|The Mongyu-dowon-do by An Gyeon, 1447 CE
안견의 몽유도원도 夢遊桃源圖
"Dream-Journey to the Immortal-Peach Orchard"
At least one of the greatest classical Korean paintings, and my personal favorite, this treasured artwork combines
a stunning fantasy of up-thrusting craggy mountains (that slightly resemble Geumgang-san, Korea's Diamond
Mountains) with the key Daoist theme of desiring spiritual immortality or at least a long healthy life and everlasting
good reputation, which has always been very strong in Korean culture. In Sanshin [Mountain-spirit] paintings and
statues the main figure is often seen having one of the mythical "peaches of immortality" offered to him by a dongja
attendant (see pages 84-85 in my book for a fuller discussion). In rarer and more Shamanic cases, the San-shin
himself is holding one, as the Chinese Daoist "God of Longevity" most often does. Sanshin has many strong
associations with the motifs of this painting.
This painting now enjoys an excellent national reputation as a great national treasure, with its subtle
brush-strokes granting fascinating detail and a vibrant idealistic spirit -- but it was not so well known
before around 1990, as it was stolen by the Japanese invaders during the 1592-98 Imjin War and has
been kept in Japan ever since. Its current "owner" Tenri University has refused to return it to Korea, but
has permitted it to visit Seoul twice for special exhibitions that thrilled the lovers of Oriental landscape
paintings. A wonderful recent development is that an exact reproduction of it has been made, and is
now on display in the Landscape Paintings Room -- go see it if you can.