Korean museums to receive 23,000 works from Samsung estate in $11bn tax settlement

Lee Kun-hee, the Samsung Electronics chairman who died in October, leaves collection worth $2.2bn, including works by Monet, Dali and Chagall

Claude Monet's Le Bassin aux Nympheas is among the works to be donated Courtesy of MMCA

Claude Monet's Le Bassin aux Nympheas is among the works to be donated Courtesy of MMCA

Around 23,000 works of art from the collection of the late Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee are due to be donated to museums and institutions across South Korea to help pay a massive inheritance tax bill of 12 trillion won ($10.8bn).

In a deal agreed with Korean tax officials, works including Le Bassin aux Nympheas by Claude Monet, Les Amoureux aux Bouquets Rouges by Marc Chagall, and Family of Marsupial Centaurs by Salvador Dalí, will be donated to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, according to the Korea Herald. The museum, which runs four sites across South Korea, plans to stage an exhibition entitled Masterpieces of Lee Kun-hee’s Collection later this year.

Lee Kun-hee, the country’s wealthiest man, died last October, leaving an art collection estimated to be worth more than $2.2bn according to the New York Times. The Samsung group heirs subsequently faced an inheritance tax bill “equivalent to three to four times the [South Korean] government’s total estate tax revenue last year”, according to the Financial Times. Under the new plan, Lee’s family will pay the taxes in six instalments over five years.

More than 20,000 traditional antique works, including paintings, ceramics and sculptures, will go to the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, while around 1,600 Modern and contemporary works will be donated to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, five regional art museums and Seoul National University.

The five regional art museums due to receive works are Lee Jung Seop Art Gallery in Jeju, Park Soo Keun Museum in Gangwon Province, Daegu Art Museum, Jeonnam Museum of Art in Gwangyang, South Jeolla Province, and Gwangju Museum of Art. Meanwhile, the Samsung Cultural Foundation also runs the Leeum museum in Seoul; its collection includes works by Jean-Michael Basquiat and Joseph Beuys (the fate of the museum collection is unclear; at the time of writing, museum officials had not responded to a request for comment).

Until recently, only real estate and securities could be used to pay inheritance tax in South Korea, raising fears that Lee Kun-hee’s heirs would try and sell the works to overseas collectors and institutions. Eight former ministers of culture and 12 art organisations, including the Korea Fine Arts Association, made a joint announcement calling for reform of the country’s tax laws.


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