Rhee Seundja (1918-2009) left Korea for Paris in 1951 and began her studies of formative arts and continued to be active in Western painting and woodblock printing all the way into her nineties. Works attempted a marriage of the formative arts and literature, while the oeuvre of work she leaves behind transcends time and demonstrates her creative powers that exceed painting as it encompasses works in an array of artistic realms including work in pottery, tapestry, mosaic and collections of poetry. Her practice is diverse with explorations primarily in abstraction utilizing geometric patterns and incorporation of Korean symbols and text.
Rhee regarded the Eastern philosophical concept of yin and yang as the most important basis of her work and this is evident in her lifetime oeuvre. While spending the majority of her art making years in France and influenced by the French schools, her themes and subject matter reflect her personal sentimentalities and experience as a Korean. At a time when many Korean artists dreamed of moving to France, she made her first trip to France in 1950 and enrolled in Académie de la Grande Chaumière in 1953 to study painting for the first time in her life under the guidance of the renowned modernist artist Henri Goetz.
Born in Gwangyang in 1918, Seundja Rhee graduated from Ilshin Girl’s High school in 1935 and proceeded to study domestic science at Jissen Women’s University in Tokyo, which was a rare path for a woman of the time. Her debut at the solo exhibition at Galerie Lara Vincy in Paris in 1958 was followed by many others at world-renown institutions including Galerie Charpentier in Paris, National Museum of Modern Art in Paris, Museum of Modern Art Ljubljana, Pompidou Center, National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, Gyeongnam Art Museum, and the Seoul Museum of Art. She was introduced to Korean audiences through her first solo exhibition at the Faculty Hall of Seoul National University in 1965. Rhee held consecutive solo exhibitions at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea in 1970, 1978, and 1988, and her fourth solo exhibition in March of 2018 celebrated the major occasion of the first 100th anniversary as a female artist. Rhee’s works are on display at major art institutions within and outside Korea such as the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, Leeum, Museum of Modern Art at Saint-Etienne, Nantes Art Museum, National Museum of Modern Art in Paris, and Musee d’Art modern de la ville de Paris.