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Kim Eung-won

Black ink drawing of a plant with an inscription in Korean.

Kim Eung-won. Orchids, late 19th–early 20th century. Wirt D. Walker Fund.

Also known as
Eung-won Gim
Date of birth
Date of death

A master painter of orchids and rocks, Kim Eung-won (sobriquet: Soho 小湖) was part of the last generations of Joseon dynasty (1392–1910) literati painters—scholar painters who pursued painting as a form of self-cultivation and self-expression rather than for professional purposes. As a child he worked in the household of Prince Yi Ha-ung (1820–1898), the famed orchid and rock literati painter, and learned to paint from him. When Prince Yi was arrested in Tianjin, China, in 1882, Kim accompanied one of the prince’s sons to Tianjin. There he was joined by Kim Seok-jun, a pupil of Kim Jeong-hui (1786–1856), a highly esteemed literati painter and the prince’s teacher. This made a significant impression on Kim’s art and life.

In 1895 he traveled to Japan with one of Prince Yi’s grandsons and stayed there for about 10 years studying painting and forging relationships with Korean intellectuals. His brushwork, which had been deeply influenced by the styles of Prince Yi and Kim Jeong-hui, began to express freedom and spontaneity. As he began to develop his own style, his painting became popular among a Japanese clientele.

After returning to Korea, Kim played an important role in both evolving and preserving Korean art traditions. In 1911 when the Academy of Painting and Calligraphy (Seohwa Misulhoe Gangseupso) opened, Kim taught orchid painting alongside celebrated painters such as Jo Seok-jin (1853–1920) and Ahn Joong-sik (1861–1919). In 1918, he became one of the 13 founding members of the Association for Painting and Calligraphy (Sohwa Hyophoe). Although Kim owes much of his artistic style to Prince Yi and Kim Jeong-hui, he also experimented with daring compositions and fluid brushwork later in his career.

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