Publication Date

Summer 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art and Art History


Beverly K. Grindstaff


Japanese colonialism, Oil painting in East Asia, Korean art, Korean painting, Korean colonial art, Korean modernism

Subject Areas

Art history; Asian history; Fine arts


From about 1914, Korean artists began painting on canvas using the Western medium of oil. This seemingly benign shift from ink on paper and silk to oil on canvas was pivotal in engendering Korean painting into the assured phase of artistic modernism. Prescribed conventions that had governed ink painting for over nine hundred years came to be supplanted within a few short years by a divergent artistic paradigm that centralized subjective identity and visually described the ambiguities of contemporary conditions.

The training and production of these early works of art took place not in Korea but in Japan where most young male artists studied at the Tokyo Bijutsu Gakkô (Tokyo School of Fine Arts). Moreover, the emergence of Korean modern art was compounded by the socio-political tensions of 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule. It was within this contested space of not only subjugation but also integration that the painted self emerged. A selection of self-portraiture by Korean artists from 1915 to 1932 is examined in this thesis. The self-portraits serve as historical traces of multiple and fluid articulations embodying national longings and modern ideals in response to the dual forces of global modernity and Japanese colonialism. By integrating the methodological framework of "colonial modernity" utilized in the field of Korean history, but predominantly unaccounted for in Korean art history, this thesis argues the significance of colonial self-portraiture as a construct of Korean modern art.