Korean mountain paintings

Mountains have been integrated in Korean culture, mythology, heritage and identity since ancient times. Traditionally, people would go there for hunting and gathering, ancestral rites, religious and ceremonial practices. But mountains were also believed to be the territory of spirits and dragons. Another reason mountains are depicted so often is because Buddhist temples were often built in mountain locations. And even though over time the Buddhist faith declined, for a long time it thrived in mountain and rural settings, which makes mountains still important.


Mun Hwa Chun


Rae Song


Hong Chol Ung


Park Yae Cheon

Artist Jeong Seon (1676-1759) made Korean landscapes and especially mountains hugely popular. He is known to be the father of the Korean True-View landscape paintings. In 1711, he travelled to Mount Geumgang (Diamond mountains) in what is now North Korea, and created a famous album consisting of 13 ink paintings of this beloved Korean mountain range with its jagged peaks. The next year, Jeong Seon went back and painted another 30. His most famous ink on paper painting, ​​Geumgang jeondo, is considered a national treasure. His approach and love for this natural beauty, still influences and inspires Korean artists from South and North Korea to this day.

Also, often depicted in Korean paintings, are the mountain spirit and dragon king motifs. They have their origins in two famous figures in the history of Korea: Dangun and Munmu. Dangun is seen as the predecessor of the Korean people. Who, as legend has it, turned into a mountain spirit. Munmu is considered the first ruler of the Unified Silla period and was known by the title of ‘The dragon king’. He is usually depicted flying amidst the clouds over a sea of high waves. And even to this day, dragons are often seen in Korean art.


The Kaesong collection is a unique selection of high quality Korean art works. It is acquired in the most isolated country in the world: North Korea. These hidden treasures contain the finest contemporary and modern oil paintings, watercolours and drawings. They are created by Korean artists, like Jong Chang Mo, Son U Yong, Rim Ryul, Tak Hyo Yeon, Kim Sung Hui, Kim Song Min and many others. Among them are several prize winners at international exhibitions held in Asian countries. They are widely acclaimed in South Korea, China, Japan, The Philippines and Thailand.


Curiosity, love for art and an interest in long-term investments in art made Frans Broersen (owner of Springtime Art Foundation) decide to visit North Korea. With intensive negotiations and help from the North Korean Embassy in London, he finally got the invitation from the Korean government by the Ministry of Culture of North Korea. After his first visit, Frans was confident of the possibilities and quality of North Korean art. Back home, he formed a team of people to combine knowledge, money and workforce to start purchasing works of art. Several visits and many acquisitions later, the Kaesong Collection took its shape.


Korean art consists of paintings, calligraphy, music, mulberry paper art, decorative knot making, pottery like celadon, sculptures and other forms of art. The beauty of Korean art and the strength of its artists lies in simplicity, spontaneity and a feeling of harmony with nature. It values tenderness, a sense of balance, serenity and harmony. It is distinguished for its simple and elegant composition. The majority of today’s Korean artists still follow the path of tradition. Each nature’s motif gives meaning to a certain conception of value, such as spiritual strength, firmness, longevity and wisdom.


In the course of history, Korean culture and art has been influenced by Chinese styles, obliged by Japan during the Japanese occupation period (1910-1945) and inspired by European styles in the modern era. But it has always kept its own unique style, elements, traditional symbols and patterns. Which all have their own meaning and representation.

In Korean art you find the concept of naturalism, and it is characterized by its non-complex and harmonious composition, due to a deep connection with their natural surroundings. Korean artists try to portray nature as true to life as possible. And even though the art scene in Korea has been influenced by different art movements, it has over the past centuries developed a distinctive style of its own. Based on the rich traditional and cultural history of Korea.

  • Popular genres throughout the centuries are:
    • Daoist Paintings depicting the ten longevity symbols known as shipjangsaengdo. Which are: the sun, clouds, mountains, water, bamboo, pine, crane, deer, turtle and the mushroom of immortality. They are often all represented in a single picture.
    • Buddhist and Confucian paintings; showing the Buddha and Confucian art portraying as scholars wearing the traditional stove-pipe hats and monochromatic robes. Usually depicted in a teahouse near mountains or at mountain lodges.
    • Persian hunting scenes; often seen in Korean courtly art.
    • Decorative Painting; the vast majority of ancient folk painting, were used for decorative purposes.

    Popular subjects are:

    • The Four Gracious Plants, also known as the Four Gentlemanly Plants
    • Portraits
    • Minhwa (Korean folk art)
    • Genre and Landscape Painting