The Hamilton Gallery collection is remarkably strong in contemporary Japanese ceramics and metalwork, Japanese ceramics and, in particular, Japanese porcelains, reflecting the rich diversity of the artistic traditions of Asia.
Indeed, porcelains now represent just short of half of the Hamilton’s Japanese collection.
The history of the Hamilton Gallery’s collection of Japanese art can be squarely divided into two parts: pre- and post-twenty-first century. The Herbert and May Shaw Bequest – that is, the foundation of the Hamilton Gallery – contained only a select few Japanese objects. Among them were five ivory-carved okimono (decorative objects, literally translated, ‘objects for placement’) wood carvings, as well as a few ceramics.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, a steady trickle of one-off purchases made via bequests as well as donations from distinguished persons would add woodblock prints, lacquerware and lacquered furnishings, cloisonné, additional okimono, wood carvings, ceramics, among other single acquisitions such as a short sword and ink landscape painting to the collection. While it is impossible to discern the exact motives that drew the Australian collector-donors to the objects that they brought to Hamilton during these decades, it is nevertheless fair to say that their tastes were not wholly arbitrary. It is no accident that each of the mediums collected is, even to this day, deeply associated with Japan and Japanese culture. Behind their selection lies a complex mix of trends that were consciously cultivated to meet evolving political and commercial interests.