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Portrait of a Scholar

Chae Yongsin (Korean, 1850–1941)

Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk
Image: 38 1/8 × 21 1/8 in. (96.8 × 53.7 cm) Overall with mounting: 48 × 24 7/16 in. (121.9 × 62.1 cm) Overall with knobs: 48 × 24 3/4 in. (121.9 × 62.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Friends of Asian Art Gifts, 2012
Accession Number:
  • Description

    This portrait depicts an unidentified scholar kneeling atop a patterned straw mat in front of a folding screen. His white robe (hakchangui), trimmed in black and tied above the waist, and double-tiered black hat with three peaks (jeongjagwan) identify him as a scholar in unofficial garb—a tradition of dressing that can be traced to the Joseon period (1392–1910). This attire contrasts with the formal robes worn by scholar-officials, as exemplified by the images on the text panel at the far left. The inscription provides the cyclical year gapja (甲子), corresponding to 1924, along with the artist’s pen name, Seokji (石芝), also in the seal.

    A renowned portraitist of his time, Chae Yongsin painted people from all levels of society. This portrait is from his late career, when he worked with his son and grandson, forming what might loosely be termed a studio. The overall composition and style, as well as details such as the folds of the robe and the patterns on the mat, closely follow Chae’s signature style. Indeed, the face—sensitively modeled and rendered with short brushstrokes that articulate the texture and creases of the skin—is undoubtedly by Chae’s hand.

    Chae’s portraits represent an important moment in Korean painting history, incorporating both the centuries-old tradition of ancestral portraiture and the newly introduced modern technology of photography. The artist often painted from photographs, and the background setting in many of his portraits, including this work, replicates the standard photo-studio set of the period. Chae’s works reveal a heightened sense of realism and depth—part of the modernist, Western trends introduced to Korean art before the twentieth century but further developed during the Japanese colonial period (1910–45).

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History