History of The Oriental Ceramic Society
The Oriental Ceramic Society (OCS) was founded on the 31st January 1921 in the London drawing room of the esteemed collector, S.D. Winkworth. This meeting was the first of its kind, where a small group of like-minded, passionate collectors and experts gathered together to discuss, exchange ideas and write about Asian art. The OCS is now the oldest and foremost society in the world focused on Asian art.
Founding of the Society
The first meeting of the OCS in Craven Hill Gardens, Kensington, included a small, but enthusiastic gathering of twelve collectors and connoisseurs. Mr George Eumorfopoulos, the noted 19th and early 20th century collector, was elected President and Mr A. L. Hetherington became Secretary. At a time when Asian art was not widely studied in the West, this visionary group continued to meet in different homes for the next decade. Members brought specimens from their own private collections to examine and discuss. The first scholarly journal, The Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, was launched in 1923, and has been published virtually continually every year – with a break during World War II – since that first issue.
The Society’s mission soon expanded well beyond the field of ceramics to encompass a broad range of Asian art. In 1933, the Society voted to expand its membership, growing from a gathering of friends into a learned society governed by Articles of Association and with membership open to those interested in the field of Asian art. Membership quickly increased to 120. The Society also played a leading role in the International Exhibition of Chinese Art held in 1935-6 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London – the largest exhibition of Chinese art ever held until that time.
From 1946 to 1956, the Society’s meetings moved to the basement of Bluett & Sons, which at the time was one of the leading dealers of Asian art in London. In the 1950’s and 1960’s a regular exhibition programme was organised, which covered art from the major Chinese dynasties. These exhibitions were held at the Arts Council Gallery in St. James, London.
Marking our Silver Jubilee in 1971, the Oriental Ceramic Society curated a major exhibition on The Ceramic Art of China at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
The Society continued to offer a programme of lectures, handling sessions, visits to collections and international tours. By the 1980s these included tours of China to inspect kiln sites, view museum collections and meet archaeologists, museum curators and ceramic specialists. The generosity of some of our members allowed us to set up a Chinese Scholars Fund to invite Chinese experts to lecture in London.
In 2021 the Oriental Ceramic Society will celebrate its 100th anniversary with an important exhibition of Asian ceramics reflecting each decade of the Society’s history. The centenary exhibit will run from October 14 to December 11, 2021 in the Brunei Gallery at (SOAS) University of London. Objects will be generously loaned from OCS members as well as from prominent museums, such as the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. A complimentary exhibition catalogue will accompany the exhibit and will be posted to each full member.
Our archives are held with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. For more information on the images below from our archive, please click on the image.