About the department
The Museum of Eastern Art was formed in 1949 as a subdivision of the Department of Fine Art, housed in the old Indian Institute, which had maintained its own museum of Indian art since 1897. The transfer of these combined collections to the Museum's own building to form the Department of Eastern Art provided large new opportunities. A series of generous benefactions provided roughly nine-tenths of the Department's original holdings. The collections encompass art from the Islamic World, the Indian sub-continent, South-East Asia, China, Japan and Korea, and include ceramics, sculpture, metalwork, paintings, prints and other arts.
The collections as a whole outstrip those of any other university museum, and in this country are surpassed only by those of the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Mention should be made of the unique collection of early Chinese ceramics, due mainly to the Ingram gift; of the growing collection of contemporary Chinese painting, a field which few other museums in Europe have entered; of the Islamic pottery, mainly from the Barlow Collection, one of the most important outside the Islamic world; of the Chinese seals and ceramics from Eric North; and of the Islamic, Chinese and Japanese ceramics from Gerald Reitlinger.
Reitlinger's collection of Japanese export porcelain combined with purchases from the Story Fund (specific to Japan) give the Museum perhaps the most comprehensive collection in the West; the Ashmolean and the British Museum have the only large collections of Japanese paintings in Britain. The Indian (including Tibetan and South-east Asian) collections are also of international importance, and with the help of several benefactors have continued to grow around the nucleus of the old Indian Institute collection; the Museum's earliest acquisition of a major Indian sculpture is recorded as long ago as 1686.