This trompe l'oeil still life painting shows off a Confucian scholar's collection displayed on a bookcase or curio cabinet rendered in a startling mixture of Eastern and Western systems of perspective. There are books, bronzes (some of them with incense implements for the rituals of ancestor worship), boxes of various kinds, lacquer, porcelain flower vases and bowls of fruit, writing paraphernalia (rolled scrolls of paper, brushes, ink stick and ink stone), clocks, and a glass fishbowl, among other things. There is literary evidence for the tradition of ch'aekkori from at the least the late eighteenth century. Screens of this subject became a popular status symbol after King Chongjo (r. 1776-1800) placed one behind his desk in the men's quarters of the palace.
There are two seals on this screen introduced here (far left panel, second shelf from the top; far right panel, top). They are cleverly shown as the upturned ends of actual carved stone seals concealed within the bookcase; the far left seal reads Songhaeng Doin. Recent scholarship has turned up four trompe l'oeil ch'aekkori screens bearing the seal of a professional court artist active in the mid-nineteenth century, Yi Ungnok (Yi Hyongnok, 1808-after 1874), and a fifth by his follower Kang Talsu (active ca. 1875-1900). Remarkably, no two display stands in this trompe l'oeil type of screen are alike. The screen shown here is closely related to an eight-panel screen from the Dongwon Collection acquired by the National Museum of Korean, Seoul, in 1969.
For a full discussion of ch'aekkori screens see Kay E. Black and Edward W. Wagner, "Court Style Ch'aekkori," Hopes and Aspirations: Decorative Painting 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.