The Gyeonggi Provincial Museum presents an exhibition featuring portraits of Cho Kwan-bin who served as the director of the Office of Special Counselors (홍문관, 弘文館) during the reign of King Yeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty. To be displayed at this exhibit are his six portraits including a full-length portrait that was donated in June 2016, one and a half years ago. This exhibition is intended to shed light on his life as a scholar-official of Joseon through his own eulogy for his portraits while enabling viewers to catch a glimpse of the donation procedure and the preservation treatment process.
I meticulously examined the state of the portraits after calming myself down. Two half-length portraits were still in relatively good shape. The draft portraits on oil-coated paper had been kept rolled up for a long time and, while difficult to spread out, displayed no serious damage. The condition of the full-length portrait appeared poor as it had been severely folded and had some torn portions, gaps, and even brown stains. Mr. Cho worried that the stains had been caused by a humidity scavenger that he had placed in the storage tray for dehumidification purposes. The humidity scavenger poured on the portrait caused brown stains but they were fortunately on mounted parts, not picture parts. When we examined the back of the portrait, we found mounted paper missing in the section featuring the official robe. Pigment would also become detached whenever the picture was rolled up or unrolled. The degree of damage can be presumed considering our experience with how flesh becomes exposed when the skin is grazed.
We let him know about the present preservation state of those artifacts and discussed how to properly preserve them. We told him that it was urgently required to mount the full-length portrait in particular to prevent any more damage and that the damage might continue at a constant rate if the stains caused by the humidity scavenger were not completely removed.
Portraits of Cho Kwan-bin
Preservation Treatment Process
Video 1: Basic inspection and separation
Video 2: Cleaning
Video 3: Reinforcing, backing paper, and mounting
Portraits of Cho Kwan-bin (full-length portrait in official attire
A government official wearing a black silk hat and a green round-necked robe with cloud and treasure designs is sitting with his hands together. Some unidentified anxiety and longing can be sensed in his stony expression. He is Cho Kwan-bin who served as a civil official during the reign of King Yeongjo.
This painting displays a typical characteristic of mid-18th century portraits of scholar officials. The hat he wears is slightly high and the ends of its wings are a little bit wider and rounder than those produced during King Sukjong’s time. The official robe he wears is a dark green color called galmae-saek which was a great vogue in the years of King Sukjong. Its generously flowing sleeves are quite wide and stretch richly downward. A blue lining and a jade green coat with pleats worn under this robe peek out from its right opening.
On its chest portion is a twin crane rank badge that stands for the fact its wearer was a palace-ascendable civilian official while a belt with rhinoceros horn ornaments is around his waist.
Cho Kwan-bin held several ministerial offices, all of which were applicable to senior rank two, and his last public post was as the Administrator of the Central Council (지중추부부사, 知中樞府事). A silk belt with gold ornaments should be worn for this public office but a belt with rhinoceros horn ornaments used by those one rank higher was at times applied to this level of government post. In the late Joseon period, tiger skin fur was laid on the chair. The fur was imported from China beginning in the 18th century and was a big trend up until the end of the Joseon Dynasty. His two feet are placed lightly on a rectangular foot pedestal decorated with a figured mat.
Let’s examine the face of this portrait. The entire face has been done in an apricot hue while a sort of cubic effect is engendered by a slightly darker color that has been applied to the area around his eyes and cheeks. His eyes that seem to look slightly downwards, his sparse beard, the sunken round parts under his eyebrows, and some protuberant areas under the eyes help to represent a sturdy appearance of a high official who tried to remain faithful and uphold his cause as a Neo-Confucian official of Noron while undergoing banishment several times.
The year of its production cannot be concluded as there is no information on this picture. It was presumably painted in early 1750 when he was roughly 60 years of age. This is based on comparisons of the portraits done when he was 55 and 57 that were donated alongside this portrait.
Portrait of Cho Kwan-bin (half-length portrait in everyday robe)
This is a portrait of Cho Kwan-bin in a rose pink robe worn by officials while engaged in official duties. The caption “東湖趙公五十五歲眞” (동호조공오십오세진) written at the top hints that this portrait was painted in 1745 when he was 55. Cho’s pen name was Hoeheon but Dongho, his other nickname, seems to have been used often in his old age.
Every strand of his beard was delicately depicted and the wrinkles in the corners of his eyes were realistically portrayed along with his red lips on his pinkish apricot face. Outlines and features were depicted in darker lines while a slight cubic effect was aroused by lending some shade to his deeply seamed eye rims and nasolabial folds. Cho’s expressionless face with downcast eyes is in contrast with the bright ambiance engendered by the gorgeous official’s outfit and the silk belt with gold ornaments.
These types of half-length portraits in which the person in the work is portrayed in an everyday robe are housed in the National Museum of Korea and Tenri University in Japan, among which this portrait is the most outstanding.
Portrait of Cho Kwan-bin (half-length portrait in official attire)
The caption “東湖趙公五十八歲眞” (동호조공오십팔세진) written in the upper right hints that this portrait was rendered in 1748 when Cho was 58.
The figure in this portrait wears a round-necked official robe and a black silk hat. Attached to this attire is a rank badge embroidered with a twin crane design. He also wears a belt with rhinoceros horn ornaments. Like other portraits of Cho Kwan-bin, his features were portrayed with lines while shades were applied to sunken parts in his face to express a sense of reality, which was typical in the mid-and-late 18th century.
This is a portrait painted on oil-coated paper featuring Cho Kwan-bin as he wears an everyday official outfit. The silk hat that was sketched in ink and then colored black shows further progress in work. The face was painted white on the back of the paper and its degree of completion was enhanced with the addition of details to his eyebrows, beard, and pupils on the front side.
This portrait shows the highest level of completion among the three. Not only the face and silk hat but also the round-necked robe were colored. The attire was depicted roughly while the face was realistically represented with attention to detail. As a result, this draft portrait looks highly mature and stands comparison with the finished portrait.
Coloring was applied to the back of the paper after the entire outline was drawn in ink. Then, the portrait was completed by depicting details on the front side. The face was colored in pink from the back of the paper so that a pink tone is exuded as the basic color of the face. A serene cubic effect and a sense of space were engendered by adding a darkish tone to the wrinkles and cheeks from the front.
Left on the back side are clear marks of coloring that were used to get an idea of the coloring effect in the completed portrait. The whole face was painted a pinkish flesh color and the collar of the robe was painted white from the back. Brush strokes of flesh and black hues left in the middle of the hat are presumed to have been employed to test the coloring effect of ink and flesh colors from the back since the hat’s body portion was colored in with thick ink on the front.
These three draft portraits denote that portraits of the Joseon Dynasty were produced through a very premeditative and elaborate preparation process. They reflect the painter’s effort to paint the model as realistically as possible through a portrayal of the face that uses a technique of coloring from the back and meticulous depictions of each strand of beard. These portraits indicate that such a work process has been of great significance in allowing Korean portraits to approach even closer to perfection.
Exhibition planning&support :
Lee, Yeong Eun(Geyonggi provincial Museum)
Kim, Tae Yong(GGCF Media Marketing Team)