Lillie Langtry, Love and Life Expressed in a Jewel

A gold, diamond, ruby and enamelled brooch in the form of the King’s Royal Cypher, given by Edward VII to Lillie Langtry

This week I am returning to the Parish of St Saviour on the Island of Jersey.

The church has a particular place in my heart as it was here that I was blessed to marry Teresa a little more than twenty-five years ago.

Today, though, my visit has been inspired by a jewel that was discovered and sold recently by Toovey’s. This gold, diamond, ruby and enamelled brooch in the form of the King’s Royal Cypher is set with rose cut diamonds, designed as a crown above the initial ‘E’ and a ruby set number ‘7’ against a blue enamelled ground. It was accompanied by a note from Lillie Langtry’s granddaughter, Mary Malcolm, in which she writes ‘this jewellery was given to my Grandmother Lillie Langtry in 1879 by Edward VII (she was his mistress)’.

Lillie Langtry, née Le Breton, (1853-1929) was the youngest child of the Dean of Jersey, The Very Reverend William Corbet Le Breton.

Lillie met her husband Edward Langtry, a wealthy widower, at the wedding of her brother. They were engaged and six weeks later they married at St Saviour’s Church on the 9th March 1874.

During her first season in London she was acclaimed as a great beauty. Her beauty and character was captured in portraits by artists including Millais, Watts, Whistler and Burne-Jones, Oscar Wilde even published a poem about her. It was this same beauty which drew the attention of a series of wealthy admirers and lovers as the years went by, including the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.

The Prince of Wales had arranged to be seated next to Lillie Langtry at a dinner party given by Sir Allen Young in the May of 1877. As his infatuation with her grew Lillie became his mistress and she was even presented to his mother, Queen Victoria. The affair lasted until 1880 and the diamond and ruby encrusted brooch would have been given during this time. They remained friends even after the affair had ended.

Lillie Langtry turned to acting touring Britain and the United States filling theatres and attracting huge crowds. The scale of her fame is difficult to imagine even in our own age of mass media and celebrity.

She bred racehorses in America and Britain which connected her with high society on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 1918 Lillie Langtry retired from the stage and built a villa at Monte Carlo where she lived until her death in 1929. In America she had been known as the Jersey Lily and in accordance with her wishes her body was returned to the island of her birth and she was buried at St Saviour’s. As you can see her grave is marked by a carved marble bust portrait by J Galle.

Rupert Toovey at Lillie Langtry’s grave in St Saviour’s, Jersey

As an antiquarian it delights me that objects give us a window onto the past and it seems fitting that this small brooch is returning to Jersey too where it will be on display at the Jersey Museum in St Helier with a number of items left to it by Lillie Langtry herself.

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.

Pop Art Records a Changing Britain

Pop artist Peter Blake and exhibition curators Claudia Milburn and Louis Weller with his iconic ‘The Beatles 1962’and ‘Girls with their Hero’ © Christopher Ison / Pallant House Gallery

Pallant House Gallery’s major spring exhibition ‘POP! Art in a Changing Britain’ celebrates the diversity of art created in the two decades after the Second World War.

This visually arresting exhibition has been put together by the Gallery’s new Senior Curator Claudia Milburn, and Curator Louise Weller.

Claudia Milburn explains “The key themes which emerged in Pop Art included American consumerism, popular culture, advertising, sex, glamour, celebrity, technology, science fiction and politics.” These themes are vividly explored through the works in the show. Many of them were generously gifted through the Art Fund by the architect Professor Sir Colin St John Wilson and his wife and fellow architect M.J. Long to Pallant House in 2006.

Wilson participated in the London Independent Group meetings in the 1950s where a generation of Post-War artists and architects came together. His very personal collection reflects his relationships with these artists. The members’ disparate approaches were united by a shared vision of a new era. Claudia says “Pop came about as a resistance movement, youthful in energy and spirit, breaking through in response to a time when traditional values were being challenged as never before. It was an attempt to redefine the boundaries between popular culture and fine art merging high and low culture.”

After post-war rationing and austerity these dramatic images signalled a new youth culture and unparalleled access to an explosion of images, film and popular music.

The artist Richard Hamilton would remark ‘…somehow it didn’t seem necessary to hold on to that older tradition of direct contact with the world.’

Peter Blake’s work offered a dialogue between new and traditional forms of popular culture. In his painting ‘The Beatles 1962’ (c.1963-68) he reflects on the nature of celebrity. This theme is repeated in the earlier ‘Girls with their Hero’ (c.1959-62) where the Elvis phenomenon is expressed through the imagery of mass-produced pictures in newspapers, photographs and posters.

Richard Hamilton, Swingeing London ’67, 1968, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Wilson Gift through The Art Fund, 2006) © The Estate of the Artist. All rights reserved, DACS 2018

One of my favourite images in the show is Richard Hamilton’s ‘Swingeing London 67’ (c.1968). Louise Weller describes how it actually relates to an incident in Chichester rather than London. The piece was based on a press photograph which ‘shows Mick Jagger and gallery owner Robert Fraser handcuffed together, seen through the window of a police van as they arrive at the court in Chichester to be charged for unlawful possession of drugs.’ Hamilton’s depiction brings into focus the tension between the liberalism of the sixties and societal restraints on personal choice. The image also provides a commentary on our relationship with the motor vehicle whilst the framing gives it a cinematic quality.

These works provide as relevant a commentary on our society today as they did when they were produced some fifty years ago and it is this spring’s must see show in Sussex. ‘POP! Art in a Changing Britain’ runs at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, until 7th May 2018 for more information go to www.pallant.org.uk.

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.

20th Anniversary of the GRRC

Gareth Graham in the 1925 Bentley Speed Model overtaking the 1936 BMW 328 of Albert Otten at Woodcote

The 76th Goodwood Road Racing Club (GRRC) 2018 Member’s Meeting coincided with a blast of icy weather which brought snow and drama to the weekend as the club’s 20th anniversary was celebrated.

My Dad, Alan Toovey, and I arrived at the Goodwood motor racing circuit to be greeted by the spectacle of racing cars at full speed as the snow fell heavily.

Rupert and Alan Toovey in the Daffodil Tent at the 76th Goodwood Member’s Meeting

The cold weather was in sharp contrast to the warm welcome of the Goodwood team and the enthusiasm of the members. The GRRC marks its 20th anniversary this year. This was the first time the club had welcomed members of the recently formed GRRC Fellowship to this annual spring motor racing event. Their number added to the atmosphere and sense of occasion.

As the racing cars from various eras came past at great speed Dad remarked how Goodwood had a reputation as a particularly quick circuit back in the 1950s and ’60s. Recalling the motor racing of his youth he was pleased to see that the cars had lost none of their pace with the passage of years.

The pre-1936 European sports cars came round Woodcote with surprising alacrity and the sound was wonderful. A cheer went up from the crowd as Gareth Graham in the number 7, 1925 Bentley Speed Model powered past the later 1936 BMW 328 in the approach to the Chicane.

Martin Halusa’s Bugatti Type 35c in the paddock pits

In the paddocks this member only event allowed enthusiasts, drivers and car owners to mingle amongst the automobiles sharing what the Duke of Richmond describes as ‘a common passion’. A steward’s whistle alerted us to Martin Halusa’s approaching Bugatti Type 35c. It was a rare treat to be alongside such iconic motor cars.

As the wind got up Dad and I headed to the Daffodil marquee which, as the name suggests, was filled with Daffodils and hay-bale seats. As the band played we sat discussing the racing with friends and members. The excellent Goodwood Ale and fish and chips revived us.

We set out for home as preparations for the evening’s fireworks were underway. The smell of Castrol and the noise of these remarkable cars replayed in our imaginations as our conversation turned in excited anticipation to the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed in July and Goodwood Revival in September.

The GRRC spring Members’ Meeting is a celebration of motor racing which is exclusively for GRRC and GRRC Fellowship members held here in the heart of Sussex. To find out more about the benefits of membership, how to join, and this year’s Festival of Speed and Goodwood Revival go to www.goodwood.com/sports/motorsport.

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.