|The Mongyu-dowon-do by An Gyeon, 1447 CE
"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 San-shin [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. San-shin
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 (middle of the 2nd floor's north side) -- go see it if you can.