William Blake in Sussex at Petworth House is a Triumph

Curator Andrew Loukes with Rupert Toovey representing exhibition sponsors, Toovey’s at the opening
Curator Andrew Loukes with Rupert Toovey representing exhibition sponsors, Toovey’s at the opening

The exhibition ‘William Blake in Sussex’ at Petworth House is a triumph!

The show opened to the public last weekend to universal acclaim and is set to be one of 2018’s must see exhibitions.

The central threads of William Blake’s art and writing are beautifully woven together with the formative time that this revolutionary artist spent in Sussex. The clarity of vision of the exhibition’s curator, Andrew Loukes, has blessed us with an unusually rich and coherent narrative.

The works of art on display are visually stunning and include some of the most important in Blake’s oeuvre. They have been borrowed not only from Petworth House’s own collection but also from the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Tate and the National Trust’s Arlington Court, Devon.

In an age when our nation is in danger of losing her diverse regional identities with homogenised housing and High Streets it is exciting to see the National Trust daring to put on an exhibition of national importance which speaks of, and is displayed in, the context of William Blake’s story here in Sussex.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries Petworth House held an important place in the British artistic scene thanks to the 3rd Earl of Egremont’s patronage and its extraordinary collections which drew artists including Turner from across the country.

William Blake’s ‘The Characters in Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, circa 1825 © Petworth House, National Trust
William Blake’s ‘The Characters in Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, circa 1825 © Petworth House, National Trust

The exhibition reminds us of his patronage through Blake’s watercolour ‘The Characters in Spenser’s Faerie Queene’. The epic Elizabethan poem The Faerie Queene, upon which Blake’s drawing is based, was written against the backdrop of the Reformation by Edmund Spenser. Spenser employed a series of allegorical devices and characters to articulate the chivalric virtues of Holiness, Temperance, Chastity, Friendship, Justice, and Courtesy. Blake painted the scene in 1825. It was bought by the 3rd Earl from the artist’s widow, Catherine Boucher, for eight guineas, a sum which would have been enough to sustain her for the rest of her days. Catherine wrote to him in 1829 instructing him as to its care, saying ‘Mr Blake had a great dislike to his pictures falling into the hands of the picture cleaners.’

Blake illustrates a number of the characters from Spenser’s epic poem. At the front of the processional scene is the Red Cross Knight seated on his horse and carrying the emblem of St George, the patron saint of England, a red cross upon his shield. Beside him seated on an ass is his travelling companion, Una, who represents the true protestant church. The scene is played out beneath the tableau of the sky. The sun is flanked by the moon and a figure representing Justice among the stars. The spired Gothic Cathedral in the sky to the left contrasts with the depiction of the Tower of Babel on the right.

There is so much more to say about this extraordinary exhibition and Blake’s time in Sussex that I look forward to revisiting it with you.

Petworth House could not be a more appropriate place for this fine exhibition providing a reminder of William Blake’s artistic talent, faith and strong moral vision.

The richness and layers of this exhibition will repay each and every visit. I am delighted that Toovey’s are headline sponsors of this exceptional show which understandably is attracting national interest.

The exhibition runs at Petworth House in West Sussex until the 25th March 2018. Entry is by pre-booked timed tickets which can be purchased online at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/petworth. Discounted tickets are available to National Trust Members.

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.

William Blake’s ‘The Characters in Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, circa 1825 © Petworth House, National Trust
William Blake’s ‘The Characters in Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, circa 1825 © Petworth House, National Trust
Curator Andrew Loukes with Rupert Toovey representing exhibition sponsors, Toovey’s at the opening
Curator Andrew Loukes with Rupert Toovey representing exhibition sponsors, Toovey’s at the opening

 

William Blake at Petworth

Exhibition curator Andrew Loukes with William Blake’s ‘John Milton’, c. 1800-03
Exhibition curator Andrew Loukes with William Blake’s ‘John Milton’, c. 1800-03

One of 2018’s most anticipated exhibitions, William Blake in Sussex: Vision of Albion, opens at Petworth House, West Sussex this weekend. I was fortunate enough to call in last week as the show was being hung under the exceptional eye of the National Trust’s Exhibition Manager at Petworth and the exhibition’s curator, Andrew Loukes and I can confirm that this is going to be an exceptional show.

In recent years the importance of Sussex as a centre for art and artists from the 18th to the 20th century has been affirmed by numerous exhibitions in London but I am delighted that William Blake in Sussex is being held in its correct context.

It is rare for an important country house like Petworth to have William Blakes in its collection and on display. It was Elizabeth Ilive, the 3rd Earl of Egremont, George Wyndham’s mistress and then wife, who commissioned Blake to paint ‘A Vision of the Last Judgement’ in 1808. The image sanctifies family life. Mothers and Fathers ascend to heaven with their children and infants, as Christ sits in Majesty. In contrast, on the opposite side of the composition the wicked descend into hell.

William Blake ‘A Vision of the Last Judgement’, c. 1808 © Petworth House, National Trust

Blake described the iconography: “the Just, in humiliation and in exultation, rise through the air with their children and families…among them is a figure crowned with stars, and the moon beneath her feet, with six infants around her.” In his accompanying essay Andrew Loukes argues that whilst Blake describes the figure in this passage as representing the Christian Church it is possible that the woman is actually Elizabeth accompanied by her six surviving children and that the artist who faces her and appears to be drawing her is reminiscent of Blake’s own imagined self-image.

The imagery must have resonated with Elizabeth who from the age of sixteen had born nine children, three of whom died in infancy. George Wyndham’s philandering would bring to a close their long-awaited and all too brief marriage.

This exhibition promises to bring together the threads of William Blake’s faith, political radicalism and the influences of his patrons, Sussex and the pastoral on his life and work.

Petworth House could not be a more appropriate place for this fine exhibition providing a reminder of William Blake’s artistic talent, faith and strong moral vision.

The exhibition runs at Petworth House in West Sussex from 13th February until the 25th March 2018. Entry is by pre-booked timed tickets which can be purchased online at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/petworth. Discounted tickets are available to National Trust Members.

I can’t wait to see the exhibition and I’m booking my tickets as I write.

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.

 

Scientific Instruments to Mark and Measure Time

Antiquarian, clock specialist and horologist, Brian Baskerville
Antiquarian, clock specialist and horologist, Brian Baskerville

The start of a New Year seems a good moment to consider time and how we have measured it over the centuries. This week I am in the company of Brian Baskerville a highly regarded antiquarian, clock specialist and horologist.

When you first meet Brian Baskerville it quickly becomes apparent that you are with an exceptionally talented specialist.

Brian started his business in 1969 in the King’s Road, Chelsea, before moving to Kensington Church Street in 1980 and eventually to Petworth in 1987. He says “I have spent most of my career as a horologist working in the field of fine clocks. Horology refers to the art and science of making, servicing, repairing and restoring timepieces and measuring devices. Today’s watch and clockmakers need to combine the traditional, practical, dextrous specialist skills and techniques with an ability to embrace new technology.”

As an active member of The British Antique Dealers Association Brian served on the Main Council and its Cultural and Educational Trust. A Liveryman and former steward of The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers he also worked on the Main Council and Publications Committee of The Antiquarian Horological Society.

Highly respected by his peers and collectors of fine clocks Brian remains passionate about promoting his specialism and emerging talent. This is apparent in the work that he did at West Dean College over some twenty-five years. Brian explains “I served as Chairman of the West Dean College Horological Conservation Course Advisory Board. I also acted as the administrator for the St. Roche’s Educational Trust which was specifically founded to support education in the conservation and restoration of antique horological items.”

Brian Baskerville is very generous with his knowledge and continues to invest in the future of horology. For a number of years now he has acted as Toovey’s clock consultant working closely with Tom Rowsell.

Brian delights in these scientific instruments crafted to mark and measure time. It is always a pleasure to listen to him as he examines a clock. Our conversation turns to two clocks sold in 2017 at Toovey’s specialist clock auctions.

A George III brass mounted mahogany bracket clock by Isaac Rogers of London
A George III brass mounted mahogany bracket clock by Isaac Rogers of London

The first, a George III brass mounted mahogany bracket clock by the London maker Isaac Rogers, had an eight day twin fusee, rack striking movement with verge escapement. Brian explains that the clock’s Dutch striking on two bells with pull-repeat mechanism is a rare feature. He comments “Dutch striking is where the clock strikes the hours at the preceding half hour on a high toned bell and at the hour in a low toned bell.” It realised £3600.

A late 19th century French lacquered brass and white marble four glass table clock with perpetual calendar and moonphase by Le Roy & Fils of Paris
A late 19th century French lacquered brass and white marble four glass table clock with perpetual calendar and moonphase by Le Roy & Fils of Paris

I remind Brian of the late 19th century French lacquered brass and white marble four glass table clock Toovey’s sold for £4200 by Le Roy & Fils of Paris. Brian says “Le Roy & Fils was a French watchmaker. The company was founded in 1785 by Basile Charles le Roy and remained one of France’s leading makers. The quality of its eight day movement striking on a bell with perpetual calendar and moonphase was matched by the three piece white enamel dial with Roman numerals and visible Brocot escapement. Although there were some problems around condition the clock’s quality made it very appealing.”

If you are looking to acquire or sell a fine clock Brian Baskerville is always pleased to share his expertise and advise you. He can be contacted at Toovey’s Auctioneers.

An antique clock is the perfect way to measure and mark time and the market for fine clocks remains buoyant.

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.

Star Wars Fans Awaken

A fine collection of: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi action figures, vehicles and accessories, including Palitoy
A fine collection of: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi action figures, vehicles and accessories, including Palitoy

I am as excited about the release of the Last Jedi this weekend as I was as a boy when the original Star Wars trilogy came out.

In those early films George Lucas combined wonderful storytelling with breath taking visual effects set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. His was a believable galaxy; where spaceships and robots carried the patina and dirt of far-off worlds; where chivalry and light sabres stood against blasters and the storm troopers of an evil empire in a battle between the light and dark sides of the Force. We felt a real connection with the characters.

Jabba the Hutt, the Rancor, Luke Skywalker, Boba Fett and Lando Calrissian with other characters from The Return of the Jedi
Jabba the Hutt, the Rancor, Luke Skywalker, Boba Fett and Lando Calrissian with other characters from The Return of the Jedi

Some critics complained that the story line of the first film in the new trilogy, The Force Awakens, was too close to the originals. However, I think the director J. J. Abrams was inspired to return to the roots of the franchise bridging the original trilogy to the new. The story telling was once again exceptional, the characters three-dimensional and the effects visually stunning. Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey was beautifully crafted. It is tremendous to see the story centre around a female protagonist supported by characters old and new, with Harrison Ford as Han Solo and John Boyega as Finn to name but a few.

The Last Jedi, released on Thursday 14th December, has been directed by Rian Johnson. Trailers and interviews have left fans with more questions than answers. Who is the First Order’s Supreme Leader Snoke? Will Rey stand with the light side of the Force or will she join Kylo Ren on the dark side? Who were Rey’s parents? What role will Luke Skywalker play and who is the mysterious Rose? Will the Force finally be brought into balance? One thing is certain Rian Johnson has promised to surprise and shock the fans.

The Millennium Falcon with original box
The Millennium Falcon with original box

I was thrilled when Father Christmas brought me C-3PO, R2 D2, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader but my brother hit the jackpot when he was given the Millennium Falcon with Han Solo and Chewbacca.

I was delighted to see that the Star Wars fan’s excitement in the early toys and action figures illustrated remains undiminished. They realised hundreds of pounds at Toovey’s specialist Christmas toy sale. It was very evocative to see Luke’s X-wing Starfighter, the Millennium Falcon, an Imperial At-At Walker and the original characters. Entries for Toovey’s next specialist toy auction on Tuesday 20th March 2018 are being accepted from the beginning of January.

No doubt today’s Star Wars fans will be queuing up this Christmas for the latest action figures of Rey, BB-8, Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren, Finn, Chewbacca and Luke Skywalker, as well as First Order and Rebel Starfighters, Star destroyers and light sabres.

I am excitedly booking my Last Jedi tickets at an independent cinema near me as I write! I hope your Christmas parcels this year contain a Star Wars surprise. It remains to say “May the Force be with you.”

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.

David Bomberg at Pallant House

David Bomberg, Ju - Jitsu, circa 1913, Tate © Tate, London 2017
David Bomberg, Ju – Jitsu, circa 1913, Tate © Tate, London 2017

Pallant House Gallery’s latest exhibition, Introducing Bomberg: A Master of British Art, provides the first large scale reassessment of this neglected British artist’s work in more than a decade. It considers the overarching influence of David Bomberg’s Jewish identity on his painting as he journeyed from radical abstraction to expressive, painterly realism.

The exhibition is the inspiration of Ben Uri Gallery curators, Sarah MacDougall and Rachel Dickson. It brings together work from the collections of Pallant House Gallery, The Ben Uri Gallery, Tate and others.

The show has a strong chronological narrative which places Bomberg’s paintings firmly in the context of his life and the times in which he lived.

David Bomberg was born in Birmingham in 1890. His parents were Polish-Jewish immigrants. He spent his formative years in London’s East End. There he worked alongside his fellow Jewish ‘Whitechapel artists’, Mark Gertler, Jacob Kramer, Clare Winsten and the poet-painter Isaac Rosenberg.

Bomberg studied at evening classes under the Camden Town Group leader, Walter Sickert, before attending the Slade. He was considered an innovative artist.

Bomberg was connected with the European artistic avant-garde. In 1914, together with the sculptor Jacob Epstein, he curated a Jewish section at the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s exhibition ‘Twentieth Century Art: A Review of the Modern Movement’. The abstract, Ju-Jitsu, illustrates the influence of European artists work and brilliantly captures Bomberg’s own fractured experience of life as the son of Polish immigrants.

David Bomberg, Ghetto Theatre, 1920, Ben Uri Collection © Ben Uri Gallery and Museum
David Bomberg, Ghetto Theatre, 1920, Ben Uri Collection © Ben Uri Gallery and Museum

Although Bomberg always distanced himself from them the influence of the English Vorticist movement can be seen in Ghetto Theatre. The vorticist’s cubist fragmentation of reality, with its hard edged imagery derived from the machine and urban environment, is apparent in the lines of seated figures and the austere theatre architecture. The painting also reflects the mood of the artist after his experiences in the trenches of the First World War.

In 1923 Bomberg travelled to Jerusalem where he painted topographically. Working en plein air he painted a series of realist landscapes including Jerusalem city.

David Bomberg, Ronda Bridge, 1935, Pallant House Gallery © The Estate of David Bomberg
David Bomberg, Ronda Bridge, 1935, Pallant House Gallery © The Estate of David Bomberg

In 1929 he visited Spain and would return in 1934/1935. These visits inspired a new vigour in his work. His oil Ronda Bridge depicts the gorge and crossing. It is dramatically portrayed, alive with movement. The heat and light of the scene is conveyed in his bold, expressive brushwork and use of colour. This phase of his work was curtailed by the tragic onset of the Spanish Civil War.

In the 1930s and 1940s Bomberg painted a series of searching self-portraits. These and a number of studies of his friends display an extraordinary intensity. The show concludes with Bomberg’s moving Last Self-Portrait from 1956, the year before he died.

The exhibition provides a strong and insightful narrative to accompany Bomberg’s visually striking work. That it redresses our understanding of this important British – Jewish artist, whose work was often overlooked during his own lifetime, is to be commended. Introducing Bomberg: A Master of British Art runs until 4th February 2018. For more information visit www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557.

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.