The eight scenes on this screen are based on the seventeenth-century novel A Nine Cloud Dream by Korean writer Kim Manjung (1637–1692). Folding screens illustrating novels and stories grew popular in the eighteenth century, as a new rising class of merchants became prosperous and became new art patrons. Their tastes and preferred subject matter for paintings differed from those of previous periods.
The “nine” in the title of Kim’s book refers to the number of main characters. The major character is a monk named Seongjin, whose name means “true to the Buddha nature.” He travels through two lifetimes in the story, accompanied by eight beautiful women, and experiences every kind of earthly blessing and achievement, yet it all turns out to be no more than a dream. A Nine Cloud Dream is an entertaining novel about life and love that was written during the author’s time in exile. At its core the novel poses the timeless question: what is the meaning of life? Kim’s work is heavily based on Confucian and Buddhist philosophies of his time.
The painter of this screen has chosen eight scenes from the novel, which are not in the order of the storyline. They are understood from right to left as follows:
—a poetry party; —Seongjin meeting one of his future wives on his way to take the civil examination; —meeting another of his future wives; —the mother of Yang (Seongjin‘s reincarnated self) at home in her son’s mansion; —entertaining the emperor’s brother; —a military expedition to Tibet; —encountering the great Buddhist monk; —Seongjin meeting eight immortal fairies on a bridge before being reborn as Yang.
Acquisition made possible in part by the Korean Art and Culture Committee
Asian Art Museum of Sanfrancisco
Joseon dynasty (1392-1910)
Ink and colors on paper
H. 64 3/8 in x W. 161 1/4 in, H. 164.1 cm x W. 409.5 cm (overall); H. 34 in x W. 15 1/2 in, H. 86.4 cm x W. 39.4 cm (image of each panel)