The Oriental Ceramic Society provides academic and introductory lectures on all aspects of Asian art, in particular on Chinese ceramics, jades, paintings and Middle Eastern art. It offers handling sessions of items from the main London museums, such as the British Museum, Sir Percival David Collection, and Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as members’ collections. It organises outings to English country houses, visits to private collections, guided tours to exhibitions as well as overseas trips. The Society has members throughout the world, and its meetings in London, mostly held on the premises of the Society of Antiquaries, next to the Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, provide ample occasion for members to socialise. The annual Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society (TOCS) and the Society’s Newsletter are leading publications in the field of Asian art.
The Oriental Ceramic Society was founded at a gathering of twelve collectors who met on the 21st January 1921 in the drawing room of S.D. Winkworth’s house at 13 Craven Hill Gardens, Kensington, in London. It continued as a meeting in different members’ houses for the next ten years, where members would bring specimens from their collections to be discussed with fellow connoisseurs. The first Transactions of the Society were published in 1923.
In 1933, it was proposed that the Society should enlarge its membership and grow from a gathering of friends into a learned society governed by articles of association, with membership open to anyone interested in oriental ceramics. Membership quickly increased to 120.
The 1930s also saw the Society taking a leading role in the International Exhibition of Chinese Art, held in 1935-6 at the Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, in Piccadilly, London, the largest exhibition of Chinese art ever held and probably ever to be held.
From 1946 to 1956, the Society’s meetings were moved to the basement of Bluett & Sons, one of the leading dealers of Asian art in London, where exhibitions of pieces from members’ collections were presented once or twice a year. In the 1950s and ‘60s a regular exhibition programme was organized, which consecutively covered the arts of the major Chinese dynasties, Tang (618-907), Song (960-1279), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911), but also highlighted special topics such as the various Song dynasty ceramics, and blue-and-white, monochrome and polychrome wares from the Ming and Qing. These exhibitions were mounted at the Arts Council Gallery in St. James, London. The Silver Jubilee of the Society in 1971 saw a major exhibition on The Ceramic Art of China held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The Society also organised exhibitions on other works of art, such as jade and ivory. The Society’s exhibition catalogues remain standard works on the respective topics.
Meanwhile the Society offered a continuing programme of lectures, handling sessions, visits to collections, and international tours, which by the 1980s included tours to China to inspect kiln sites, view museum collections and meet archaeologists, museum curators and ceramic specialists there. Due to the generosity of some of its members, a Chinese Scholars Fund was set up to invite Chinese experts to lecture in London.
The Society remains the main international Society devoted to Asian art, and ceramics in particular, and continues to offer a rich programme of lectures, handling sessions and other events throughout the year. Lectures, mostly held at the Society of Antiquaries at Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, are usually started or ended convivially with a glass of wine allowing members to socialize. The annual Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society are a highly regarded journal on Asian art, and the annual Newsletter brings news on Asian art from around the world.