Godfrey St George Montague Gompertz CBE (1904-1992)
Born in Calcutta in 1904, Godfrey Gompertz was educated at Bedford School. He then joined Shell Oil Company and in 1927 was posted from Japan to Korea for one year. Under Japanese rule at the time, Korea was nonetheless very different from Japan and left a deep impression. Also, he met his wife, Elizabeth, the daughter of an American missionary, in Seoul and first came to appreciate Korean arts and crafts. Married in Tokyo in 1930, Gompertz and his wife returned to Korea for their honeymoon and then for annual trips from Japan for the next ten years. They would usually spend one week in the Diamond Mountains, now in North Korea, and another week in Seoul, now the capital of South Korea, where they visited museums and art dealers, but lacked the funds to buy. Still, they started to read and to see and in later years also visited Kyongyu, Korea’s ancient capital in the south of the peninsula, and P’yong-yang, now the capital of North Korea.
Before war broke out (Japan entered World War II in December 1941), Gompertz and his wife and left Japan. Following the end of hostilities they returned to Japan in 1948. After attachment to General MacArthur’s headquarters in Tokyo he rejoined Shell, also in Tokyo. Here he met Fujio Koyama, Japan’s foremost scholar of Far Eastern ceramics, and Hiroshi Hirota and Junkichi Mayuyama, both influential Japanese dealers in Chinese and Korean ceramics. Guided by Koyama, Gompertz bought his first piece of Korean ceramics in 1948. By 1951, he had acquired a small collection, mainly pieces of Koryŏ ware, and was invited by the Oriental Ceramics Society to show his treasures in London. Gompertz retired from Shell in 1954 and he and his wife lived in Aldworth, Berkshire, for the next thirty years.
Over this time Gompertz and his wife assembled around a hundred pieces of Koryŏ ware and over thirty pieces of Chosŏn ware, as well as some earlier ceramics, bronzes and lacquerware. He was a dedicated member and sometime president of the Oriental Ceramics Society and published three books on Korean ceramics, The Ceramic Arts of Korea (with Che Won Kim), Korean Celadon and Other Wares of the Koryŏ Period and Korean Pottery and Porcelain of the Yi Period. He also contributed numerous papers to the Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, the Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society (Korea Branch) and to other publications. Further, he also wrote about the celadon wares of China and South-East Asia.
Gompertz and his wife collected not only for their own pleasure, but also to foster appreciation and understanding of Korean culture in Britain. It was in this spirit, in 1984, the centenary of diplomatic relations between Britain and Korea, that Gompertz and his wife gave their collection and library to the Fitzwilliam Museum. Now housed in the recently refurbished Gompertz Gallery of Korean Art, first opened in 1991, it is one of the finest collections of Korean ceramics outside Korea.
Gompertz was also a keen breeder of Gordon setters and published an authoritative text on these dogs in 1976.
Awarded a CBE for services to Anglo-Korean relations in 1982, Godfrey Gompertz died in 1992.
G. St. G. M. Gompertz – an article on Archbishop Mutel, one of the first Catholic missionaries to Korea, and a bibliography on Western books and articles on Korea in Transactions of the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, both published before World War II
G. St. G. M. Gompertz, ‘The Development of Koryŏ Wares’, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 26, 1950-51
G. St. G. M. Gompertz, ‘Koryŏ White Porcelain’, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 27, 1951-53
G. St. G. M. Gompertz, ‘Koryŏ Inlaid Celadon Ware’, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 28, 1953-54
G. St. G. M. Gompertz, ‘Some Notes on the Earliest Western Contacts with Korea’, Transactions of the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 33, 1957
G. St. G. M. Gompertz, Chinese Celadon Wares, Faber & Faber, 1958 (2nd ed. 1980)
G. St. G. M. Gompertz, ‘Hsu Ching’s Visit to Korea in 1123’, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 33, 1960-62
G. St. G. M. Gompertz and C. W. Kim, The Ceramic Arts of Korea, Faber & Faber, 1961
G. St. G. M. Gompertz, Korean Celadon and Other Wares of the Koryŏ Period, Faber & Faber, 1963
G. St. G. M. Gompertz, ‘A Trip through Southern Korea’, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 36, 1964-66
G. St. G. M. Gompertz, Korean Pottery and Porcelain of the Yi Period, Faber & Faber, 1968
G. St. G. M. Gompertz, ‘The Appeal of Korean Celadon’, Transactions of the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 52, 1977
G. St. G. M. Gompertz, ‘Decorative Techniques Employed by the Korean Potter’ in Decorative Techniques and Styles in Asian Ceramics, notes of a colloquium held at the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art in London in 1978
G. St. G. M. Gompertz, ‘Korean Inlaid Lacquer of the Koryŏ Period’, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, vol. 43, 1978-79
J. Figges, ‘Korean Ceramics at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge’, Oriental Art, vol. 36, no. 4 (Winter 1990/91), pp. 180-185
D. Scalbert, 'La Collection Gompertz au Musée Fitzwilliam de Cambridge', La revue de la céramique et du verre, no. 82 (May-June 1995), pp. 10-16
Y. Yun as edited by R. Krahl, Korean Art from the Gompertz and Other Collections in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge University Press, 2006
G. St. G. M. Gompertz, The Gordon Setter: History and Character, private publication, 1976
Do you have an interesting history to add to the above story?
Post your history/comments here.