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Charlotte Horlyck

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Charlotte Horlyck

Charlotte Horlyck is an art historian based at SOAS, London University where she concurrently holds the posts of Reader in Korean Art History and Head of the School of Art. Her research focuses on Korean pre-modern and modern visual and material culture, collecting practices, and public displays of Korean art. Among her recent work is: Korean Art – From the 19th Century to the Present (Reaktion Books, 2017). In 2021 the Korean translation was included in the Sejong Books List. Her co-edited volume (with Michael Pettid, SUNY Binghamton) Death, Mourning, and the Afterlife in Korea from Ancient to Contemporary Times was selected for a Republic of Korea Ministry of Education Award (2015). She is currently working on a book-length study on acquisitions of Korean art in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century (under contract with Routledge). She served as President of the British Association of Korean Studies (BAKS) 2016-2022.

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From tea bowls to celadon ceramics, 1900-1910

  • Intervention dans le cadre du séminaire « Intelligences de la Corée » animé par Alain Delissen, Valérie Gelézeau et Isabelle Sancho
  • 14 avril 2023, 10h30-12h30. Campus Condorcet, Bâtiment de l'EHESS, salle A302, 2 cours des Humanités, 93300 Aubervilliers.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, Korea was no longer the unknown “other.” A growing number of Westerners worked in Seoul and elsewhere on the peninsula, and even tourists began to arrive from Europe and America. Writings on Korea grew, as did Westerners’ interest in Korean antiques. In contrast to nineteenth-century collectors, whose acquisition activities were hampered by a lack of sound scholarship on Korean art, resulting in purchases of artefacts that were later dismissed as not being of Korean manufacture, early twentieth-century collectors were advantaged by easier access to the peninsula and the availability of good quality antiques, in particular green-glazed celadon ceramics from the Koryŏ kingdom. Around this time, it was widely argued that Koryŏ ceramics were the “best examples of the ancient Koreans’ art in pottery,” as the Smithsonian Institution curator, Randolph I. Geare noted in 1904. Seminal American-led exhibitions of them include that of Frank Gair Macomber’s (1849-1941) collection of Korean and Chinese ceramics which opened at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston in 1909 as the first of its kind in the West. 

In Japan, too, many ceramic collectors turned their attention to Koryŏ vessels, highlighting the convergence of early Japanese and Western interests in Koryŏ art. In autumn 1909, twenty-six collectors from Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Seoul, several of whom were influential aristocrats and government ministers, lent their pieces to an exhibition held in Tokyo. The show not only signifies an important shift in the collecting practices of the Japanese elite as they re-directed their connoisseurly interests from tea wares to celadon ceramics, it also reflects the ways in which colonial narratives began to shape scholarship on Korean cultural heritage. The catalogue for the Tokyo exhibition was published in 1910, the year Japan took over the Korean peninsula, and the authors’ introductory essay echoes the Japanese government’s colonial rhetoric. For example, they refer to Korean people as being artless and highlight Japan’s positive role in “introducing Korean cultural heritage to the world.” Over the following decades, colonial understandings of Korea served to heighten interest in Koryŏ ceramics, as will be explored further in the next seminar.  

Collecting frenzy of the 1910s

  • Dans le cadre des "Plumes démasquées du laboratoire" Chine, Corée, Japon
  • 17 avril 2023, 16h45-18h. Campus Condorcet, Bâtiment Recherche Sud, Salle 0.015, 5 cours des Humanités, 93300 Aubervilliers.

Discussion : Yolaine Escande, directrice de recherche au CNRS

In the 1910s Koryŏ celadon ceramics were acquired by private collectors and museum institutions in growing numbers, they were included in exhibitions in Europe and America, and detailed scholarship of them was published. The aesthetic quality of the wares was even argued to represent Korean art as a whole, as reflected in a note issued by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1915: “The soft green color, the faint, fine decoration […] fulfil perfectly the established ideas of what a production of the Hermit Kingdom should be.” 

During the 1910s numerous scholarly writings were published on Koryŏ ceramics, and authors continued to herald the Koryŏ kingdom as the “best period” of Korean ceramic manufacture. By pitting the glory of the past against the perceived decline of the Chosŏn kingdom, scholars reinforced the Japanese colonial narrative that Korea had fallen into decline during the Chosŏn rule and that it was Japan’s role to rectify this. That Koryŏ wares continued to be referred to as mortuary or tomb wares enhanced their appeal. Scholarship on East Asian stonewares was still developing, and collectors and dealers had difficulties in correctly identifying the wares, in particular Korean ones. The (mis-guided) belief that artefacts unearthed from Koryŏ graves were undeniably of local manufacture heightened the desire for mortuary wares as it was felt that such pieces could reliably be attributed a Koryŏ date. Equally problematic were the fakes that began to enter the market at this time. Many collectors were aware that imitations of ancient celadon wares were being produced in Japan, but believed that ceramics unearthed from tombs were unquestionably genuine.

In the 1910s, increased travel to East Asia led some collectors to source wares directly in Korea, among them the Englishman Aubrey Le Blond (1869-1951), who acquired around one-hundred-and-fifty Koryŏ ceramics when visiting Seoul in 1913. When it was lent to the V&A in 1914, it became the earliest exhibition of Korean ceramics held in the UK. When a few years later Le Blond donated the collection to the museum, it was believed to be the largest and most important collection of Korean ceramics in Europe. 

Le Blond’s timing was fortuitous since by the late 1910s access to good quality Korean antiques became increasingly difficult. In 1916, the Japanese colonial government issued the first of several regulatory measures aimed at protecting Korean cultural heritage. Moreover, increased competition among buyers in Europe, America, Korea and Japan for high quality Koryŏ ceramics resulted in soaring prices, making it impossible for collectors of moderate economic means to enter the market. As will be explored in the next seminar, it forced some to explore alternative types of objects, leading to interest in artefacts dating the Chosŏn kingdom that until then had largely been dismissed as being of lesser aesthetic value.

Diversification of the Korean arts market, 1920s and 1930s 

  • Dans le cadre du cours "Arts de la Corée" animé par Marion Casala. Séance animée avec Florence Galmiche.
  • 20 avril 2023, 9h-11h. Université Paris Cité, Halle aux farines (Grands Moulins), Salle 226C, 10 rue Françoise Dolton, 75013 Paris.

During the 1920s it became so common for museums to acquire Korean artefacts that by the 1930s it was said “almost every public collection of East Asiatic Art in America and Europe [has] a Korean section.”By this time acquisitions were no longer exclusively focused on Koryŏ ceramics, though they constituted the mainstay of collections. Bronze artefacts and Buddhist sculptures from the Koryŏ kingdom were also collected alongside artefacts from other periods. Curators now had access to a growing number of journal articles and catalogues on Korean art published in English and other languages. Still, most writings continued to centre on Koryŏ ceramic manufacture. In contrast to those published only ten or fifteen years earlier, articles were well-researched and offered indepth insights into Korean ceramic manufacture. Several authors referenced sources published by the Japanese Government-General in Seoul, signifying the cross-regional scholarly exchanges that took place at this time as travel and communication between East Asia, Europe and America became easier and quicker. 

However, in the late 1920s, the collecting of Koryŏ ceramics began to subside: fewer wares became available for sale, prices rose considerably, more fakes were sold, and increasingly stringent Japanese export laws made it difficult to source antiques directly from Korea. By the 1930s few Koryŏ celadon came on the market and no major exhibitions of Korean art were held. With the Great Depression and the onslaught of the Asia Pacific War and the Second World War, interest in Korean ceramics waned and did not resume until many decades later. This seminar explores this last heyday in the collecting of Korean art. Of particular interest is the diversification of consumers and their scholarly and curatorial interests in Korean art during the early 1920s. It questions how increased knowledge of the artefacts shaped buyers’ interests and impacted the manner in which objects changed hands. It places institutional and individual interests in Korean artefacts in context of the broader economic, political and cultural framings of the Korean arts market of the late modern era, and questions how this aligns with current trends in Korean art acquisition.

American interests in Korea and its cultural heritage in the 1880s and 1890s

  • Intervention dans le cadre du séminaire « Intelligences de la Corée » animé par Alain Delissen, Valérie Gelézeau et Isabelle Sancho
  • 12 mai 2023, 10h30-12h30. Campus Condorcet, Bâtiment de l'EHESS, salle A302, 2 cours des Humanités, 93300 Aubervilliers.

This talk explores the rise of American collectors of Korean art in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. Being largely from the East Coast, they amassed considerable wealth during the era of the Gilded Age when America underwent rapid industrialisation and economic expansion, and like many other modern men of their time, they turned to art collecting as an outlet for their artistic and scholarly pursuits. For some collectors, East Asia offered new and exciting avenues for developing their hobby. Yet, many grabbled with what to collect and why, not to mention how to collect and classify objects. These concerns were also directed at Korean art which Western collectors began to take an interest in already in the 1870s when Chosŏn was yet to open its ports to America and other Western nations. For collectors of ceramics, some of these questions were answered in a  volume of nearly 700 pages titled History of Ceramic Art authored by the French art historian and collector Albert Jacquemart (1808-1875). Published in 1873, much of the content was drawn from Jacquemart’s tome published in French a decade earlier. The book covers the history of ceramic production from Europe to East Asia and includes a chapter on Korean ceramics. That the main aim of the chapter was to define Korean porcelain and to “distinguish it from its imitations” is noteworthy as it signals the growing interest in the collecting of Korean art, especially ceramics. The modernisation of Korea resulted in ceramics becoming available for purchase for Western buyers, leading to the formation of significant collections of Korean art in American museums. This talk questions how these converging political, economic and cultural changes within early modern America and Chosŏn Korea impacted early approaches to Korean culture. 

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