Three women, a girl and a man in traditional Korean clothing (hanbok) sit together.
At the age of twelve, Park Sookeun encountered a reproduction of Millet's Angelus that made a profound impression on his artistic imagination. At eighteen, he won a prize in the Western Painting section of the 11th government-sponsored Joseon Art Exhibition for a watercolor of farmers in spring. An oil version of this work gained him entry to the 18th Joseon Art Exhibition in 1939, when he was twenty-four. Self-tutored in art and with only an elementary-school education, Park committed himself to painting in the face of severe financial hardship. He took a job painting portraits of GIs at the PX of the US Eighth Army in 1952 because it paid better than his position as a middle-school art teacher. With his earnings he bought a tiny hut as a studio and continued to participate in sponsored exhibitions. By the mid-fifties his work was attracting a wider circle, including a UNESCO exhibition in San Francisco and group shows in New York and Tokyo. His career was cut short by his premature death from cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 51.
Park Sookeun paintings are unique. His body of work is thought to be small, perhaps no more than four hundred paintings. Modest in scale, somber and roughly textured, they are at first glance unassuming and unpretentious. These very qualities, combined with the abstract, simplified rendering of his idyllic--now iconic--scenes of everyday life, give his work their power and poetry.
Park's work was widely appreciated by Americans stationed in Seoul during the 1960s. Now it is prized by Korean private collectors and institutions and has toured the world in exhibitions of Korean modernism. Founded by an American, the Bando Gallery at the Choson Hotel near the American embassy began exhibiting his paintings in 1955, selling them for nominal sums to clients who were predominantly Americans.
Since Christie's, New York, began selling the work of Park Sookeun eighteen years ago, he has become the most sought-after modern Korean master. Twenty-three paintings by Park Sookeun have been sold by Christie's, New York: Farmers, 27 April, 1993, lot 45; Dancers 17 November, 1993, lot 121; Woman beneath a tree, 27 April, 1994, lot 101; Country villages, 25 October, 1994, lot 78; Three women and child, 26 April, 1995, lot 77; Farm houses, 26 March, 1996, lot 67; Men smoking, 31 October, 1996, lot 110; Jobless, 23 March, 1999, lot 311 and 18 September, 2001, lot 333; Mother and child, 15 September, 1999, 384; Four women and child, 23 March, 2000, lot 410; Winter, 22 March, 2002, lot 223; Woman pounding grain, 18 September, 2002, lot 432; Han il (Leisure time), 24 March, 2003, lot 326; Three women seated in the marketplace, 16 September, 2003, lot 430; Seated woman and jar, 23 March, 2004, lot 357; Mother, child and two women; Coming home from market, 18 March, 2008, lots 46 and 469; Figures in a landscape, 18 September, 2008, lot 401; Three women, 17 September, 2009, lot 1158; Two seated women, 24 March, 2010, lot 674; Returning from the market, 14 September, 2011, lot 782, and Tree and three figures, 11 September 2012, lot 210.