Sumukhwa (Ink wash painting) refers to a style of painting created using traditional materials and techniques of East Asia, including paper, silk, brush, color, etc. Colored paintings, which were a form of mural, and ink wash paintings are the two cornerstones of traditional Korean painting.
The most representative sub-genres of SUMUK are gungjeong (court), jingyeong (real landscape) and munin (literal artistic style) painting. In particular, munin painting, which emerged during the late Joseon dynasty, was mainly practiced by painters from the yangban (nobleman) class, and developed in conjunction with Southern School Literati Painting. There was a tendency to place importance on the cultural refinement and spirit of the artists, and such works were somewhat abstract. On the other hand, gungjeong and jingyeong painting were more specialized, with a strong tendency toward realistic portrayal. These sub-genres evolved into colored and SUMUK (ink) styles.
Mongyu dowondo (Dream Journey to the Peach Blossom Land) by An Gyeon
In Korea, where colored paintings such as Buddhist paintings and murals flourished, Sumukhwa began to be practiced in the late Goryeo period. However, it can be said that the full-fledged developments that gave rise to the uniqueness of Korean Sumukhwa began in the Joseon period.
Geumgang jeondo (Complete View of Geumgangsan Mountain) by Jeong Seon
Chunsaek manwon (A Spring Mood Permeates Everything) by Sin Yun-bok
In the early Joseon Dynasty, painters such as An Gyeon and Gang Hui-an among others began to create ink wash paintings based on the techniques developed in the Goryeo Dynasty and the Chinese painting styles of the Yuanti School of the Southern Song period and the Li-Guo school of the Yuan dynasty and the Northern Song period. These elements ultimately formed the foundation of Korean painting styles.
With the emergence of Silhak (Practical Learning) during the late Joseon Dynasty, jingyeong painting and genre painting, which may be viewed as the painting styles that best represent Korea and its people, were developed by Yun Du-seon, Jeong Seon, Kim Hong-do and Sin Yun-bok. In the late Joseon Dynasty, Southern School Literati Painting, led by KimJeong-hui, began to flourish, ultimately taking center stage among the painting community.
SUMUK differs vastly from Western painting in terms of materials, techniques and objectives, as well as in its emphasis on expressions of the artist’s mentality and the importance placed on voids and lines.
The characteristic that most distinguishes SUMUK from Western painting is the absence of contrast; and the ideas are expressed with a sense of restraint, using only the effects of light and shade created by SUMUK.
The birth of SUMUK is attributed to Wang Wei, a writer and artist from the mid-Tang dynasty of China.
Mudong (Dancing Boy) by Kim Hong-do
Sanseung bonapdo by Sim Sa-jeong
Its advanced expressive techniques were completed in the Yuan dynasty, with the emergence of diverse brushing techniques and styles created by various artists over time.
Korean SUMUK developed under the influence of the painting styles of the Southern School Literati Painting of the Song and Yuan dynasties during the late Goryeo period (13th - 14th century). It was finally developed into Joseon-style SUMUK painting by An Gyeon, Gang Hui-an and others in the early Joseon period, and by Yun Du-seo, Jeong Seon, Kim Hong-do, Sim Sa-jeong and others in the 18th century.
Following the Liberation of Korea from Japanese colonial rule, the painting community reorganized itself with the purpose of eliminating the vestiges of Japanese imperialism. Thus, during this period colored pictures were rejected for being a Japanese style. SUMUK, on the other hand, was encouraged for the purpose of preserving and handing down old traditions, as it was recognized as a traditional Korean style of folk painting style.
Mungnimhoe, a society organized by young artists in the 1960s, produced experimental works based on the SUMUK painting traditions of Korea. Since then, contemporary artists have been making ceaseless efforts to communicate with the public in the present time through fresh and new interpretations of traditional SUMUK painting.