Korean tree paintings

Nature and all its beauty has always had a prominent place in Korean art. The Korean term for landscape paintings, sansu, even translates as 'mountains and water', because landscape paintings almost always feature these two elements along with pine trees. They are part of the ten longevity symbols known as shipjangsaengdo. 

The Korean appreciation of nature has a rich history and is seen throughout Korean culture. And not only in prominent paintings. In minhwa (folk art) for instance, nature also played a prominent role. This type of colourful painting was created by anonymous folk artists following traditional forms. It is supposed to bring good luck to the owner's household. 

W1 66


Kim Chun Cheon

W1 79


Kim Sung Hui

W1 87


Kim Sung Hui

W1 123


Jong Chang Mo

W1 142


Kim Sung Hui

W1 254


Kim Yong Sik

W1 284


Yu Chung Sang

W1 289


Mun Hwa Chun

W1 293


Ryu Ryong Cheon

W1 299


Kim Chun Jon

W2 17


Ri Myong Hak

W3 1


Kim Yong Sik

W3 5


Kim Song Dok

W3 16


Ri Myong Hak

W3 232


Mun Hwa Chun

W3 463


Rim Ho Chol

W3 464


Kim Sang Ho

W3 469


Kim Song Ho

W3 470


Mun Hwa Chun

W3 477


Ri Myong Hak

O1 41


Tak Hyo Yeon

O1 42


Tak Hyo Yeon

O1 48


Choe In Guk

O2 180


Kim Chul (Chol)

O3 202


Tak Hyo Yeon

O3 439

o3-439 (440)

Jong Hwa

W1 140


Lee Sang-nam

W2 248


Ri Kyong-nam

W4 004


Kim Song-ho

W4 115


Ri Myong-hak

W4 140


Choi So-jong

W4 159


Choi So-jong

W4 221


Mun Hwa Chun

W4 391


Choi So-jong

W4 466


Sin Ung-Chan

O4 074


Kim Il Su

O3 365


Tak Hyo Yeon

What trees symbolize

Popular nature subjects in paintings were: the tiger, symbols of longevity such as cranes, deer, fungus, rocks, water, clouds, the sun, moon, pine trees and tortoises. The Korean red pine is considered the national tree of Korea. Pine trees have a strong historic symbolism in Korean culture. They symbolize longevity, virtue, honour, strength and wisdom. Pine branches frequently were left at the doors when babies were born as a way to congratulate.

The Kaesong Collection

The majority of current Korean painters 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. 

The Kaesong Collection, of high quality North Korean art works, unfolds a stylistic and genre panorama of Korean contemporary painting and brings out two aspects in the development of Korean painting. One is associated with long art traditions of Korea, the East Asian countries and their art heritage. The other, more modernist trends in the arena of world art. Containing the finest contemporary and modern oil paintings, watercolours and drawings. This makes the Kaesong Collection such an exclusive collection.

  • What is the Kaesong collection?
  • 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.

  • How did the Kaesong collection came to be?
  • 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.

  • What is traditional Korean art?
  • 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.

  • What is unique about Korean art?
  • 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. 

  • What is the most favourite subject of Korean paintings?
  • 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