Jane Portal


Department: Asia 

Assistant's Contact

+44 (0)20 7323 8416

Jane Portal is the Keeper of the Department of Asia. She studied Chinese at Girton College Cambridge 1974-8 and Korean at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies 1992-6. She spent a year studying Chinese archaeology at Beijing University in 1979-80 and a year at Yonsei University Seoul in 1994-5. She worked as Curator of Chinese and Korean Collections at the British Museum from 1987-2008, during which time she curated the Korea Foundation Gallery in 2000 and the First Emperor, China’s Terracotta Army exhibition, in 2007-8 in the Round Reading Room. From 2008-2014 she was the Matsutaro Shoriki Chair of Asia, Oceania and Africa at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. In December 2014 she returned to the British Museum as Keeper of Asia. Her publications include: British Museum Book of Chinese Art 1992; Korea Art and Archaeology 2000; Chinese Love Poetry 2004; Art Under Control in North Korea 2005; Chinese Art in Detail 2006; First Emperor-China’s Terracotta Army 2007; 100 Highlights of Korean Art in MFA Boston 2012.

Current projects

  1. Leading on the renovation and reinstallation with new narratives of the Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery for China and South Asia; re-opening in November 2017 in celebration of its 25th anniversary; co-ordinating the renovation of the Mitsubishi Galleries for Japan for September 2018; co-ordinating the BM partnership with Manchester Museum for a new gallery for South Asia opening there in 2020; and co-authoring A New History of Korean Ceramics, publication date tbd.

  2. Previous projects

  3. Exhibitions and Galleries during Chairmanship at Museum of Fine Arts Boston:

2013 New Japanese Collections Gallery; major loan exhibition on Art of the Samurai; new Early Africa and Art of Benin Gallery; exhibition of Snider Gift of Japanese Contemporary Ceramics and Baskets; Qurans and the Community.

2012 New Korean Gallery sponsored by Korea Foundation ; Divine Depictions: Korean Buddhist Paintings; Surface and Meaning: Chinese Lacquer 1200-1800; Seeking Shambala

2011 Permanent Galleries for India and South East Asia; Gems of Rajput Painting; An Unspoken Dialogue with Japanese Tea; Kawanabe Kyosai and the Hell Courtesan; Global Patterns-Dress and Textiles in Africa.

2010 Fresh Ink-Ten Takes on Chinese Tradition (in new Norman Foster wing); Masterpieces of Chinese Painting; The Goddess of Music and Good Fortune

2009 Echoes of Heian-kyo: Court Culture in the Floating World; Object, Image, Collector-African and Oceanic Art in Focus; Tibet/China Confluences; Luxuries From Japan; Glorious Beasts in Persian Painting; Barat Ratna- Modern Indian Paintings From the Chaudri Collection

2008 Zen Mind/Zen Brush: Ink Paintings from the Gitter-Yelen Collection; Showa Sophistication; Marvels of Technology in Islamic Art; Celebrating Kyoto: Modern Arts from Boston Sister City; Kufic Qurans:Calligraphy in the World of Islam

Exhibitions and Galleries at British Museum: (*lead responsibility)

2008 Fascination with Nature, Chinese Bird, Flower and Insect Paintings*

2007 The First Emperor* Major exhibition from China in Round Reading Room (Sponsored by Morgan Stanley) Exhibition of the Year , 850,000 visitors in 6 months

2007 Gods, Guardians and Immortals, Chinese Religious Paintings*

2005 Mountains and Water, Chinese Landscape Painting*

2002 Contemporary Chinese Calligraphy

2002 Chinese Jade Gallery

2001 Emperors and Court Ladies - Chinese Figure Paintings*

2000 Korea Foundation Gallery*

1999 Gilded Dragons (Sponsored by Times International and Prudential Insurance)

1997 Arts of Korea* (Sponsored by Samsung)

1996 Mysteries of Ancient China (Sponsored by Times International)

1992 Joseph E Hotung Gallery of Oriental Antiquities

1990 The Brush Dances and the Ink Sings - Chinese Paintings from British Museum (Hayward Gallery, London)

1990 Art Along the Silk Road - The Stein Collection at the British Museum

Selected publications

Arts of China: Mfa Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications 2013, with Hiromi Kinoshita)

Arts of Korea: Mfa Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications 2012)

‘The First Museums in Shanghai’ pp.12-19 in Jessica Rawson (ed) Treasures From Shanghai-Ancient Chinese Bronzes and Jades (Shanghai Museum and British Museum Press 2009)

Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor (Washington DC, National Geographic Society, 2008) The Terracotta Warriors (London, British Museum Press 2007)

The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army (exhibition catalogue; editor and contributor), (London, British Museum Press 2007); (Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press 2007); (Atlanta, High Museum of Art 2008)

British Museum Book of Chinese Art (edited by Jessica Rawson), updated, re-edited and redesigned, (London, British Museum Press 2007)

Chinese Art in Detail (with Carol Michaelson) (London, British Museum Press 2006); (Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press 2007)

Art Under Control in North Korea (London: Reaktion Books in association with British Museum Press, 2005); (Chicago, University of Chicago Press 2005); Korean edition (Keelsan Books, Seoul 2005)

Introduction to Qu Lei Lei Chinese Calligraphy. Standard Script for Beginners (London: British Museum Press, 2004)

Chinese Love Poetry (editor) (London: British Museum Press, 2004

North Korean Culture and Society. British Museum Research Publication 151 (ed, with Beth McKillop) (London: The British Museum, 2004)

Korea: Art and Archaeology (London, British Museum Press 2000)

Korean Celadons of the Koryo Dynasty’ pp 98-103 in I. Freestone and D. Gaimster (eds) Pottery in the Making: Ceramic Traditions (London: British Museum Press, 1997)

‘Decorative Arts for Display’ and ‘Luxuries for Trade’ (with Jessica Rawson) in Jessica Rawson (ed) The British Museum Book of Chinese Art (London: British Museum Press, 1992). (Winner of the National Art Book Prize in 1993) pp 168-211 & pp 256-62