The collection of Corean Industrial art, A gift of the Corean people’s democratic republic

The collection of Corean Industrial art,
A gift of the Corean people’s democratic republic

The Ferenc Hopp Museum of Eastern Asiatic Arts has become augmented recently by a collection of modern industrial art. After having been enriched by the collection of Chinese industrial art of our day, the Corean Council of Cultural Relations sent to our Institute of Cultural Relations a collection of 85 items, consisting of more than 120 objects of industrial and folk’s art respectively. They have been transmitted to the Museum of Eastern Asiatic Arts. The whole collection was exhibited shortly after the donation in the Institute of Cultural Connections in Budapest in September 1958. The exhibition was a great success. Owing to it, the Hungarian people became more acquainted with the culture of the friendly Corean people.

Corea’s industrial art, looking back to a past of millennia, claims a special place in the art of Asian peoples. But in spite of its long history and outstanding results it did not become by far so well known in Europe among col­lectors or by museums, as that of China and Japan, mainly because of Corea’s seclusion.

The development of Corea’s industrial art took a greater swing in the first centuries A. D. At the time of the Three Kingdoms (first century B. C. – seventh century A. D.) the state of Paktche exported industrial art objects to Japan. In the eighth and ninth centuries objects of precious metal, textiles and lacquer wares were transported to the Chinese provinces neighbouring Corea. In the sixth and seventh centuries Corean crafts m n were invited to Japan. Mainly during the Koryo-period the ceramic art made a further pro­gress, beside the craftsmanship in metal and lacquer. Corean products, above all celadon-glazed ware, were much appreciated beyond their frontiers too.

Chinese art exerted an inspirative and fructifying impact on Corean art throughout millennia, as it did on the art of other Far Eastern peoples. Coreans became acquainted with Chinese art more closely at the time of the Chinese colony at Naknang (108 B. C. – 313 A. D.). The arts of metal, lacquer and pottery in Corea, like almost every other branch of art, betray a very strong Chinese influence. But Corean folk’s artists not only transformed the borrowed forms and decorative motives according to the taste of their own people but they created also thoroughly new works in some branches of industrial art.

The Mongol invasion in the thirteenth century and later on, at the end of the sixteenth century, the wars connected with Japanese intrusion hindered the further development of Corean industrial art.

Fig. 1. Celadon vase with inlaid decoration

After the end of the Japanese occupation the crafts of the country were not only strengthened again, but they were also enriched by new technical and artistical creations, mostly in the field of lacquerwork and ceramics. But later on the crisis of feudalism and the policy of the Corean rulers, aiming at the complete isolation of the country, hindered the development of industrial art extremely. All these damages were completed by the Japanese conquest, the more than thirty years of Japanese occupation, then, only a few years after the liberation in 1945, the new war (1950-1953). During the occupation and the war a tremendous part of art relics, according to valuations three quarters of the whole, was destroyed or lost. The tenacious adherence of the Corean craftsmen to the national heritage and their love for their art could only preserve the great national traditions for many centuries, in spite of the adversities inside and outside the country. In consequence of governmental measures in order to save the old historical traditions, the industrial art of Corea became reanimated already in 1945, just after the liberation and at the middle of the fifties a swift evolution was begun. Folk’s artists and other craftsmen set to work with a new impetus. There are today several state institutions with the aim of promoting and directing the various branches of industrial art.

Fig. 2. Blue and white vase of late I -period

Several new porcelain-factories have been built. Ceramic art, being in constant decadence since the end of the I-period, has produced prominent results already. Old traditions of lacquer-work and mother of pearl’s inlay have been renewed and many objects of high artistic quality have been produced. In silk-embroidering new realistic tasks were solved in traditional techniques. Embroidering of portraits and landscapes attained a high degree of perfection. Plating with horn and working up horsehair (specific branches of Corean industrial art) have started a new development. The almost forgotten carving of semi-precious stones and some other branches of industrial art are revived again.
In March 1958 the ministerial council passed a resolution on the development of industrial art and decided to enlarge the state enterprises and cooperatives in order to promote the production and export of such articles.
The Japanese wanted to replace the traditions of Corean art by those of their own. The Art Alliance, founded in 1925, unifying all the progressive artists, fought with success against it. Industrial art was purified of the detrimental foreign influences. At present Coreans intend to revive national traditions, having fallen already into oblivion, in old form, but with new contents. On the whole, their industrial art developed in the right direction since 1945. It made the first steps towards becoming a veritable national art between 1945 and 1950 already and it has been in swift development since the middle of the fifties.

The collection donated to the Museum of Eastern Asiatic Arts unites mostly objects made in Phenyang in the years after 1950 by masters of folk’s art, but some objects, as jewels, furnitures, a vase, an ink-rubbing stone, a bow, a quiver, originate from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Among other branches of industrial art metal works are represented in greater abundance than others. Some pieces of the festive set, consisting of thirty pieces of brass, are made in the style of the Koryo- and I-periods. The covered cups for rice, soup, pickles in different sizes were used at receptions or marriage ceremonies.
The sinsolo cooking vessel was used for the preparation of a special Corean food. It served for cooking the food from inside the vessel on the table during the repast, by charcoal.
The vessel called hab was used for serving ricebread and bakery.
Tyanban was a plate for serving hot food in cups. One of the most important pieces of the marriage portion of girls was the small brass plate for washing.
Pans of copper, bronze or earthenware served for preparing food and heating the spare-room.
The pot of rice-wine is made of silver, with the joint pair of cups and an eating service, used at marriages.
The ceramic art is represented by eleven pieces of vases and pots of differently shaped porcelain. With one exception they are copies of Koryo-age vessels with celadon glazes.
Corean ceramic art attained a very high level at the time of the Three Kingdoms. The best celadons of the Koryo period were made in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. In the I-period, after the porcelain wares came into general use, the earlier sorts of pottery fell into oblivion. During the Japanese occupation the potters of Keson made the finest wares of porcelain, imitating -the technique of the Koryo-age.
The chief ceramic products of the Koryo-period were the greyish and bluish green-glazed stoneware vessels. Owing to their likeness to Chinese celadons brought to Europe they also were named “celadons”, while Coreans, called them Koryo-ki. This technique spread, on the steps of Chinese potters of the Sung time, throughout Corea and became soon popular there. The workshops supplied the needs of the whole country. A great deal was exported to Japan. They excelled by their refined multifarious form, simplicity, decoration of noble design and principally the bluish-green glaze, reminding the Coreans of the somewhat foggy autumn sky. The great popularity of celadon wares was due to this fact as well as to their similarity to jade. The producing of celadon-glazed pottery required a well founded technological knowledge. They were burnt at a high, 800-1200 degree of temperature. The shading of the celadon depended also on a slight quantity of iron in the glaze. Corean industrial art has become known throughout the world by now, owing its fame to Koryo-celadons.

Fig. 3. Man’s festive dress

Preservation and reviving of great ancient national traditions play a part of primary importance in modern ceramical industry too. Production demanded therefore hitherto principally the reemployment of aged masters, the reconstruction of old techniques fallen already in oblivion and their employment in the producing process. The items of our ceramic collection, with the exception of an old vase, follow the patterns of the Koryo-period both in shape and decoration. However, a movement has been launched to promote the development of ceramic art and increase the varieties of ceramic wares.
The pieces of the ceramic collection present also well known specimens of Koryo-age types, e. g. a bamboospray-shaped tea-pot, a gourd-shaped sewer widened upwards etc. Once characteristic Corean decorative procedures are also well to be seen on them. Several pieces are decorated in sangkam technique consisting of engraved ornaments of lines, dots, flowers, filled in with kaolin or black clay and then glazed. Decorated celadons began to be known in Corea between 1140-1170. This kind of decoration was a specific Corean technical procedure, unknown anywhere else. A prominent piece of this group is the vase of elegant form with willows, cranes and other waterfowls (Fig. 1.).
Different from this kind in motives and colours are the “Mishima- de” celadons, also represented in our collection. They were named thus as their decoration, consisting of festoons, dots and lines reminded one of a certain type of Japanese script. The patterns were engraved in the greyish or yellowish ground and filled with white kaolin. The “Mishima-de” celadon, having been fashionable in Corea from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century, was not so delicate in form and decoration as the other kinds of celadons.
Celadons were often decorated with high and low reliefs too. A good example of this kind is a vase in the collection, with a dragon standing out in relief from the wall of the vessel, represented in flight among clouds in such an original way that the handles of the vase are formed by the body of the dragon, emerging at two places from the vessel.
Old porcelain is represented by a blue and white vase of the I -period (nineteenth century). It is decorated with a dragon and clouds, painted in blue under the glaze (Fig. 2.). Transition to mass production of porcelains began in Corea in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Porcelains of the I-period are well known throughout the world. Their white colour is a little bluish and not very lustre. The most delicate ones were made in the first half of the I-period when the central power was strong and culture was flourishing. In the beginning inlaid ornaments or high relief-decorations were preferred. The Japanese resettled many Corean masters to Japan in order to introduce the fabrication of porcelain and to develop ceramical industry there. This event was naturally extremely detrimental to Corean pottery. However, it was followed by a great development in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
After the sixteenth century there was no progress in the technical development of the porcelain industry but the underglaze blue became prominent. During the reign of king Sejo in the second half of the fifteenth century the cobalt was imported from China at a price many times higher than gold. But in course of investigations suggested by the government more Corean mines were discovered and since the eighteenth century blue pigments were gathered mostly from Corean finding places. The greatest difference against the late Ming fabrications is the deeper and thicker blue of the Chinese ones while the Corean porcelains are lighter and thinner painted.

Fig. 4. Woman’s festive dress. Photo by Miklós Balás

Fig. 5. Woman playing an old instrument. Puppet

Very popular motives were landscapes, different birds and flowers, existing or fantastic animals, among them first of all the dragon. The finest blue and white porcelains were made in the manufactory of the state at Kwangyoo in Kyongii province. Porcelains made for the King’s palace were controlled by state supervisors every autumn. State manufactories working with more developed technical methods and with more experienced masters, could deliver much more perfect and refined wares than the small provincial ones. But at the end of the I-period, in consequence of political and economic difficulties, imperial manufactories could not maintain their former technical level and provincial manufactories produced more characteristic wares of higher perfection. The blue and white vase of the collection is of the time when porcelain making was strongly on the decline in Corea.

As to textiles, we have to mention two complete dresses, showing the traditional and the modern national costumes, in the first place.

Fig. 6. << Rafts on the Yalu>>, by Kim Myung Sook. Embroidery

The forms and colours of the different dresses, shaped according to the rules of feudal organization, were retained till the end of the I-dinasty. They have survived until our days.
The man’s and woman’s nuptial attire (Figs. 3, 4.) show the traditional Corean festive garment worn in old times at official receptions and to-day at marriages. The man’s dress consists of a light blue silk shirt, plumblue waistcoat and light blue wide trousers. On the front and back of the frock we see the embroideries, representing phoenixes, like in Chinese rank-insignia.
The dress is complete with the characteristic black hat of the Corean nobility. The dress of the bride consists of a white silkbrocade skirt, reaching to the ground, of a yellow blouse with bordeaux-red border and decoration, a red silk-brocade coat, a long green jacket, a red silk-brocade girt with golden paint and a red binding band. The hat is of black silk, with coloured artifical flowers, beads of coral, amber, mother- of- pearl and glass, with hanging coloured tassels of silk on the sides.
The woman’s dress for the sword-dance consists of similar pieces, but of much brighter colours: the blouse is of green silk-brocade with bordeaux and golden border, the skirt is red, the jacket breached blue with golden paint. The girt, worn, according to old Corean custom, not on the waist but much higher, is of black silk with golden paint. The hat with broad rim is of bordeaux velvet, with coloured ribbons and pearls.
The man’s and woman’s dress of the present age is essentially the same as that of the I-period. There are some differences in the length and colours only. Forms and colours of dressing do not depend now exclusively on tradition, but also on fashion. Its changes affect rather colours than forms, though tradition still strongly influences the combination of colours.
Children’s dresses are similar in form to those of adults, only their colours are brighter. Men’s footgear are for holiday attire, boots with leather sole and shoes with stag’s leather border, skitted with rails. Wooden shoes with high heels are worn in rainy weather.

Fig. 7. Jewel-set. 17-19 century. Photo by Miklós Balás

Women’s shoes are bordered with coloured embroideries. These are worn on holidays only, otherwise women wear light hempen slippers.
Nowadays both men and women use shoes of rubber.
Let us mention also the winter-caps of fur, covered with black or light silk, both for men and women.
Under the heading of attire we have to mention the puppets dressed in Corean fashion. Corean puppets originate mostly from puppet-theaters or costumed plays (e. g. Santedogam and Koktugaski). At present their importance is increasing, as that of all complete works of art, introducing old costumes, dances of the Corean people and ancient plays. They are preserved generally in small cases of glass as decorations of homes.
From the five puppets the engaged pair is clad in the characteristic Corean holiday attire described above. Several puppets are playing old musical instruments. Thus the female figure of the puppet-pair in the piece called “Song of love” plays an old stringed musical instrument and one of the finest puppets represents a woman with old fashioned hair-dress, playing an instrument similar to a lute (Fig. 5.).
A puppet performs a peasant dance and a woman plays the accompaniment on a drum.
Corean people loved very much to decorate with embroidery such utensils as money-purses, bags, cushions etc., upon which they embroidered birds and different other animals and usually characters meaning long life and plenty as well. Embroidered pictures have also a very long past in Corea. They were executed with the greatest skill and with artistic taste. The five silk-embroideries of the collection, some of them made after the works of famous Corean painters, represent beautiful landscapes of Corea and the life of its people.

Fig. 8. Mother-of-pearl inlaid lacquer box

On the embroideries of the I-period birds, flowers and other traditional motives were the most popular ones. Portraits and scenes of the daily life art now frequently added to the usual motives. A pair of Kasasaki birds on plum-branches and cranes on pine- branches represent the traditional themes in our collection. Another silk-embroidery (Swinging girls) is in connection with an old popular custom. Swinging was a preferred pa time principally of young girls. But besides this, according to popular belief, swings used to be fabricated on the fifth day of the fifth month in order to expel mosquitoes in the rainy period of the year. Three other embroiderie represent Corean landscapes. Prominent of the e is “Floats on the Yalu River” by Kim Myung Sook, member of the State’s Handiwork Institute.

Making of jewels is also a very old branch of industrial art with Coreans. There are still existing jewels of refined workmanship from the period of the Three Kingdoms. Girls of wealthy classes used to wear their jewels on their girdles. These were bound together with a lace of silk and thus formed a unit of jewels. In the collection we have such a jewel-unit embracing pieces of different ages. The coral enframed in a golden makara head and a jade box in pierced work are products of the eighteenth century. A jade prism in two parts is derived from the nineteenth century. Two butterflies of jade, decorated with enamelled wire and pearls of semi-precious stones are the oldest pieces, made in the seventeenth century (Fig. 7.). The whole collection was kept together with amber buttons and musk, preferred not only for its strong fragrancy but also as medicine.
Among the jewels there are also two hairpins. One of them is made of a thick silver rod with a coral on its head. It is an eighteenth century work, or even earlier. Similar pins were used by the brides in their hairdresses in the I-period. Wealthy men also used to wear silver hairpins, but these were lighter than those of the women. Rich women and brides wore hairpins of gold or, chiefly in summer, of semi-precious stone. A jade hairpin of the collection, having a noble, simple shape is of the seventeenth or eighteenth century. Among the jewels we have also to mention amber buttons, silver rings decorated with enamel and luxurious silver buttons with enamelled decoration.

Fig. 9. Lacquered toilet case. 19th century

Lacquerwork is also a primeval branch of Corean art-industry. The lacquer -remains of the Chinese Naknang-colony are known in great number from the Phenyang gravefield. Already in the time of the Three Kingdoms Coreans decorated their lacquer objects in their own taste.
A special Corean way of decoration is the mother-of-pearl and horn -plate inlay on black and red lacquer-works. For a mother-of-pearl decoration the prepared pattern was fixed on the surface by a mixture of resin and lacquer, being polished afterwards; or the artists sawed thin plates of horn and fixed them on the surface. In Corea lacquer was used mostly for covering tables, screens, boxes, handboxes etc.
The six new Corean lacquered boxes are made in the traditional technique and they are decorated mostly with old patterns. On the cover of one of the nicest lacquered box we see a mother-of-pearl inlaid phoenix (Fig. 8). On the cover of another one a pagoda, on its eight sides alternatively two scenes are inlaid in mother-of-pearl: a tortoise with a flying heron and two roes with the moon respectively. On a tiny box symbols of good luck are visible. On the cover of one of the two horn-covered boxes a peacock is painted.
Coreans used to keep generally few pieces of furniture in their homes. Nevertheless the carved and lacquered furnitures of their masters were famous. Carved objects and furnitures of wood were preferred mostly in the I-period.
The furniture in the collection are of the nineteenth century and represent different Corean types. The low elongated tables with several drawers have been made usually of oak or poplar and embellished with carvings. Girls were married in the I-period very early, having only 13-14 years of age. Their parents used to present them on such occasions tables with drawers of this kind, together with toys, jewels and cosmetics.
The black lacquered nuptial box, furnished with fittings, served to keep silks and sewing articles. The bride moved to his man after the wedding, following Corean customs, with such a box. The nuptial box was often decorated with the ten animals symbolising long life.
They kept powder, oil and other cosmetics in the fitted reddish-brown lacquered toilet case (Fig. 9.).
The ensan-table served for keeping ink, ink-block, water dropper, pencil and other utensils for drawing. Properly speaking it is a desk.
In conclusion we have to mention several products of the smaller branch of industry and folk’s art, belonging all to the daily life of the Corean people in the past.
Before introducing modern fire-weapons, the fabrication of bow was an important craft in Corea. Bows were made of wood, horn or iron. Bows of wood were for smaller, the other ones for greater distance. Wooden bows were made of pak-tal tree. Archery had its last great rise in the Imdin-war (1592-98) and after the Manchurian conquest, when the bow was still highly important as a weapon. To-day it is a mere sport practised mostly by young men, mainly at harvest-feasts. The reflex-bow we have in the collection, originating from the end of the past century, demonstrates the characteristic short form of the Corean bows. It is made of wood and horn with a covering of bark.

Fig. 10. Quiver of papermaché. 18th century

The implements to it are the ring, serving for drawing, and the utensils for the reparation of arrows. The arrows were made of bamboo with points of stone or wood. The quivers were made of wood usually for ten arrow. The quiver of papier maché from the eighteenth century, decorated with an inkpainting of ripe rapes and a squirrel, is a fine specimen (Fig. 10.).
Grapes were in Korean painting, as in Chinese, one of the most preferred motives. Special Corean products are the hats of horsehair in their traditional cylindrical Corean fashion. The finished ones were covered with black lacquer. Women’s bags, fruit-holding bakets and other objects were also made of horse­ hair.
Stone carvings are represented in the collection by a very finely wrought ink-stone of the nineteenth century and a modern inkstand of steatite of diffe­rently coloured layers.
Coreans were always extraordinally skill din working bamboo for various utensils, as baskets, combs, lattices for windows etc. A good example of this craft is also the handle of the Corean fan in the collection. Three carpets of mat and straw represent also a special Corean folk’s art. The floors of the houses were cover d on occasions of weddings or other feasts with straw-carpets of various, mostly red and black, colours. Mats were used generally against cold. Patterned strawcarpets were a valuable export-article of the I-period. Mostly renowned are those of the island of Kanhvado.

The ancient objects presented by the Corean People’s Republic to the In­stitute of Cultural Connections and ceded afterwards to the Ferenc Hopp Museum of Eastern Asiatic Art represent a precious material also in inter­national relation, as collecting of Corean art objects has begun only late in the West and was neglected in comparison to the collection of Chinese and Japanese works of art. The recently made objects reflect the taste of Corean people and signal the beginning of the renewal of the industrial and folk’s art in Corea. The whole collection promotes a much better knowledge of the culture of our friends, the Corean people, living in the Far East.

Horváth Tibor dr. Koreai népi és iparművészeti kiállítás.
Magyar Nemzet, 1958. szeptember 7.

Horváth Tibor dr. Koreai népi és iparművészeti kiállítás.
Műterem, 1958. 11. szám, 36,1.

Eckhardt, A. Geschichte der koreanischen Kunst.
Leipzig. 1929.

Honey, W. B . Corean Pottery.
London, 1947.

Horváth Tibor dr. Korea régi művészete.
Budapest, TTIT, 1954. Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Phenyan, 1958.

Li Jo Szan Cso-szon miszlusza gejo (A koreai művészet rövid története). Phenyang, 1955.
Cso-szon rjok te to an csip. (A régi koreai ornamentika története). Phenyang, 1956.