The Hamilton Gallery Chinese collection tells many stories, from the numinous power of sacred mountains in Han-dynasty visions of a world beyond death, to the habits and tastes of Australian collectors in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
There are currently 329 individual and grouped items in this collection, making it one of the most substantial accumulations of Chinese material held by a regional Australian gallery, both in an absolute sense and relative to the total holdings.
The chronological range of the collection is comparably impressive, extending from prehistory to the work of established and emerging contemporary artists.
More than half of this material can be dated to the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), China’s last imperial ruling house, and a significant proportion to the reigns of the three most illustrious rulers in this dynasty: the Kangxi (r.1661–1722), Yongzheng (r.1722–35), and Qianlong (r.1735–96) Emperors, encompassing much of the seventeenth and the whole of the eighteenth centuries. The Hamilton collection also includes a modest, yet representative, selection of ceramics that date to the earlier Song dynasty (960–1279). The quality and quantity of these Song-dynasty wares highlight another defining characteristic of the Chinese collection: a predominance of ceramics, comprising almost half of the total holdings.
The collection also includes some noteworthy examples of an earlier phase in the development of ceramics in China, when earthenware vessels and sculpture were created for burial with the dead. Most significant among these are two ‘hill jars’ created during the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220 CE; and a group of four tomb figurines dated to the Tang dynasty (618–907).