Sitting in Gerald Godfrey's
Marine Deck private showroom, surrounded by a scholarly and opulent collection of exquisite Asian treasures, one could be forgiven for thinking that here was a man raised on a jade pillow.Gerald's life story seems charmed.Yet it borrows from the spirit of the Chinese who built their fortunes from nothing in colonial Hong Kong.
Born and educated in England, Gerald
escaped the wartime ambience of post-war London in the late 40s to savour the vitality of the Orient.The richness of his
life's great journey, through Bangkok to Hong Kong, is reflected in his
business - a treasure trove of Asian antiques and reproductions which represents one of the world's largest inventories of Asian art.Convinced that England in the late 40's was shabby and depressed and not about to foreseeable improve young Gerald, an English graduate from Oxford who had served a brief stint in the army, picked himself up and went "to the furtherest place from London he could think of".
"Bangkok in 1950 was everything a young man dreamed of", says Gerald
, "there were practically no cars only rickshaws, canals like in Venice down every street and unpolluted quiet".Posted by the Shell Oil Company, Gerald soon assumed responsibility for oil exploration and marketing in the Golden Triangle area of Northern Thailand.
After three years Gerald
found the serene lifestyle at the edge of the opium trade had become monotonous.Yet his
favourite diversion - tracking the country in search of ancient oriental art - had set his
eye on a new path.
Attracted by Hong Kong's energy and vitality during several trips to the colony, Gerald
decided that this would be his
found the city virtually unchanged since the war except for the influx of Chinese refugees sleeping under colonnades in the streets.
On Jim Thompson's advice he
decided to enter a partnership with Charlotte Horstmann, who left China in 1951 to open a gallery of Chinese and Thai artefacts in Bangkok.Horstmann moved her gallery to Hong Kong in 1955 where Godfrey
"In those days much of the business was Chinese objects and lacquerware which flooded out of China with all the refugees", Godfrey
and Horstmann sold their treasures in Hong Kong, which was a very select and exotic place to visit.
"Hotel room doors had no locks", recalls Gerald
."I used to go to bed about eight o'clock and an hour later in would walk two Chinese officials.They would sit on the bed and give me an hour-long lecture about English Imperialism.At the end of the lecture, they would say 'please convey what we have said to the authorities', salute and walk out".
But for Gerald
this period is most memorable as a time of unearthing treasures."Peking was the best", he
Business in China has lost some of its early day charm for Gerald
."There is a real reluctance in the East to get down to brass tacks", he
For Gerald Godfrey
the antique business he
stumbled into by accident has become a ruling passion.It has changed greatly since he
started."The antique business is a limited business because there are only so many things made and surviving", he
predicts a brighter future for Chinese and Japanese art than for the arts of South East Asia and India.
Collecting is itself a difficult art."Going back a few hundred years there were great collectors and antiquities were not so expensive", Godfrey
explains."With the diminishing of supplied and the upsurge of auction houses precious objects reappeared.People began to collect a wider range of things and a much broader market of collectors became established.Antiques are now more widely dispersed and more difficult to find".Despite the increasing scarcity of antiques the Horstmann-Godfrey partnership built what is now generally regarded as the largest selection of Asian Art anywhere in the world, a vast collection of exquisite antiques and works of art from every Asian culture.Charlotte Horstmann's retirement in 1981 did not dull Gerald Godfrey's
strong entrepreneurial instincts.
As sole proprietor Godfrey
further expanded the company, rapidly moving into progressively larger premises.
has contoured this environment for collections that share some of London's reserve - featuring the ancient and the dignified.
...A frequent visitor to Morocco, Godfrey was recently appointed Honorary Consul General for the Kingdom of Morocco in Hong Kong.
Friend to the Royal Family since meeting his Majesty's
Personal Ambassador during his
now promotes Moroccan interests as well as its art in Hong Kong.
Ever flamboyant in his
artificially lit, windowless office in the bowels of the Terminal, Godfrey
radiates an irresistible energy as he
takes the visitor through his
life's travels cast in ancient jade, wood and bamboo roots.His
personal style has become imprinted on the business of collecting antiquities and objects d'art.His
natural eye for good design and both Eastern and Western aesthetics has pleased ambassadors, corporations, banks and individuals around the globe and distinguished his
exotic and colourful galleries.As he
explains, "I am surrounded by beautiful things which I choose myself.