Bamboo Through The Four Seasons
Overall view of screen © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Yu Tôk-chang (also known as Su-un and Ka-san-ûng), Korean ( 1675 - 1756)
Bamboo through the Four Seasons
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Ink Bamboo (Mukjuk-to)
Work Type
screen, painting
mid 18th century
Creation Place: East Asia, Korea
Chosôn dynasty, 1392-1910
Level 2, Room 2600, East Asian Art
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Physical Descriptions
Eight-panel folding screen; ink on paper; with two seals of the artist reading "Su-un" and "Ka-san-ûng"
Overall mounting: H. 165 x W. 513.2 cm (64 15/16 x 202 1/16 in.)
paintings proper: H. 81.4 x W. 48.8 cm (32 1/16 x 19 3/16 in.)
[Kang Collection, New York (2000)] sold; to Harvard University Art Museums, 2000.
State, Edition, Standard Reference Number
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Ernest B. and Helen Pratt Dane Fund for the Acquisition of Oriental Art, Richard Norton Memorial Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Korean folding screens often have six panels, like those painted in Japan; more characteristically, however, Korean screens boast eight, ten, or even twelve panels. In some cases, a Korean screen may feature a single, unified composition that spreads across all its panels; in other instances--such as this one--each panel is conceived as an individual painting.

Representing bamboo through the four seasons, this eight-panel screen is meant to be "read" by the viewer from right to left. The first two paintings, at the far right, depict newly sprung shoots and fresh stalks of bamboo emerging from the ground in spring. The next pair of images display lush, hearty stalks of bamboo enduring the strong winds and warm sun of summer. The relative sparseness, dry ink tones, and overlapping mist visible in the next two paintings convey characteristics of the autumn months. The last pair of images, at the far left, which depict old, thick, broken stalks of bamboo with hints of new stalks in one painting and bamboo branches heavily laden with snow in the other, complete the cycle with the winter season. Though the paintings lack inscriptions and signatures, two red, square seal impressions at the upper left corner of the far--left panel identify two sobriquets of the artist Yu Tôk-chang (1675-1765) and thus reveal the creator of this masterful work of art.

A follower of the famous Korean bamboo-painting master Yi Chông (1541-1622), Yu Tôk-chang was one of the most prominent literati artists of the Chosôn dynasty (1392-1910). Like their Koryô-dynasty (918-1392) predecessors, both Yi and Yu took inspiration from the work of Chinese literati painters of the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties. Their paintings thus tend to resemble literati paintings by early Chinese masters, rather than works produced by their Chinese contemporaries. In this screen, however, Yu departs from the Chinese model and exhibits the distinctly Korean style of bamboo painting he learned from Yi Chông: the two tones of ink used to starkly distinguish fore-and background subjects; the angular mists that abruptly interrupt a scene; and the thick stumps of bamboo with sharp, broken edges.

Bamboo painting was extremely popular among the literati, perhaps because of its association with the so-called Four Gentlemen--plum blossoms, orchids, chrysanthemums, and bamboo. All four of these botanical subjects, which readily lend themselves to depiction with calligraphic brushwork, are said to embody the virtues to which Confucian scholars aspired, such as integrity, purity, and strength in the face of adversity. So important was the ability to paint bamboo that in the fifteenth century it outranked even landscape painting in the official examinations for Korea's royal painting academy.
Publication History

Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 2008), p. 109

Exhibition History

Plum, Orchid, Chrysanthemum, and Bamboo: Botanical Motifs and Symbols in East Asian Painting, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 07/06/2002 - 01/05/2003

A Compelling Legacy: Masterworks of East Asian Painting, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/24/2004 - 03/20/2005

Cultivating Virtue: Botanical Motifs and Symbols in East Asian Art, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 07/08/2006 - 04/08/2007

Re-View: S228-230 Arts of Asia, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/31/2008 - 11/23/2008

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

Verification Level

3 - Good. Object is well described and information is vetted