As part of the Ancient Egypt and East Asia National Programme we are undertaking a national review of East Asian collections in Scotland. To highlight some of the objects and stories of these collections, we have invited partners to share an overview and some images of their collections.
This page is a work in progress and we will continue to add descriptions and images as they become available.
Red pottery cooking pot of from the Middle Jomon period (c. 2500-1500 BC) donated by Dr Neil Gordon Munro: Japan, Musashi province, Mitsusawa shell-mound, Middle Jomon, middle period, Katsusaka style.
Porcelain dish from the Ming Dynasty: China, Jiangxi Province, Jingdezhen kilns, Ming Dynasty, Xuande reign, 1426 - 1435 AD.
Porcelain storage jar: Korea, possibly produced at official kilns at Punwon-ni, Joseon Dynasty, late 18th to early 19th century.
Porcelain lidded container, carved in a square-facetted style: South Korea, by Kim Yikyung, 2000.
Oracle bone of tortoise plastron or ox scapula from the Couling-Chalfant Collection: China, Henan Province, near Anyang, Yinxu, late Shang dynasty, c. 1200-1050 BC.
Porcelain group of fourteen figures celebrating the harvest around large wheat-sheaf with the Chinese character feng (abundance): China, Jiangxi Province, Jingdezhen, c. 1970 AD.
Circular covered box of red lacquered wood, with five Daoist sages studying a handscroll: China, Qing dynasty, 18th century.
Dark green jade vase carved in the form of an ancient bronze vase: China, mid 19th century.
Red, green and brown lacquer rice measure with a wooden stand: China, Ming Dynasty, Jiajing reign, 1521-1567 AD.
Fan with mount formed of goose feathers painted with different motifs with ivory sticks and guards and a silk tassel: China, Canton, 19th century.
Colour woodblock triptych print entitled Mitate hotaru-gari yako tama-zoroi (Imagined Scene of Chasing Fireflies in the Evening Light), depicting six kabuki actors beside a river in the evening chasing fireflies: Japan, by Utagawa Kunisada, 1855.
The Chinese, Japanese and Korean collections at National Museums Scotland are among the most important collections in the UK and reflect over a century and a half of continuous collecting of fine arts, decorative arts, archaeology and costume.
A large proportion of the Chinese collections is ceramics, from all periods and dynasties and encompassing a wide variety of examples of the finest and most influential domestic wares as well as strong examples of export wares. The oracle bone collection is one of the earliest collections to enter a museum. Purchased in 1909 from Samuel Couling (1859–1922) and Frank Chalfant (1862–1914), it is the second largest collection outside China. The Chinese collection is also distinguished by fine lacquer, textiles, imperial material and a large group of material from the Communist era (1950s to 1970s) in diverse media.
Our Japanese collections are notable for the strong representation of woodblock prints, ceramics, samurai armour and swords, archaeological material, recent studio crafts and Ainu ethnographic objects. The groupings of Japanese archaeological and Ainu ethnographic material are of international significance. Assembled by Dr Neil Gordon Munro (1864–1942), a physician and anthropologist who lived with and studied the Ainu people of Hokkaido, the groups were donated to National Museums Scotland between 1908 and 1914 and comprise more than 2000 objects.
The Korean collection draws attention to the uniqueness of Korean traditions exemplified through ceramics, Confucianism and contemporary works. Ceramics are the most significant component of the collection and mostly representative of the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910), with more recent acquisitions focusing on South Korea’s leading contemporary ceramists, such as Kim Yikyung (b. 1935), Cho Chung-hyun (b. 1940) and Suku Park (b. 1947).
In spring 2019, the new Exploring East Asia gallery will open at the National Museum of Scotland and will present a unique perspective on East Asia, enabling visitors to explore and contrast the diverse traditions, peoples and histories of these three fascinating and dynamic cultures.
The University of St Andrews Museum Collections has a small number of items that relate to East Asia. Key highlights include a bronze Chinese bell, Korean Hahoe mask and Japanese photographic equipment. There are also East Asian coins and geological samples.
The Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum holds a few items from East Asia (China and Japan), dating from 1860 to 1907. Highlights of the collection include three leather-bound photo albums containing more than 400 albumen prints bought by Andrew Carnegie in 1878-79 while travelling around the world. The images were taken both by local and western photographers (such as Lai Afong, Felice Beato, Milton Miller, Shuzaburo Usui, Uchida Kuichi and Baron von Stillfried).
Cover of one of Andrew Carnegie’s travel albums. Courtesy of the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum.
Baron Raimund von Stillfried. [Ainus - Group of Three Men], 1872. Courtesy of the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum.
John Thomson or Lai Afong. Itinerant Barber, 1868-1872. Courtesy of the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum.
Shuzaburo Usui. [Six Women], 1870s. Courtesy of the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum.
The museum also holds two embroidered silk textiles from China which relate to the country’s domestic policy in the early 1900s. These textiles were gifted to Carnegie by Chinese reformer Kang Youwei and his daughter Kang Tongbi.
Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums' collection contains more than 250 Chinese artworks dating from the 7th Century to the 20th Century. Highlights include cloisonné enamel vessels, lacquer ware and porcelain.
Japanese Carved Okimono Figure of a Man with a Fan. Meiji Period, 1868-1912. Presented in 1968 by Miss V Thomson. © Aberdeen City Council (Art Gallery and Museums Collections)
Chinese Jade Clothing Plaque. Ming Dynasty, Wanli Period, 1573-1619. James Cromar Watt bequest, 1941. © Aberdeen City Council (Art Gallery and Museums Collections)
Japanese Guinea Pigs Netsuke. Edo Period, possibly late 18th century. Bequeathed in 1928 by Miss Ann Reid. © Aberdeen City Council (Art Gallery and Museums Collections)
Japanese Rat on a Cushion Netsuke. Meiji period, 1868-1912. Bequeathed in 1928 by Miss Ann Reid. © Aberdeen City Council (Art Gallery and Museums Collections)
Chinese Embroidered Silk Tunic. Qing dynasty, late 19th Century. James Cromar Watt bequest, 1941. © Aberdeen City Council (Art Gallery and Museums Collections)
Chinese Ornamental Swords. Qing Dynasty, Xianfeng Period, 1850-1861. James Cromar Watt bequest, 1941. © Aberdeen City Council (Art Gallery and Museums Collections)
Chinese Wine Vessel. Qing dynasty, 19th Century. James Cromar Watt bequest, 1941. © Aberdeen City Council (Art Gallery and Museums Collections)
Chinese Blue and White Porcelain Ginger Jar with Cover. Qing Dynasty, 19th Century. James Cromar Watt bequest, 1941. © Aberdeen City Council (Art Gallery and Museums Collections)
Chinese Figure of Shou-Lao Holding a Peach. Qing Dynasty, 19th Century. James Cromar Watt bequest, 1941. © Aberdeen City Council (Art Gallery and Museums Collections)
Chinese Carved Cinnabar Lacquer Jar and Cover on Stand. Qing Dynasty, 18th-19th Century. James Cromar Watt bequest, 1941. © Aberdeen City Council (Art Gallery and Museums Collections)
Chinese Cloisonné Enamel Tripod Censer with Pierced Cover. Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period, 1736-1796. James Cromar Watt bequest, 1941. © Aberdeen City Council (Art Gallery and Museums Collections)
Born in Aberdeen, James Cromar Watt (1862-1940) was an architect, enamellist and jeweller who amassed a vast collection of decorative art from overseas including Chinese lacquer ware, metalwork, ceramics, carvings and textiles. After his death, many of these objects were bequeathed to Aberdeen City Council. His bequest amounts to almost half of the Chinese decorative art collection.
There are also more than 60 Japanese objects dating from the 18th century to the 21st century including metalwork and ceramics. Intricately carved netsuke and okimono are particular highlights.