Oriental Art in London’s Museums

The United Kingdom is one of the best places outside of Asia to see oriental art. London is home to many of the best museums in the world, which also host impressive collections of art from all over Asia, throughout the times. The variety of choice is such that one could easily spend entire years strolling through the collections, and the continually changing temporary exhibitions. Given Britain’s historically close ties to Asia, the museums have been able to acquire an array of masterpieces which represent all artistic media, an enormous variety of cultures, and a large number of regions in Asia. For visitors to London who are interested in oriental art, the museums offer a rare chance to see world-class artwork and artefacts. National museums are also free, which means that they can be visited several times without spending the whole travel budget.

The British Museum

The British Museum, located in the historic neighbourhood of Bloomsbury, is one of the best art museums in the world and was the first public national museum. It has more than eight million works, and its Department of Asia has more than 75000 objects. The museum has magnificent collections from East, South, Southeast Asia and Central Asia, starting from the Neolithic times at around 5000 BC, all the way up to the present day. Just visiting the Asian sections of the museum takes hours, so it is better to get there with plenty of time and energy.

The British Library

Many people do not think of the British Library as a museum, as it is a busy establishment best known for its superb collection of books, and a venue where students and researchers spend time. However, the library owns a vast array of art, including outstanding historical printed images, book designs and patterns, maps, calligraphic works, paintings, drawings, and photographs, from all over the Asian continent. The library used to be a part of the British Museum until 1973. It is the most extensive national library in the world, as counted by the number of items. In addition to its permanent collection of works of art, there are temporary exhibitions.


The Victoria and Albert Museum, also known as the V&A, has paintings, drawings, jewellery, textiles, sculptures, mother of pearl boxes, ceramics, popular culture, architecture, photography, metalwork and woodwork, among others. Their collection of objects and artefacts give a rich and intriguing picture of the many Asian cultures they represent. The V&A focuses on art and design in everyday life, which makes their collection a particularly exciting choice for those who want to understand better what life was like in different cultures throughout the times. They have a particularly superb collection of Chinese art, starting from 3000 BC up to the present day. The museum’s Chinese objects are particularly interesting in comparison to the development of the Western design. During the time when Europeans started trading with China, the Chinese art which was brought back to Europe started a design trend called chinoiserie, which meant imitating or evocating Chinese motifs and techniques.