Friday, March 20, 2009

Hong Do Kim vs. Yoon Bok Shin – Rivals of the century

If you ask who is the most famous, talented artist in Chosun Dynasty, many will name Hong Do Kim(1745~1815?) and Yoon Bok Shin(1758~). There is no doubt they are the best, most beloved artists of the late Chosun Dynasty. They were true geniuses and rivals just like Leonardo da vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti in Renessance Era.

Those two great Korean masters were both excelled in Genre painting, Portrait and Landscape but quite different in terms of ‘Style of Painting’. Kim took common people’s everyday lives & spots, such as cultivating, harvesting, mat weaving, smithy, wrestling, village school, as his major subjects. But Shin enjoyed drawing aristocrat’s pastime, amusement with women(It is said that he was expelled from the royal painting institute because of his erotic drawings).

Left - 'Wrestling' by Hong Do Kim
Right - 'Portrait of a Beauty' by Yoon Bok Shin

Kim omitted background and focused on people themselves with simple and powerful masculine touches. On the contrary, Shin is known for detailed, colorful, more feminine touches. Because they lived in the same age with such a distinguishing characteristics, they became a good subject of many comparative studies for ages.

Kim entered government service in early age and became success as an artist without a stop(He even drew a King’s portrait at his age of 21). Unlike Kim, Shin’s life is little known except he was born in an artist family(painting was frequently a hereditary occupation in that time) and younger than Kim by about 13 years. Because of this ‘lack of record’, lots of interesting stories about Shin have made up. Sometimes a cock-and-bull stories, too.

Last year one novel which portrays those two famous rivals drew people’s attention.
The story sets a hypothesis that Shin was a talented woman disguised as a man. Because Shin’s painting style is quite feminine and Shin drew lots of paintings of women, there are people who actually believe that. The novel was adapted into a TV drama series and a film.

There, sometime Kim and Shin were portrayed as a mentor and student, sometimes as a pair of lovers. Regarding this, scholars have criticized the entertainment industry for distorting facts about a major artist who was undoubtedly a man.

At least, one thing is certain. Shin’s mystery is as much interesting as that of Shakespeare's.