Cases along the west wall of Room 95, the Sir Joseph Hotung Centre for Ceramic Studies at the British Museum.
The British Museum is repository to some of the finest objects documenting the history of human culture and civilization.
Looking west in Room 95.
On the day that I visited, Room 95, where the Sir Percival David Collection of Chinese ceramics is housed, provided a welcome oasis of calm amid the throngs of visitors jostling to see the icons of world history displayed in the museum. This surprised me, since room 95 is where the finest personal collection of Chinese ceramics in the world is housed.
Two Blue and White Temple Vases, Yuan Dynasty, dated by inscription to 1351, known as the David Vases.
The Sir Percival David Collection includes many items of imperial quality, along with representative pieces from each period of Chinese history, and the famous blue and white ‘David’ vases. These two vases with inscriptions dating to 1351, are the earliest dated Chinese ceramics, making them an invaluable tool in the dating of Chinese blue and white porcelain. These vases are displayed in an alcove right inside the main entrance to the gallery. The location was meant to highlight their importance. However, while I was there, it seemed that visitors to the gallery, unless they knew to look for them, overlooked the vases by the entrance, drawn instead to the tall cases that line the gallery and the standing cases that dot the center.
Looking north in room 95.
In all, the ceramic collection numbers 1,683 pieces. The most outstanding, with the exception of the David vases, are positioned in the center of the room, with the remaining displayed more densely in the tall cases. The collection is of such exceptional quality that even in the densely packed cases, many of the pieces are recognized masterpieces.
Some of the standing cases that line the walls in room 95.
The earliest pieces in the collection date to the 3rd to 4th century, with the majority falling between the 10th to the 18th centuries. David began collecting in 1914, with his first recorded purchase from Sparks in London. The heart of his collection was acquired in 1927 when he purchased fifty pieces from the former Imperial collection, and he continued collecting well into the 1950s. At the start of that decade, Sir David officially gifted his collection to the University of London where it was displayed in Gordon Square, before moving to the Sir Joseph Hotung Centre for Ceramic Studies at the British Museum in 2009.
(left) Lot 75, A 'DING' BOWL, NORTHERN SONG DYNASTY, Estimate: 250,000 - 350,000 USD. (center) Lot 297, A 'LONGQUAN' CELADON 'TWIN FISH' DISH, SOUTHERN SONG / YUAN DYNASTY, LATE 13TH / EARLY 14TH CENTURY Estimate: 30,000 - 40,000 USD. (right) Lot 38, A MOLDED 'DING' DISH, JIN DYNASTY, Estimate: 25,000 - 35,000 USD.
In the upcoming Fine Chinese Ceramics and works of Art sale in New York on 17th and 18th September, we have many ceramics that have parallels to pieces in the Sir Percival David Collection.
(left) Lot 301, A RARE BLUE AND WHITE TRIPOD CENSER, WANLI MARK AND PERIOD, Estimate: 40,000 - 60,000 USD. (center) Lot 327, A LARGE BLUE AND WHITE 'LOTUS' JAR, QIANLONG SEAL MARK AND PERIOD, Estimate: 20,000 - 30,000 USD. (right) Lot 304, A LARGE BLUE AND WHITE 'PHOENIX' BOWL, MING DYNASTY, 17TH CENTURY, Estimate: 10,000 - 12,000 USD.
Ceramics are such an important part of Chinese civilization that anyone interested in Chinese culture and history should pay a visit to the collection on the second level of the museum’s north side. Early in my career, an experienced Chinese art specialist told me that it was important to see good ceramics, as they were ‘good for the eyes.’ The Sir Percival David Collection is not just good for the eyes, but to anyone interested in ceramics, it should be a pilgrimage site that nourishes the soul as well.
(left) Lot 362, A YELLOW-GROUND DAYAZHAI JARDINIERE, QING DYNASTY, GUANGXU PERIOD, Estimate: 7,000 - 9,000 USD (center) Lot 350, A RARE CORAL-GROUND FAMILLE-VERTE BOWL, KANGXI YUZHI MARK AND PERIOD, Estimate: 20,000 - 30,000 USD (right) Lot 345, A ROBIN'S EGG-GLAZED BOTTLE VASE, QING DYNASTY, 19TH CENTURY, Estimate: 5,000 - 7,000 USD.
(left) Lot 347, PAIR OF INCISED YELLOW-GLAZED DISHES YONGZHENG MARKS AND PERIOD, Estimate: 5,000 - 7,000 USD. (right) Lot 340, A BLUE-GLAZED BOWL KANGXI MARK AND PERIOD, Estimate: 6,000 - 8,000 USD.