CHAPTER XI. Painting in Seoul - Messages from the king - Royal princes sitting for their portraits - Breaking the mourning law - Quaint notions - Delight and despair - Calling in of State ceremony - Corean soldiers - How they mount guard - Drill.

I had made so many sketches in Seoul, that at last a rumour reached the Court of the rapidity with which I portrayed streets and people. The consequence was that both king and princes were very anxious to see what "European painting" was like, as they had never yet seen a picture painted by a European; so one fine day, to my great astonishment, through the kindness of Mr. Greathouse and General Le Gendre, I was able to induce one of the Queen's nephews, young Min-san-ho, to sit for his likeness in his Court dress. The picture, a life-size one, was painted in the course of an afternoon and was pronounced a success by my Corean critics. In Cho-senese eyes, unaccustomed to the effects of light, shade, and variety of colour in painting, the work merited a great deal of admiration, and many were the visitors who came to inspect it. It was not, they said, at all like a picture, but just like the man himself sitting donned in his white Court robes and winged cap. So great was the sensation produced by this portrait, that before many days had passed the King ordered it to be brought into his presence, upon which being done he sat gazing at it, surrounded by his family and whole household. The painting was kept at the Palace for two entire days, and when returned to me was simply covered with finger marks, royal and not royal, smeared on the paint, which was still moist, and that, notwithstanding that I had been provident enough to paste in a corner of the canvas a label in the Corean language to the effect that fingers were to be kept off. The King declared himself so satisfied with it that he expressed the wish that before leaving the country I should paint the portraits of the two most important personages in Cho-sen after himself, viz.: the two Princes, Min-Young-Huan, and Min-Young-Chun, the former of whom was Commander-in-chief of the Corean land forces, and the other, Prime Minister of the kingdom, in fact, the Bismarck of Cho-sen.

No sooner had I answered "yes" to this request than the sitting was fixed for the next morning at 11 o'clock. The crucial matter, of course, was the question of precedence, and this would have been difficult to settle had not the Prime Minister caught a bad cold, which caused his sitting to be delayed for some days. Hence it was that at 11 o'clock punctually I was to portray prince Min-Young-Huan, the commander-in-chief of the Corean troops.

General Le Gendre, with his usual kindness, had offered me a room in his house, in which I could receive, and paint His Royal Highness. The excitement at Court on the subject of these pictures, had apparently been great, for late at night a message was brought me from the palace to the effect that the King, having heard that I preferred painting the two princes in their smartest dark blue gowns of lovely silk instead of in their white mourning ones, had given Min orders to comply with my wish. The grant of such a privilege was, indeed, remarkable, when it is remembered how strict the rules as to mourning were, not only at Court, but all over the country; for so strict are the mourning rules of the country, that the slightest exception to them may mean the loss of one's head. The precaution, however, was taken to bind me to secrecy, on the ground that a bad example of this kind coming from royalty might actually cause a revolutionary outbreak. It was naturally with the greatest pleasure, at my success, and the courtesy shown me, that I went to bed, not, however, without having received yet another message from General Le Gendre, asking me to be in attendance punctually at 11 A.M.

It was just 6.30 in the morning, when there was a loud tap at my door, and the servant rushed in, in the wildest state of excitement, handing me a note from General Le Gendre. The note read somewhat as follows: "Dear Mr. Landor, Prince Min has arrived at my house to sit for his picture. Please come at once."

That is punctuality, is it not? To make an appointment, and go to the place to keep it four-and-a-half hours before the time appointed!

In less than no time I was on the spot. Le Gendre's house was, as it were, in a state of siege, for hundreds of armed soldiers were drawn up, in the little lane leading to it, while the court of his compound was crammed with followers and officers, in their smartest clothes. The warriors, who had already made themselves comfortable, and were squatting on their heels, playing cards and other games, got up most respectfully as I passed, and, by command of one of the officers, rendered me a military salute, which I must confess made me feel very important. I had never suspected that such an armed force was necessary to protect a man who was going to have his portrait painted, but of course, I am well aware that artists are always most unreliable people. When the real reason of this display was explained, I did indeed feel much flattered.

The Prince had, in fact, come to me in his grandest style, and with his full escort, just as if his object had been to call on some royal personage, such as the King himself. The compliment was, I need hardly say, much appreciated by me. I was actually lifted up the steps of the house by his servants, for it was supposed that the legs of such a grand personage must indeed be incapable of bearing his body, and thus I was brought into his presence. As usual, he was most affable, and full of wit and fun. So great had been his anxiety to be down on canvas, that he had been quite unable to sleep. He could only wish for the daylight to come, which was to immortalise him, and that was why he had come "a little" before his time.

Having assured himself that there was no one else in the room, he discarded his mourning clothes, and put on a magnificent blue silk gown with baggy sleeves, upon which dragons were depicted, in rather lighter tones. On his chest, he wore a square on which in multicoloured embroideries were represented the flying phoenix and the tiger, and the corners of which were filled in artistically with numerous scrolls. He had also a rectangular jewelled metal belt, projecting both at his chest and at the back, and held in position by a ribbon on both sides of his body. His cap was of the finest black horse-hair with wings fastened at the back. He seemed most proud of his three white leather satchels, and a writing pad, which hung down from his left side, by wide white straps. Into these straps, in time of war, is passed the sword of supreme command, and by them in time of peace is his high military rank made known. His sword was a magnificent old blade, which had been handed down from his ancestors, and naturally he was very proud of it. While showing it to me, he related the noble deeds, which had been accomplished by its aid, his eyes glistening all the time, but, as he was about to graphically describe in what way such and such an ancestor had done away with his foe, I, who am not at all fond of playing with razor-edged swords, thought it prudent to interrupt him by placing him in position for the picture. As I posed him, he did not utter a word, nor wink an eye. And during the whole of a sitting of nearly three hours he sat motionless and speechless, like a statue.

"It is finished," I finally said, and he sprang up in a childish fashion and came over to look at the work. His delight was unbounded, and he seized my hand and shook it for nearly half an hour; after which, he suddenly became grave, stared at the canvas, and then looked at the back of it. He seemed horrified.

"What is it?" I inquired of His Royal Highness.

"You have not put in my jade decoration," said he, almost in despair.

I had, of course, painted his portrait full face, and as the Coreans have the strange notion of wearing their decorations in the shape of a small button of jade, gold, silver or amber, behind the left ear, these did not appear thereon. I then tried to remonstrate, saying that it was impossible in European art to accomplish such a feat as to show both front and back at once, but, as he seemed distressed at what to him seemed a defect, I made him sit again, and compromised the matter by making another large but rapid sketch of him from a side point of view, so as to include the decoration and the rest rather magnified in size. It is from this portrait that the illustration is taken; for I corrected it as soon as he was out of sight. But with this second portrait my Corean sitter was more grieved than ever, for, he remarked, now he could see the decoration, but not his other eye!

These difficulties having, with the exercise of a good deal of patience and time, been finally overcome by my proving to him that one cannot see through things that are not transparent, we were entertained by General Le Gendre to an excellent lunch, during which toasts to the health of everybody under the sun were drunk in numberless bottles of champagne. Then he began to wax quite enthusiastic about his likeness. He called in his officers and followers; by this time, of course, he had got into his mourning clothes again, and donned his semi-spherical crane-surmounted hat; and they all showed great admiration of the work, although many went round, as he had done, to look at the backs of the two canvases to find "the eye," or the other missing "button."

He wanted to purchase both pictures there and then, but I declined, saying that I would be pleased to present him with a smaller copy when completed. With this promise he departed happy.

Now it was the turn of his Prime Minister brother, Prince Min. He also came in full state, with hundreds of servants and followers, hours before his time; was a most restless model; and, having profited by his brother's experience, was continually coming over to examine the painting and reminding me not to forget this and that and the other thing - generally what was on the other side of his body, or what from my point of vantage I could not see. This time, however, I had chosen a three-quarter face pose, and he expressed the fullest satisfaction with the result, until, going to poke his nose into the canvas, which was about 4 feet by 3, he began to take objections to the shadows. He insisted that his face was all perfectly white; whereas I had made one-half his nose darker in colour than the other; also that there was the same defect under the chin; his untrained mind being unable to grasp the fact that the same colour under different lights becomes lighter or darker in tone. I would have lost my patience with him if I had had any to lose, but, remaining silent, I smiled idiotically at his observations, and did exactly the reverse of what he wished me to do. The beautifying touches having been duly added, and the high lights put in where it seemed proper that they should go, I summoned the Prince to see the effect, this time building up a barricade of chairs and tables in front of the canvas, in order that His Royal Highness might be compelled to conduct his examination of it at the right distance. This had the desired effect, and, as he now gazed at it, he found the likeness excellent and to use his words "just like a living other-self." It seemed to him a most inexplicable circumstance that when he got his nose close to the canvas the picture appeared so different from what it was when inspected at the right distance. This sitting also ended with a feast, and everything passed off in the best of ways.

The result of this amicable intercourse with the Royal Princes was that calls had to be duly exchanged according to the rules of Corean etiquette. Both Princes came again in their state array to call upon me in person, a privilege which I was told had never before been bestowed on any Europeans, not even the Diplomatic Agents in the land, after which upon the following day I proceeded to return their calls.

The morning was dedicated to the commander-in-chief, Prince Min-Young-Huan. Since to go on foot, even though the distance was only a few hundred yards from Mr. Greathouse's, where I was living, would have been, according to Corean etiquette, a disgrace and an insult, I rode up to his door on horseback. His house stood, surrounded by a strong wall of masonry and with impregnable iron-banded gates, in the centre of a large piece of ground. His ensign flew at one corner of the enclosure, and a detachment of picked troops was always at his beck and call in the immediate neighbourhood. At the door were sentries, and it was curious to note the way in which guard is mounted in the land of Cho-sen.

I suppose what I am going to narrate will not be believed, but it is none the less perfectly true. The Corean Tommy Atkins mounts guard curled up in a basket filled with rags and cotton-wool! Even at the royal palace one sees them. The Cho-senese warrior is not a giant; on the contrary, he is very small, only a little over five feet, or even less, so that the round basket which contains him is made only about four feet in diameter, and three-and-a-half feet deep. In the inner enclosures of the royal palace, where two soldiers at a time are on guard, the baskets are bigger, and the two men contained in them squat or curl up together like two birds in a nest. Their rifles are generally left standing against the wall; but, occasionally, when the position to be guarded is a very responsible one, they are nursed in the basket.

The infantry soldier, seen at his best, is a funny individual. He thinks he is dressed like a European soldier, but the reader can imagine the resemblance. His head-gear consists of a felt hat with a large brim, which he keeps on his head by means of two ribbons tied under his chin; for the fashion is, in military circles, to have a head-gear many times too small for his head. He wears a pair of calico trousers of a nondescript colour resembling green and black, under which his own padded "unmentionables" are concealed, a fact which of itself is sufficient to make him look a little baggy. Then there is his shortish coat with large sleeves and woollen wristlets; and a belt, with a brass buckle, somewhere about five inches above or below his waist, according to the amount of dinner he has eaten and the purses he has stuffed under his coat. Yes, the Coreans are not yet civilised enough to possess pockets, and all that they have to carry must be stuffed into small leather, cloth, or silk purses with long strings. By ordinary individuals these purses are fastened inside or outside the coat, but among the military it is strictly forbidden to show purses over the coat; wherefore the regulation method is to carry these underneath, tied to the trouser's band. Accordingly, as the number of purses is larger or smaller, the belt over the jacket is higher or lower on the waist, the coat sticking out in the most ridiculous manner.

In the illustration a Corean warrior of the latest fashion may be seen in his full uniform. He is an infantry soldier.

The guns with which these men are armed, are of all sorts, descriptions and ages, from the old flint-locks to repeating breech-loaders, and it can easily be imagined how difficult it must be to train the troops, hardly two soldiers having guns of even a similar make! A couple of American Army instructors were employed by the King to coach the soldiery in the art of foreign warfare, and to teach them how to use their weapons, but, if I remember rightly, one of the greatest difficulties they had to contend with was the utter want of discipline; for to this the easy-going Corean Tommy Atkins could on no account be made to submit. They are brave enough when it comes to fighting; that is, when this is done in their own way; and rather than give way an inch they will die like valiant warriors. It is an impossibility, however, to make them understand that when a man is a soldier, in European fashion, he is no more a man, but a machine.

"Why not have machines altogether?" seemed to be pretty much what they thought when compelled to go through the, to them, apparently useless and tiresome drill.

The target practice amused and interested them much when it took place, which was but seldom, for the cost of the ammunition was found to be too much for the authorities; there being, besides, the further difficulty of providing different cartridges for the great variety of rifles used. Thus it was that, though nearly every infantry soldier possessed a gun, he hardly ever had a chance of firing it. So rarely was even a round of blank cartridges fired in the capital, that, when this event did take place for some purpose or other, the King invariably sent a message to the few foreign residents in the town requesting them not to be frightened or alarmed at the "report," or to suppose that a revolution had broken out.

Having examined Tommy Atkins at his best, I sent in my name to the Prince, and was waiting outside, when suddenly a great noise was heard inside, the squeaky locks were unbolted, and gate after gate was thrown open. The pony had to be left behind at the gate, and as I entered the court, among the chin-chins of the courtiers, I saw the Commander-in-chief waiting on the door-step to greet me with outstretched arms. Honour after honour was bestowed upon me; which extreme politeness amazed me, for Foreign Ministers and Consuls are never received in this way, but are led into his presence, while he remains comfortably seated in his audience chamber.

He took me by the hand, and, leading me into his reception room, maintained a long and most friendly conversation with me, taking the most unbounded interest in all matters pertaining to Western civilisation. As we were thus busily engaged, "pop," went the cork of a champagne bottle with a frightful explosion, through the paper window, and my interlocutor and myself had a regular shower bath, as sudden as it was unexpected. Then out of this healths were drunk, the servant who had opened the bottle so clumsily, being promised fifty strokes of the paddle at the earliest opportunity; after which I rose and bade his Royal Highness good-bye. Again, his politeness was extreme, and he accompanied me to the door, where, amidst the chin-chins of his followers and the "military honours" of the assembled troops, I re-mounted my pony and galloped off home.

The same afternoon I paid my visit to the Royal Prime Minister. This time, being grown conceited, I suppose, by virtue of the honour received in the course of the morning, though in part, perhaps, owing to the advice of my friend Mr. Greathouse, who insisted upon my going in grand state, I was carried in the "green sedan chair," the one, namely, which is only brought out for officials and princes of the highest rank. I was also accorded the full complement of four chair-bearers, and, accompanied by the Kissos (soldiers) and servants who were summoned to form my escort, I gaily started.

"Oooohhhh!" my bearers sighed in a chorus, as they lifted me into the sedan and sped me along the crowded streets; while the soldiers shouted "Era, Era, Era, Picassa, Picassa!" thrusting to one side the astonished natives that stood in the way. As I approached the palace, I noticed that rows of other sedan-chairs, but yellow and blue ones, were waiting, their official occupants anticipating an audience with the Prince and Prime Minister. All these, however, had to make way before me, and a soldier having been despatched in advance to inform His Royal Highness of my coming, the gates were banged open as I approached them and closed again so soon as I was within. The cordial reception which I had received from the other prince, was now repeated; and Min Young Chun and his court were actually standing on the door-step to receive me.

As I always complied with the habits of the country, I proceeded to take off my shoes before entering the house, but the prince, having been informed some time or other that such was not the custom in England, insisted on my abstaining from doing so. I had already taken off one shoe and was proceeding to untie the other when, catching me by one arm and his followers by the other, he dragged me in. You can imagine how comical and undignified I looked, with one shoe on and the other off! Still, I managed to be equal to the occasion, and held a long pourparler with the Prince, his courtiers standing around, in a room which he had furnished in the European style, with two Chinese chairs and a table!

As we were thus confabulating and I was being entertained with native wine and sweets, I received a dreadful blow - that is to say, a moral one. A youth, a relation of the prince, ran into the room and whispered something in the royal ears, whereupon his eyes glittered with astonishment and curiosity, and in a moment there was a general stampede out of the room on the part of all the courtiers and eunuchs. A minute after, amidst the deepest silence, was brought triumphantly into the audience-room and deposited in the middle of the table: - what do you think? - my shoe, that, namely, which I had left outside!

Such a blow as this I had never experienced in my life, for the man I was calling upon, you must remember, held a position in Corea equal to that of the Prince of Wales and Lord Rosebery combined, and if you can imagine being entertained by a dignitary of this high order with one of your shoes in its right place and the other on the table, you will agree that my position was more than comical. It appeared that this special state of sensation was produced entirely by the fact that my unfortunate foot-gear was made of patent leather, and that, being almost new, it shone beautifully. Neither Prince nor Court had ever seen patent leather before, and much ravishment, mingled with childish surprise, was on the face of everybody, when it was whispered round and believed that the shoe was covered with a glass coating. The Prince examined it carefully all over, and then passed it round to his courtiers, signs of the greatest admiration being expressed at this wonderful object.

I, on my, side, took things quite philosophically, after having recovered from the first shock; and, taking off the other shoe, put it also on the table, gracefully, and quite in the Eastern fashion, begging the Prince to accept the pair as a gift, if he was agreeable to have them. Fortunately for me, however, he even more gracefully declined the offer, though, as long as our interview lasted, I noticed that his eyes were constantly fixed on them and that every now and then he again went into raptures over them!

On the occasion of this visit I presented him with a portrait of himself reproduced on a small scale from the larger painting which I had made. He seemed to much appreciate this picture so far as the painting was concerned, but was much taken aback when he discovered that it was on the surface of a wooden panel and could not, therefore, be rolled up. The Eastern idea is that, to preserve a picture, it should always be kept rolled, and unrolled as seldom as possible, that is to say, only on grand solemnities.

When it was time to go, the Prince conducted me to the door in person, and, having had my shoes put on and laced by one of his pages, I finally took my leave of him.

A very curious episode, the direct consequence of my having portrayed these Princes, occurred some days afterwards. I was walking in the grounds of Mr. Greathouse's residence, when I perceived a number of coolies, headed by two soldiers and a sort of Maggiordomo, coming towards the house. They were carrying several baskets, while the Maggiordomo himself gracefully held a note between two fingers. As soon as they saw me, the Maggiordomo made a grand bow, and, delivering the letter into my hands, said that it came from Prince Min-Young-Huan, the Commander-in-chief of the Corean army. What astonished me even more was that he placed at my feet the different baskets and parcels, announcing that they were now my property. The letter ran as follows:

    "MY DEAR MR. LANDOR, - I send you some Corean hens, and some eggs, 
    and some persimmons, and some beef, and some pork, and some nuts, 
    and some screens, and a leopard skin. I hope that you will 
    receive them. I thank you very much for the beautiful picture you 
    have done of me, and I send you this as a remembrance of 
    me. - Your friend,


Greathouse and all the household having been at once summoned, the gifts were duly displayed and admired. The eggs numbered four hundred; then, there were ten live native hens with lovely feathers, about forty pounds of beef and pork, and two full bags, the one of nuts and the other of persimmons. There was enough to last one a month. The part of the present which pleased me most, however, was that containing the split bamboo window screens, which are only manufactured for, and presented to the King and royal princes by faithful subjects, and can scarcely be obtained for love or money under ordinary circumstances. The leopard skin, also, was a lovely one of its kind, with long fur and fat long tail, beautifully marked, in short an excellent specimen of what is called, I believe, a snow-leopard. Never before had I made so good a bargain for any picture of mine, and I could not but wonder whether I should ever again have another like it.

I am sorry to say that a large portion of the eggs were consumed in making egg-noggs, an excellent American drink, at the concocting of which Greathouse was a master, a sustaining "refresher" which helped us much in passing away the long dull winter evenings. The hens, whose plumage we much admired, were let loose for some days, but they created such a nuisance with their early crowing, that they were soon condemned, like most hens, to suffer from an overstretch of neck. The screens and leopard-skins I brought back with me to England as a memento of my portrait-painting experiences in Corea, and these I still possess.