Sir Percival David Collection of Chinese Art

The new Sir Joseph Hotung Centre for Ceramic Studies is custom-designed to house Sir Percival David’s unparalleled collection of Chinese ceramics

A new state-of-the-art gallery and study centre at the British Museum, designed to house Sir Percival David’s stellar collection of Chinese ceramics, will open on 23 April 2009, the year the British Museum celebrates its 250th anniversary. The Sir Joseph Hotung Centre for Ceramic Studies, made possible thanks to the support of one of the Museum’s most generous benefactors, will display Sir
Percival David’s collection in its entirety. Formerly housed in a university museum administered by The University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), and known chiefly by scholars and students, the Collection will now be accessible to the Museum’s approximately six million
annual visitors.

The Sir Percival David Collection, comprising some 1,700 objects, is one of the world’s foremost collections of Chinese ceramics, whose scholarly value and extraordinary beauty is recognised around the world. Visitors will be able to view at a glance the rich variety of Chinese ceramics and see outstanding
stonewares and porcelains from many kilns and dating from the 3rd to the 20th century AD. As part of the preparations for the new display, a dedicated team of conservators has seen to the cleaning and care of the important collection.

One of the highlights in the Collection is the pair of Yuan Dynasty “David Vases” (AD1351), the earliest precisely dated examples of blue-and-white porcelain in the world. The Collection is also rare for boasting a significant holding of exquisitely painted porcelains, decorated by imperial command in the Forbidden City during the Qing Dynasty. A handscroll dating to AD1728, which depicts antiquities and porcelains in the collection of the Yongzheng Emperor (lived AD 1678-1735), and which remarkably includes a porcelain bowl in the Percival David Collection, is also part of the display. Due to its fragility, the scroll will be unrolled a section at a time in order to regulate its exposure to light.

A selection of two hundred of the most outstanding ceramics will be displayed on a single level in cases in the centre of the room that encourage visitors to walk around them. The remaining 1500 exhibits will be arranged more densely in rows of glass shelves in tall, narrow wall cases to create a “library” of ceramics. This display evokes the Qing dynasty tradition of multishelved cabinets that the emperors favoured for putting on view a maximum number of collectables in the palace. It is also reminiscent of the “cabinets of curiosities” typical of the Enlightenment era, and which can be seen in the Museum’s own Enlightenment Gallery.

The gallery provides some traditional written labels, but more innovatively, visitors will be able to consult four touch-screen computers to access information and close-up photographs of the collection objects. This information includes recent scholarship and transcriptions and translations of Chinese inscriptions. The same images and text will also all be available worldwide online through the British Museum’s website.

This new exhibition space will be at the heart of the Sir Joseph Hotung Centre for Ceramic Studies, which is dedicated to encouraging research on Asian ceramics at the British Museum. The Centre will also feature a brand new study room, including shelving for the Department of Asia’s books. The study room is
available by appointment for professors and their students and for researchers to study objects in the Museum’s Asian collections.

For more information and images please contact:
Maria Marques, Brunswick Arts: +44 (0)20 7396 1290

Notes to Editors

Whilst the Sir Percival David Collection is displayed at the British Museum, the ownership of the Collection resides in the Percival David Foundation, an independent body with its own Trustees.