Orchids and Rocks

Yi Ha-ûng (also known as Tae-wôn-kun)dated early autumn 1892

Harvard Art Museums

Harvard Art Museums
Cambridge, United States

A royal prince, Yi Ha-ûng was the father of King Ko-chong (r. 1864-1906), the last king of the Chosôn dynasty (1392-1910). In addition to being an enlightened statesman, Yi was an accomplished painter and calligrapher who was unsurpassed in his mastery of orchid painting. Frequently depicted in literati paintings alongside rocks and boulders, the orchid appears graceful, elegant, and unaffected by its rough surroundings. The orchids and rocks in Yi's paintings typically enter the composition at dramatic angles and generally occupy only one corner or one side of a composition.

Korean folding screens often have six panels, like those painted in Japan; more characteristically, however, Korean screens boast eight, ten, or even twelve panels. In some cases, a Korean screen may feature a single, unified composition that spreads across all its panels; in other instances--such as this one--each panel is conceived as an individual painting. The ten separate paintings that compose this screen are grouped in four pairs, with an individual composition mounted on the first and last panels of the screen. Each of the four pairs in the middle can be read as a single composition or as two separate paintings. Such visual double entendres held a special allure for Korean literati artists of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. This screen's large size and its royal authorship indicate that it was painted for one of the royal palaces.

Each painting bears a personal seal of the artist, rather than a seal with the artist's name or sobriquet. For example, the seal in the lower right corner of the ninth panel (second from the left) translates into the aphorism "The best time to view a flower is when it is half open." The other nine personal seal impressions vary from idiomatic phrases to humorous remarks on Daoism and Buddhism. In the very last panel at the far left, however, Yi Ha-ûng signs and impresses two of his artist's seals to the painting, making the authorship of this important screen indisputable. His inscription translates as, "Done by the seventy-three-year-old old man Sôk-p'a in the early autumn of 1892."

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  • Title: Orchids and Rocks
  • Date: dated early autumn 1892
  • Physical Dimensions: w29.0 x h145.5 cm (paintings proper)
  • Period: Chosôn dynasty, 1392-1910
  • Credit Line: Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Ernest B. and Helen Pratt Dane Fund for the Acquisition of Oriental Art and David Berg, Esq., Bequest Fund
  • Creation Place: Korea/East Asia
  • Artist: Yi Ha-ûng (also known as Tae-wôn-kun)
  • Type: Paintings
  • External Link: Harvard Art Museums
  • Medium: Ten-panel folding screen; ink on silk; with signature reading "Sôk-p’a ch’il-ship-sam-se no-in chak" [Done by the seventy three year old man Sôk-p’a]; with seals of the artist reading "Taewônkun chang" and "Sôkp’a" following the signature