Figure of a horse, Western Han period (205 BCE -12 CE) China,
earthenware with painted decoration (44x59x19cm),
Photo Courtesy of Wollongong Art Gallery

Wollongong Art Gallery is situated about 1½ hours drive south of Sydney, NSW. It is one of Australia’s largest regional art museums with regularly changing exhibitions and a permanent collection. The gallery is housed in a unique building, designed and built in the 1950s. The Mann -Tatlow collection of Asian Art began as a personal one which evolved over 25 years. The collection includes 227 Asian ceramics, objects and items of furniture from the Neolithic period to the early 20th c.

Wiiliam S. Tatlow was born in 1921 in Derby, England and settled in Australia in 1939. He met Mr Singh Mann when Mann came to Australia as a student from British North Borneo. Together they travelled to many Asian destinations, interacting with the cultures of different countries. They became known to local dealers who plied them with buying opportunities to add to their burgeoning collection of trade and Chinese ceramics acquired in Southeast Asia. Mr Mann, apparently, was a highly skilled haggler and negotiator.

The collection was gifted to the Wollongong Art Gallery in 2003. Perhaps this story, like so many others, reflects what happens when a personal collection expands, and one wonders what will become of it in the future. The intention was to keep the collection intact and so the search commenced to find a place to house their acquisitions. However, it took 10 long years to realise aided by Tatlow ‘s generosity in building a new purpose- built gallery space.

Tatlow felt that his donation to the Wollongong Gallery would fill a gap which did not include the arts of Asia, and at the time, was not equipped to look after and present the collection to the community. His goal was to arouse interest in Asian arts, especially amongst younger people and contemporary potters in this field.

The collection is arranged in multiple themes including funerary and storage objects, the development of (greenwares)celadon,qingbai, peach bloom and copper glazes, the scholar’s desk, the symbolism and the depiction on objects of Chinese and Japanese people engaging in everyday life.

One example of funerary wares or mingqi is that of an expressive, Han Dynasty earthenware horse decorated with traces of pigment. The custom of placing mingqi in tombs with the deceased for the afterlife stretches back thousands of years with the most famous being the entombed warriors, life -sized terracotta figures accompanied by horses, farm animals, servants and food storage pots and the like. The much sought after, so- called ‘heavenly’ horse of Ferghana symbolised both its high status as a rare commodity, its importance for military defence and the prosperity of its owner.

The cabinet illustrating the development of celadon glazes encompasses early, olive -coloured glazes of Yue in the Han dynasty through to the Longquan celadons produced from the Song dynasty, which emulated the colour of the highly prized jade through to a very pale, modern green vase with the geometric thunder or leiwan pattern dating from the early 1900s but with a Yongzheng mark (1723-1735).

The vision of William Tatlow was never intended to cover all periods of Chinese history and never aimed to be comprehensive, rather it reflects his personal taste, values and interests. For this collector, each piece has its own special story to tell whether through its distinctive shape, techniques of construction or decoration.

Please check ahead of time as the collection may not be on exhibition.


Early celadon and celadon glazed stoneware pots and jars, Han Dynasty (206 BCE -220 CE) to late Ming Dynasty, China,
Photo courtesy of Wollongong Art Gallery
Contributed by Margaret White, TAASA Vice President and SEACS Lifetime member