Explore Lee Ungno's Marco Polo Series

Discover Lee Ungno's world of imagination through four unique techniques

By Lee Ungno Museum

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

Venturing into the world of fantasy!

What are the limits of the human imagination? The story that you are about to hear is about the world of Lee Ungno’s imagination.

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

In 1980, Lee Ungno produced 79 landscape illustrations based on these accounts of Marco Polo’s travels. He produced his illustrations at the request of a writer who wanted to use them for his travelogue book. Lee Ungno did not create his illustrations after reading any particular book on the subject, but rather created them based on the stories he heard secondhand. He was instantly attracted to the stories of the great traveler and produced fine pieces of art that were so vivid that it was almost as if Lee Ungno himself, not Marco Polo, had traveled across the unknown world.

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

These illustrations show that Lee Ungno had just as great of a desire as Marco Polo to explore the unknown and to embark on great adventures.

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

Lee Ungno’s illustrations of The Travels of Marco Polo depict landscapes recreated through the artist’s own eyes and boast a mysterious beauty, formed as the eyes of the East (Lee Ungno’s) intersect with those of the West (Marco Polo’s). Completed using brush techniques characteristic of traditional East Asian landscape painting, the illustrations appear to be more focused on reality and nature and value content over form. While the landscapes in the illustrations were not directly copied from nature, they provide a wealth of information on the artist’s viewpoint and the stories he wanted to share with his viewers.

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

These illustrations, devised using Lee’s own literary imagination, get their aesthetic merit from the great variety of expressive techniques used by the artist. 

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

1. Using multiple viewpoint

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

In his illustrations, Lee Ungno observes his subjects from many different viewpoints, instead of a single, fixed viewpoint, and creates his works based on his memories of the things he observed in detail while walking and thinking.

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

This technique is certainly different from the techniques typically used by Western landscape artists, who seek to express objective elements such as form, light, and color observed from a fixed viewpoint.

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

Unlike many Western artists, Lee Ungno used the technique of multiple viewpoints to capture all the different aspects of a subject, such as a mountain, for example, which continued to change as the artist moved.

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

2. Focusing on the object's inner nature over its outer appearance

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

When he was introduced to The Travels of Marco Polo, Lee Ungno felt that in order to properly understand and capture the traveler’s worldview, he needed to select only the travel accounts that stirred strong, profound, and vivid feelings within his mind.

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

Lee Ungno believed that he could express his subjects more carefully and elaborately and could view them as more important if he found them to be closely related to the human mind. He also found that he simplified or even omitted parts of his subjects is he found them to be less significant.

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

His artistic decisions in this sense seem to help viewers focus more on the “inner form” of the subjects depicted and excite and expand the imagination of viewers.

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

3. Adding structural aspects to each subject

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

Even in his illustrations of Marco Polo’s adventures, Lee Ungno remains faithful to the traditions of East Asian landscape painting, in which an object’s structure is seen as more important than changes in light and shading.

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

In Lee Ungno’s illustrations, the changes in the gradation of ink and the integration of heavy and light lines are all techniques used to effectively express structure.

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

4. Only using memory and imagination for the depiction of the subjects 

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

As previously mentioned, Lee Ungno did not read the Marco Polo’s travelogue, but rather created his illustrations based on his own memories of the travel accounts that he had been told.

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

Lee Ungno believed that the forms in his memories better represented the characteristic features of the subjects he depicted. He also believed that the process of recalling memories helped remove all the unessential elements of a subject, capturing only its core.

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

The travels of Marco Polo Series (1980) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

The illustrations of The Travels of Marco Polo, created by Lee Ungno using a variety of artistic techniques developed in East Asia, are so vivid that they are often mistakenly viewed as works created by an artist who actually traveled to each individual place.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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