Audio Commentary


Born in a settlement of ethnic Koreans in Primorsky Krai, Russia, Pen Varlen studied Socialist Realist art at the Russian Academy of Arts in Leningrad, where he later taught as a professor. In his long and successful art career, he produced many magnificent oil paintings, etchings, and drawings, while proudly asserting his identity as an ethnic minority. Showing his pride in his Korean heritage, he kept his Korean name—Byeon Wolryong—throughout his life.

In 1953, the Soviet Ministry of Culture sent Pen to North Korea, where he spent fifteen months helping to reconstruct Pyeongyang University of Fine Arts, which had been devastated in the war. Following the model of his alma mater, he taught the theory and techniques of Socialist Realism. During this time, he formed close bonds with various North Korean artists, some of whom he depicted on his canvases.

 He also loved to paint beautiful mountain landscapes and scenes of honest life among the common people. 

While in North Korea, Pen painted Panmunjeom Hall of the Armistice Talks in 1953, which demonstrates the quintessential style of the Leningrad school of painting, mixing Impressionism and Academic Realism. As the title indicates, the painting shows the conference hall in Panmunjeom where representatives from South and North Korea held armistice talks after the Korean War, and also exchanged war prisoners. Even though he had never set foot in his native homeland until after the Korean War, Pen became a witness to this historic event. The tragic circumstances of the scene can be felt in the contrast between the empty, desolate interior and the bright exterior sunlight shining through the windows.