University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Gisan Painting from Korea [Object of the Day #24]

July 19, 2012


Two girls in traditional Korean attire practice swinging.


This watercolor was done by the artist Chun-gŭn Kim (artist name: Gisan) in 1886 in Choryang, Korea.  It illustrates one of the many games played in Korea during the 1800s. Two country girls, about eighteen years of age, in traditional Korean attire can be seen practicing choo-cheon or swinging. Gisan beautifully renders their billowing skirts and tilted swing capturing their movement as if it was a photograph.  To play choo-cheon, a swing was often suspended from branches of a tree and the goal of the game was to go high enough to touch the branches . Choo-cheon was a spring sport that was practiced by everyone, from young women to grown men.

The Smithsonian has a similar collection of Gisan paintings in its collection.  In 2006, the Royal Ontario Museum exhibited more than 50 watercolors by Gisan as part of the exhibit,  Korea Around 1900: The Paintings of Gisan  with an accompanying catalog.  The Busan Modern History Museum followed with an exhibit in 2009 called “Gisan Paintings: Memories of 100 Years Ago” .

The pieces in the Penn Museum collection were used as plates for the book “Korean Games: With Notes on the Corresponding Games of China and Japan” by  Stewart Culin, the first Director of the museum, and a scholar in the ethnography of games.  The other 22 watercolor paintings used in the publication, and illustrating Korean games from the Joseon Dynasty,  are available here. 

A title for the piece and an artist seal appear at the top center.

* Special thanks to Yae-jin Ha for helping out with this blog post.

Penn Museum Object #21574E.

See this and other objects like it in Penn Museum’s Online Collection Database.

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