the journey from the city of Bu’an. The Byonsan area, near the sea and distinguished by mountains with striking peaks, was the first destination on their itinerary. It is an area still visited today for its beautiful scenery. After traveling more than ten li, Gang arrived at Gae’am Temple, where he was impressed by the grandeur of the Wugeum Rock. The travelers continued more than twenty li until they arrived at Silsang Temple (the temple no longer exists today). They then followed a difficult trail to another famous site, Wolmyong Rock. Descending from the rocky road, Gang again visited Silsang Temple. He made a brief stop at the Yongchu waterfall and then went to Naeso Temple. Going back through Gae’am Temple, Gang returned to Bu’an at dawn. The complete trip, according to the inscription, took two nights and three days. A third section of the painting includes sketches of the area called Munjo (det. 3). The travelers, with two sedan chairs, can be seen ascending a steep road in a deep mountain pass (det. 4). Based on references in the inscription, this may depict the difficult road to the famous Wolmyong Rock. The next sketch illustrates the Silsang Temple complex and Yongchu waterfall, just as they were described in the inscription (det. 5). The final drawing illustrates an outcrop called Geukrak Rock that no longer exists (det. 6). Although all the scenes are sketched in ink, and apparently in a short period of time, possibly while he was traveling, they faithfully convey the feeling and atmosphere of each location. When compared to a similar true-view scenic painting by Gang depicting Dosan Academy (fig. 3; National Museum of Korea), LACMA’s painting is much more sketch-like and conveys a greater sense of immediacy. It is possible that LACMA’s group of drawings was produced as a private travel record for the artist so that he could paint the subject later in a true-view landscape; however, there is no record of any such painting. Footnotes  For more on the art of Gang Sehwang, refer to Byon Youngseob, Study on Paintings of Gang Sehwang [Pyo’am Gang Sehwang huihua yeongu] (Seoul: Iljisa, 1988).  There are many examples of Kim’s paintings with inscriptions by Gang Sehwang including a screen of genre scenes in the National Museum of Korea. See National Museum of Korea, Ho-Am Art Museum, and Gansong Art Museum, The Art of Kim Hong-do: The Special Exhibition Catalogue Commemorating His 250th Anniversary (Seoul: Samsung Cultural Foundation, 1995), 80-83.  Byon Youngseob, “Pyo’am Gang Sehwang: Making Literati Paintings that Transcend the Dirt of the Mundane World,” in Ahn Hwi-joon et al., Korean Art History through People: Korean Artists (Seoul: Sahui pyongron, 2006), 202.  Zhang Liangren, in an unpublished essay titled “From ‘Transmit the Spirit’ to ‘Portray the Likeness’: Kang Sehwang and His Mount Pyeonsan Paintings,” has written about Gang Sehwang’s travelogue and LACMA’s painting.  Hangeul hakhui, Big Dictionary of Korean Land Names [Hanguk ttang ireum keunsajeon], (Seoul: Hangeul hakhui, 1991), 4461.  See “Travel Record of Wugeum Rock,” in Gang Sehwang, Pyo’am yugo (Seongnam, Korea: Academy of Korean Studies, 1979), 271-74.  A li is a traditional Chinese unit for measuring distance. Although the distance was variable in the past, today it is standardized to 500 meters (approximately 1,640 feet).  Further research is required to identify the exact location. Additional References Miguk Pakmulgwan Sojang Hanguk Munwhajae (The Korean Relics in the United States). Seoul: Hangukkukjae Munhwa Hyo*phwoi (International Cultural Society of Korea), 1989, 194, Figures 23 and 24 See other artworks in this bookMore...
- Wilson, J. Keith. "Korean Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art." in Korean Art: Articles from Orientations 1970-2013, edited by Yifawn Lee and Jason Steuber, 428-35. Hong Kong: Orientations Magazine Ltd, 2014.
- Miguk Pakmulgwan Sojang Hanguk Munwhajae (The Korean Relics in the United States). Seoul: Hangukkukjae Munhwa Hyo*phwoi (International Cultural Society of Korea), 1989.
- Korean Art Collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, U.S.A. Daejeon, Republic of Korea: National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage, 2012.