Modern art pioneer dies, as does an unselfish prince

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Modern art pioneer dies, as does an unselfish prince

Sept. 6, 1956
A painter with a checkered history, Lee Jung-seop was left alone on his deathbed, at age 40, on this date.
Born into a well-to-do family of landowners in Pyeongyang, Mr. Lee was described as a “future maestro” by his art instructors in his early teens. In his youth, however, he showed some resistance to Japanese colonial rule, and his paintings mirrored his defiance.
In an era when the only acceptable language was Japanese, his paintings integrated letters of the Korean alphabet, and he signed the corner of his works in Korean only. Once, he drew a large fireball falling onto the Korean peninsula for a yearbook. It’s little surprise that Japanese education officials canceled the book’s publication.
In an ironic twist, Mr. Lee had to go to Japan to further his study of the fine arts. At art school, he met the love of his life, Masako Yamamoto, who was two years his junior. Mr. Lee won her over by sending her postcards bearing his drawings.
He also made friends with Japanese citizens. Even so, his rebellious spirit had not been quashed; he proudly ― and loudly ― sang Korean songs in front of his Japanese friends.
As his talent became more known, Mr. Lee won several awards in Japan for his work. In the spring of 1945, after graduating, he returned home and joined Korea’s neo-realism school of art, with his Japanese bride by his side (he gave her a Korean name, Lee Nam-deok.)
In August, just a few months later, Japanese colonial rule ended. At the time, Mr. Lee lived happily with his wife in Wonsan, in present-day North Korea, where he taught art at a high school. By now, his oil paintings of bulls, his favorite object, had become famous. The artist had ventured into many styles, such as line drawings on silver paper.
But the peaceful life was only temporary, shattered by the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. Heading south as a refugee, Mr. Lee, his wife and two small sons lived on the edge, roaming about the Busan area and Jeju island.
To make matters worse, his wife suffered from pneumonia and returned to Japan with the two boys. Left alone, Mr. Lee was even more pressed after a friend took off with his money and his wife was swindled while trying to earn extra money to support her husband.
Mr. Lee kept on painting, and by the end of the war, in 1953, had managed to open a few solo exhibitions and draw new fans, including a U.S. diplomat in Korea. At the recommendation of the diplomat, some of his works, such as “A Bull,” made it to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
But his physical and mental health began to deteriorate to the extent that his acquaintances called him a lunatic. After being put in an asylum, he tried to prove his sanity by drawing a realistic self-portrait. After some time, he was moved to a general hospital, where he readied for death. Mr. Lee gained the respect he deserved after his death, and today he is recognized as a pioneer of Korean modern painting.

Sept. 7, 1462
The inventor of hangul, the Korean alphabet, King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) is remembered for his many vital contributions to national welfare. These achievements, however, could not have been made without his two elder brothers’ sacrifice.
As the third son, the young Prince Chungnyeong was unlikely to wear the crown, under the primogeniture system. King Taejong, his father, showed a preference for his third son, however, which was apparent to Prince Yangnyeong, crown prince and eldest son.
The crown prince was also talented in both sword and pen, but at the same time smart enough to penetrate his father’s mind. So the crown prince decided to have himself deposed by acting in a manner considered inappropriate for a future king. He would traverse the palace wall at night to sleep with a courtesan, indulge in hunting rather than studying, and drink the night away.
With the crown prince’s words and actions becoming too much to overlook, King Taejong tried reining him in by moving his living quarters nearer to the royalty, but to no avail. A successful scoundrel, Yangnyeong was deposed as he desired.
He then persuaded his younger brother, Prince Hyoryeong to give up the crown, after which Hyoryeong joined the monkhood in a secluded temple.
After seeing so much blood shed from the struggles of his grandfather and father for the crown, Yangnyeong must have tired of the throne, historians say.
After seeing his youngest brother become the respected King Sejong, Prince Yangnyeong died on this date.


by Chun Su-jin

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