The Late Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee’s Private Collection of Cultural Artifacts and Art Works Donated

Date Apr 27, 2021


The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) of the Republic of Korea announced today that the family of the late Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee donated 11,023 items from his private cultural and art collection to the National Museum of Korea (NMK) and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA). The donation comprises around 23,000 separate pieces.  


The NMK is to receive 9,797 items from the donated collection. Included among the items’ 21,600 pieces are 60 state-designated cultural artifacts (14 National Treasures and 46 Treasures) that represent the quintessence of Korean culture. Most noteworthy are the painting “Inwang jesaekdo” (Scene of Inwangsan Mountain after Rain), National Treasure No. 216 by Jeong Seon (1676~1759); “Painting of the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion with a Thousand Arms” (Treasure No. 2015), the only extant painting of its kind from the Goryeo period; and “Chuseongbudo” (Theme of Chuseongbu, Sounds of Autumn), Treasure No. 1393, the last known painting by Kim Hong-do (1757~1806?). The donated items run the gamut of Korea’s archaeology and art history: earthenware with stamped designs from Unified Silla (668–935); blue-green celadon from Goryeo (918-1392); and grayish-blue buncheong and white porcelain from Joseon (1392-1910) as well as paintings, calligraphic works, old books, Buddhist paintings, metal crafts and stone sculptures.


Since opening in 1946, the NMK has collected approximately 430,000 pieces of cultural properties, including the over 20,000 pieces recently donated from Chairman Lee’s collection, which account for about 43 percent of the 50,000 pieces donated to the Museum thus far.


MMCA is to receive 1,226 art items, comprising some 1,400 pieces. Among the donated items are 460 paintings by some of Korea’s most renowned modern artists, including Kim Hwan-gi, Na Hye-seok and Park Su-geun. Iconic works by such world masters as Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Marc Chagall and Salvador Dalí are also part of the items donated from the collection. 


“Ox” by Lee Jung-seop, “Woman Pounding Grain” by Park Su-geun, “Women and Jars” by Kim Hwan-gi, “Girl/Ferry” by Chang Ucchin, “Le Bassin Aux Nymphéas”(Water Lillies) by Claude Monet, “Composition” by Joan Miró, “Family of Marsupial Centaurs” by Salvador Dalí and other paintings comprise the majority of items donated. Besides the paintings, however, there are also a variety of modern artworks, including prints, drawings, crafts and sculptures.


Since its opening in 1969, MMCA has collected a total of 10,200 pieces of art, including those donated this time. Among MMCA’s collection, 5,400 pieces came from donations, with the 1,400 pieces from Chairman Lee’s collection being the largest.


This recent donation from the Lee Kun-hee collection has helped enrich the cultural assets within Korean museums and laid a foundation for their collections to be comparable to those held by renowned museums worldwide. 


In particular, the donation allows MMCA to add scarce and highly sought after works of modern art to its collection, and it is expected to play a significant role in the exhibition of Korean modern art and research into its legacy. Moreover, the National Museum network whose collections come largely from excavations have also received a wide variety of cultural assets related to art, history and crafts that span the entirety of Korean history and will be able to use them for exhibitions in the fields of archaeology, art history and history.


Through displays at 13 affiliated museums nationwide as well as touring exhibitions at public museums and art galleries, the donated items are expected to raise national pride and increase cultural opportunities for all citizens as well as promote the excellence of Korean culture abroad.


The NMK will display a selection of items from the donated collection of the late Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee starting this June, beginning with the tentatively titled “Special Exhibition of Cultural Assets.” In October 2022, the “Exhibition of Masterpiece Cultural Properties” (tentative title) will be held after selecting masterworks from the donation. Moreover, the MCST will revitalize local culture and spread Korea’s reputation as a cultural powerhouse by actively displaying the donated items at 13 affiliated local museums, major overseas museums with permanent Korean exhibitions as well as through touring exhibitions of Korean cultural properties abroad.


MMCA will put some of the donated items on display through its “Exhibition of Masterworks from the Collection of the Late Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee” (tentative title) in its Seoul branch in August 2021 and through special and permanent exhibitions in Gwacheon in September and Cheongju in 2022. It will hold special touring exhibitions at local public art museums as well, so more people can appreciate the valuable artworks. Touring exhibitions at major overseas art museums will also take place to raise the international status of Korean art.  


In addition, the NMK and MMCA plan to digitize the donated items to upload their images to their websites and to grant museums and galleries overseas a way to view the major works. Related academic conferences will also be held to assess the historical, artistic and scholarly values ​​of the items donated from the Lee Kun-hee collection.


Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Hwang Hee said, “I am grateful to the family members of the late Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee for advancing Korean culture and art through their donation of cultural assets and artworks collected throughout his entire life. It is the first time in Korea that state-designated cultural properties and major artworks with high artistic and historical value have been donated on such a large scale. This massive donation is even unprecedented globally and will be reported as such.” Minister Hwang went on to say, “The donation is expected to contribute to the stable preservation of cultural assets within Korea and enhance the people’s right to enjoy culture. It will also help revitalize local museums and art galleries as well as create synergy effects in the planning and implementation of various government cultural projects.”