Along with Jo Seok-jin (1853-1920), An Jung-sik was one of the last court painters of the Joseon dynasty. In his youth, An studied in Tianjin, China, with Jo Seok-jin and other art students sponsored by the government. He was proficient in landscapes, portraits, and bird-and-flower paintings, and skilled in poetry and calligraphy. An’s artistic style is most aptly exemplified by his landscape paintings, some of which reflect his understanding of Western painting techniques.
One of his most exceptional works, Spring Dawn at Mount Baekak, created in 1915, depicts the real-life scenery of Gyeongbok Palace and Mount Baekak in both summer and autumn scenes (plates 5-6). With a nod to Western style perspective, both paintings feature Mount Baekak looming in the upper half of the composition, while the morning fog drifts over the palace buildings below. Statues of mythical lion-like creatures (haetae) can be seen in the foreground. The road leading to Gwanghwamun, the main gate of the palace, is completely devoid of travelers, imparting a feeling of loneliness.
A few clues point to the reasoning behind the use of the characters “spring dawn” in the title of these works, despite the summer and autumn scenery depicted. When the paintings were created in 1915, the Japanese government was in the progress of demolishing several structures at Gyeongbok Palace and constructing a new building to host the Joseon Industrial Exhibition. In the midst of this situation, An Jung-sik depicted the background scenery of the mountain accurately, but reproduced views of the original, undamaged palace based on photographs and other records. This portrayal of a more glorious past reflects An’s hope that spring would dawn once again on his lost country.