Introduction

The Diamond Mountains

The Korean peninsula is characterized by its mountainous landscape, with over 70 percent of its terrain covered by hills and peaks. Among these natural wonders, the Diamond Mountains, also known as Mount Geumgang (금강산 金剛山), holds an iconic position in Korean history and art. Located in present-day Gangwon Province in North Korea, this mountain range features distinctive natural landscapes, popular Buddhist temples, and famous historical sites. Having captivated artists for centuries, Mount Geumgang stands as one of the most depicted subjects in Korean art and remains a source of national pride throughout history.

Korean Landscape Painting

The 18th century marked a ground-breaking development in Korean landscape painting. In contrast to earlier works that primarily depicted well-known Chinese scenes or imaginative landscapes, the new true-view landscape painting genre (jingyeong sansuhwa 진경산수화 眞景山水畵) captured the actual topography of Korea’s native land and conveyed the historical and psychological significance associated with the scenery. The concept and style of true-view landscape painting reached its full potential in the visual representation of Mount Geumgang.

Paintings of Mount Geumgang

This online exhibition presents eight ink paintings of Mount Geumgang from the Harn’s Korean art collection. The cropped circular composition, bird’s eye perspective, sharp vertical brush strokes for bony peaks, and short horizontal ones for masses of foliage reflect a direct connection with the meticulous techniques and realistic style pioneered by the eminent Korean painter Jeong Seon 鄭敾 (1676-1759). Inscribing the names of the landmarks on blue slips attached to specific sites evidence the influence of Korean cartography tradition on these paintings.

Diverging from Jeong Seon’s numerous paintings of Mount Geumgang, the selection and arrangement of various sites in these paintings do not adhere to their actual geographic locations (see map below). Temples and famous sites from Outer Geumgang Mountain (Oegeumgnag, 외금강 外金剛), Inner Geumgang Mountain (Naegeumgang내금강 内金剛), and Costal Geumgang Mountain (Haegeumang 해금강 海金剛) are sometimes juxtaposed in a single composition. A few sites, such as Jangjeon am and Bibong pok, which are not in Mount Geumgang are also included, indicating that the painter did not physically visit the actual sites. The symbolic representation of natural scenery in these paintings further suggests that the painter drew inspiration from visual and literary references, which historically personified popular peaks and waterfalls with the forms of Buddhist deities or mythical creature implied by their names. In contrast to other landscape paintings of Mount Geumgang, typically devoid of human activities, the Harn’s paintings show groups of gentlemen roaming among the mountains, engaging in conversations, or immersing themselves in the natural splendor.

Map of Diamond Mountain (1939); Click to enlarge map.

Paintings of Diamond Mountains (Mount Geumgang)

Originally mounted as an eight-panel folding screen, these paintings were created for home display, offering viewers a special lens through which they could appreciate the natural landscapes and connect with legendary landmarks on a spiritual journey without leaving their homes.

Panel 1

From right to left and top to bottom, the featured sites in this painting are Ilchul bong 일출봉 日出峰 (Sunrise Peak), Shinku bong신거봉 神去峰 (Peak of Immortals Departure), Paikun dae 백운대 白雲臺 (Platform of White Cloud), and Chilsung dae 칠성대 七星臺 (Terrace of Seven Stars).

VIEW LARGER

Panel 2

From right to left and top to bottom, the featured sites in this painting are Guryong won 구룡연 九龍淵 (Abyss of Nine Dragon), Junghyang seong 중향성 衆香城 (City of Various Fragrances), Eunseon dae은선대 隱仙台 (Terrace of Reclusive Immortals), Munsu dae 문수탕 文殊潭 (Pond of Manjushri), and Shinggye sa 신계사 神溪寺 (Temple of Divine Creek).

VIEW LARGER

Panel 3

From right to left and top to bottom, the featured sites in this painting are Samsun am 삼선암 三仙岩 (Rock of Three Immortals), Pyohun sa 표훈사 表训寺 (Temple of Buddha’s Sermon), Pubki-um法起菩 (Boshisattva), and Maha-yeon 마가연 摩珂衍 (Rock of Great Wisdom).

View Larger

Panel 4

From right to left and top to bottom, the featured sites in this painting are Suyeom pok 수천폭水簾瀑 (Curtain Waterfall), Oknyeo bong 옥녀봉 玉女峰 (Peak of Jade Lady), Jangan sa 장안사 長安寺 (Temple of Eternal Peace), and Manggun dae 망군대 望軍台 (Lookout of Watching Military Troops).

VIEW LARGER

Panel 5

From right to left and top to bottom, the featured sites in this painting are Jangjeon am 장전강 長箭庵 (Temple of Long Arrow), Danbalr yeong단발령 斷發嶺 (Cutting Hair Ridge), Saseon gyo사선교 四仙橋 (Bridge of Four Immortals), and Bodeo ku 보덕굴 普德窟 (Cave of Virtues).

view larger

Panel 6

From right to left and top to bottom, the featured sites in this painting are Myeonggyeon dae명경대 明鏡台 (Terrace of Clear Mirror), Manpok dong 만폭동 萬瀑洞 (Cave of Ten Thousand Waterfalls), Chongseok jeong총석정 叢石亭 (Pavilion of Many Rocks), and Myokil sang 묘길상 妙吉祥 (Marvelous Good Fortune).

view larger

Panel 7

From right to left and top to bottom, the featured sites in this painting are Jipsun bong 집선봉 集仙峰 (Peak of Immortal Gatherings), Chongyang sa정양사 正陽寺 (Temple Facing the Sun), Samil po 삼일폭 三日瀑 (Three Days Waterfall), and Hyunchong dae현종암 懸鍾台 (Rock of Haning Bell).

view larger

Panel 8

From right to left and top to bottom, the featured sites in this painting are Sipwang bong 십왕봉 十王峰 (Peak of Ten Kings), Noin dae노인암 老人台 (Rock of Elderly Man Rock), Haembyeon seok 빈변석 濱邊石 (Rock by the Water), and Bibong pok비봉폭 飛鳳瀑 (Flying Phoenix Waterfall).

view larger

To view the Harn’s entire Korean art collection visit this eMuseum link.

Acknowledgements:

This exhibition is generously supported by the National Museum of Korea.

The text of this exhibition is translated by art historian Dr. Hayoon Jung.

The National Museum of Korea Overseas Korean Gallery Support Program intern Madeline Menet (UF History 2024) contributed to the research for this exhibition.