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Collections

Asian art

Introduction

The National Gallery of Australia holds the nation’s most important and comprehensive collection of Asian art. Diverse cultures, religions and histories of Asia are represented through works of art which date from ancient times to the contemporary. Sculptures, textiles, paintings, prints and manuscripts, all of exceptional quality, are displayed in three main spaces dedicated to Art of the Indian subcontinent, Art of Southeast Asia and Art of East Asia. In each, visitors are introduced to the rich traditions and major themes of Asian art. 

Fine Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Islamic, animist and Christian sculpture, including masterpiecesfrom India, Southeast Asia and Japan, are a particular strength of the national collection. On display are images of Buddha, saints and saviours, Hindu gods and goddesses, ancestor figures, celestial beings, mythical and real creatures, and decorative and symbolic designs. The Gallery is well known for its spectacular collection of South and Southeast Asian textiles, particularly from Indonesia. Created using time-honoured techniques, their rich designs display complex motifs associated with ancestors, fertility, social status and fabulous wealth. Many heirloom cloths demonstrate the importance of textiles in historical maritime trade.

Other treasures include elegant Japanese six-fold screens, shrine hangings [pichhavai] celebrating India’s popular blue god Krishna, vibrant costumes from Central Asia, Chinese funerary ceramics, colourful Indian miniature paintings, a small group of fine Balinese illustrated manuscripts, significant ukiyo-e prints from the Edo and early Meiji periods of Japan, a rare collection of 20th-century Chinese woodcuts and fine photography. Works of art by prominent contemporary Asian artists add further depth to the National Gallery of Australia’s remarkable collection.

Since paintings, textiles, prints and photographs are exhibited for short periods of time due to fragility and light sensitivity, viewings of works in storage can be organised in the Gallery’s Collection Study Room.

New acquisitions

Events

Special focus

  • Items purchased from Art of the Past, New York
  • The Indian art gallery
    In the new entrance-level Indian Gallery recent acquisitions join old favourites. In juxtaposing works of different media – stone, wood, paper, metal and cloth – visitors are introduced the spectacular art of South Asia through fine examples of key images from the major strands of Indian culture and religion.
  • The TT Tsui collection of Chinese ceramics
    The majority of Chinese works in the Asian collection are funerary goods: earthenware sculptural pottery in a variety of forms created for burial in the tombs of great noble rulers. They comprise the core of the gift from Hong Kong based entrepreneur TT Tsui.
  • Indonesian textiles
  • Textile conservation
    The National Gallery of Australia holds one of the finest Asian textile collections in the world. Conserving textiles for display and to stabilise their condition is a time consuming and specialised task.

Related exhibition sites

Select Publications

  • A stream of stories: Indian miniatures from the National Gallery of Australia, 1997
  • Beauty and desire in Edo period Japan Gary Hickey 1998
  • Life in the emperor’s tomb: ceramics from ancient China Charlotte Galloway 2002
  • The vision of kings: art and experience in India  Michael Brand 1995
  • Traditions of Asian art : traced through the collection of the National Gallery of Australia Michael Brand editor, 1995
  • Tsui collection of Chinese art introduction by TT Tsui, 1995
  1. Indian subcontinent

  2. Southeast Asia

  3. China, Japan + Central Asia