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Lee Kun-hee’s art collection reveals itself

Posted May. 08, 2021 07:15,   

Updated May. 08, 2021 07:15


The National Museum of Contemporary Art on Friday announced a list of art pieces that were donated by the late Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee’s bereaved family along with an exposition schedule. Chairman Lee's collection includes Lee Jung-seob's "White Bull” (1953-54), Lee Sang-beom's “Shangri-La” (1992), Na Hye-seok’s “Peony at Wha-leong-jun” (in the 1930s) and other rare artifacts.

Donated to the art museum, a total of 1,488 art pieces consist of 1,369 pieces of 238 Korean modern artists and 119 works by eight overseas modern artists. Art pieces in Lee’s collection vary in types – 412 paintings, 371 engravings, 296 Korean drawings, 161 drawings, 136 handicrafts, 104 sculptures, etc.

As one of Lee Jung-seob’s most highly valued oil paintings, “White Bull” symbolizes Joseon people during the Japanese colonial era with rough touches in white color adding vitality and energy to the bull. Drawn by Lee Sang-beom when he was 25 years old, “Shangri-La” had not been made public for nearly a hundred years although it has been said that it exists. “Peony at Wha-leong-jun” is classified as one of the rarest pieces by Na Hye-seok. Furthermore, Kim Jong-tae’s “Boy” (1929), Baek Nam-soon’s “Paradise” (1937), Kim Ki-chang’s “War Horses” and others only make Lee’s art collection all the more priceless from a perspective of art. Works of art by famous overseas artists are part of Lee’s collection as well – 112 ceramics by Pablo Picasso and other various pieces of art by Salvador Dali, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Marc Chagall, etc.

The National Museum of Contemporary Art plans to open a special exhibition titled “Korean Aesthetics, Yesterday and Today” in July at the Deoksugung branch of the museum, Seoul where Lee’s art collection makes the first public debut in history. Starting from “Lee Kun-hee Collection Part 1: Works of Modern Art” (working title) in August at the Seoul branch in Jongno District, Seoul, the collection will be unveiled in full scale to be followed by consequent parts 2 and 3 in December and next March, respectively. Some pieces of Lee’s collection will be put on display at “Retrospective Exhibition: Park Su-geun” at the Deoksugung branch in November.  

With the Lees’ donations added to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the museum has obtained more than 10,000 works of art. Critics assess that the museum’s collection has increased in quality and artistic value. Samsung on April 28 announced that it would donate around 23,000 pieces of art and relics of the late chairman to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Museum of Korea, etc.

Seong-Taek Jeong neone@donga.com