Ko Hŭi-dong (고희동, 高羲東) (1886–1965) By Lee, Jungsil Jenny
Ko Hŭi-dong is regarded as Korea’s first Western-style painter. Born into a progressive diplomatic family, Ko studied at a French language school in Seoul where he was introduced to Western culture and art by his French teachers and artists such as Léopold Remion. Ko became a government official, but throughout his career grew concerned with what he saw as the decline of his country. In response, he turned to traditional ink painting, studying under the country’s last court painters, An Chung-sik (안중식, 安中植, 1853–1920) and Cho Sŏk-chin (1816–1919). Ko eventually came to see traditional ink painting as little more than a copy of Chinese painting, so in 1909, the year before the Japanese colonization of Korea, Ko went to Tokyo. There, he studied Western-style painting at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts under Kuroda Seiki (조석진, 趙錫晉, 1866–1924). However, as is obvious in the large number of his remaining landscapes, Eastern-style ink painting eventually became Ko’s focus, where he applied his expertise in Western painting techniques to the traditional Asian medium. The unconventional content and new perspectives in landscapes that resulted formed the basis of Ko’s reputation as a founder of the modern ink painting style. Ko was also an art educator and administrator, and one of the most influential leaders in Korean modern art history.