The eighteenth century within the Korean peninsula, part of the extensive Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), was marked by peace and prosperity after a long period of foreign invasions, war, and factional conflict. After centuries of negatively shifting political and social relations, intellectual and cultural life was flourishing beyond the walls of the palace. Despite prevailing differences in class and education, both the literary and visual arts rapidly developed. Works produced during this time mutually influenced one another, developed into vernacular understandings, and tended towards representing the native and the local, rather than foreign or imaginary subjects. A new nativist form of genre paintings—paintings depicting daily life often in a humorous or satirical manner—greatly developed as a visual beacon of Korean identity. These genre paintings became quite popular within the rapidly growing art market which catered to both liberal members of the upper class—the traditional art-producing and art-possessing class—and the newly wealthy and relatively newly established chungin—“middle people”—class. Society no longer required the strong organizing power of Confucianism in the face of peace and prosperity, and dominant Neo-Confucian ethic, social structure, and politics, which had been established at the start of the dynasty, came under scrutiny by the chungin class. Negative shifts in political and social relations impressed upon Joseon by outside forces gave way to progressively shifting social and cultural relations internally. Late eighteenth century Korea was at the crux of its progression towards modernism. By the late Joseon dynasty, eroding traditional Confucian values were increasingly replaced with an interest in material and sensual pursuits. This shift was present in not only the increased production of art, but also in the forms that artworks began to take on. Perhaps this shift is nowhere more present than the genre scenes of Sin Yun-bok, especially in comparison to his most important contemporary, Kim Hong Do.
Sease, Abigail, "A Matter of Class: Sin Yun-bok’s Depictions of Kisaeng as Participants of Everyday Life" (2016). Undergraduate Research Awards. Paper 28.