Lee Kun-hee collection, including Monet and Dali, donated to national museums
What will happen to the extensive and impressive art collection of late Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee (1942-2020), who was not only a legendary business titan but also an enthusiastic art patron, has been a hot topic in the art world, as the deadline for his family to file their inheritance tax returns falls on Friday.
Finally, Lee’s family announced via Samsung Electronics on Wednesday that it will donate 23,000 artworks and artifacts from Lee’s collection including iconic Korean paintings such as “Inwangjesaekdo (Scene of Mount Inwang After Rain)” by Jeong Seon (1676-1759) and paintings by big names in the Western art world, such as Claude Monet and Salvador Dali, to Korea’s national and municipal museums. Unlike some forecasts, none of the collection will go to Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, which is operated by the Samsung Foundation and is the nation’s biggest private museum.
“We heard the remaining works in the art collection will be inherited by the family members,” a spokesman for Samsung Electronics said. “We have not been told the exact number of pieces in Chairman Lee’s art collection.”
“Lee’s art collection ranges from hundreds of works that we can call ‘masterpieces’ to smaller paintings by little-known artists he bought while on vacation, which suggests Lee’s love for art itself — not just as an asset” said an art market insider, who asked for anonymity. He was one of the experts invited to assess the collection last December.
“There were some lists of works by renowned local and foreign artists; the number of works on the lists totaled 760,” he added. “In my view, one third or half of the works are of very high value, each of which could have been considered the highlight of a sale at a world-leading auction house, if they had been put up for auction.”
According to Samsung and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, some 21,600 pieces, most of which are old Korean masters’ works and artifacts, will go to the National Museum of Korea. They include 14 National Treasures such as the “Inwangjesaekdo” and 46 Treasures including “Painting of the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion with a Thousand Arms” which is one of a rare few surviving Buddhist paintings from the Goryeo period (918-1392).
Fourteen-hundred pieces of modern art work will be donated to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA.) Among them are paintings by 19th-century French Impressionists Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro as well as 20th-century Spanish surrealists Dali and Joan Miró. The donation also includes works by Korean modern masters such as Kim Whanki, Lee Jung-seob and Park Soo-keun.
In addition, 200 pieces of Korean modern art, including some other works by those mentioned above, will be donated to the municipal museums of the regions related with the artists such as the Lee Jung Seob Art Gallery on Jeju island, the Daegu Art Museum in the southeastern city of Daegu and the Jeonnam Museum of Art that opened in South Jeolla in March.
“It is the largest-ever art donation to the country,” Culture Minister Hwang Hee said in a press briefing on Wednesday, pointing out that the National Museum of Korea has 430,000 artworks and artifacts, of which 50,000 were donated, and the MMCA had 12,000 artworks, of which 5,400 were donated.
“It is essentially the first case in Korea of such a large scale donation of National Treasures and artworks of high artistic and historical value,” he continued. “It will greatly help supplement the collection of national museums which have been facing difficulties in securing rare works [with limited budgets]. We appreciate the family of late Chairman Lee.”
According to the ministry, the MMCA will hold a touring exhibition of selected works from the donation, starting at its Seoul branch this August. The National Museum of Korea will also hold a special exhibition of Lee’s collection in June.
“The Culture Ministry also hopes the system that allows parts of inheritance tax to be paid with artworks and cultural assets will be introduced sooner or later through discussions between the related agencies,” he added. There has been much debate about introducing such system in recent years, in particular in relation to the Lee Kun-hee collection.
The following are some of the highlights chosen by the Korea JoongAng Daily among the artworks to be donated to the National Museum of Korea and the MMCA.
“Inwangjesaekdo (Scene of Mount Inwang After Rain) by Jeong Seon (1676-1759) (National Treasure No. 216) depicts the view of Mount Inwang from Samcheong-dong or Seochon after a summer shower. The depiction of wet rocks on the mountain, clouds engulfing its slope in ink brushstrokes and empty space has earned praise over time.
“Painting of the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion with a Thousand Arms” (Treasure No. 2,015) is one of a few surviving Goryeo Buddhist paintings and the only one depicting the Bodhisattva with one thousand arms, an iconography admired in Northeast Asian Buddhism. The Buddhist paintings from Goryeo period (918-1392) are admired for their elegantly flowing lines, elaborate details, luxurious gold pigments and mystic hues and luminosity which were achieved by applying pigments to both the back and front of the silk.
“Women and Jars”(1950s) is a rare large-scale painting among the early works of Kim Whanki (1913-1974), one of the most important figures of modern Korean art history. It shows Kim's half-figurative, half-abstract style before he moved to the pure abstract art of dot paintings in the New York period in the 1970s and his well-known love for moon jars, or round-shaped Korean white porcelain jars from the 18th and 19th centuries.
“A Woman Pounding Grain”(1954) is one of the representative works by Park Soo-keun (1914-1965), who depicted ordinary people’s everyday life in the most painful periods of Korean history, including the 1950-53 Korean War, in his unique style. The colors in Park’s works remind viewers of soil and stone, and the unique textures he developed have the feel of granite, the main material used for traditional Korean stone art.
Lee Jung-seob (1916-56) is most famous for his “Bull” paintings including this work created in the 1950s, which use bold and powerful brush strokes to capture the animal’s toughness, vigor and its intense yet sad eyes. They show an exquisite combination of the influence from European Expressionist and Fauvist art and Koreans’ unique sentiment about the animal, which was necessary for rice farming in days gone by and often considered as part of the family.
“Le Bassin Aux Nymphéas (Water Lily Pond)”(1919-20) is one of the “Water Lilies” paintings, which is a famous series by French impressionist artist Claude Monet (1840-1926). The painting depicts a sunlit pond in Monet’s flower garden at his home in Giverny, France, which was one of the artist’s main subjects in his later years. He repeatedly depicted the pond to explore the effect of light on the water which changes from moment to moment.
“Family of Marsupial Centaurs”(1940) is a painting by Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali (1904-1989). In his autobiography “The Secret Life of Salvador Dali,” the artist said he envied the centaurs because "the children can come out of, and go back into, the maternal uterine paradise." In this painting, the female centaurs have openings in their stomachs from which human babies are emerging.
BY MOON SO-YOUNG [email@example.com]