Vénus N°1 (Venus No.1)

Vénus N°1 (Venus No.1)
signed ‘SEUND JA RHEE’, titled in Korean and inscribed ‘6350P420 PARIS’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
114 x 80.2 cm. (44 7/8 x 31 4/8 in.)
Painted in 1963
Private Collection, Asia
Seundja Rhee Foundation, Seundja Rhee Foundation Catalogue, Seoul, Korea, 2013 (illustrated, unpaged)
Seoul, Korea, Seoul National University Faculty Hall, SEUND JA RHEE, 1-10 September 1965.
Seoul, Korea, Gallery Hyundai, Korean Abstract Painting, 25 March – 22 April 2016.

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Kimmy Lau
Kimmy Lau

Lot Essay

"The Earth has diverse meanings as square, triangle, circle does. As whole as one, it composes the record of woman's life… You must nurture the earth to see a tree. I painted in that way. I became to understand geometry while fertilizing the soil. My brush is like plough. I painted just like that…When completing the paintings, they become my sons."
- Rhee Seundja

Rhee Seundja is one of the most important pioneers in the history of Korean abstract art, who was fully devoted to creating art throughout six decades from the 1950s to 2009 when she passed away at the age of 91 in Paris. Rhee’s magnificent oeuvre illustrates the subjects of her paintings were evolved from earth to the Earth and then cosmos. It reflects her logic and philosophy to probe the universal truth transcending emotions of physical existence. During TV interview, which was broadcasted by KBS, the national broadcaster of Korea in 1985, Rhee emphasized that she chose geometrical figures such as triangle, square and round as universal signs transcending time and the border, stating “they are the base of visual shapes, which anyone can understand.”

Rhee decided to leave Korea for Paris in 1951 after an unwanted separation from her beloved three children due to marital discord. She started pursuing oil painting at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiere, where Chinese masters of abstract art such as Zao Wou- Ki and Chu The-Chun studied. After only one year Rhee began to learn painting under Henri Goetz, he appointed her to be his teaching assistant. Goetz recognized early on her genuine creativity and sincerity towards art.

Vénus N°1 (Venus No.1) (Lot 42), painted in 1963 shows Rhee’s interest in combining form and content. A simple composition with a few geometrical forms in the work illustrates her comment, “I employed geometrical marks to express my subject “Woman and Earth.” I chose triangle, square and circle as universal signs transcending time and borders.” Contrary to its simple refined appearance, the painting belies a painstakingly time consuming process. It results in an exquisite texture, mesmerizing upon careful examination of the material.

Despite her huge success and established artistic career as an abstract painter in Europe since the late 1950s, Rhee Seundja has been unfairly underappreciated in the local art market in Korea. There are many reasons for the oversight, one being gender discrimination which was rampant in Korea during the modern era. She was also isolated from a group of other contemporary Korean artists in Paris since Rhee began to paint over the age of thirty unlike others who had already established their artistic career in Korea before exploring Paris. Rhee’s work shows that her intense endeavour and implacable devotion to overcome her late departure as an artist came to fruition. Furthermore, not only did she come to substantiate herself as an artist, she became a true master of her medium.

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