Export Paintings as Art and Agency


Export painting
Korean art
Chinese art
Visual culture


Export paintings that depict local images of one’s country with the purpose of being sold to foreign customers emerged in China and Korea in the late eighteenth and late nineteenth centuries, respectively, when the countries opened their ports to Europe and America. Given this historical context, the conventional understanding of export paintings of the two countries has been twofold at large: 1) commodities that reflect Euro-American customers’ tastes for exotic imageries and 2) ethnographic resources that exhibit unique characteristics of each country’s culture. While these interpretations have a valid ground, they often undermine the artistic qualities of the painting genre, separating it from the existing painting traditions. To broaden this perspective, my paper aims to suggest plural ways of discerning export paintings through cross-cultural comparisons. In doing so, this study highlights the integral roles of export painters in responding to changing social, political, and economic circumstances, posing a critical question for investigation: whether export paintings are images of self-objectification with the instillation of Orientalist ideologies or creative outcomes with an artistic agency. While these two stances are not mutually exclusive nor contradictory to each other, this core question allows one to challenge the linear understanding of the history of “non-western” art.

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Copyright (c) 2022 Lina Shinhwa Koo


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