Gerald Davison and his wife Yuriko. Shanghai,China
Lecturer, Author and Art Dealer
Gerald Davison has been travelling widely in Asia since 1970, with long periods of time spent in Japan, China and the Philippines. In the early 1990's he also lectured aboard the adventure vessel, MV Caledonian Star which was then based in Hong Kong and Nanjing, China. As well as lecturing about China's rich culture, history and art he led pioneering land trips of the Chinese mainland.
Retiring from corporate life in 1998 (see below) he returned to dealing in antiques with a gallery near his home in Somerset. This meant spending time each year in China purchasing early works of art, mainly made during the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) through to the Song dynasty (960-1279 CE).
Gerald was a member of the Oriental Ceramic Society (OCS), London from 1973 and in 2002 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts (RSA). In 2004 he also became a lecturer for the National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS). 2005 then saw him complete an extensive, six week lecture tour of Eastern and Southern Australia for their sister organisation, AADFAS. .
Apart from lecturing all over the United Kingdom he lectured during 2010, 2012 and 2014 in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Japan, Philippines, Malaysia, Borneo, Brunei, South Korea and Taiwan.
Gerald also lectured as a guest lecturer at Oxford taking part in 'Art in Action', an event that each year attracts almost 30,000 people over 4 days.
His wide range of lectures on the history, culture and decorative arts of Asia have covered topics from the empire-building English East India Company and its cargoes, to the exquisite porcelain objects made for the Imperial family in China.
In 2010 Gerald published his third book - 'The New & Revised Handbook of Marks on Chinese Ceramics'. Having sold out very quickly, it was reprinted in 2013 as a second edition with an appendix of further information.This second edition has now also sold out and he plans a further expanded edition for 2020. This new edition will include more detail on the Republican period and the 20th century. The total number of marks featured will now be approximately 4000.
The Start of Twin Passions
A native of London, England, Gerald Davison was born in 1943. His early fascination with Asian art and culture was as a result of growing up close to that part of London that houses many of the city's finest museums. As a boy, frequent visits to both the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Science Museum opposite, gave him a dual passion and intellectual curiosity for all forms of the decorative arts of Asia as well as all things mechanical.
Interestingly, when the Victoria & Albert Museum was originally founded in 1852 as the 'Museum of Manufactures', science was then seen as just another branch of the arts. Located originally at Marlborough House, it became the 'Victoria & South Kensington Museum' when it moved to its present site in the Brompton Road in 1857 and finally acquired its current name in 1899. It was not until 1909 that the independent Science Museum in Exhibition Road was developed, separating the concept of science and engineering as an art form.
Inspired by the exhibits in these South Kensington museums, these two parallel interests have endured throughout Gerald's life. They largely shaped his diverse business career from the international automotive industry to dealing in, collecting, lecturing and writing about Asian art and more specifically Chinese ceramics.
From Art Dealer to Author
In the early 1960's, handling most forms of Chinese Art as a young London dealer in the Portobello Road and later Camden Passage, he quickly realised that it was too broad a subject for him to acquire sufficient expertise and made the decision to specialise in his first love - ceramics. At the same time he was fortunate to be helped and encouraged by the legendary, late Margaret Medley, then curator of the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art which formed part of The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. He retained a long and close relationship with the foundation until its demise in 2007. Its superb, world-class collection of Chinese ceramics are now being housed to great effect in a new purpose made gallery at the British Museum.
Among other things, Gerald found the marks that appeared on some old Chinese ceramic objects fascinating. Apart from the widely documented small number of Imperial reign marks, little interest was shown at that time in the meaning of these diverse marks and their purpose. Many dealers and collectors seemed content to handle or own objects with markings but without necessarily having a clear understanding of their meaning. Most publications on Chinese art available then devoted very little space, if any, to the question of marks and usually included only a small selection of the better known 'hall' marks and the more common reign marks. Even Medley, in her own books had repeatedly highlighted the need for research and publication into this particular aspect of Chinese ceramic history.
Realising then that a small but important vacuum existed Gerald gradually began to collect and research information on these marks from many sources. By the late 1980's, while running a publishing business, he felt he had enough material to produce a small format, hard-bound guide to help dealers and collectors identify some of the more unusual marks. This book sold out very quickly and was followed by 2 further reprinted editions selling a final total of 8,000 copies.
The success of this first book encouraged Gerald to focus even more effort on collecting examples of marks from museums and collectors worldwide. In turn this led to the publication in 1994 of the much larger and very widely acclaimed Handbook of Marks on Chinese Ceramics, covering as it does over 1800 different marks in both kaishu and zhuanshu script. This book became one of the standard works on the subject and is still the only publication to exhaustively cover this aspect of Chinese ceramic history. His new book, 'The New and Revised Handbook of Marks on Chinese Ceramics' first released in 2010 was the result of a further fifteen years of research and details some 3400 marks in both forms of script. Colour illustrations are all courtesy of Sotheby's image library. A reprinted version with additional information has been published in August 2013.
From Engineer to International Businessman
While all this was happening in the field of the decorative arts, Gerald had continued to pursue his other passion - mechanical engineering. After training as an automotive engineer and a spell racing in motor sport, 1965 saw him join the international division of the Chrysler Motor Corporation, then head-quartered in Geneva. This was his first experience of dealing with global markets.
In 1968 he had the opportunity to join the Honda Motor Company as a young Manager at a time when the company was just becoming commercially established in Europe. He had already had some contact with Honda's engineering excellence while racing motorcycles a few years earlier and was deeply impressed by their creative flair and obsession with detail and quality. This led to a 17 year relationship with the company and a business friendship with the founder, Soichiro Honda.
Later, as a Director of Honda he found himself spending increasing time in Asia, for so long a spiritual home, although at that time access to mainland China itself was still almost impossible. His innovative strategies and marketing policies for the rapid growth of the company were used in Honda operations in many parts of the developed world.
Then, in the late 1970's he became the founding Director of the Honda International Racing Company which was to become known from 1982 as 'HRC', organising many of Honda's international racing teams and taking the company back to the Isle of Man TT races and, on the world stage, Grand Prix racing. This included responsibility for the legendary 'NR' oval-piston engine project. The company had been out of motor sport for over a decade but within 5 years it progressively won all major world championships on both 2 and 4 wheels.
Returning to be Director of UK Operations in 1981 he then lifted Honda's share of the motorcycle market to 50% and made the emerging car franchise the third most profitable behind only Mercedes and Porsche..
Seeking a complete change of direction after leaving Honda in 1985, Gerald moved to Jersey in the Channel Islands as Managing Director of the island's daily newspaper, The Jersey Evening Post and Chairman of a clutch of other local companies. Here, in less than 3 years he increased the pagination of the paper by 30%, added 15% to its circulation, doubling the groups profit and tripling its share price into the bargain!
Island life however proved to be too parochial and 1989 saw him return to the UK to make his home in the West Country. He spent the next decade in 'Mergers & Acquisitions' as Executive Chairman of a number of small and medium sized public companies, including The Keep Trust Plc (built from a very small base into a 'top ten' motor sector company - later sold to Arriva Plc), Norfolk Finance Ltd (a contract hire and leasing company created from scratch and later sold to the US giant, GE Capital Corp.), Fitzwilton (UK) Ltd, Fitzwilton BV. and the listed company Europe Energy Plc, later renamed Millennium Plc. He also held a number of other directorships and for 5 years was one of a small number of independent directors for the venture capitalists, 3i Group Plc.
Retiring from corporate life in 1998, he then concentrated his time into travel, writing and lecturing about Asia, its culture and art. His popular lecture subjects included the colourful 250 year history of the English East India Company that became the largest corporate entity the world has ever seen and built an empire for Britain across Asia.
After almost 10 years lecturing to NADFAS societies and universities throughout the world, Gerald retired from lecturing at the end of 2014. Meanwhile, now resident on the Isle of Wight in the south of England his passion for Asian art and culture, motor sport in all its forms and a lifetime of riding motorcycles remains entirely undiminished!
From the scrapbook.......