Women and East Asian Art

Women Washing Clothes

Women Washing Clothes

Women Washing Clothes, Kim Hong Do, 18th Century

Drawn by Kim Hong Do in 18th century Joseon, Women Washing Clothes is a genre painting depicting the daily activities of women washing their clothes in a creek.[1]

The painting is divided into three distinct sections; the lower third, upper-left, and upper-right. The distinction is made through the color and lines drawn with landscape; the faint but solid blue from the rocks of the upper sections are enough to create a sharp contrast from the taint white of the lower third. The lower third depicts three women washing clothes. They seem to be engaged in a conversation from their mildly amused expression, direction of their head, and their leisurely pose. The upper-left section contains a woman either braiding or combing her hair as a bottom-less baby demands attention. It is unknown whether the woman is engaged in the conversation, but it is certain that she is absorbed with her hair. The upper-right scene portrays a man, presumably an upper-class from his clothing and Gad (the hat), spying on the four ladies. His crossed-legged posture and the fan implies leisure.

As a genre painting, Kim Hong-do aims to depict his perception of casual Joseon. The three women washing clothe is indeed no anomaly; however, the two figures spatially separate from the three women exemplify Kim’s criticism of society. The woman, who is too busy to care for her child, indicates Joseon’s women’s self-absorbed obsession with beauty. The leisure, affluence, and the unscrupulousness of the man symbolizes Joseon upper-class men’s obsession with women and their beauty. The men’s obsession leads to futility as they forgo responsibilities and morale. The depiction of the woman combing and the man thus highlight the obsession of beauty plays in Joseon.

[1] “‘A Wash Place’ from the Album of Genre Paintings by Kim Hong-Do: Highlights.” NATIONAL MUSEUM OF KOREA. Accessed December 1, 2019. https://www.museum.go.kr/site/eng/relic/represent/view?relicId=539.

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