The study of the origins of traditional Korean furniture is complex due to the lack of proper documentation. Prior to the 19th century, paintings provide some information about the lifestyle of Koreans during the Joseon Dynasty. From the middle of the 19th century, photographs taken by explorers and early missions become particularly interesting for the same reasons.

Goguryeo servants wearing a Chima (skirt) and a long jeogori jacket, Goguryeo mural paintings in Jilin province, China, 5th-century AD.
Murals of Goguryeo tombs
King Sejong.(1418 – 1450)
King Taejo. (1392 – 1398)
And here is the throne from the paintings above. Collection National Museum of Korea.
주사거배(酒肆擧盃) – Holding a Drinking Party. Shin Yun-bok, also known as Hyewon (1758–1814?). In old Korean society, a Jumak was a kind of  tavern or inn that served alcoholic beverages and food and also provided lodging to travellers.
Album of Genre Paintings. 기방쟁웅 (妓房爭雄)
Period: Joseon dynasty, 18th century
Artist: Kim Hong-do 김홍도 (1745-1806)
Korea, 19th c. ca. 76×43 cm.. Ink and colours on silk.
Korea, 19th c. ca. 76×43 cm.. Ink and colors on silk.
An early 19th century CE print by Shin Yun-bok depicting a Korean female shaman, a mudang, performing a kut, a ritual to contact spirits. Shamans practised from prehistoric times in Korea.
Unknown artist. Wedding painting album. colored on silk
33.5 x 45.5cm Collection of the National Museum of Korea.
Ancestor procession
Ancestor shrine
Traditional Korean wedding ceremony. Lifetime Painting, 8-panel folding screen, partially painted on paper by unknown artist, late 19th century, each 51.5cm x 110.2cm,
Collection of the National Museum of Korea
Reading during King Sejong’s princely days. 
Photo: King Sejong Memorial Foundation
A recent painting of young scholars of Jipheonjeon compiling books and concentrating on research activities during King Sejong’s rule
Woodblock print by French Artist Paul Jacoulet (1896–1960) when he visited Korea in the 1930s.
A Village School, from Album of Genre Paintings by Danwon
By Kim Hongdo (c. 1745–after 1806), Korea, Joseon dynasty (1392–1910), 18th century
Album leaf, one of a set of 25, ink and colors on paper,
28 x 24 cm
National Museum of Korea, Seoul
This painting from “Kim Hong-do” illustrate perfectly furniture used by high class society members during the Joseon dynasty in Korea. At the contrary of common people, wealthy households and scholar used furniture inspired by Chinese style such as chairs and high tables.
Gammoyeojaedo (Spirit House), 18th century
Artist not identified, Korea. Ink and colors on paper.
PEM, Peabody Essex Museum.
Painting 서원아집도 (西園雅集圖). Ink and light color on paper
Date: 19th century AD. Period: Joseon Dynasty
62 × 37.8 cm

Following are are five paintings from the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada.

Painting presenting a shamanistic ritual 점쟁이
Ink and color on paper. Date: 1885 – 1910 AD
Period: Joseon Dynasty
Dimension: 123.1 × 67.3 cm
Painting ancestor worship 제사. Ink and color on paper.
Date: 1885 – 1910 AD. Period: Joseon Dynasty
Dimension: 120.6 × 68.5 cm.
Painting of school scene 서당. Ink and color on paper
Date: 1885 – 1910 AD. Period: Joseon Dynasty
Dimension: 124.8 × 70.5 cm
Painting shaman performing gut 굿. Ink and color on paper
Date: 1885 – 1910 AD. Period: Joseon Dynasty
Dimension: 124 × 69.3 cm
Painting of procession of bridal party 여인 출행. Ink and color on paper
Date: 1885 – 1910 AD. Period: Joseon Dynasty
Dimension: 123.2 × 68.5 cm

Korean genre paintings. 19th century. Author unknown.

Black & white photos from the National Museum of Korea.

Black and white photographs of Korean furniture taken by the National Museum of Korea. However, these pieces are not necessarily part of their collection. Unfortunately, we have no information on their size, wood texture or dating.

Korean ancestor shrine.
Mungap, Document chest.
Floor lamp.
High document cabinet.

Morijang. Collection Royal Yi family.
Pair of four level chests.
Bamboo three level chest.
Two level chest.
Head rest.
Gun powder box in the shape of a turtle.
Buddhist desk

Lacquered box
Cosmetic box
Lacquered box

Lacquered box
Inkstone box
Tobacco box
Cosmetic box

Cosmetic box
Floor lamp.
Letter rack.
Document chest

Section of a “Nong”
Pencil box

Pencil container.
Seal box.
Document box.
Mungap – Document chest.
Inkstone stand.
Ilju Soban
Ilju soban
Gujok soban
Haeju soban
Hojok soban
Lacquered box

Korea. Early 20th century.

Exhibition of Korean objects brought back by the Varat mission. Paris
Korean collection displayed in the previous museum at Hansaring (1913-1944). Germany.
Guimet Museum. The Korean emperor brother with his dancers.
Exhibition of Korean objects of 1889 in Paris, photograph of the husband of his wife and the dancer of the king.
High class ladies, 1915 – 1930
Kisaeng in front of wardrobe
Korean restaurant
Korean restaurant. Late 19th century.

A photo taken in Korea in the late 19th – early 20th centuries
Inside the Hanok, Children eating on a Soban. Early 20th century.
Three young women with a “Gama” or palanquin and bearers,
early 20th century
c. 1910-1920 Korean women use wooden beaters to flatten clothing, c. 1910-1920. Library of Congress Prints and Photos, Frank and Francis Carpenter Collection
c. 1890-1923 A Korean lady prepares to be carried through the streets in her sedan chair, c. 1890-1923. Library of Congress Prints and Photos, Frank and Francis Carpenter Collection
 c. 1910-1920 A Korean couple play the game goban, c. 1910-1920. Library of Congress Prints and Photos, Frank and Francis Carpenter Collection
A restaurant in Seoul, ca. 1900
If you had lived in Pyongyang in the early 19th century, you might have bought your furniture here.
Korean dinner

Taylor’s Ye Olde Curio Shop advertisement, in Peking and the Overland Route
(London: Thomas Cook & Son, 1917)
Korean furniture for sale early 20th century.
Wedding ceremony at a governor’s house.

Author’s note: If you have other photos of Korea in ancient times (paintings, objects, Street view….) please do not hesitate to contact us.

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