Lee Kun-hee: South Korea unveils 23,000-person art collection of late Samsung boss

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Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

Contributors Yoonjung Seo, CNNJake Kwon, CNN

Visitors to the museum got their first glimpse of some of the 23,000 works of art donated to South Korea from the collection of late Samsung president Lee Kun-hee.

Two exhibits of the artifacts opened in Seoul on Wednesday, just months after the businessman’s family announced the donation as they seek to settle an inheritance tax bill of more than 12 trillion won ( $ 10.4 billion).

The works are on display at the National Museum of Korea and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), recipients of Lee’s extensive collection. The exhibits include century-old antiques and contemporary Korean artwork, while paintings by Western names like Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet are expected to be unveiled next year.

“Thinning after Rain on Mount Inwang”, created by court painter Jeong Seon in 1751. Credit: Courtesy of the National Museum of Korea

Lee, whose father founded tech conglomerate Samsung in the 1930s, passed away last october 78 years old. In April, her family announced that they expected to pay more than half of the value of their estate in inheritance tax over a five-year period.

On the same day, the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism revealed that the Lee family donated around 23,000 antiques and works of art to public collections. In a press release at the time, the ministry said the acquisition would help the two institutions “compete with famous museums abroad.”

Neither Lee’s relatives nor the museums have disclosed the value of the gift or confirmed how, or even if, it will appear in the family’s inheritance tax liabilities.

A painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir,

A painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “La Lecture”, was among the objects donated by Lee’s family to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA). Credit: Courtesy of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

The MMCA received nearly 1,500 works, in what the museum this week called “the gift of the century”. According to senior curator Park Mihwa, the collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures represented the greatest contribution received by the museum “in terms of value and scale”.

“The rare and major works of art from the early 20th century and overseas works have dramatically improved the quality and quantity of the museum,” Park told CNN, describing the acquisition as “an opportunity to broaden the horizons of research in art history through continuous research “.

“We got masterpieces that would have been difficult to buy with our annual fundraising budget of 5 billion won ($ 4.35 million),” she added. “So we expect this collection to help arts tourism and help South Korea become a powerhouse of arts culture in the future.”

Artists “loved by Koreans”

Among the objects acquired by the MMCA are 119 works by Western artists, including Paul Gauguin, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. But more than 90% of the pieces are by contemporary Korean artists, including more than 100 works by painter Lee Jungseop and nearly 70 by famous craftsman Yoo Kangyul.

"Women and Jars," by Korean painter Kim Whanki.

“Women and Pots” by Korean painter Kim Whanki. Credit: Courtesy of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

The museum’s new exhibit features works of art created between the 1920s and 1970s, covering periods of Japanese occupation, the Korean War, and the military dictatorship that followed. Park said the exhibition showcased the work of “34 artists loved by Koreans,” including influential landscape artist Byeon Gwansik, abstract painter Kim Whanki and contemporary sculptor Kwon Jinkyu.

At the National Museum of Korea, an exhibit of older artifacts from Lee’s collection also opened on Wednesday. The exhibit features 45 historical artifacts, including Buddhist statues, rare woodcuts, and Bronze Age earthenware.

The museum also exhibits a number of artifacts considered “national treasures” by the South Korean government, including an ink wash by Joseon Dynasty court artist Jeong Seon and a gilded bronze bodhisattva. dating from the 6th century.

A bodhisattva, cast in bronze in the 6th century, was among the objects considered to be a "National treasure" by the South Korean government.

A bodhisattva, cast in bronze in the 6th century, was among the objects considered a “national treasure” by the South Korean government. Credit: Courtesy of the National Museum of Korea

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism revealed that he plans to build a new museum entirely dedicated to Lee’s collection, with two candidate sites in Seoul currently under study.

Top image: “Bull” (circa 1950s) by Korean painter Lee Jungseop.


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