Byeon Sang-byeok was an 18th century Korean painter during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Both his birth and death dates are unknown, but his works have been dated to during the reigns of Kings Sukjong and Yeongio (1674-1776). Because he became known for his depictions of cats, he was often called “Byeon goyang” (Byeon Cat). His two most famous works with cats are Myojakdo (Painting of Cats and Sparrows) and Gukjeong chumyo (Crouching Cat under Wild Chrysanthemum on an Autumn Day).
Myojakdo, painted on silk with an ink wash, shows two cats, one looking up at the sparrows and the other in the tree looking down. It’s not quite sure if they are more interested in playing than hunting the sparrows. Both the cats and sparrows in the picture represent longevity, just as the cat does in China because of its name (mao 猫), owing to the similarity in pronunciation with the word for octogenarian. Byeon captures the cats’ personalities by their expressive faces. Byeon was also known for his exact and very intricate brush strokes. Here we see the very delicate and precise strokes used for the cats contrasted with the wild almost haphazard ones for the tree.
In Gukjeong chumyo, painted on paper with ink wash, Byeon uses very exact brush strokes to depict a spotted tabby cat sitting next to a chrysanthemum. The cat’s face is cleverly expressive. It is obviously up to something, perhaps thinking about attacking a bird.