Celebrating the rich and varied arts of Asia, especially from China, Korea and Japan, the gallery highlights the beauty of Asian art including religious iconography and the role of the mandarin and the samurai as traditional patrons of the arts.
The exhibit also reflects the ‘western’ fascination with ‘eastern’ art from the eighteenth century onwards. Most of the art works on display are the result of over two centuries of trade, increasingly driven by the supply of European industrial goods and an almost insatiable demand for Chinese and Japanese art works in return.
European art, design and fashion quickly embraced the new ideas, with the resulting chinoiserie and japonism movements sweeping through the capital cities of the ‘west’. Collecting the arts of China and Japan also became increasingly fashionable, and even a competitive past time amongst the wealthy.
The exhibits include items from most time periods in China’s history, from the Neolithic (7000 to 2204 BC) to the Ch’ing Dynasty (1644 to 1912 AD) and the Edo (1603 to 1868 AD) and Meiji Periods (1868 to 1912 AD) in Japan.
The object rich displays include works in many mediums; ceramics, jades, bronze, ivory, enamels, scrolls and other works on paper. The Japanese exhibit includes examples of contemporary ceramics and nihonga paintings.
Two benefactors who have made significant contributions of Asian art to the Museum are worthy of mention. Rewi Alley an ex-pat Cantabrian who lived in China from 1927 until his death in 1987 donated a diverse collection totalling over 1,400 Chinese works of art.
Christchurch identity Sir Joseph Kinsey bequeathed his large personal collection of ukiyo-e, Japanese wood block prints. Selected items from both these collections are on display.