Two years ago three of Asia’s top art scholars visited the museum to survey the museum’s East Asian paintings acquired through the 2003 purchase of the Richard Lane collection. The survey, which was made possible though a grant from the Korean Cultural Heritage Administration, resulted in the discovery of Scholarly Gathering, an extremely rare 16th-century painting that made international headlines.
The unexpected find prompted the group to update the grant to include conservation of this work, along with the folding screen Fish, Birds and Flowers—another priority work discovered in the survey. The grant was quickly approved, and the works were sent to a top-level conservation studio in South Korea.
Now, nearly two years later, the restored works have returned to the museum and are on view in the Korea Gallery. “The professionalism of the Cultural Heritage Administration establishes high standards as a model for international collaboration,” says Asian art curator Shawn Eichman. “It has been a genuine pleasure to work with them, and we have received many new insights into our collection of Korean paintings, as well as being able to have multiple important works conserved.”
Eichman notes that in addition cleaning the painting, the conservation also restored the painting’s presentation to a more authentic historical context. “Previously, Scholarly Gathering had a mount that was not only not displayable, but also historically inappropriate for such a significant painting,” he says. “The conservator, professor Park Chi-Sun, meticulously researched historic Korean mounts for similar paintings, and provided the painting with a new, more accurate mounting.”
While the museum is known for having one of the world’s best collections of Korean ceramics, as exemplified in the 2015 exhibition Splendor and Serenity: Korean Ceramics from the Honolulu Museum of Art, the restored paintings add an important new dimension to the museum’s collection of Korean art. “Scholarly Gathering significantly elevates the profile of our Korean painting collection,” says Eichman. “It enriches our overall holdings in Korean art, providing our audience with access to the best examples of Korean art in different media.”
Now the Cultural Heritage Administration is funding the conservation of two additional paintings, one of which is another 16th- to 17th-century landscape that is of comparable significance with Scholarly Gathering. Additionally, a team of scholars with expertise in Korean, Japanese, and Chinese paintings continues the comprehensive survey of every one of the thousands of paintings in the Lane collection.
Scholarly Gathering and Fish, Birds and Flowers are on view in the Korean art gallery through May 15. After that, the works will be installed in the gallery on a regular rotating basis.