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Barlow Collection transfers to Ashmolean

The Barlow Collection is transferring from its current home in the University of Sussex Library to the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford.

The Barlow Collection of Chinese Ceramics, Bronzes and Jades is one of the most significant of its kind in the world. Its 450 objects were collected over many years by civil servant Sir Alan Barlow (1881-1968).

He bequeathed the Collection to a trust, which offered it on loan to the University of Sussex; in doing so he realized his desire for the Collection to be used within an educational environment to promote interest in Chinese art and culture.

The Barlow Collection was well used by the University for decades - primarily in conjunction with undergraduate Art History courses.

Professor Maurice Howard, art historian and previously a curator of the Collection, said: "The University can be proud of its achievement with the Barlow Collection over the years. It has been used for teaching, was regularly open to the public and we sponsored an annual lecture that drew many friends back to the University. Thanks to a grant from the AHRC from 2003 to 2006 we were able to commission a new, scholarly, online catalogue and a complete photographic record of the collection."

In recent years the content of Art History courses at Sussex has changed, and there is no longer a Chinese specialist in the Art History department.

To ensure that the Collection was seen and made use of by the widest number and range of students, researchers and members of the public, in 2008 the Trustees commissioned a study to examine options for its future use. They then began the process of identifying a possible alternative location and in July 2010 decided to offer the Barlow Collection on loan to the Ashmolean Museum.

Under the terms of an agreement between the Trustees and the Ashmolean, the Museum will ensure - in keeping with Sir Alan Barlow's wishes - that the Collection is kept intact and will make it available to public view and for teaching purposes.

The University is keen to maintain a special relationship with the Barlow Collection in its new home. This will include continued involvement in the annual Barlow Lecture series and priority access to the Collection for Sussex students and staff.

Jeremy Barlow, grandson of Sir Alan Barlow and senior trustee of the Barlow Collection, said: "The move to the Ashmolean fulfils my grandfather's wish that the Collection should be used for teaching and to stimulate creativity, and that handling by students should form an integral part of the educational process."

Professor Howard added: "Now is the moment for the Barlow to move home to a place where it will be seen by a wider public and be of benefit to even more students. The Ashmolean has a distinguished collection of its own within which the Barlow will remain special and yet open up new dialogues in the history of Chinese art."

Dr Shelagh Vainker, Senior Assistant Keeper of Eastern Art and Curator of Chinese Art at the Ashmolean Museum, said: "The collections of Chinese ceramics formed in England during the 20th century remain the finest outside China, and the Barlow Collection is one of the foremost.

"It complements exceptionally well the holdings in the Ashmolean and, significantly, includes some rare types we have not so far been able to display.

"These and others will be exhibited in a dedicated display within the main China gallery and the rest of the collection will be available for study and research in the new storage areas created as part of the museum's recent redevelopment.

"In these ways the Barlow Collection will be accessible to the widest possible audience while bringing a new resource for the University of Oxford's growing engagement with and commitment to research and teaching in both history of art and Chinese studies."

The Barlow Collection has not been physically on display since October 2009, when it was placed in storage at the start of a major refurbishment of the Library, which is still ongoing. The Ashmolean expects to have the Collection open to the public in its new home by autumn 2011.

By: Alison Field
Last updated: Thursday, 30 June 2011