SEOUL, Aug. 24 (Korea Bizwire) – The National Museum of Korea (NMK) has purchased two rare ancient Buddhist statues that were recently put up for sale in the auction market but failed to attract bidders, according to the museum on Monday.
The state-run museum has recently purchased two statues — the Gilt-bronze Standing Buddha and the Gilt-bronze Standing Bodhisattva — from the Kansong Art Museum that were put up for sale at an auction in late May but failed to attract bidders, according to a NMK representative.
The Gilt-bronze Standing Buddha, dating back to the middle of the seventh century during the period of the United Silla, was designated as South Korea’s Treasure No. 284 in 1963.
Standing in an imposing posture, its height reaches 38 centimeters, larger than any other gilt-bronze Buddhist statue manufactured during the Silla period.
The Gilt-bronze Standing Bodhisattva made between the sixth and seventh century during the Silla Dynasty was also designated as the nation’s Treasure No. 285 in 1963. The 19-cm-high statue was discovered in Geochang, southeast South Korea.
The combined price tag for the two statues was reportedly below 3 billion won (US$2.52 million). The bidding price for the two statues in late May began at 1.5 billion won each.
Amid concerns of possible overseas purchases, some cultural heritage experts have called for NMK to use state coffers to buy and preserve the two treasures at home.
NMK explained that the decision to purchase the privately owned treasures was made to carry on the heritage protection legacy of the Kansong institution with a sense of public duty.
“We plan to put on display the two treasures in the permanent exhibition hall when the museum reopens (after the COVID-19 situation comes under control),” the museum said.
The purchase marked the first time that the Seoul-based Kansong Art Museum, the country’s first private museum, sold off part of its collection.
Kansong Art Museum was founded by Korean businessman Jeon Hyeong-pil (1906-1962) in 1938, initially with the name Bohwagak, during the Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula.
The founder of the first Korean private art museum devoted his fortune to collecting Korean cultural properties, saving them from colonial Japan’s plundering. The museum reportedly owns about 5,000 items, including 12 national treasures and eight treasures.
Kansong’s vast collection has been preserved by the founder’s descendants, including his eldest son, Jeon Seong-woo, who died in 2018 and his grandson, Jeon In-geon, who is now the director of the museum.
But the sell-off plan came reportedly due to the museum’s financial hardship.