The National Gallery of Australia is located by Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra, A.C.T. As part of the Parliamentary Triangle, it shares this lakeside precinct with other significant collections including the National Library of Australia and the National Portrait Gallery.

Established in 1967, the National Gallery’s brutalist style building was designed by Colin Madigan and opened in 1982. In addition to the Australian collection (1788 to the present) and the impressive collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Art, the Gallery has a representative collection of European and American art of the modern period, including key works such as Jackson Pollock’s Blue poles 1952.

The large collection of Asian art includes two important collections of ceramics: one from China and one from Japan.


In 1995, the Gallery received a gift – from Dr T.T. Tsui – of Chinese ceramics relating to funeral and burial rites. This collection contains works from all the major Chinese dynasties from the Neolithic to the Qing. In addition to an evocative Tang Lady and iconic Ferghana horses, there is an intricate 3rd century funerary jar covered with figures and forms to meet the needs of the deceased in the next life. Another notable work in this collection is the ceramic portrait of an Immortal or Official which is 40 cm in height and dates from the Ming Dynasty.

The other significant collection is that of Japanese modern and contemporary ceramics, with over 150 works by around twenty ceramicists. Included are examples from the Mingei and Sodeisha groups, as well as more contemporary practitioners, many of whom are Japanese born Australians.

A pot by Hiroe Swen

There are approximately 50 works by Hiroe Swen who was born in Kyoto in 1934 where she was one of the early women ceramicists in what had been a male dominated area. She was an inaugural member of the Joryu Togei (Women’s Ceramic Art) group in Kyoto. She and her Dutch husband made the Canberra region their home from the late 1960s. Hiroe Swen taught at the Canberra School of Art and continues to produce ceramics, some of which reflect the influence of the Australian bushland. In 2016 she was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays, by the Japanese Government to honour her remarkable career and contribution.

The contemporary Japanese collection also includes works by Japanese-Australians such as Shigeo Shiga and others who have been influential on Australian ceramicists through their inspiring works and as teachers.

A local ceramicist and teacher at the Canberra School of Art and Design is Ian Jones (photo on right). Jones reflects the aesthetics of Japanese ceramics, particularly those of Shigaraki and Bizen, where he has worked. Jones and his partner, Moraig McKenna, operate a Japanese style anagama kiln at Old St Lukes Studio and Gallery near Gundaroo, just north of Canberra. (

The National Gallery is renowned for an impressive collection of Asian Textiles. Enhanced by the purchase of over 400 examples from the Holmgren-Spertus collection in 2002, the National Gallery’s holding of Indonesian textiles is one of the most extensive collections worldwide. Past exhibitions that showcased these textiles include “Sari to Sarong: Five Hundred Years of Indian and Indonesian Textile Exchange” held in 2003.

While there are no longer galleries specifically dedicated to Asian Art within the institution, Asian works are distributed throughout the many exhibition spaces.

Visitors may make advance requests to view specific works in the collection in an on-site collection study room.

Contributed by Ann Proctor, Director Vis Asia and SEACS Life Member