Featured at Christies’ Hong Kong sale for the first time, Chun Kyung-Ja is one of the most highly recognized pioneers in the history of Korean modern art. Born in 1924 in Gohung, Korea, Chun moved to Japan to continue her study in art. Since graduating from Tokyo Women’s University of Art in 1944, Chun held successful solo exhibitions over ten times in Japan before returning to Korea in 1955 to receive an honorable Presidential Prize at the National Art Exhibition. Despite her early success as an artist and a professor at Hongik University of Art, one of the most prestigious art colleges in Korea, Chun never stop devoting her life in developing her own unique style throughout her lifelong artistic career that spanned over seven decades, finally becoming one of the most talented and prolific artists in Korea.
Resisting to follow the conventional styles prevailed in the local art scene in Korea at that time, Chun was experimenting with Korean motifs and colours, with inspiration from traditional Korean paintings and architecture. In A Lady in Her Dream (Lot 413) from 1968 featured here, the pastel blue, orange, purple, and yellow colours evoke the viewer of Dancheong (Fig.1), Korean multicolored paintwork under the roof of traditional wooden buildings. As Dancheong, which reflects Korean’s deep appreciation of nature and their wish to embody the beauty of its colours on the buildings they lived in, Chun’s palette illustrates her wish to fill her canvas with the hues of nature. Chun had an affinity towards using the colour blue. Her blue resembles the colour of Gohung, Chun’s hometown surrounded by sea on three sides. It is not a coincidence that the colour of women in her paintings is a reflection of the blue waves of Gohung with their hair shining like the sea breeze from her little hometown. Long after she left her home town, Chun finally realized her affection towards the boundless blue sea of Gohung, her hometown where she was forced to bear the misfortunate fate as a woman-a daughter, wife, daughter-in-law, and mother at such a young age.
Dreamlike portrait of woman is a common subject throughout the history of art. Gustav Klimt (Fig.2) glorified feminine beauty in his portraits of women, often surrounded by beautiful flowers with his signature palette. However, if Klimt distances the viewer and himself from the mystical women in his painting, the women in Chun’s paintings appear very intimate to the viewer. Chun’s inspiration for her paintings originates from her own process of overcoming the internal sufferings and trauma from her teenage years. Her thirty years of travels around the globe including Kenya, Mexico, Italy, and the Amazon in Brazil, were also an important source of inspiration throughout her artistic career. The women in Chun’s paintings are a reflection of the women she encountered and the new cultures she experienced during her travels. Flowers, and snakes, the unique subjects that represent Chun’s paintings in her unique dreamlike palette, reflect the deep sadness, sorrow and loneliness experienced from her teenage years and her life reborn as a woman. In A Lady in Her Dream, the dreamy pastel palette lures the viewer to walk into the dream of the woman in the painting. With a blurred face and her eyes closed, the lady in her dream is surrounded by leaves, flowers, fish, and rainbows, all in the illusions of kaleidoscope colors. By intentionally not clearly describing her facial features, Chun makes the lady completely unidentifiable and anonymous. In her dream, she appears to be free from everything that confines her in real life. Chun’s enchanting beautiful lady invites the viewer to her dream, the splendor of her illusion.