Birds and Flowers

Artist: Unidentified Artist Korean

Period: Joseon dynasty (1392–1910)

Date: late 19th–early 20th century

Culture: Korea

Medium: Ten-panel folding screen; ink and color on silk

Dimensions: Image (each panel): 54 3/8 x 10 3/8 in. (138.1 x 26.4 cm)
Overall: 73 5/8 in. × 11 ft. 3/8 in. (187 × 336.2 cm)

Classification: Screens

Credit Line: Purchase, The Vincent Astor Foundation Gift and John M. Crawford Jr. Bequest, 1993

Accession Number: 1993.255


Paintings of birds and flowers have a long tradition in East Asian art. In Korea folding screens depicting combinations of birds and flowers became prevalent in the late Joseon period and continued to be popular in the twentieth century.

Carefully composed and meticulously detailed, the scenes in this colorful and exquisitely painted screen are characterized by heightened realism. Each panel portrays one or more pairs of birds resting on or flying around a blossoming plant, a tree, or reeds. The rightmost panel also includes a hen with her chicks under a rock. The symbolism of male-female pairings of birds—mandarin ducks, for example, are known to mate for life—made such screens suitable decoration for wedding ceremonies or a bridal chamber. Beyond domestic bliss, paintings of birds and flowers also embodied wishes for wealth, career advancement, longevity, and fecundity.