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In October 2016, the Fitzwilliam Museum launches a new publication ‘Contemporary British Crafts – The Goodison Gift to the Fitzwilliam Museum’ – a fully illustrated catalogue published by Philip Wilson of over one hundred examples of contemporary glass, ceramics, furniture, jewellery and metalwork, all made in the UK in the past two decades.

The patrons behind this liberal, and growing, gift are Nicholas and Judith Goodison – London residents with strong connections to Cambridge. Nicholas was a classics undergraduate at Kings College in the 1950s and Judith had close family links to the University. Nicholas has been Honorary Keeper of Furniture at the Fitzwilliam since the late 1960s and was awarded a PhD in architecture and history of art in 1981. 

In the interview which marks the introduction to the catalogue, Nicholas comments on the way that he and Judith saw an opportunity in the 1990s to support ‘contemporary craftsmen and women in Britain who were producing objects of demonstrable quality’ …while at the same time adding a dimension to the Fitzwilliam which, despite its legendary ceramics collections had ‘hardly any examples (of modern craft)’.   

Their first purchase of a lustreware bowl by Sutton Taylor reflected the Goodisons’ mutual interest in historical lustreware. The strong presence of fine furniture in the collection (often the result of direct commissions) reflects their mutual scholarship in this area. Both have contributed articles to Furniture History, the journal of the Furniture History Society of which they have been prominent members since its beginnings in the 1960s. Nicholas wrote definitive books on English Barometers 1680 – 1860 (1968, revised 1977) and on the gilt metalwork of the great eighteenth century engineer Matthew Boulton (1974, revised 2002) and has been President of the Furniture History Society since 1990. Judith co-authored ‘English Furniture 1500 – 1840’ with Geoffrey Beard in 1981 and is currently completing a monograph on Thomas Chippendale junior. For many years she was Programme Director for courses on country houses and collections run by The Attingham Trust. 

This combined scholarship and active patronage seems all the more remarkable given that both Nicholas and Judith have led active lives in other fields. Nicholas was Chairman of the Stock Exchange 1976-88, and of the banking group TSB Group 1989-1995. He chaired the Courtauld Institute of Art for twenty years, the National Art Collections Fund (now the Art Fund) for seventeen, the Crafts Council of Great Britain, and the Burlington Magazine. Judith has had a particular involvement in education, in addition to raising three children. She has served as Chairman of the Governors of the Godolphin and Latymer School, as a member of the Education Committee of Dulwich Picture Gallery, as a trustee of Handel House and as a governor of the Museum of London.

Commenting in the introductory conversation on their selection of works Nicholas talks about their interest in objects which ‘you can’t walk by’ and which ‘sing’ to them…‘we have chosen objects that made a big impact on us at the time of purchase. He concludes:

The Museum is stimulating because it shows how happily works of fine and decorative arts live together ….   We both believe that the object should be at the centre of art history, and where better to look at objects than here?’

Amanda Game, Oxford 2016

See also:

Sir Nicholas interviewed by Cathy Courtney in 1997, as part of the British Library's series National Life Stories: City Lives, in which he speaks about his relationship with the Fitzwilliam Museum

Sir Nicholas Goodison interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, 6 March 1987