The International Appeal of Chinese Blue and White Porcelain

A £30,000 Chinese Kangxi period blue and white porcelain brush pot (bitong), finely painted with a continuous scene of poets and attendants indulging in scholarly pursuits
A £30,000 Chinese Kangxi period blue and white porcelain brush pot (bitong), finely painted with a continuous scene of poets and attendants indulging in scholarly pursuits

A remarkable selection of Chinese blue and white porcelain dating from the late 16th to the early 18th century has just been sold at auction by Toovey’s in their December specialist Asian Art sale. This important collection was bought in the 1960s and 1970s in London. Its sale attracted international attention.

A Chinese blue and white Kraak porcelain dish, late Ming dynasty, from the Wanli period
A Chinese blue and white Kraak porcelain dish, late Ming dynasty, from the Wanli period

Chinese blue and white has from the 16th century appealed to an international market. The decorative designs of late 16th century blue and white porcelain had been characterized by panels filled with flowers, precious objects and Buddhistic emblems in often repeated patterns, contained within compartmentalized borders. These motifs can be seen on the Wanli period Kraak porcelain dish seen here.

The Manchu threat meant that money was diverted to the Ming army which, together with the luxury and corruption of the Court of Wanli, deprived the kilns at Jingdezhen of imperial patronage. This had a liberating effect on the Jingdezhen potters and by the time of the death of the Ming Emperor, Wanli (1572-1620) a noticeable shift in the design and decoration of Chinese porcelain had occurred. This new and exceptional work would span the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties and is therefore termed the ‘Transitional period’. The Transitional style was more painterly than anything that had gone before. It is filled with movement; the figures appear natural and at ease. Perhaps it was influenced by the tastes of the Dutch merchants for whom much of this blue and white porcelain was produced.

A £37,000 rare Chinese Transitional period, mid-17th Century, blue and white porcelain brush pot (bitong), decorated with horses and three female acrobat riders
A £37,000 rare Chinese Transitional period, mid-17th Century, blue and white porcelain brush pot (bitong), decorated with horses and three female acrobat riders

The decoration of Transitional period porcelain typically employs naturalistic themes depicting, beasts, flowers and most especially figure subjects. Figure subjects on Transitional wares are often united by a narrative following the traditions of Chinese opera which incorporated music, song, dance and acrobatics as well as literary art forms. The finely painted ‘bitong’ or brush pot illustrated dates from the mid-17th century. It is a fine example of Transitional period porcelain, decorated with a continuous scene depicting horses and three female acrobat riders galloping through a woodland landscape with trees, rocks and mist. This rare object, measuring 22cm in height, realised £37,000 in Toovey’s December specialist Asian Art auction.

The Transitional aesthetic would continue into the first twenty years of the reign of the Qing Emperor, Kangxi (1662-1722). Kangxi was the fourth and arguably the most famous Emperor of the Qing Dynasty. His reign was marked by long-term stability and a period of relative prosperity.

The Kangxi period is renowned in the history of blue and white porcelain. In 1683 the Imperial Court appointed a director of the factory in Jingdezhen. The restoration of court patronage raised standards even further.

The exceptional quality of the painting and clear cobalt blue distinguishes Kangxi blue and white porcelain and is apparent in the decoration of the brush pot seen here. Our eyes are met by a continuous scene reminiscent of the Transitional with poets and attendants indulging in scholarly pursuits. Some sit at a table playing Weiqi whilst a lute is played. Two figures and an attendant look on as a scholar writes. It fetched £30,000 at Toovey’s reflecting the international appeal and technical brilliance of Kangxi blue and white porcelain, which many ceramic historians believe has never been surpassed.

If you would like more information or advice on your Chinese porcelain and works of art email auctions@tooveys.com or telephone Toovey’s specialist, Tom Rowsell, on 01903 891955.

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.

Thomas and Friends at Toovey’s

Lot 93 original Timothy Marwood illustration

Thomas the Tank Engine and friends Percy, Harold and Annie are just a few of the friendly and nostalgic faces on offer in our December auctions. Add into the mix Noddy, Big Ears, Popeye, Winnie the Pooh and the Bunnykins rabbits and you have quite an eclectic children’s tea party! As a book specialist I see numerous collections of children’s literature, often collected on the merits of their illustrators alone. However, there are numerous avenues available at auction to explore and delight in children’s illustration beyond the medium of printed literature.

Lot 94 original Timothy Marwood illustration

Timothy Marwood, Barbara Vernon Bailey and Robert Tyndall are three quite different artists who open doors into alternative fields of collecting through their engagement with childhood imagination.

Timothy Marwood was an illustrator for the Thomas and Friends magazines from 1987-2007, published by Marvel Comics until issue #305 in 1999. Although not classically considered a Marvel comic, the legacy of Thomas and Friends was interestingly hinted at with a Thomas the Tank Engine cameo in the 2015 Marvel film Ant Man. The director Peyton Reed, when interviewed about the inclusion of the cartoon train, emphasised Thomas’ status as a locomotive icon, ‘you could do any kind of toy train, but the personality of that thing and the eyes moving back and forth give it a whole vibe and took it to another level.’ There were also strict stipulations put in place to ensure ‘nobody could be tied to the tracks and run over by Thomas. Thomas couldn’t be doing anything that could be perceived by children as evil Thomas’, highlighting the importance of his childlike innocence to the Thomas brand. Marwood’s pen and ink illustrations included in Toovey’s December auction of Fine Art encapsulate the heroism and kindness represented by Thomas and Friends without the need of accompanying text [lots 93-96]. Any child’s bedroom would be improved with an original Marwood drawing of a rescue from Harold the Helicopter. Timothy Marwood also illustrated issues of Rosie & Jim, Thunderbirds and Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven and The Famous Five.

Lot 99 original Robert Tyndall illustration

If you marvel over Blyton’s literary creations, why not take an imaginary trip to Toytown with an original Robert Tyndall watercolour of Noddy and his buddy Big Ears (Lot 99) Tyndall lived in Hove and, like Marwood, was trained at the prestigious Harrow School of Art before illustrating Roberta Leigh’s The Adventures of Twizzle and the Larry the Lamb series. It was only after the death of Harmsen Van Der Beek, Noddy’s original illustrator, that Tyndall got his chance in 1953 to draw this charming Blyton character. For Noddy’s 60th birthday in 2009, Tyndall collaborated with Blyton’s granddaughter Sophie Smallwood to produce the first Noddy book since 1963, ‘Noddy and the Farmyard Muddle’.

Lot 97 original Barbara Vernon Bailey illustration

If a jolly jape to Toyland isn’t for you, perhaps the fluffy delights of Bunnykins are more up your street? Unlike Thomas and Noddy, the creation of Bunnykins stemmed from the imagination of one woman, Barbara Vernon Bailey. Some may find these rabbits whimsical; others might find merit in their depictions of nostalgic close-knit family life. What can be certain, however, is their great wit and character. Most familiar with ceramics will recognise the popular Royal Doulton Bunnykins figures [lot 1512], but more unusual are Vernon Bailey’s original watercolours, of which there are a choice of two available in our Fine Art December auction. Just try resisting the charms of leapfrogging rabbits (Lot 97) and an animal delivery service where a sparrow distributes the post to a rabbit in his top-floor treehouse apartment (Lot 98). What could be more magical than the thought of Sister Barbara, a nun-artist from Haywards Heath, drawing and painting by candlelight rabbits cooking, dancing and kissing under the mistletoe? It was these sentimental touches that make her illustrations so appealing and reproducible to the present day, not only for figures in three dimensions, but also for narrative decoration on children’s tableware.

If you enjoy indulging in a touch of nostalgia, you can also let your imagination run wild exploring over two hundred lots of collectors’ toys, dolls and games in our forthcoming December sale. While beautiful printed copies of childhood classics can be purchased in our specialist antiquarian book sales, it is worth considering the other objects of art and material culture they inspire to enrich any home or collection.

The Life and Collection of an Eclectic Bookworm

The Michael Gilkes Collection of Travel and Exploration Books
The Michael Gilkes Collection of Travel and Exploration Books

Toovey’s are pleased to be offering the Travel and Exploration Book Collection of Michael Gilkes FRCS, FRCOphth., FRGS (1923-2014).  This wonderful set of books, including one of the best private collections of polar-related books in the UK, form part of a Gilkes family collective memory. Michael’s daughter, Hester Gilkes, recalls: ‘The imposing and mysterious spines, many with beautiful gold-embossed images on them, lined the bookshelves of Dad’s study – as intriguing and mysterious as the countries and exploits concealed within their pages. All the family recall the books. Our lives were almost dominated by them; tomes on almost every conceivable subject were available for consultation.’

Michael Transporting Foggy Dew
Michael Transporting the 'Foggy Dew', a yacht he built in his back garden

The books go back further than just him, of course. His grandfather, or one of them, was A.H. Gilkes, headmaster of Dulwich College. His library survived, in part, to be passed on to Michael – erudite books in mass-produced Victorian editions, the mark of a prolific reader. At some point the books had been stored on newly painted shelves, and some had spots of black paint adhering to the bottom edges. One of his children recalls reading The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, each page of the enormous work having to be carefully separated from the rest as it was turned. His mother, Denne Parker, an accomplished classical singer, had married Martin Gilkes, a poet and lecturer at Birmingham University, adding other elements to the family library. There are even books belonging to William Gilkes, who back in the early 19th century had married Mary Hemming of the Showers in Herefordshire. This Quaker ancestor had assembled a collection of those books ‘it was most needful for men to know’: Homer, Virgil and the Bible.

Michael at Shackletons Grave, South Georgia
Michael at Shackletons Grave, South Georgia

It really began, though, with books on the Antarctic, which Michael started to acquire prior to his posting as a newly qualified doctor to the whaling station on South Georgia in 1946, mainly based at Leith, but also at Grytviken. Upon qualification as a doctor, a gift from his great uncle, Michael Parker, an Oxford don and expert on the Roman army, permitted the acquisition of the three volumes of The South Polar Times. Over the next sixty-odd years, the collection expanded to reflect his growing range of subject-related interests, and now includes – in addition to the general Antarctic section – named Antarctic expeditions, whales and whaling, works on the great explorers Columbus, Cook, Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton, a fine section on cartography, islands and North and South America, including an extensive section on Patagonia.

During a long and rich life, this passion for adventure would see Michael crewing on an America’s Cup Race, living and working for a time researching glaucoma in both Jerusalem and the Gambia, building his own thirty-foot yacht in his back garden and sailing her around Britain and over to Europe, and traveling extensively, particularly in South America. On his retirement from his career as an ophthalmic surgeon, he made a number of voyages back to Antarctica – the region which fascinated and drew him the most.

Like Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child, the books in this catalogue reflect a ‘satiable curiosity’ for exploration, and an inspirational hunger for the new and undiscovered.

The Spirit of Adventure Discovered in a Sussex Library

Michael Gilkes at Maol Buidhe Islay
Michael Gilkes at Maol Buidhe Islay

An important single-owner library collection will be sold at auction by Toovey’s, at their Washington salerooms, on Monday 11th July 2016. This exceptional private collection reflects the diverse interests of the Sussex based adventurer and bibliophile, Michael Gilkes (1923-2014).

I am in the company of Toovey’s Book Specialist, Nicholas Toovey, and Book Cataloguer, Becky Johnson. Nicholas comments “It’s exciting to see a collection focused on the particular interests of a man whose passion for adventure, sailing and the Scottish Islands never left him.” Becky agrees and says “There is a real depth of understanding expressed in this library.”

The South Polar Times, estimate £5000-7000
The South Polar Times, estimate £5000-7000

In 1946 Michael Gilkes received a posting, as a newly qualified doctor, to the Salvesen whaling fleet based in Leith and Grytviken, South Georgia. In preparation he began to acquire books on Antarctica. A generous post qualification gift from his great-uncle enabled Michael to purchase ‘The South Polar Times’ and the collection was born. These wonderful volumes contain the signature of Edward Evans, who was offered the post of second-in-command on Robert Scott’s fateful expedition to the South Pole in 1910-1913 on the Terra Nova. Evans accompanied Scott to within 150 miles of the Pole but was sent back suffering from scurvy, indirectly saving his life. Scott and his remaining fellow explorers would perish on the return from the Pole.

This remarkable collection is alive with historical connections like this.

An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1912, signed by Roald Amundsen, estimate £700-1000
An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1912, signed by Roald Amundsen, estimate £700-1000

Amongst the books is ‘The South Pole, an Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the ‘Fram’, 1910-1912’ which is signed by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. It describes his success in the race against Scott to be the first to reach the South Pole.

The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition 1914-1917, estimate £500-800
South, The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition 1914-1917, estimate £500-800

The third figure in this heroic age of Antarctic exploration was Sir Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton led three expeditions to Antarctica. His last adventure is captured in ‘South, Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition 1914-1917’ which is accompanied by letters from the radio broadcaster and polar explorer, Duncan Carse. Disaster struck when Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, was trapped and crushed in the ice pack. The crew were forced to camp on the sea ice until it broke up. Once it melted, Shackleton led an extraordinary voyage in Endurance’s life boats. They covered more than 720 nautical miles across treacherous seas to reach South Georgia.

Dr Michael Gilkes shared these explorers’ adventurous spirit and thirst for knowledge, discovery and understanding.

Adventurer, bibliophile and sailing enthusiast, Michael Gilkes
Adventurer, bibliophile and sailing enthusiast, Michael Gilkes

Over more than 60 years, the collection expanded to reflect his growing range of subject-related interests, which included – in addition to the general Antarctic section – named Antarctic expeditions, whales and whaling, works on the great explorers: Columbus, Cook, Scott, Amundsen, and Shackleton, a fine section on cartography, islands, and North and South America, including an extensive section on Patagonia. Sailing and Scotland are also represented.

During a long and rich life, Michael’s passion for adventure saw him crew on an America’s Cup Race. He lived and worked in both Jerusalem and the Gambia whilst researching Glaucoma. He built his own 30 foot yacht in his back garden and sailed her around Britain and to Europe. He travelled extensively, particularly in South America. Once Dr Gilkes had retired from his career as an ophthalmic surgeon he made a number of voyages back to Antarctica – the region which most continued to fascinate and draw him.

Nicholas Toovey concludes “The breadth of the library displays a lively mind and a man who combined a curiosity about the world with a desire to constantly add to his knowledge and understanding.”

The Michael Gilkes Collection will be auctioned on Monday 11th July at 1.30pm. For more information on this remarkable single owner library collection contact Toovey’s book specialist, Nicholas Toovey on 01903 891955, or visit www.tooveys.com.

Geoffrey Godden’s Reference Collection to go under the gavel

An example of Geoffrey Godden's reference collection

Lots 1401 to 1421 in our June auction of British and Continental Ceramics and Glass were consigned by the celebrated Sussex ceramics historian, the late Geoffrey Godden (1929-2016). Geoffrey was a keen supporter of Toovey’s and a friend to many of us here over the years.

For more than fifty years he made an outstanding contribution to our understanding of the specialist field of British pottery and porcelain. Among his many publications is the Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks, which was first published in 1964 and remains in print today.

Geoffrey Godden remained inquisitive to the end of his days. When I interviewed him for an article in January this year, I asked him what advice he would offer to ceramic collectors and historians. He replied with his usual enthusiasm: “You have to handle and view pieces closely – possession is almost vital to understanding.”

The opportunity to handle and own pieces from Geoffrey Godden’s reference collection comes at Toovey’s specialist auction of British and European Ceramics at 1.00 pm on Thursday 16th June 2016. For more information and to preview these lots, go to www.tooveys.com or telephone 01903 891955.