The Sir Percival David Collection at the British Museum

I've been meaning to visit the The Sir Percival David Collection from the time  it was housed in a townhouse in Bloomsbury's Gordon Square.  But I must admit it has been quite a while as the museum closed in 2007 and  consequently relocated  from the university (UCL) to the British Museum. Thanks to a generous benefactor (Joseph Hutong) the collection remains intact and is still displayed in a custom designed room at the museum. The collection is beautifully displayed in Room 95, where the modern glass cabinets are carefully lit to illuminate each peice.

There's so much more to the British Museum than the Rosetta Stone and the Egyptian collection, and it's great to take some time to get to know other parts of the collection. When you get out of the most popular galleries the crowds dissipate, which is a good reason for heading to see the Percival Collection or  to see something like the Islamic Art collection downstairs.  I don't know anything about Chinese porcelain, so this was a good place to learn something new through  what is an incredible permanent exhibition of masterworks.
The Percival David Collection dates to 1927, when David bought the first ceramics directly from officials of the Imperial Household. What is significant about this, and the later pieces bought from dealers in Beijing, is that many of the items were commissioned and owned by Chinese Emperors, meaning that they were the finest examples available anywhere. Indeed, the notes at the British Museum said that this collection was the finest collection of Chinese porcelain in private hands. Interestingly David came from a famous family of Baghdadi Jews which reminded me of the book Almost Englishmen about the Baghdadi Jewish community in Burma, but that's an irrelevant aside either way! 

The items are stunningly lovely and they go far beyond the blue and white export ware we may be familiar with. Here I learnt new names Song, Tang, Jing Ding, Qing, names of dynasties, styles and the areas in China that specialized in various types of ceramic manufacture. This is a collection that spans centuries and quite a number of pieces dated from the 10th century.
I loved the large Ming dynasty fish bowl below which is beautifully decorated with a classical dragon motif, it is marked AD 1426-35. This was commissioned by the Emperor and apparently very few examples survive. 
I was  also particularly taken with this scroll which is thought to be an inventory from the Royal Household. A number of the works in the collection are represented in  similar scrolls. There's something captivating about this visual record keeping, particularly when the original items have been lost over time. There also something particularly modern about the  images floating on the sea of white paper.
Overall the craftsmanship was breathtaking and so many of the works themselves looked astonishingly modern too, particularly the monochromatic porcelain. For example the pale grey Song Ru ware (immediately below) which was made for the Northern Song Court and dates from the 11th and 12th century.
There was something to admire everywhere you looked and as you can see it's beautifully arranged and displayed. The objects form their own vignettes. I love the juxtaposition of the decorative  form of the pots against the simple bowls. 
What is great about the collection is that you are drawn by the contrasts, one feasts on the monochromes and then your eye is drawn by the delicate decorative painting on a perfectly simple white bowl. Who couldn't be impressed by the blossom blooming below?
Part of learning how to admire something is understanding the development of the form and you can see the movement and introduction of color and design in the exhibition. Visiting the collection made me aware of just how little I understand Chinese porcelain and how much there is to explore in terms of a millennia of Chinese design. I was particularly stuck by the fact that most of the visitors to the collection were Asian, perhaps they have a better aesthetic understanding of the importance of the Percival David collection?
These large altar vases stand at the entrance to Room 95. The sign told me astonishingly that they are apparently the most famous Chinese porcelain in the world, though I noticed many visitors walking right past them! The dated inscription of 1351 AD on the necks makes these pieces the earliest existing examples of blue and white ware in the world, though the inscription also suggests that the form was well established by then. It's fascinating to thing how ubiquitous, and how enduring, such designs  have become. 
The collection included later blue and white export ware and I was quite taken by the Islamic piece above, as we've see quite a lot of Chinese export porcelain in Islamic museums, including in the Islamic Arts Museum of Malaysia.
There was so much there that after a while I just let it all wash over me, hundreds of years of art and design, one piece after another, blue and white, celadon, monochrome ware and more. I think I'll let the photos do the same for you.
So, if you're heading to the British Museum and want to get away from the crowds head to Room 95 for a journey through Chinese porcelain thank to Percival David and Joseph Hotung it's there waiting for you.
TIP: You can find more information on the British Museum and their program of talks in this post.