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The Formation and Significance of Korean Ceramics Collections in Modern Britain

근대 영국의 한국도자 컬렉션의 형성 과정과 그 의미

  • Kim, Yunjeong (Dept. of Cultural Heritage Convergence, Korea University)
  • 김윤정 (고려대학교 문화유산융합학부)
  • Received : 2019.09.24
  • Accepted : 2019.11.03
  • Published : 2019.12.30

Abstract

Various European countries were active rather early on in the formation and research of Korean ceramics, which are considered a representative genre of Korean art. Of these, England is especially noteworthy due to its relatively large volume of extant archival material related to the procurement of Korean ceramics in modern Britain. The material is important in that it contributes to our understanding of the formation and economic worth of these collections. Especially meaningful are the previously unknown documents dating to the period when institutions such as the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum were most actively collecting Korean ceramics. These documents provide insight into the circumstances-process, prices, standards, perceptions, etc.-of procurement for the Korean ceramics now in British collections. The changes in the perception of Korean ceramics and the intention for forming such collections in modern Britain can be divided into three periods. The first, starting from the late 1870s and ending in the late 1880s, is categorized by the collectors' misguided ideal of Korean ceramics in the absence of a true understanding of the subject. During the late 1880s up until 1910, the Korean ceramics entering British collections were mostly ethnographic in nature and examples of implements used in Koreans' daily lives. Lastly, from 1910 to 1940, Korean ceramics were regarded as art objects to be collected, and Goryeo celadons formed the core of many of the British collections being assembled at the time. As for the matter of collecting standards and processes, the matter is examined through the study of three individuals who visited Korea and acquired Korean ceramics in the early 20th century. After 1910, the British started to make trips to the Far East via boat or the Trans-Siberian Express and purchase Korean ceramics during their travels. It has been confirmed that former bureaucrats were able to acquire 'good and old Goryeo ceramics' at reasonable prices from either tomb robbers or through direct visits to regions where such wares were being excavated. In addition, this study also focuses on the previously unfamiliar company Kavanaugh & Co, which made important sales and provided transport of various objects, including Korean ceramics, to its Western clients. The final part of this study examines the standards of appraisal for the Korean ceramics collected in modern Britain. The main criterion the balance between form and price of the piece. In other words, the best pieces were those that were of superior quality but acquired at the cheapest prices. British collectors particularly valued not only the Goryeo celadons favored by the Japanese but also Joseon ceramics for their innovative form, design, and technique. These standards of aesthetic and form were important factors that influenced the formation of diverse Korean ceramic collections in modern Britain.

Acknowledgement

Supported by : 고려대학교

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