Chinese Ceramics, Sir Percival David Collection, The British Museum

The Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art is his collection of Chinese ceramics and related items in London. The Foundation’s main purpose is to promote the study and teaching of Chinese art and culture. The Collection consists of some 1,700 pieces of Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing ceramics, mostly porcelain, from the 10th century to the 18th, “high-quality Chinese-taste Song, Ming and Qing ceramics”, as the British Museum puts it. It concentrates on the ceramics made for the imperial court, and includes examples of the rare Ru and Guan wares and two important Yuan dynasty blue and white porcelain temple vases (the “David Vases”) the oldest dated blue and white porcelain objects, from 1351 A.D.

It also holds a large library of Western and East Asian books related to Chinese art. In 1950 the collection was presented to the University of London and until 2007 was displayed in a house in Gordon Square. Since 2009 it has been shown in a separate gallery, Room 95, at the British Museum, where it is on long-term loan. Percival had already donated several pieces to the British Museum.

Chinese Ceramics (Room 95)
Sir Joseph Hotung Centre for Ceramic Studies
Sir Percival David Collection

Porcelain was first produced in China around AD 600. The skilful transformation of ordinary clay into beautiful objects has captivated the imagination of people throughout history and across the globe.

Chinese ceramics, by far the most advanced in the world, were made for the imperial court, the domestic market, or for export. Sir Percival David mostly collected objects of imperial quality or of traditional Chinese taste.

Within this gallery of almost 1,700 objects are examples of the finest Chinese ceramics in the world, dating from the 3rd to the 20th century. Some are unique creations, while others were mass-produced in batches of several hundred at a time. Technological innovations and the use of regional raw materials mean that Chinese ceramics are visually diverse.

Percival David
Sir Percival Victor David Ezekiel David, 2nd Baronet (21 July 1892 – 9 October 1964) was a Bombay-born British financier who is best known as a scholar and collector of Chinese ceramics. He also formed a collection of Chinese stamps and postal history that has been evaluated as one of the greatest ever assembled.

After his marriage in 1920, David began to collect Chinese art, and to study the Chinese language. He first visited China in 1923, and became fascinated by Chinese ceramics, devoting most of the rest of his life to their study and collection. He joined the Oriental Ceramic Society in 1930 and then sponsored exhibitions in London. He translated the Ge Gu Yao Lun, a fourteenth century Ming period manual by Cao Zhao. This was published as Chinese Connoisseurship: The Ko Ku Yao Lun, The Essential Criteria of Antiquities. (Faber & Faber, 1971).

In 1925, Percival David was invited to help design a palace art treasure show in the Forbidden City. He not only sponsored part of the cost of the exhibition at his own expense, but also published a great success. From 1927-1928, he returned to Beijing. At that time, the Empress Dowager Cixi plunged a group of secret treasures from the government to Beijing’s Salt Industry Bank when he left the palace in 1901. Sir Percival David managed to buy more than 40 pieces of porcelain treasures and shipped them to London three times. From 1930 to 1931, while continuing to assist the Qing Palace to count, organize and hold various royal treasure art exhibitions, he collected nearly 1,700 pieces of ceramics and a volume of Qing Dynasty royal antiques through various channels. Spanned from 1910 to 1918, The century is still the largest and most comprehensive single collection outside the Palace Museum.

Since the acquisition of the old Qing Dynasty, Daweide has systematically and in-depth research on Chinese porcelain, especially the official kiln porcelain. He has done research on each of the collections, including the process of its circulation, and translated the objects on the objects into English. In 1934, Robert Carthart Hobson’s “Chinese Ceramics Catalogue of Great Vader” detailed descriptions of each of the artifacts were provided by the person himself. In 1929, he published 《Some Notes on Pi-se Yao》(《论秘色窑》) in “Eastern Art” magazine. In 1933 and 1936, he was also in the journal of the 《Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society》(《东方陶瓷学会会刊》) published articles such as 《Xsiang and His Album》(《项元汴历代名瓷图谱》) and 《A Commentary on Ru Ware》(《论汝窑》). In 1936, Percival David wrote the article 《汝窑评鉴 – Commentary on Ju Ware》 for the Oriental Ceramic Society. When he discovered the Cao Zhao in the Ming Dynasty, he was deeply impressed by the original author’s feelings. On the 《Ge Gu Essentials》(《格古要论》) and the later 《New Ge Gu Essentials》 (《新增格古要论》) compiled by the Ming Dynasty Ming Dynasty Wang Zuo Zeng to the thirteen volumes, translated into English, named 《Chinese Connoisseurship》(《中国式鉴赏), the book is finally in Percival David Published in 1971 after his death.

In December 1941, Percival David and his wife took Shanghai on their way to India. At the time when the Pearl Harbor incident broke out, the couple were detained by Japanese soldiers for nine months. During his detention, he developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis that later led to his systemic spasm. Concerns about life and the collection of belongings led to another decision by Percival David to donate his library and all the collections to the University of London, named the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, in 1952. It was officially opened on June 10th. In 1950, David was awarded a Ph.D. in Literature from the University of London and became a member of the British Association of Antiquities and was awarded the Order of the French Legion of Honor.

British Museum, London, United Kingdom

The British Museum, located in the Bloomsbury area of London, United Kingdom, is a public institution dedicated to human history, art and culture. Its permanent collection numbers some 8 million works, and is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence having been widely sourced during the era of the British Empire, and documenting the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present. It’s the first national public museum in the world.

The British Museum was established in 1753, largely based on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. The museum first opened to the public on 15 January 1759, in Montagu House, on the site of the current building. Its expansion over the following two and a half centuries was largely a result of expanding British colonisation and has resulted in the creation of several branch institutions, the first being the British Museum of Natural History in South Kensington in 1881 (it is nowadays simply called the Natural History Museum).

In 1973, the British Library Act 1972 detached the library department from the British Museum, but it continued to host the now separated British Library in the same Reading Room and building as the museum until 1997. The museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and as with all other national museums in the United Kingdom it charges no admission fee, except for loan exhibitions.

In 2013 the museum received a record 6.7 million visitors, an increase of 20% from the previous year. Popular exhibitions including “Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum” and “Ice Age Art” are credited with helping fuel the increase in visitors. Plans were announced in September 2014 to recreate the entire building along with all exhibits in the video game Minecraft in conjunction with members of the public.