This startlingly realistic portrait of a military official in ceremonial robe is attributed to Ch'ae Yongsin on the basis of its similarity to several signed paintings of civil officials by this artist. One is dated 1927, the period of the Japanese occupation. The other is dated 1905 (see Cho Sonmi, Han'guk ch'osanghwa yon'gu , figs. 174, 224). The artist was a magistrate in Chongsan Prefecture with junior second rank. In 1900, he was involved in a prestigious court project copying royal portraits; a special office was established by the king for this project (see Hongnam Kim, ed., Korean Art of the Eighteenth Century [New York: Asia Society Galleries, 1993], 43). According to Dr. Kim, portraits were the most important aspect of figure painting during the Joseon dynasty.
An unsigned portrait of a seated civil official, attributed to this artist, is in the collection of the Portland Art Museum and was published by Junghee Lee in Azaleas and Golden Bells: Korean Art in the Collection of the Portland Art Museum and in Portland Private Collections (Portland, OR: Portland Art Museum, 1998). Dr. Lee dates the Portland painting to the last years of the Joseon dynasty, ca. 1900-10, on the basis of the two cyclical dates that appear on a plaque attached to the red tassel the sitter wears with his ceremonial robe.
As in the case of the painting shown here, the official sits on a mat in a Korean pose that may have been chosen to suggest that the sitter is a patriotic Confucian official at a time when Korea was falling under the influence of imperial Japan.
The identity of the sitter is unknown, but he wears a rank badge with two leopards that accords with military titles of first to third ranks. The cyclical year of his birth given on his tassel probably corresponds to 1862, and the cyclical year he became an official probably corresponds to 1885. The sitter is not a young man, and it is likely that the portrait dates from 1910 or later.