Minhwa: Discovering the  Charm of Korean Folk Painting

2nd June - 31st July 2022

Minhwa is a genre of folk painting which developed within Korea during the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897).  Minhwa literally means Peoples’ Painting, however it is usually translated to Popular Painting or Painting of the People. The reason for this title is that many of the artists who first practiced this style of art were unknown, and untrained in the scholarly arts such as ink painting appreciated by the upper class in dynastic Korea. Developed fully during the 17th century, Minhwa borrowed elements from scholarly art, along with contemporary trends among the common people of Korea to create stylised depictions of flora and fauna, architecture and popular interior decorations and fashions. They feature bright and vibrant colours often against a minimal backdrop and is is especially characterised by its highly stylised and expressive depictions of animals - tigers can be seen grimacing and smiling, with their body contorted into unnatural and seemingly uncomfortable positions - showing their fangs and furrowing their brows they are depicted as both ferocious and humorous. In addition, the combination of block colours and detailed, complex rendering of furs offers a unique contrast within the paintings. Although visually interesting and extremely desirable in style during the Joseon dynasty, they were not always purchased for their visualities alone.

 

Minhwa paintings were bought and used for several important reasons. Firstly, it was not uncommon for Minhwa artists to travel around Korea, creating commissioned pieces on the spot during festivals and other social events for members of the public and literati. Thus, in some instances, Minhwa were used as a souvenir - a symbol of nostalgia and happy times. Most important, however - especially in the case of flora and fauna paintings - was the iconographic significance of the painting which was often said to bring supernatural benefits to the owner. Different animals have different symbolisms - the crane and pine tree symbolise longevity; fish often symbolised fertility and marriage; the tiger symbolises power. Mountains, the sun and moon, lotus flowers and peonies often were featured in these paintings - symbolising a syncretism of the prominent and popular belief systems of confucianism, buddhism, taoism and shamanism. 

Today, the tradition of Minhwa is being kept alive by folk artists across South Korea. The tradition has been recognised internationally for its character and charm, especially for its stylised animal paintings, bright colours, and depictions of traditional Korean architecture, historical style and culture. Featured in this exhibition are three Minhwa artists - Ilran Kim Hye-joong, Kim Sun-young, and Kim Young-ok - currently practicing today. Han Collection proudly present their exquisite Minhwa paintings, and are thrilled to partner with them to bring the character of Minhwa to London.