One Of Many Paintings Portraying Beautiful Women
Skinner is privileged to offer the portrait, “A Black Woman in Atlanta” painted by the Korean female artist Chun Kyungja (b. 1924). It is estimated to sell at auction for $650,000-700,000, and will be offered on Saturday, September 19th at the Asian Works of Art Auction at Skinner in Boston. Less known to the Western world, she has been highly recognized in Korea as one of the most important figures in that nation’s art scene. Her fame would rival that of Hong Ra-Hee, the director of Leeum Samsung Museum of Art and the wife of Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-Hee. Her achievements as an academic professor, painter, and writer (she published more than dozens of books) have been highly praised by the Korean government making her the recipient of many awards, titles, and orders including a Eun-gwan (Silver Crown) Order of Cultural Merit.
Chun was born in 1924 in a little town named Goheung in the Southern part of Korea. Her artistic career started with her first solo show in 1946, two years after she graduated from the Private Women’s School of Fine Arts in Tokyo Japan. In 1951, when her country was in turmoil due to the Korean War, she introduced a small work depicting nothing but thirty-five snakes and was noted by many for her unique sense of color and impeccable depicting skills. Choi Sunu (1916-1984), a respected Korean art historian and critic, praised Chun for her direct, bold, and fresh ideas invoking “the strange charm and the beauty of the unexpected” and for her capability to express the unusual subject and her unique sensibility toward it.
In the 60s and 70s, Chun’s exploration of her feelings toward her subjects was often expressed as conflicting concepts that the art critic Choi succinctly described in an article as “lonely pleasure” and “beauty of sorrow.” Figures with unexpressive yet soulful eyes enriched with flowers, butterflies, and birds of blindingly bright colors dominated the periods. In the late 70s and onwards, Chun created numerous paintings, drawings, sketches, and prints of foreign landscapes and portraits, triggered by her incessant quest for exotica and unquenched nostalgia for the primordial world as evidenced by her extensive and frequent travels around the world including the Pacific Islands, South East Asia, Europe, America, and Africa. Her landscapes include scenes of the West such as Wuthering Heights and Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and her subject ranges from a jazz band in New Orleans to Hawaiian belly dancers.
Her interest in portraying beautiful women was explored in earnest in the 70s. As she said in an interview, the women in her portraits, however different they are in appearance, are “reflections of her other selves.” Chun created numerous portraits of women ranging from her childhood idol in her hometown, whom she endearingly called Gilrye Eonni to world-renowned actresses and singers such as Greta Garbo and Madonna. She always adorned her sitters with flowers and her portrait style earned her the nickname “Artist of Flower and Soul,” and such qualities are well reflected in our portrait.
Based on the title written in Korean on the back (translated to A Black Woman in Atlanta), this portrait is one of seven works Chun painted in 1987 following her travel to New Orleans, Atlanta, and Key West. Here, the woman is seated in three-quarter view facing left, and wearing a white floral headband on her head with its colorful ribbons touching her right shoulder. Her dark skin, penetrating eyes, closed lips, and floral headband are hinting at the style of the portrait of two black women (1989) recently sold at an auction house in Seoul Korea for over a million dollars (with premium). Furthermore, her irises, hair, and ochre blouse are partially painted in high karat gold. Only a few of her portraits are painted in this manner.
This portrait was purchased in 1994/95 by the present owner residing in New York. Chun has been known to live in the US since 1998 when she officially stopped her artistic career, donating almost all of her works to Seoul Museum of Art and to an institution in her hometown. For this reason, her works rarely appear in world’s auction scenes, making this portrait all the more a rare treat for art collectors.