RHEE SEUNDJA (1918-2009)
RHEE SEUNDJA (1918-2009)
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RHEE SEUNDJA (1918-2009)

Le vent en témoigne (The Wind Testifies)

RHEE SEUNDJA (1918-2009)
Le vent en témoigne (The Wind Testifies)
signed and dated 'SEUNDJA RHEE 65' (lower right); signed, titled, inscribed and dated '6580P12 "LE VENT EN TEMOIGNE" RANELAGH. SEUNDJA RHEE" (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
145.5 x 97 cm. (57 1⁄4 x 38 1⁄4 in.)
Painted in 1965
K Auction, 15 May 2007, lot 92
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Seundja Rhee, Yeolhwadang, Seoul, 1985 (illustrated, plate 44, p. 83).
Hyundai Gallery, Maronie Books, Seundja Rhee 1918-2009, exh. cat., Seoul, Hyundai Gallery, 2018 (illustrated, plate 60, unpaged).
Paris, Galerie Lumiere, Seund Ja Rhee, 1967.
Cagnes-sur-Mer, Chateau-Musee Cagnes-sur-Mer, Seund Ja Rhee, 1976.
Paris, Korean Cultural Center, Seundja Rhee, 30 Years in Paris, 1981.
Seoul, Gallery Hyundai, Seundja Rhee, 30 Years in Paris, 1981.
Seoul, Gallery Hyundai, Seundja Rhee, 1985.
Gwacheon, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seundja Rhee, 1988.
Gwacheon, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, The 100th Anniversary of Birth, Seundja Rhee: Road to the Antipodes, 2018.
Seoul, Gallery Hyundai, The 100th Anniversary Exhibition: Seundja Rhee's Abstract Painting 1957-1968, 2018

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

“The whispers of birch trees in the wind/ The murmurings of an oak tree/Seasons/ The sound of music trembling with joy/ A symphony… Here I show you nature/ Here I record the essence of life.” Rhee Seundja, excerpt from “Transcending Time”

Rhee Seundja is one of the most important pioneers in the history of Korean modern art. She successfully positioned herself as an abstract painter in the intensively competitive art world in Paris during the 1950s, which remained her base for her life and art until her death in 2009 at the age of 91. Rhee was fully devoted to creating art throughout the entire six decades she was living and working in France. Her magnificent oeuvre can be generally divided into five periods: transition from figurative to abstraction (1953-1958); Woman and Earth (1958-1968); Geometric abstractions and abstract landscape (1969-1979); Road to the Antipodes (1980-1994); and Cosmos (1995- 2009). Testimony of The Wind, which was painted in 1965 is one of the greatest examples from the Woman and Earth series that Rhee established her signature style of repeating small dots and short brushstroke lines, producing an elaborate texture and constructive surface.

Rhee went to Paris in 1951 and began her study in painting in 1953 at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, where other Asian masters of abstract art such as Zao Wou-ki and Chu Teh-Chun studied. During this period, Rhee rigorously absorbed diverse techniques of European oil paintings, seeking her own colour palette and compositional forms based on her cultural roots. With her natural talent, a strong will, acute insight and sincerity towards art, Rhee succeeded in finding her own style of combining form and content in a short amount of time. For instance, Rhee’s work was displayed at the National Museum of Paris in 1956, and it drew the attention of a noted art critic Georges Boudaille, who volunteered to write a review for her. After this exhibition, Rhee gradually moved onto abstract painting, pursuing abstraction based on content, which was contrary to most other European abstract painters of the time. In the works from this period, she reinterpreted the landscape as she saw it and recomposed it upon the reflection of her own mind. She remarked, “I wanted to merge the Asian mind with the Western material.”

As the literary title Testimony of The Wind illustrates, the narrative content in her abstract art becomes where her originality is to be found. About this, once Rhee commented, “I employ geometrical marks to express and explore my subject, Mother and Earth. I choose triangle, square and circle as universal signs transcending time and borders.” Contrary to their simple refined appearance, it had gone through a painstakingly time consuming process. It results in exquisite texture as well as a careful examination of the material. Employing and reinterpreting diverse motifs of Korean traditional pattern, Testimony of The Wind features her ceaseless experimentation and outstanding accomplishment in perfecting a harmony of combining form and narrative content in abstract painting. It is filled with a myriad of lines and points produced by repetitive brushstrokes. To Rhee the innumerable repetition of the small dots and short strokes of lines was in fact equivalent to the actual act of cultivating the land, nurturing the seeds to grow. More importantly, the staggering repetition of brushstrokes represented a connection to her three beloved sons from whom she had been separated due to marital discord since 1951. Each brushstroke expressed a yearning to tend to her children; each mark of the canvas embodied a longing to recreate maternal duties, the missed caresses, and the symbolic feeding of children thousands of miles away. Testimony of The Wind is an extension of Rhee’s motherly affection for her children and her longing with true love as a mother behind each brushstroke creates a deep resonance in the viewer. In 1965 Rhee returned to Korea after 15 years since leaving for Paris and exhibited more than 75 works. It was one of the biggest scale solo exhibitions to showcase abstract art in Korea and had a great resonance with the local art world. Even after this huge success in her motherland, Rhee never stop her artistic experiments, which continued to be evolved to the Road to the Antipodes series that explores the earth from 1980 to the early 1990s. Rhee’s interest then expands to the entire universe in her Cosmos series that embodies implicitly her consistent conception of yin and yang, which penetrates her entire lifelong career. As Testimony of The Wind displays Rhee’s signature ideograms and colours are not only aesthetic manifestations but invented codes which express the harmony of yin and yang. The subject matter of her paintings evolved from the earth to the cosmos, reflecting a shift in her perspective from her personal reality to probing more universal truths which transcend emotions of physical existence.

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