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Ch’aekkŏri Paintings: A Korean Jigsaw Puzzle,

Ch’aekkŏri Paintings: A Korean Jigsaw Puzzle, a forthcoming title from Saffron Books (Saffron Korea Library Series), is intended as a definitive narrative on ‘Ch’aekkôri’ — Korean painting executed most often on folding screens and used for interior decoration during the latter part of Korea’s Chosôn period (1392-1910), writes Sajid Rizvi, Series Editor, Saffron Korea Library Series.

Ch’aekkŏri Paintings: A Korean Jigsaw Puzzle is the result of dedicated and exhaustive research over three decades by the author, Kay E Black, and her principal collaborator, Edward W Wagner, Founding Director of Korean Studies at Harvard University. The book volume itself has been in final production stages for a few years.

Though there are three distinct styles of ch’aekkôri, Black outlines in the book, they are thematically united by the depiction of scholarly paraphernalia—books, bronzes, ceramics, flower arrangements, bowls of fruit, and miniature landscapes.

The characteristic painting medium of ch’aekkôri artists was Korean mineral colours mixed with glue, sometimes with a touch of monochrome ink painted on silk, hemp, or paper, relates the author. The usual format was a framed folding screen, often made up of multiple panels, mounted on silk.

“Unravelling the iconography and social importance of these complex works proved to be an arduous challenge. Discovering who painted some of these accomplished screens presented an even more difficult task, an elusive mystery that to date we have only partially solved. Were they folk artists or court painters? Hidden clues in the subject matter offer tantalizing glimpses into the lives of the artists and their patrons.”

In Korea, the popularity of the chaekkôri genre has persisted since the eighteenth century through the early twentieth century. Today there is great interest and demand in Korea for ch’aekkôri. The popularity of these paintings has spread to the Western world as well. Examples of ch’aekkôri may be found at The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco; the British Museum; the Musée Guimet; the Honolulu Academy of Art; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Philadelphia Art Museum; and the Royal Ontario Museum, as well as in private collections.

About the book

Chaekkôri Painting: A Korean Jigsaw Puzzle is the first book published in English to be devoted exclusively to this particularly important genre. There are  one-hundred and fifty paintings in the study, and Kay Black has arranged them into three types: isolated, trompel’oeil, and still life. The author established chronologies in some cases, and suggested ones, in others.

Black collaborated with the late Professor Edward W Wagner for twelve years.  Biographical material was found for the identified artists. Wagner established four genealogies of painters whose surnames with given names were cached on seals in the subject matter itself, not as  traditional seal imprints; we have found  six artists’ pen names. “These genealogies also reveal that there were family workshops of painters. Extensive photographic evidence now exists that many ch’aekkôri were indeed painted by court artists who were chungin, thus completely dispelling the long held belief  that all ch’aekôri were the work of  folk painters,” writes Black in an introduction to the volume.

The sources for Kay Black’s study were the paintings themselves, Korean genealogies of the so-called ”middle people” (chungin), other lineage documents, and lists of those who passed the various  “miscellaneous” (chokpa) examinations. Judging by the number of Chosôn period ch’aekkôri surviving, it was a popular genre in its time. Today it appeals to Westerners and Easterners alike.  Currently in the United States there is great enthusiasm and interest in Korean art with tours being arranged to take visitors into museum storage as well as to exhibits of Korean collections on the east coast. Meanwhile there continue to be changing exhibitions of Korean art on the west coast and elsewhere.

About the Author
Kay E Black pursued undergraduate studies at Bennington College, and completed a Master’s Degree in Art History at University of Denver, with further studies at the Ewha Womans University International Summer School, Taipei Language School, Fu Jen Catholic University, and University of Oregon. She is a Research Consultant to the Asian Art Department of the Denver Art Museum, and has published many essays on Korean Art in Korean Culture, Oriental Art, Orientations, Journal of Historical Studies at Magnitogorsk University, Journal of Art History, and Archives of Asian Art. Kay Black has three grown daughters and enjoys flying airplanes.

Her interest in ch’aekkôri paintings began with a visit to the Emille Museum in Seoul, where she met Dr Zo Za-yong and was intrigued by the ch’aekkôri paintings she found there. When she learned that little was known about the paintings, she began her quest to discover who the artists were and who had commissioned the paintings. Her research led her to Edward W. Wagner, Founding Director of Korean Studies at Harvard University, who was the foremost expert on Korean genealogy. Therein began a 12-year collaboration. Together they classified the screen paintings into three different types: isolated, trompe l’oeil, and still life. This book represents more than 25 years of research into this little-known type of late Chosôn period painting.

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