Along with his contemporaries Danwon Kim Hong-do and Kim Deuk-sin, Shin Yun-bok is regarded as one of the three most renowned painters of the Joseon era. Despite his fame and success, however, most of Shin’s life is shrouded in mystery. In Geun-yeok-seo-hwa-jing a book that lists the names of Joseon painters, the writer Oh Se-chang offers the following information about Shin: “ Name of the artist: Shin Yun-bok, Pen name: Hyewon, Place of Birth: Goryeong, Name of father: Shin Han-pyeong, Expertise: Pungsokhwa ) or Genre Paintings.” Based on this historical document, Shin is believed to have lived in Joseon from the late 18th century to early 19th century. Oh Se-chang’s description of Shin reveals that Shin was skilled in pungsokhwa, a form of paining that depicted common people’s daily lives. Shin’s contemporaries Danwon Kim Hong-do and Kim Deuk-sin are also widely known as genre painters; their works feature every-day life settings including but not limited to seodang (private village schools), taverns, and wash places, delivering a powerful visual impact. Among others, Shin Yun-bok is known for his candid portrayals of love between men and women. Shin’s famous works including “Lovers Under the Moon,” “ Praiseworthy Lotus,” and “Boating Party ) depicts yangban men from the noble class) having affairs with Gisaeng or Ginyeo who were female entertainers of low social rank, satirically mocking the lifestyles of the hypocritical yangban class.
In the novel Painter of the Wind by Lee Jeong-myeong, Hyewon is portrayed as a woman disguised as a man. In 2008, the novel was adapted into a drama series of the same name starring actress Moon Geun Young, as well as the film Portrait of a Beauty. Shin is also recognized for his realistic depictions of women. In his masterpiece “Portrait of a Beauty,” ( 미인도 美人圖 ), Shin uses rich and vibrant hues to capture and delineate the beauty of a Joseon woman. The idea of portraying women as the subjects of paintings was considered revolutionary in the Confucian society at the time, but Shin challenged long-held cultural norms and produced a collection of artistically valuable and thematically provocative works. In 2007, “The Painter of the Wind,” a fictional book on the lives of Shin Yun-bok and Kim Hong-do was published, igniting public interest in the works of Joseon’s genius painters. A new interest in traditional art triggered what was dubbed “Shin Yun-bok syndrome,” which led to the production of various media contents including the drama “The Painter of the Wind,” and the movie “Miindo” in 2008.