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  • O Sech’ang’s Compilation of Kŭnyŏk sŏhwa sa 槿域 書畵史 (History of Korean painting and calligraphy) and the Publication of Kŭnyŏk sŏhwa ching 槿域 書畵徵 (Biographical records of Korean painters and calligraphers)
  • Hong Sunpyo (bio)
    Translated by Jungsil Jenny Lee and Nathaniel Kingdon, and edited by Jungsil Jenny Lee.

The compilation of Kŭnyŏk sŏhwa sa 槿域書畵史 (History of Korean painting and calligraphy) by O Sech’ang 吳世 昌 (1864–1953) in 1917 represents the first tangible achievement of a growing “national” and “independent” self-consciousness regarding Korean art history. When, in 1928, the manuscript was typeset and republished by the Kyemyŏng kurakpu 啓明俱樂部 (Enlightenment Club) and widely distributed by Ch’oe Namsŏn 崔南善 (1890–1957) under the new title Ku˘nyo˘k sŏhwa ching 槿域書畵 徵 (Biographical records of Korean painters and calligraphers), it became the foundation for all future Korean art historical scholarship.1 This article aims to illuminate the art historical significance of this event through an investigation of the motivation for compiling Kŭnyŏk sŏhwa sa and for publishing Kŭnyŏk sŏhwa ching.2


During the scholarly and cultural flourishing of King Sŏnjo’s reign 宣祖 (r. 1567–1608), connoisseurs began to develop a love of antique paintings and calligraphy. During the reign of King Yŏngjo 英祖 (r. 1724–1776), appreciation and study developed further; then the study of ancient documents and antiquities began in the nineteenth century.3 However, Korean historical remains began to be researched as “art objects” only as late as the 1890s.4 Art history as a field of modern study was introduced by the Japanese through the office of the Residency-General 統監府 (T’onggambu) during the late Enlightenment period 開化後期 (Kaehwa hugi, 1905–10).5

In the first half of the twentieth century, the Japanese Residency-General and Government-General 總督府 (Ch’ongdokpu) promoted research on historical places and the study of government manufacturing in Korea in an attempt to fundamentally recast traditional culture as a colonial culture and consolidate imperial Japanese rule. Research and debate over colonial Chosŏn’s (1910–45) traditional art history and theory proliferated in this context.6 Together with an upsurge in the study of Chosŏn antiquities, the Korean nationalist camp stimulated interest in traditional art with the intention of reviving research into indigenous culture. The project of constructing “art” and “beauty” was instigated at the national level, and the art of the past gained historical significance. The Yi Royal Family Museum (Iwangga pangmulgwan 李王家博物館) opened in May of 1909, and in June of that same year, Ōka Chikara 大岡力 (1863–1913), the head of the Kyŏngsŏng ilbo 京城 日 報 (Seoul Daily) newspaper, attempted to survey traditional Korean paintings according to a historical outlook that maintained a continuity between Korea’s past and the then-current colonial situation. Ayugai Husanosin of Han’guk yŏn’guhoe 韓國硏 究會 (Society for Researching Korea) further supplemented this endeavor by publishing, beginning in 1911, several introductory articles in catalogues such as Iwangga pangmulgwan sajinch’ŏp 李王家博物館寫眞帖 (Photo album of Royal Yi Family Museum).7

Encouraged by methods in historical scholarship practiced by Japanese researchers from government circles, An Hwak 安廓 (1886–1946) became the first scholar to undertake research from a nationalistic Korean perspective.8 In 1915, he published the essay “Chosŏn ŭi misul (Chosŏn art)” in Hakchigwang 學之光 5 (May 1915), in which he laments the current state of Korean art history: “We have many creative artworks from the past, but nothing has been studied. As the inheritors of Chosŏn culture, it is so shameful and pitiful that only the Japanese are concerned with research and scholarship.” He further goads his readers into action: “Scholars, let’s summon the strength of our research abilities and make a great impact.” O Sech’ang would be one of the first scholars to respond to An’s call to arms.

O Sech’ang’s Biography and the Political Background of Kŭnyŏk sŏhwa sa

O Sech’ang (Fig. 1) was born on August 16, 1864, into the Haeju O海 州吳 clan, a family of interpreters who had accumulated a great amount of wealth in private [End Page 155] trading.9 His father, O Kyŏngsŏk 吳慶錫 (1831–1879...