‘The Woodcut: From Dürer to Now’ at Pallant House

Albrecht Dürer, ‘Repose on the Flight into Egypt’, c.1504, (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985), © Pallant House Gallery
Albrecht Dürer, ‘Repose on the Flight into Egypt’, c.1504, (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985), © Pallant House Gallery

An intimate exhibition ‘The Woodcut: from Dürer to Now’ has just opened at the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. It examines the art of the woodcuts and wood engravings from the time of the Renaissance to today.

To produce a woodblock print the artist’s design would be pasted to the block so that the engraver could cut the image into the wood. The printer would then print the image.

The first woodcut in the exhibition is an image by the Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). Produced in 1511, it comes from a series of prints he made illustrating scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary. Dürer’s treatment of the scene is revolutionary. The infant Jesus sleeps whilst Mary spins yarn in the company of Joseph and two attendant Angels. The group are watched over by the Holy Spirit depicted as a dove in the heavens. There is a gentle domesticity to the scene in contrast to the urgency of their flight from Herod. Note also Dürer’s treatment of perspective in the buildings and landscape.

Straight grained cherry was often used in the production of Japanese woodcuts as it allowed for fine detail to be carved. As many as ten blocks were used to achieve the diversity of colour. At each stage of the process proofs would be made for approval.

Utagawa Hiroshige, ‘Travellers surprised by sudden rain (Shono haku-u)’, c.1833 - 4, Woodcut on paper, (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985), © Pallant House Gallery
Utagawa Hiroshige, ‘Travellers surprised by sudden rain (Shono haku-u)’, c.1833 – 4, Woodcut on paper, (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985), © Pallant House Gallery

One of the best known of all Japanese woodcut designers is Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858). Hiroshige’s landscape prints are internationally acclaimed and are amongst the most frequently reproduced of all Japanese works of art. They are defined by their unusual compositions and humorous depictions of people involved in everyday activities. His exquisite observation and depiction of weather, light and season are exemplary. Hiroshige’s work proved hugely influential for many leading European artists including Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh.

Hiroshige combined his print making with his inherited position as a fire warden. In 1832 he was invited to join an embassy of Shogunal officials on a journey which allowed him to observe the Tokaido Road, the Eastern sea Route which followed the coast through mountain range to Kyoto. The resultant series was called ‘Tokaido Go-ju-san-Tsugi’ (The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido), from which ‘Travellers surprised by sudden rain (Shono haku-u)’ is taken. It portrays farmers and porters running for shelter as the sudden downpour of rain darkens the sky and obscures the mountains. The figures, angle of the rain and the wind in the trees, lends the image a sense of urgency and movement.

In the early part of the 20th Century there was a revival of woodblock engraving in Britain. The strength of contrast in the black and white, and the softness of line, seemed to articulate something particular to a generation who had lived through the First World War.

Ben Nicholson, ‘5 Circles’, c.1934, woodcut on paper, (Private collection)
Ben Nicholson, ‘5 Circles’, c.1934, woodcut on paper, (Private collection)

Ben Nicholson (1894-1982) was a leading artist in British Modernism. ‘5 Circles’ was the only woodcut he made before the Second World War. It was commissioned by Anatole Jakovski in 1934. Proof copies of this abstract print are known to exist and Nicholson must have preserved his block as a further reprint was produced by Kestner Gesellschaft in 1962.

Entrance to this intimate exhibition is free thanks to the generosity of its sponsor, De’Longhi. The show runs until 25th June 2017 at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. Further details of this and the gallery’s other current exhibitions (which are really worth the ticket price) can be found at www.pallant.org.uk.

£132,000 Chinese Discovery in West Sussex

The pair of Chinese imperial famille rose enamelled porcelain rectangular tea caddies
The pair of Chinese imperial famille rose enamelled porcelain rectangular tea caddies

A pair of Chinese famille rose enamelled porcelain tea caddies dating from the Qing dynasty have just sold at Toovey’s Fine Art Auctioneers for £132,000. They were being displayed on a window sill in a Sussex home when they caught the eye of a Toovey’s valuer during a routine visit. The result illustrates the strength of Chinese Hong Kong collectors and the benefits of the post-Brexit pound which have caused prices and competition from abroad to soar.

Today’s Chinese collectors are following in the tradition of the Qianlong emperor (1711-1799) who was the last of the great imperial art collectors and patrons in Chinese history. His genuine passion for art and collecting seems to have been inspired by his grandfather, the Kangxi emperor (1654-1722), and his uncle Yinxi (1711-1758).

The Qianlong emperor was prolific in his collecting applying an exceptional personal connoisseurship not only to the acquisition of art and antiquities but also to his patronage. His collection would number more than a million objects. It included the collection of the Ming emperors (1368-1644) which was the oldest art collection in the world with a continuous collecting tradition dating back over 1600 years.

The Qianlong emperor took a personal interest in porcelain production and was an ardent collector of it. Many of the types of porcelain associated with the Qianlong emperor, however, were seeded under the Emperor Yongzheng’s supervisor of the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, Tang Ying (1682-1756).

Toovey’s Asian Art Specialist, Tom Rowsell, with the £132,000 pair of Qianlong period tea caddies
Toovey’s Asian Art Specialist, Tom Rowsell, with the £132,000 pair of Qianlong period tea caddies

Toovey’s Asian art specialist, Tom Rowsell, explains “The mid-18th century porcelain designers had an unprecedented freedom due to their technical understanding of glazes. This resulted in enamelled wares often decorated with dense, complex and colourful designs as you can see on the side panels of this remarkable pair of Qianlong period tea caddies from the imperial kilns. Their shape and proportion is typically well judged and shows the influence of European taste, the superb fine white bodies and beautifully ordered and executed decoration are quintessentially of the period.”

The densely decorated sides of the Chinese famille rose tea caddies, typical of the Qianlong period (1735-1796)
The densely decorated sides of the Chinese famille rose tea caddies, typical of the Qianlong period (1735-1796)

I comment on the virtuosity in the contrast between the restrained depiction of the blossoming branches and flowering stems which enfold the finely executed text, and the polychrome enamelled sides densely filled with lotus flowers and scrolling tendrils on the yellow and iron red grounds. Tom agrees and says “This technical excellence and style is explained by the production processes refined by Tang Ying at Jingdezhen. Tang Ting was the foremost ceramic expert in China. He was summoned to Beijing in 1743 to illustrate and catalogue the imperial collection and described the process of porcelain manufacture in twenty steps. This led to an elaborate division of labour at the imperial kilns so that no one person was responsible for the production of a single piece at Jingdezhen.”

Today’s Chinese collectors are as passionate in their collecting as their imperial forebears and the market shows no signs of abating. If you would like advice on your Chinese objects Tom Rowsell can be contacted on 01903 891955 or by emailing auctions@tooveys.com.

The Fine Art of Japanese Inro

A Japanese lacquer and Shibayama inlaid five case inro, Meiji period (1868-1912), sold at Toovey’s for £3200
A Japanese lacquer and Shibayama inlaid five case inro, Meiji period (1868-1912), sold at Toovey’s for £3200

Japanese inro were originally designed as seal baskets but were mainly used to hold herbal medicines. The interlocking compartments were held together by a cord and would have been hung from a waist band. They were often finely decorated in lacquer and Shibayama.

For more than two hundred and fifty years Japan had lived in relative isolation from the outside world until American gunboat diplomacy, instigated by Commodore Perry in 1853, opened up Japan for trade with the West. Throughout the Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods Japan’s rich tradition of arts and crafts gave voice to a civilized nation.

Amongst these arts and crafts lacquer work was used extensively in Japan. The technique came to Japan from China in the sixth century A.D. The art of the lacquer craftsman was highly technical but their patrons’ taste for traditional designs limited artistic creativity. The popularity of the inro emerged during the 17th and 18th centuries. These new objects allowed the lacquerers a greater freedom in design and decoration as well as the opportunity to experiment technically. Exquisite artistry was lavished on inro by artist-craftsmen working for the ruling classes. Favourite subjects included figures, gardens and floral displays.

A Japanese lacquer and Shibayama inlaid five case inro, Meiji period (1868-1912), sold at Toovey’s for £3200
A Japanese lacquer and Shibayama inlaid five case inro, Meiji period (1868-1912), sold at Toovey’s for £3200

The Japanese lacquer and Shibayama inlaid five case inro illustrated here is a fine example of this artistic and technical tour de force. Measuring just 9.4cm the inro dates from the Meiji period (1868-1912) and combines the decorative techniques of maki-e with its powder gilt ground with Shibayama inlay. The high relief, finely inlaid image depicts a hanaguruma, a two-wheeled flower cart, carrying a tasselled wickerwork basket filled with chrysanthemum, peony, iris and a bough of flowering wisteria. The composition and colours of the scene depicted in carved tortoiseshell, coral, mother-of-pearl and hardstone are exquisitely conceived and worked.

A Japanese four-case lacquer inro by Koma Koryu, Edo period, with netsuke (19th century)
A Japanese four-case lacquer inro by Koma Koryu, Edo period, with netsuke (19th century)

The Japanese four-case lacquer inro by Koma Koryu dates from the Edo period (19th century) and is differently decorated. The sides of its curved rectangular body are finely worked. Employing the hiramaki-e technique the gilt chrysanthemum are raised above the maki-e ground with its gilt speckled dark brown decoration. The hardwood netsuke is carved in the form of clam shells with ivory inlaid detail and the cord which unites the interlocking compartments can be clearly seen.

A Japanese five-case lacquer inro, Edo period (19th Century)
A Japanese five-case lacquer inro, Edo period (19th Century)

The final Japanese inro illustrated dates from the Edo period. It again features chrysanthemums against a beautifully worked maki-e ground. Although lavishly decorated it is less fine than the other two inro.

Values at auction for Japanese inro of this quality range from a few hundred to thousands of pounds today.

Toovey’s Asian Art specialist, Tom Rowsell, is passionate about these pieces and can be contacted by telephoning 01903 891955 or at auctions@tooveys.com if you would like his advice.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

£132,000 South Coast Discovery at Toovey’s

A pair of Chinese famille rose enamelled porcelain rectangular tea caddies
£132,000 pair of Chinese famille rose enamelled porcelain rectangular tea caddies

A pair of Chinese famille rose enamelled porcelain tea caddies, displayed on a window sill, caught the eye of a Toovey’s valuer during a routine visit to a client’s home. The caddies were subsequently brought in for sale and went under the gavel in a specialist Asian Art sale on Thursday 23rd February 2017.

These Qing dynasty caddies from the Imperial kilns were similar in shape to those made for the European export market. However, the painted blossoming branches and flowering stems accompanied by the lines of text and red seals are typically Chinese in taste, as are the profusely decorated sides with their panels of lotus flowers and tendrils. Measuring just 16.7cm in height they realised a remarkable £132,0000. Both the vendor and Toovey’s Asian Art specialist, Tom Rowsell, are delighted with the result.

Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion

John Piper, View of Chichester Cathedral from the Deanery, 1975, ink, watercolour and crayon on paper, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985) © The Piper Estate / DAC
John Piper, View of Chichester Cathedral from the Deanery, 1975, ink, watercolour and crayon on paper, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985) © The Piper Estate / DAC

Readers of this column will know that for many years now I have been promoting and telling the story of Sussex as a centre for art and artist, especially in the the 20th century. So I am excited by the exhibition ‘Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion’ being shown at Two Temple Place, London WC2R 3BD. This exhibition gives voice to how Sussex found herself at the heart of the Modern British Art Movement and the relationships and events which brought artists to Sussex.

This ambitious show is the work and inspiration of Dr Hope Wolf, of Sussex University who has brought together works from the collections of many of our county’s most famous museums and art galleries including Pallant House Gallery, The Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, Towner, Jerwood and the homes of artists and patrons like Charleston, Farleys Farm and West Dean.

For more than a thousand years Sussex has drawn artists to her rolling Downland landscape and exciting coastline. Artists such as J M W Turner and John Constable, William Blake and Samuel Palmer were all inspired by, and worked in, Sussex. The 20th Century saw a revival of this ancient tradition with many of the leading Modern British artists living and working in the county.

Familiarity and the passage of years has dulled our sense of how shocking much of this art was to its contemporary audiences in the early 20th century. The contrasting context of the Neo-Gothic architecture and panelled rooms of Two Temple Place helps us to rediscover the impact of this important moment in British Art.

The first room gathers you with the work of the Sussex born artist, Eric Gill. In 1907 Gill moved to Ditchling in Sussex. Together with a group of fellow artists he founded and worked within the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic at Ditchling. These artists lived in community with their wives, children, associates and apprentices. They upheld the principles of the artisan artist in the Arts and Crafts tradition.

Duncan Grant, Bathers by the Pond, c1920-21, oil on canvas, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985) © 1978 Estate of Duncan Grant, courtesy Henrietta Garnett
Duncan Grant, Bathers by the Pond, c1920-21, oil on canvas, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985) © 1978 Estate of Duncan Grant, courtesy Henrietta Garnett

Duncan Grant’s Post-Impressionist ‘Bathers by the Pond’ celebrates the male body and pacifism. It is one of the works illustrating the influence of Bloomsbury and Charleston House in the show.

Many people are surprised to learn that Salvadore Dali worked in Sussex for Edward James at West Dean and that Picasso stayed with his great friend Roland Penrose at Farleys Farm. A joyful Mae West lips sofa, designed by Dali, is on display, one of a number of works illustrating Surrealism in Sussex.

Graham Sutherland, Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene (Noli Me Tangere), 1961, oil on canvas, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985) © The Estate of the Artist
Graham Sutherland, Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene (Noli Me Tangere), 1961, oil on canvas, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985) © The Estate of the Artist

The influence of church patrons like The Revd. Walter Hussey, then Dean of Chichester Cathedral, is also explored. Pieces from his personal collection, now curated by Pallant House, unite the exhibition with the art of Chichester Cathedral and provides one of the best examples of Graham Sutherland’s work, ‘Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene, Noli Me Tangere’, and a charming view of the Cathedral by John Piper whose Neo-Romantic architectural studies unite him with the British watercolour tradition.

The narrative of this exhibition is particularly strong placing the artists and their work in the contexts of their relationships, the times they lived in and Sussex. Dr Hope Wolf acknowledges that there is more to be said but this excellent and timely exhibition should be celebrated. She is deserving of our thanks, as are the Bulldog Trust whose patronage has made this show possible.

‘Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion’ runs until 23rd April 2017 at Two Temple Place, London, WC2R 3BD and admission is free. For more information go to www.twotempleplace.org.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.