The Oriental Museum’s Korean collection is not large, numbering fewer than 1,000 objects. However, it is varied and highly unusual in that it includes material from both South and North Korea.
The oldest items within the collection date back to the Unified Silla dynasty (668–935) and important objects include fine ceramics and bronze mirrors from the Koryo Dynasty (918–1392). The collection also contains a notable group of embroidered and hand painted screens and traditional Korean musical instruments.
Of great significance is the donation from the Right Reverend Richard Rutt, who first travelled to Korea as an Anglican missionary in 1954. Rutt remained in Korea for almost 20 years, serving as Archdeacon of West Seoul from 1965, before becoming Assistant Bishop and then Bishop of the Diocese of Taejon, an area covering several provinces of South Korea. During his time in Korea, Rutt developed a deep interest in the culture and literature of the country and published widely on these subjects in both Korean and English becoming a leading scholar in the developing field of Korean Studies.
The historic collections are complemented by contemporary Korean material including ceramics, textiles and K-pop memorabilia. These acquisitions have been made possible through the generous support of Art Fund, the Friends of the Oriental Museum and Stories of the World (part of the Cultural Olympiad for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, supported by the Arts Council for England).
Curators continue to develop the collection of contemporary works by emerging Korean artists including ceramics by Myung Nam An, Mun Pyung and Lee Min Soo, glass sculpture by Choi Keeryong and prints by North Korean born artist Sun Mu.