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Surprising Korean Art Discovery at Honolulu Museum of Art


The Honolulu Museum of Art announced a trove of newly discovered Korean art from its basement. The paintings were found during the process of preservation treatment. One of the paintings found there is particularly special, as it comes from an era with few surviving artworks. The Honolulu Museum of Art was awarded a grant as part of a project by the Korean Cultural Heritage Administration to preserve archived Korean art. This historically important painting, called Gaehoe-Do (계회도;契會圖), is dated to 1586 and has an inscription written by Yoon An-sung, a famous Korean poet, on the right top of the painting.

It is a particular genre of painting called narrative painting, and depicts a meeting of scholars. The inscription includes the background, evaluation, and inspiration of the painting. Yoon An-sung, who wrote the inscription, is also believed to be one of the participants at the meeting.

The Honolulu museum purchased the painting in 2003 as part of the collection of Richard Lane. The painting itself is well-preserved but because it is dated just a few years before a Japanese invasion, the decorated cover is in a Japanese style. After restoration, the cover is expected to change to its Joseon Dynasty period style.

Although the museum has more than 90 Korean paintings in storage and has amassed a great collection of Korean ceramics, they cannot be displayed without first undergoing conservation. Museum officials expect to receive grant money to send the painting to experts in South Korea for conservation. Pieces from their original collection, as well as the newly discovered pieces will be covered by this support. After the surprising discovery from Honolulu, the Korean Cultural Heritage Administration now plans to more actively seek buried cultural properties, both domestically and internationally.

Korean art is also on display at other major galleries and museums in the U.S. In New York, “Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom” was recently an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and “Experience Korea” was an event held at the American Museum of Natural History. Also, the Philadelphia Museum of Art just opened “Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty, 1392-1910,”which runs through May of this year.

Jieun Choi is an Asan Academy Intern at the East-West Center in Washington.