Unknown artist, Grapevine and squirrels, Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910).
Unknown artist, Grapevine and squirrels, Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910), ink on paper, collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles.

Squirrels, Tigers, and Towering Peaks

Korean Paintings from the Mary and Cheney Cowles Collection

Jul 6, 2019 – Oct 27, 2019

Main Building, Floor 1, Gallery 108

This summer, the Museum offers a unique opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in the Korean art of ink painting, through a select group of works from the Mary and Cheney Cowles Collection that will be on public view for the first time. Dating from the 16th to the early 20th century, these paintings present a wide variety of aesthetics, subject matter, and expressive moods. Images of squirrels and grapevines show artists indulging in humorous ink play, and a large, colorful portrayal of a mother tiger and her three cubs, rendered in carefully detailed brushwork, tickles the imagination and reminds viewers of the importance of tigers in Korean mythology. The several landscapes in the exhibition, featuring imaginary scenery of soaring mountains and quiet lakes, testify to a reverence for nature. Among them is an exceptionally rare treasure, an album of evocative landscapes by the late 16th/early 17th-century artist Yi Jeong; although Yi is lavishly praised in contemporary documents, few of his paintings survive, as he died at a young age. Another fascinating landscape on view is an example of pyrography, in which the image was made by a hot iron applied to the paper. Along with a dynamic calligraphy screen, these paintings illuminate traditional Korean art at its most eloquent and inventive.

Organized by the Portland Art Museum and curated by Sangah Kim, Cowles Curatorial Fellow in Asian Art.