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Anonymous Korean 無款
(18th-19th century)

“Tiger” and “Dragon”

Pair of hanging scrolls, ink and color on silk
Each scroll: 105.0 x 53.0 cm. (41 1/4 x 20 3/4 in.)

Published: Yomiuri Shinbun: Paintings of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty and Japan, Osaka, 2008, cat. 161; Koryo Museum of Art: The Tiger of Korea and Japan, Kyoto, 2010, cat. 6.


(NOTE: Further information, including box inscription, is provided below the detailed images.)



Box lid inscription:
“Dragon & tiger, a pair of paintings.”


Box label inscription:
“Li dynasty, a pair of dragon and tiger paintings.”


In the left-hand scroll a tiger pauses on a foreground rise to observe his environment, his tautly extended tail a sign of concerned awareness. Enframed by pine tree, standing on earth defined by grasses, the tiger seems perfectly balanced between a natural creature and a formalistic design derived from the quintessential idea of this admirable predator. The dragon, an even more ferocious beast, rises from the watery depths with speed, strength, and deadly purpose, his body tense, claws poised to attack, and his very breath transformed into a weapon of attack.

Paintings of tigers and dragons are known from very early times in China, with the dragon standing as the creature of the East, the region of sunrise, of fertility, and of spring rains, while the tiger was the ruler of the West and of death.

Paintings of the pair of these animals came into popularity during the Song era, with those by Muqi of the 13th century receiving special appreciation in Japan. Paintings of the subject from the Ming dynasty, beginning around the 16th century, found favor in Korea and seem to have provided the basis for the subsequent evolution in that country. Unsigned works such as the present are difficult to date with any precision but a general period can be suggested by the degree of abstraction separating them from more realistic predecessors. Based on that scale, the present paintings can be dated to the 18th-19th century, with the style and execution of the charming tiger and forceful dragon raising the pair to an aesthetic height rarely reached in this important category of Korean paintings.

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