The Connection between British Museum and Chinese Art

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Private Tour British Museum
British Museum Art Collection

The Queen recently reopened Room 33 of the British Museum, which is now known as the Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia. It is a must-visit gallery in British Museum guided tour, as the gallery is redesigned and refurbished with many new objects and thematic displays, many of which are acquired specifically for the updated gallery space. The gallery was set for a phase opening and the China section opened on November 10.

Chinese art has been displayed in the gallery since its opening in 1914 and the museum has been acquiring Chinese material ever since its first collection. The founding collection of the included that of Sir Hans Sloane and entered the place in 18th century. Many Chinese objects in the collection of Sloane are now displayed in the Enlightenment Gallery of the museum and includes conventional work of art and oddies. However, the main Chinese collections of the museum were developed in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Most of the collection is linked with some prominent names in Chinese art collecting such as William Cleverly Alexander, Percival David, A.W. Franks, George Eumorfopoulos, Aurel Stein, and Joseph Hotung, who is the principal benefactor of the gallery. A study of the sources and collectors of the Chinese objects making the collection in the British Museum shows the history of British engagement with Chinese culture and the regions. The development of the Chinese engagement took place over time and this has been reflected in the changing strategies display at the British museum.

The foundation for the Chinese collection in the museum was laid by Franks, who was a keeper of medieval and British antiques from the period from 1866 to 1896. He was the person who acquired many Japanese, Korean, and Chinese objects for the museum. He mainly focused on ceramics and published many catalogues, which are very important nineteenth century documents on British scholarship and collecting patterns.

Franks collected for the museum and for himself and in 1866, he became the founder member of a collectors’ society in London, named the Burlington Fine Arts Club (BFAC). Together with a fellow founder, John Robinson, Franks encourages the member of the society to display the items in their collection in regular exhibitions and to offer pieces to the national museums. One such person is William Cleverly Alexander, who was much active in the Pre-Raphaelite circle. The Pre-Raphaelite circle is the group of those designers, artists, and critics who played an important role in collecting Asian art in Britain.