The Revival of a Golden Age, Edwardian Jewellery

Pink Beryl Brooch sold at Toovey's
An Edwardian diamond and pink beryl pendant brooch, circa 1900

At the beginning of the 20th century, England had never been more prosperous. The English purchased more jewellery in the early years of this new century than in any other period in history.

The popularity of Art Nouveau and Revivalist jewellery continued in the spirit of the 1890s as people looked back to late 19th century tastes. The influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement was again felt as a demand for handcrafted jewels grew among this affluent society.

At its best, Edwardian jewellery interprets earlier styles with a lightness and delicacy of ornament and manufacture. The fashionable Edwardian lady wore her diamonds, pearls and precious gems with restraint, avoiding the Victorian tendency for ostentation. Restraint and exuberance marked out tastes in the light-hearted first decade of the century. Stones of intense, yet soft colours were favoured. Take, for example, the exquisite Edwardian jewel illustrated. This diamond and pink beryl pendant brooch, circa 1900, beautifully illustrates the appeal of an Edwardian Revivalist jewel. It measures 2cm x 1.7cm, this smaller size reflecting changes in women’s fashion. At the centre is the large pink beryl, claw-set in a surround of sixteen pinched collet-set, old-cut diamonds. The term ‘beryl’ covers a range of mineral-based stones, including emerald and aquamarine. The cut and setting of the diamonds also add to the air of restraint and softness of the piece. The pendant was owned by a continental lady, who had lived through the tumult of 20th century European history and had made her home in the heart of Sussex. At a recent specialist jewellery sale, its understated quality attracted the attention of contemporary connoisseurs of jewellery and it realised £15,500.

An Art Nouveau silver and enamelled bracelet by Charles Horner, Chester 1909

Less expensive examples from this period can still be found, like the Arts and Crafts-style bracelet in silver with blue/green enamelled rectangular and Celtic pierced-scroll panel links, also shown here. It was made in 1909 by Charles Horner, who manufactured this type of work in his Halifax factory in relatively large quantities, in response to fashion and demand. A bracelet like this would realise around £700 at auction today.

A gold, plique-à-jour enamel and rose diamond-set pendant in an Art Nouveau design

The gold, plique-à-jour enamel and rose diamond-set pendant illustrated is a delightful example of Art Nouveau design. It is decorated with the portrait of a maiden between two rose diamond-set flowerhead motifs above a cultured pearl drop. Plique-à-jour is a technique where enamel is applied to cells without backing; it gives the impression of miniature stained glass windows. The Art Nouveau seeks not to slavishly depict nature but rather to capture something of its essence. This appeal helped the pendant to realise £680 in spite of faults to the enamel.

All these pieces reflect the joy and light-heartedness of a new century, a punctuation mark in the procession of history before the tragedy of war and revolution broke upon Europe. The first decade of this new century was filled with expectation. The outbreak of the Great War in 1914 brought this extraordinary and particular period of patronage and manufacture to an abrupt close. Jewels were locked in security vaults or sold for survival.

Today this jewellery attracts attention and competition from across Britain and from around the world including the USA and, increasingly, China. Its quality of design, material and manufacture places it out of time and its continued appeal, it would seem, is as assured at the beginning of this new century as it was in the last.

Toovey’s specialist jewellery auctions can be viewed here.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 1st May 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Inhabiting Medieval Art, St Botolph’s, Hardham

The medieval frescoes at St Botolph’s, Hardham
The medieval frescoes at St Botolph’s, Hardham

I have been thinking about St George, the patron saint of England, whose life is celebrated this week, and I was reminded of the frescoes at St Botolph’s, Hardham. These beautiful wall paintings include a series of panels devoted to St George. The simple church with its exterior lime washed walls lies just to the south of Pulborough. It is one of my favourite places to stop and pray when I am working.

The first time you encounter the medieval frescoes of one the five Lewes Group of Churches, you cannot fail to be moved by the clarity and beauty of these late 11th/early 12th century wall paintings. The frescoes at St John the Baptist, Clayton, St Botolph’s, Hardham, and Coombes at Lancing are still visible and alive in their predominantly russet hews. They were first termed the Lewes Group in the early 20th century, reflecting a consensus of academic opinion that these pictures reflected a school of monastic artists from the powerful Cluniac Priory of St Pancras at Lewes.

The style of these wall paintings is influenced by both the Byzantine and the Romanesque. The Byzantine Empire developed out of the Roman and they never forgot their classical heritage in respect of art and architecture. There was, however, a conscious movement towards the more abstract and less representational with elongated stylized figures. It was as though the artists were seeking to allow us to see beyond our immediate perception – to glimpse the glory of God and inspire us to devotion.

Frescoes are wall paintings painted directly on to the plaster while it is still wet. The artist has to work quickly and as the plaster dries the pigments and image are fixed. This technique was used throughout the Renaissance in Italy and elsewhere.

While the work at Hardham is less refined than the painting at Clayton, it is equally engaging, embodying the clarity and directness which defines the Lewes painters. Some of the figures at St Botolph’s reflect the Romanesque figures of the French Tradition. Take, for example, the famous depiction of Adam and Eve with their elongated bodies and small heads. It is these characteristics which set them apart from earlier paintings. But at Hardham there is play and movement in the drapery of the clothes, which, to my eye, highlights the characteristics and influence of the earlier Anglo Saxons in the painter’s hand.

This was certainly the considered view expressed by patron and art critic Clive Bell when he wrote about the medieval church frescoes at Clayton and Hardham for the Miller’s Press, Lewes, in 1947. Clive Bell’s opinions on art were influential. He championed Picasso and was married to the artist Vanessa Bell of Bloomsbury and Charleston House fame. Using the methods of contemporary art criticism, he disputed whether all the Lewes Group paintings were united in their stylistic qualities and influences. He did not, however, question the artists’ association with the Cluniac Priory at Lewes.

Rupert Toovey at Hardham
The Revd. Rupert Toovey viewing the fresco panels at Hardham

When you arrive at St Botolph’s, sit and rest a while. Open your heart to a millennium of layered love, prayer and worship. Allow your eyes to adjust. Take time to stop and stare and, as you do, you become aware of the extraordinary frescoes painted in those russet hews so typical of the Lewis group of Churches to which Hardham belongs.

Since the Renaissance we have become used to viewing art in frames. While the work may invite us in, we nevertheless remain the viewer. The painted medieval church is different; here we inhabit the piece of art, joined with the narratives displayed all around us.

In viewing art, the qualities of the aesthetic and the religious are held in tension. Where there is a shared religious heritage, visual art can inspire a vital, living religious experience. They can, however, be viewed purely as a process of rational thinking, a form of teaching, at once experiential and contemplative. Above the chancel arch at Hardham, for example, Jesus is depicted as the sacrificial Lamb of God (the Agnus Dei). In the chancel, the painting of Adam and Eve seeks to allow us to comprehend our free will as creatures created in the image of the God, who knows us completely, delights in us and invites us to accept His love.

On the lower tier of the north wall, you will discover a series of depictions of St George. In the first section he is on horseback bearing a lance. It was originally thought that this depicted our 4th century patron saint slaying the dragon. Little is known of his life but it is thought that he was a Christian Roman soldier, who defended his fellow believers against persecution and was martyred for his actions. In the 1960s it was discovered that the dragon was in fact a slain figure with a kite-shaped shield. It is now thought that this scene relates to descriptions of the Battle of St Antioch in 1098. The battle was part of the First Crusade. Accounts of the battle describe how a later St George and two other saints, mounted on white horses and bearing white banners, came to the relief of the crusaders. Further scenes at Hardham show him being held captive, tortured and martyred on the wheel. It is remarkable to reflect that these pictures were painted shortly after the Battle of Antioch.

These stories reflect the courage and bravery offered by these soldier saints in defending the people they served. Their examples of selfless love and service to others is as resonant today as it was then as our armed forces seek to bring peace, to make lives better through their courage and sacrifice, wherever they serve around the world.

St Botolph’s, Hardham, is open daily with regular Sunday services.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 24th April 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Private Press Books and the Artisan Artist

‘The Romance of Sire Degrevant’, printed by William Morris
‘The Romance of Sire Degrevant’, printed by William Morris at the Kelmscott Press in 1896

In the 20th century many artists rediscovered their role as artisan artists and designers, as well as painters and sculptors of fine art. One of the ways that this was expressed was by making printed woodblock illustrations for fine books, printed by private presses.

The beginning of the British private press movement is commonly attributed to William Morris, who established the Kelmscott Press in 1890. William Morris led what was to become known as the Arts and Crafts movement. Its principles were inspired by the writings of John Ruskin, who mourned the effects of the industrial age on society and craftsmen. He advocated a return to an age of the ‘free’ craftsman. The movement stood for traditional craftsmanship and simple forms, often embellished with interpretations of romantic and medieval decoration, including Gothic.

The Kelmscott Press woodcut frontispiece illustrated was designed by the Pre-Raphaelite Sir Edward Burne-Jones, with whom William Morris worked in partnership on numerous designs, including churches. It depicts a scene from the book of ‘The Romance of Sire Degrevant’. The surround mirrors Morris’s own affection for the patterns of flower and leaf, which he too loved to design. The text is in Chaucer type, in red and black. Morris printed the book on 14th March 1896, a testament to his creative energy, even towards the end of his life. His principles, aesthetics, standards, qualities and techniques are strongly reflected in the Kelmscott Press project. He died on 3rd October 1896. The book was eventually issued by the Trustees, in an edition of 350 copies, in November 1897.

Other Victorian presses included the Eragny Press, run by the artist Lucien Pissarro and his wife, and C.R. Ashbee’s Essex House Press, which formed part of the activities of the famous Guild of Handicraft.

Perhaps the two most notable private presses in Sussex for the prospective collector to look out for are the Vine Press, Steyning, and the Ditchling Press, Ditchling. Both were operating in the early 20th century between the wars. Vine Press reflected the passions of its owner, the English poet and writer Victor Benjamin Neuberg. The Ditchling Press was part of the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic. At this time it represented an experiment of artists living and working together in community under the leadership of its founders: Eric Gill, Hilary Pepler and Desmond Chute.

Private press books published in the 20th century continued to be illustrated by leading British artists. Many of these are printed in limited editions, signed by both author and artist. The illustrations are often printed from the woodblock upon which the artist drew and carved the image. They are an accessible and relatively affordable way to collect their work.

Saint Hercules by Martin Armstrong, Nash illustrated
‘Saint Hercules and Other Stories’, illustrated by Paul Nash and printed by Oliver Simon at the Curwen Press in 1927

The Sussex collector may also be drawn to artists working in the county. Take for example Paul Nash, who, as readers of this column will know, worked in Sussex and whose work is currently being exhibited at Pallant House Gallery as part of the Clare Neilson Gift. This copy of ‘Saint Hercules and Other Stories’ is owned by a local private collector, who purchased it at a Toovey’s specialist book auction a few years ago for £400. The author, Martin Armstrong, based these stories on interpretations of tales including those from Palladius’s ‘Paradise of the Holy Fathers’ and Petronius’s ‘Satyricon’. His excellent narrative is complemented by five beautiful illustrations by Paul Nash. The book is numbered 26 of an edition of just 310. It was printed by Oliver Simon at the Curwen Press in 1927, on hand-made Zander’s paper. Private press books, like this one, connect us with these artisans – the artist, author and printer – in what was a very personal and direct creative process.

Advances in printing in the 19th century revolutionised the production of books. Today, technology is once again revolutionising how books are made available to us. Indeed, there is much debate about the survival of the printed book in the face of Kindles, iPads and tablet PCs. But it is worth remembering that the private presses came into being as part of a reaction against the industrialised age. This was expressed through William Morris’s Arts and Crafts movement. Perhaps this window into our past might provide a window into our future. Private press books remind us of the pleasure of engaging with the printed word; the smell, touch and sight of books speaks to our senses and delights us in a particular way. So perhaps the future is in beautifully produced books. Certainly the demand for antiquarian and collectors’ books at Toovey’s has remained strong – a growth market for sellers and buyers alike. Tales of the demise of the book, it would seem, have been over-exaggerated!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 17th April 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

‘Paul Nash – The Clare Neilson Gift’ at Pallant House

Clare Neilson, Photograph of Paul Nash, Pallant House Gallery, The Clare Neilson Gift through the Art Fund

An insightful show of work by the 20th century British artist Paul Nash opened at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester earlier this week, including wood engravings, etchings, photographs, collage and illustrated books.

The work provides a rare insight into the relationship between patron and artist, as shown by the photograph taken of Paul Nash by collector Clare Neilson. Their very particular friendship was first formed while Nash was living in and around Rye in the 1930s. It is fitting then that this collection should find its new permanent home in Sussex, thanks to the generosity of Clare Neilson’s godson Jeremy Greenwood and the Art Fund, the national fundraising charity for art.

Simon Martin, Head of Collections at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, is delighted by the gift of the Neilson Collection, which also includes correspondence. “It is a significant addition to Pallant House Gallery’s collection of Modern British Art,” he acknowledged, “and a fascinating and personal view into friendship and artistic patronage in the 1930s and ‘40s.”

Paul Nash is often thought of as an essentially English artist but between the wars he also sought to champion the hope embodied in continental modernism, defending Picasso and experimenting with abstraction before embracing Surrealism. He served as a soldier in the trenches of the Great War and subsequently worked as a war artist on the Western Front between 1917 and 1918 and again during the Second World War. This body of work provides a stark commentary on the reality of war.

He was drawn to objects sculpted by nature and had what some have described as an overriding habit of metaphor. Trees, for example, could take on the character of stones. This serves to highlight the poetic nature of his painting and how firmly rooted he was in the English tradition as well. Indeed, his earlier work is influenced by the 19th century English Romantic tradition of William Blake (who also lived in Sussex, at Felpham, between 1800 and 1803), Samuel Palmer and Dante Gabrielle Rossetti. With this in mind, you could forgive John Piper for including one of Nash’s paintings in his 1943 book ‘British Romantic Artists’. Nash was less than pleased, though. It was the word ‘romantic’ which bothered him and he referred, instead, to the ‘poetic’. Certainly, as an artist he returned again and again to the poetry of the English landscape. He sought to look beyond the immediate to what he referred to as the ‘genius loci’, the spirit of the place, to ‘a reality more real’.

Paul Nash, Still Life (No.2), circa 1927, wood engraving, Pallant House Gallery, The Clare Neilson Gift through the Art Fund, copyright TATE London 2013.

Paul Nash was noted for collecting all manner of objects, including seashells, pebbles, seedpods and bits of branches, all of which fuelled his imagination. In 1920, the Society of Wood Engravers was formed and Nash joined. His still life studies are not generally among his most highly regarded pictures. In this woodblock print from 1927, however, the relationship between the glimpsed landscape and still life reflects a paradoxical quality, which recurs in his work. Note also the uncompromising contrast of black and white, of which some, like Jacob Epstein, were critical. But this technique, combined with his unerring and poetic eye, seeds drama in our imaginations and allows us to glimpse something beyond our immediate perception of the world.

Paul Nash exhibited with Epstein at the important ‘Exhibition of the Work of English Post-Impressionists, Cubists and Others’, where his work was selected by Spencer Gore of the Camden Town Group. The exhibition was held at the Public Art Galleries in Brighton between 16th December 1913 and 14th January 1914. Nash also taught and championed two other artists noted in Sussex, Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden, at the Royal College of Art in London. I have long been of the opinion that Sussex stands out as an important centre for Modern British Artists working in the 20th century. Paul Nash’s original and influential work, his connection with Sussex and the insight the Clare Neilson Collection affords us, serve to reinforce my view.

We live out our lives relationally and our possessions can help us to articulate the narrative of our lives. Very often they reflect points of love and friendship in our journeys. In these ways they can help to ground us in this life, but it is important to remember that we are only the custodians. The Clare Neilson Collection and the generosity of its gift speak loudly of this and deserve to be celebrated.

‘Paul Nash – The Clare Neilson Gift Exhibition’ is on show from 9th April to 30th June 2013. For more information and opening times go to www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 10th April 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Perfect 21st Century Home Office

William & Mary bureau bookcase
William and Mary walnut bureau bookcase, circa 1690

The famous Georgian furniture designer Thomas Sheraton in his Cabinet Dictionary of 1803 states that, in England, the term bureau has “generally been applied to common desks with drawers under them, such as are made very frequently in country towns.”

There is such delight in a bureau. As you open it, the fall flap opens downwards to form a writing surface. It reveals pigeonholes, drawers, a cupboard and sometimes even secret compartments. The sloping sides gather you as you sit at it, whether reading, working or just taking time to imagine.

There is nothing common or everyday about this William and Mary bureau bookcase. Veneered in the finest walnut, it formed part of a wonderful collection of 17th and 18th century furniture, which I auctioned as The Bolney Lodge Collection some years ago. Its elegant, tall proportions reflect the architectural fashion for higher ceilings as the 18th century approached. It has inlaid herringbone banding and the carved hairy paw feet are a lovely detail. The fine interior you see illustrated is enclosed by two arched doors, inset with exterior plate glass panels above candle slides. Candlelight reflected in mirrors like these is amplified in the most extraordinary way. It would have allowed the owner to use their bureau in comfort, even as the dark evenings drew in. Such fine examples continue to attract a strong collector’s premium and this one would realise in excess of £25,000 at auction today.

A good vernacular example from the 18th century, though, will still bring its owner a great deal of pleasure and can be purchased much more reasonably. Indeed, my own bureau is a typical example of this type. It lives in the corner of our spare room, a virtual study for our virtual age. It was made in England around 1770, during the reign of George III. As the world’s first industrial revolution gained its head of steam, a skilled country cabinetmaker set about making it. The drawer interiors are of cedar, the dovetails cut by hand. His eye was good and the proportions are just right. It is layered with prompts to fond memories; a family photograph, a drawer full of pebbles from a favourite beach, a little cupboard for my communion set, books and the odd sermon all vie for space with my tablet computer. Best of all, I can shut the flap on it all when I’ve done enough, or if Aunt Enid comes to stay!

Rupert Toovey's Home Office
Rupert Toovey's Home Office

The personal computer with its bulky boxes, screens, cables and keyboard could not be accommodated by the gracious bureau and values were undermined. After all, furniture is unusual among collectors’ fields in that it must not only be beautiful but also practical. Furniture must earn its space, especially in the modern home. The pleasures of a bureau, however, are finding renewed favour in our new wireless age of clouds, laptops and tablet PCs. They are once again proving to be the perfect home office and prices are set to rise. A good George III bureau in mahogany, like mine, can still be bought for about £300 at auction today. This bureau is almost two hundred and fifty years old, would grace any sitting room and is practical. It makes no demands on our world’s finite resources and will continue to be a pleasure to generations to come. Perhaps, in the end, antique furniture is green, not brown!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 4th April 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.