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By Lee Minji
SEOUL, April 28 (Yonhap) -- The vast art collection that heirs of the country's biggest conglomerate Samsung pledged to donate has turned out to be a treasure trove of national treasures and masterpieces by renowned artists here and abroad.
Late Samsung Group chief Lee Kun-hee's family on Wednesday announced that they would pay more than 12 trillion won (US$10.7 billion) in inheritance taxes, the largest amount in the country's history.
They also unveiled plans to donate 1 trillion won to support the ongoing virus fight and research for rare child diseases, as well as some 23,000 pieces of his art collection, estimated to fetch around 2 trillion won.
"The late Chairman Lee's collection of antiques, Western paintings and works by Korean artists -- approximately 23,000 pieces in total -- will be donated to national organizations in recognition of his passion for collecting and his belief in the importance of passing on our cultural heritage to new generations," the conglomerate said in a statement.
A majority of the artworks -- 21,600 of the total -- up for donation to the National Museum of Korea (NMK) are antique pieces and cultural artifacts that date back centuries ago to the Goryeo (918-1392) and Joseon (1392-1910) dynasties.
Apart from the corporate empire he built, the late entrepreneur was an art enthusiast whose collection could easily match that of a top-tier museum. The senior Lee, considered to own the biggest collection of South Korea's national treasures among individuals, was especially fond of antique artworks.
One of the most notable pieces up for donation is the Joseon-era landscape painting "Inwang Jesaekdo" by legendary painter Jeong Seon. Designated as National Treasure No. 216 in 1984, the masterpiece depicts a scenic landscape of Mount Inwangsan in central Seoul after rain.
Measuring 138.2 centimeters in width and 79.2 cm in height, this piece is considered the most prominent of Jeong Seon's 400 pieces of work, according to the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA). The agency noted how the painter moved away from Chinese styles and created unique themes based on Korean scenes and experimented with creative techniques.
The selection includes some 60 state-designated cultural assets and encompasses pottery, calligraphy, Buddhist art pieces and stone constructions from various ages, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said.
The more than 20,000 pieces that will be donated to the national museum in central Seoul account for roughly 43 percent of all donations it has received. The museum has amassed a collection of some 430,000 cultural assets, with 50,000 of them coming from donations.
The lavish collection also includes more contemporary masterpieces by renowned Western painters, like Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso and Paul Gauguin, to name a few. While most of them are paintings, like Claude Monet's "Le Bassin Aux Nympheas" and Salvador Dali's "Family of marsupial Centaurs," there are also prints, drawings, crafts and sculptures, according to the ministry and Samsung.
Also among the 1,600 contemporary pieces that will be donated are historic artworks by modern Korean painters Park Soo-keun, Kim Whan-ki and Chang Ucchin. Some 1,226 of the pieces will be donated to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), becoming the biggest single donation it has received.
Some of the most prominent pieces include abstract master Kim Whan-ki's 1950s painting of women and jars -- a piece that reflects his interest in traditional Korean features -- and celebrated painter Lee Jung-seob's 1950s painting of a fierce bull painted with strong brush strokes.
Kim and Lee are two of the country's most revered painters, with their pieces fetching billions of won in auctions.
While most of the contemporary collection will head to the MMCA, the conglomerate said that some will be donated to museums in provinces outside of Seoul that are the hometowns to some of the painters. A few of them will also be donated to museums of artists like Lee Jung-seob and Park Soo-keun.
The planned donation is seen as a major boon to the national gallery, which does not own prominent pieces by these artists. The MMCA, for instance, does not have a single Picasso or Monet painting in its collection.
"The donation is anticipated to contribute to preserving domestic cultural assets and enhance the public's rights to enjoy culture and research in the field of art history since a massive donation to the country, which includes cultural assets, is unprecedented," the group said in a Korean-language statement.
The culture ministry and the national museums also welcomed the decision.
"The donation of late chairman Lee Kun-hee's collection has enriched our museums' cultural assets and has provided the foundation for them to enhance their competitiveness compared with famous overseas galleries," Minister Hwang Hee said in a press briefing, adding that the government may consider making additional exhibition and storage venues for the donations.
Officials from the NMK and the MMCA said they plan to display the donations through regular and special exhibitions and possibly include them in exchanges with foreign museums.
The pieces donated to the NMK are set to appear in a special exhibition scheduled for June, while the MMCA will hold a series of exhibitions at its venues in Seoul and Cheongju starting August. The donated pieces will also be archived in digital formats.
Some works that pundits had forecast to be donated, such as pieces by Western painters and sculptors like Alberto Giacometti, Mark Rothko and Francis Bacon, were excluded from the final list.