In this trompe l'oeil still-life painting, we open a door onto a Confucian scholar's study. But what a study! His collection is an astonishing mélange of books, fruit (juicy black grapes, ripe watermelon, pomegranates, citrons) and vegetables (eggplants). The top of the watermelon is sliced off to reveal many seeds inside, a bit of Daoist symbolism suggesting that the screen's owner sire many children. There are many luxury goods associated with the life of a gentleman. We see Chinese-style rocks--one with blossoming peonies--paintings--one ink landscape hanging on the wall and others rolled up--and a magnificent branch of flowering plum. Writing paraphernalia include writing brushes, envelopes, rolled scrolls of paper, a water dropper, stone seals, inksticks and inkstones, not to mention two pairs of reading glasses. The third panel from the right shown above is inscribed in a cartouche Mun bang sa u (four scholar's objects). The far left panel above shows an inkstick inscribed eo yak yong mun (turning into a dragon). A poetic phrase for "autumn moon" (dong jeong chu wol) is worked into the imagery on an inkstick shown in the sixth panel from the right above. There are porcelain vases and teapots, ritual bronzes, gnarled wood containers, several glass vases with coral and one with a lotus, a candle, stacks of porcelain dishes and teacups. The frog and a pair of birds on a swing: are they real? Perhaps we have a puzzle for the viewer to solve.
The Chinese-style books on screens of this type are usually depicted closed, stacked in sets wrapped in slipcases. Joseon-dynasty scholars sat on thin cushions on the floor and worked at small, portable desks. Chaekgeori is a Confucian theme, directly related to the scholarly aspiration of the landed gentry, the scholar-officials of the Joseon-dynasty government. Yet, bookstack screens were popular in the homes of commoners, as well, symbolizing the Confucian ideals of education and self-improvement, and perhaps providing inspiration to the family's children. There is literary evidence that this subject became a status symbol after King Jeongjo (r. 1776-1800) placed one behind his desk in the men's quarters of the palace.
For a full discussion of Chaekgeori screens, see Kay E. Black and Edward W. Wagner, "Court style Ch'aekkori," in Hopes and Aspirations: Decorative Paintings of Korea, exh. cat. (San Francisco: Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 1998), 21-35; also Black and Wagner, "Ch'aekkori Paintings: A Korean Jigsaw Puzzle," Archives of Asian Art 46 (1993): 63-75.