The creation of the Korean Department dates back to the Varat Mission, undertaken in 1888 with the assistance of Collin de Plancy, a French diplomat at the Seoul court. Thanks to its acquisition of a highly eclectic collection of objects, this mission revealed to the public for the very first time a country that had previously been closed to foreigners.
During the inter-war period, growing interest in Japanese civilization led to the removal of the Korean collections from the museum galleries. Subsequently, Korean pieces were acquired via Japan (for instance, the Ulrich Odin collection), or by the 1932 Joseph Hackin Mission to Korea.
In the 1950s, thanks to the Arthur Sachs donation in 1951, and the acquisition of the Densmore collection, an ensemble of Silla (57 BC-668 AD) gold and silverware was built up. A few years later, the Silla crown (MA 1642) - attesting to excavations carried out in Korea during the Japanese period-was acquired in Tokyo in 1954. This was followed by the Kim Hong-do screen (MA 2544), donated in 1962 by Mme. Louis Marin, and the Koryo celadons from the Michel Calmann donation in 1977.
The Korean collection includes some 1000 pieces covering practically all periods. Although there are relatively few specimens of punch’ong, landscapes or scholarly paintings, a major place is devoted to Buddhist art. The extension of the exhibition area from 69 m2 in the 1980s to 360 m2 today, together with new acquisitions such as bronzes from the Koryo period, secular scholarly paintings, or tomb sculptures from the Choson period, have enabled the widest possible panorama of Korean arts to be put on display.