Charles Lang Freer's Collecting of Korean Art in the Early 20th Century

Charlotte Horlyck
Tuesday, July 23, 2019 -
7:30pm to 9:00pm
Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace
10,000 won for non-members and 5,000 won for student non-members; free for members


Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch lecture series


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Charles Lang Freer's Collecting of Korean Art in the Early 20th Century


This talk centers on the Korean collection of Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), founder of the Smithsonian Institution's Freer Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Freer was a pioneering individual whose collection of Western and Asian art was among the most extensive of its time. This includes his Korean artefacts, which he began to acquire in 1896, culminating in around 450 objects, which are now housed in the Freer Gallery. The collection is significant not only for its quality and size, but because it exemplifies the rising interest in Korean art around the turn of the twentieth century. Freer's first acquisitions were Joseon ceramics, but in the early twentieth century he turned to Goryeo celadon wares and they became the mainstay of his collection. Particularly significant was his purchase of Dr. Horace N. Allen's superb examples of Goryeo ceramics in 1907. Freer aimed to build one of the best Korean collections in existence, and in this he largely succeeded. By the time of his death, few collections of Korean art in the West matched his in terms of numbers and quality.

Freer's acquisitions offer important insights into the collecting of Korean art around the turn of the twentieth century, including the availability of antiques, the development of scholarship on Korean cultural heritage, and individual and institutional motivations for collecting Korean art, among other issues. This talk forms part of a book-length study on the collecting of Goryeo art in the early twentieth century.

Charlotte Horlyck is Senior Lecturer in the History of Korean art as SOAS where she also serves as Chair of SOAS Centre of Korean Studies. Before taking up her position at SOAS, she curated the Korean collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (1998-2004). She has published widely on Korean material culture. Her monograph Korean Art - From the 19th Century to the Present (Reaktion Books) was published in August 2017. Her co-edited volume (with Michael Pettid, SUNY Binghamton) Death, Mourning, and the Afterlife in Korea from Ancient to Contemporary Times (Hawai’i University Press, 2014) was selected for a Republic of Korea Ministry of Education Award (2015). She is currently working on a book-length study on acquisitions of Korea art in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Since 2016 she has served as President of the British Association of Korean Studies.

Venue:          Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace,

                      Gwanghwamun (near Anguk Station, across street from Japanese Embassy)

                      * Somerset Palace is no longer providing free parking. 


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Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch
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