“Looking at my painting of Mt. Geumgang will give a better sense of the mountain than hiking it on your own feet.” – From Geumgang Jeondo by Jeong Seon
Jeong Seon (1676-1759), one of the most respected painters during Joseon, expressed his confidence in his painting. Geumgang Jeondo, a Korean-brush painting of Mt. Geumgang on 130.7cm by 94.1cm paper, is considered the best painting of the mountain. He depicted a bird’s eye view of the mountain to show its numerous peaks, while creating an S-shaped contrast between woody mountains and rocky mountains. The strong contrast between soft and sharp brush strokes shows a masterful balance between tension and harmony. This style seems to represent the Eastern philosophy of yin-yang harmony in the state of the supreme ultimate called Taegeuk.
Besides its philosophical implication, Geumgang Jeondo also holds special significance in eastern art history because it represents the Korean native style of realistic landscape painting called Jingyeong Sansuhwa. Invented by Jeong Seon, this style pursues a depiction of what you see in actual locations. During his time, Joseon’s landscape paintings were usually imitations of Chinese paintings or imaginary landscapes. Korean landscapes were neglected. Painter Jeong decided to challenge this old tradition and started to paint Korean landscapes by exploring nature in Korea. His new style of landscape painting inspired many other painters.