Eric Ravilious, Sussex Artist and Designer

Eric Ravilious Wedgwood Mugs
A collection of Wedgwood mugs, designed by Eric Ravilious. From left to right: a George VI coronation cup, circa 1937, an alphabet mug, circa 1937, and an Elizabeth II coronation cup, circa 1953

The artist Eric Ravilious lived and worked in Sussex. Known primarily for his watercolour landscapes and wartime studies, Ravilious was also a talented illustrator and designer. His paintings now regularly realise tens of thousands of pounds but examples of his ceramics designs for Wedgwood remain relatively accessible to collectors.

Eric Ravilious was born in 1903. As a very young boy he moved with his parents from Acton to Eastbourne in Sussex. There his father ran an antique shop. Ravilious was educated at Eastbourne Grammar School. In 1919 he won a scholarship to Eastbourne School of Art and in 1922 to the Royal College of Art in London, where he met his lifelong friend and fellow artist Edward Bawden. Both men studied under the artist Paul Nash, who was generous in encouraging and promoting their work. Ravilious subsequently taught part-time at both art schools.

In the early part of the 20th century there were attempts to address the separation between craftsmen and artists. Among the leading voices in this movement were William Rothenstein, principal of The Royal College of Art, artists like Paul Nash, Eric Gill, John Piper and Graham Sutherland, and Roland Penrose’s Omega Workshop, which involved the Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. All these artists engaged with ceramics. In 1935 Eric Ravilious was invited by the Wedgwood factory to design a commemorative mug for the coronation of Edward VIII. After the King’s abdication in 1936, the design was reworked for the coronation of his brother, George VI, and subsequently for that of our own Queen Elizabeth II – both mugs are illustrated here. The designs give a reserved English voice to the joy and excitement that these coronations brought to our nation in the most wonderful way. Each monarch’s royal cipher and coronation date are set in bands of blue and pink, beneath cascading fireworks against a clouded night sky. The designs are modern and yet they capture the ancient in the subject, something that is often reflected in Ravilious’ work. There is a sense of continuity; this modern artist’s work sits comfortably in the evolving procession of English romantic painters from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, artists like John Sell Cotman and Samuel Palmer. These influences and qualities gift Ravilious’ work with a very English corrective to modernism’s extremes, expressed in his emotionally cool, structural paintings and designs. Today, George VI and Queen Elizabeth II coronation mugs like these could be bought at auction for around £600 and £120 respectively.

The delightful alphabet mug illustrated was commissioned by Wedgwood in 1937. Banded in apple green, each letter of the alphabet is accompanied by a printed vignette; ‘A’ is for aeroplane, ‘E’ is for eggs, ‘O’ is for Octopus and so on. This mug would sell for about £350 at auction today.

Ravilious Travel Pattern
A Wedgwood 'Travel' pattern part dinner, tea and coffee set, designed by Eric Ravilious, circa 1953

In 1938 Wedgwood commissioned Ravilious to design the ‘Travel’ pattern dinner service. It captures modes of transport in an enchanting way. The trains on the meat platter and plates leave a trail of smoke as they hurry towards us, contrasting the sailing boats, which seem almost becalmed in the gentle breeze. This small selection of Travel pattern dinnerware would sell in one of our specialist auctions for around £800.

Eric Ravilious’ work continues to be reassessed and celebrated by art historians. Tragically in 1942, while he was working as a war artist, the rescue plane in which Ravilious was travelling off the coast of Iceland was lost. He died with the airmen for whom he had such respect. The body of work that he produced during his short lifetime is made exceptional by both its quality and Ravilious’ own very particular voice, expressed in paint, design and print. For the moment, the pieces he designed for Wedgwood represent an affordable way to collect examples of his work, but prices are set to rise.

It seems to me that our current, somewhat fragmented, postmodern age is suffering from a cult of celebrity. Artists have not been immune from this and many have once again lost their connection with craft and design. Eric Ravilious and his fellow modern British artists enriched our lives in the interwar years of the 20th century, as they allowed their artistic voices to inform the manufacture and design of ceramics. Perhaps it is once again time to give voice to the artist as craftsman.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 19th June 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Postcards: A Glimpse of the Past

 ‘Soldiers leaving Horsham during the European War September 10th 1914, No.1’
‘Soldiers leaving Horsham during the European War September 10th 1914, No.1’, a photographic postcard published by Bon Marche of Horsham, circa 1918

The belle époque of postcard sending was between 1899 and 1914. At the height of this craze, a reported average of more than 723,000 postcards were sent every day. Each card was delivered the following day and all for a halfpenny a time. As people posted cards they also started to collect them. With an estimated 264 million postcards delivered in a year, it is no surprise that photographers and publishers popped up in towns and villages across the British Isles to cash in on this boom.

Postcards were printed lithographically, photographically and in letterpress, some were even hand-coloured or tinted. With such a rich diversity of photographers and printers, there is a rich variety of postcards to delight the collector. If your passion is social history, saucy seaside humour, vintage cars, topography, railways, churches or almost any other subject you can think of, there will be postcards for you.

Due to Post Office regulations, postcards started out smaller than the familiar size most of us would recognise today. These ‘court-size’ postcards were only allowed to have the address on one side, so any message would have to be shared with the publisher’s image. In 1902 the Post Office changed their rules, allowing for the more traditional postcard size. At the same time a dividing line was introduced on the reverse, allowing space for the address and, for the first time, a message too, freeing up the entire front for a pictorial design. Postcard collecting was the hobby of many Edwardian ladies in particular but it waned with the outbreak and experience of the 1914-18 Great War. The light-hearted days, of which postcards had been an expression, were passing.

Toovey’s postcards, books and paper collectables specialist is my brother, Nicholas. Thanks to Nick’s personal interest in postcards, his specialist expertise and continuing promotion of sales of paper collectables and postcards, Toovey’s are one of only a very few auctioneers to have been accepted for membership of the Postcard Traders Association (PTA) in the country. So it is to Nick that I turn to find out what makes a postcard valuable. “Condition is very important,” says Nick. “Prices are considerably higher for mint examples than for worn cards. Be careful though, – a very rare card can still be valuable even if not perfect. Most cards will have the odd bump after almost 100 years, which is often acceptable to collectors who tend to favour these older cards. Perhaps more important is the subject and rarity of the image.”

Photographic postcards are the ones which most delight Nick. “They provide an accurate and unedited view of our country’s past – familiar scenes, now changed, and social history a century ago.”

‘The Mystery Towers’
‘The Mystery Towers’ at Southwick, a photographic postcard by Joseph Gurney Ripley, circa 1918

There are plenty of interesting postcards relating to Sussex. Take, for example, the two postcards illustrated; both date from the time of the Great War. The first was part of a collection of postcards relating to Southwick in Sussex. The image was taken by the photographer Joseph Gurney Ripley. It depicts two huge structures, which were constructed at Shoreham and Southwick in Sussex. These forts were built as part of a proposed chain of twelve, which would have been sunk between Dungeness and Cap Gris Nez, to deter U-boat attacks along our shores. Building began in June 1918 under a cloud of secrecy and Sussex locals nicknamed them ‘The Mystery Towers’. The Armistice came in November 1918 and they were never deployed for their original intention, although they were still being constructed as late as 1920. One of the towers did become the Nab Tower off the Isle of Wight. The collection of 267 postcards sold at Toovey’s for £2,900.

The second is titled ‘Soldiers leaving Horsham during the European War September 10th 1914, No.1’ and was published by Bon Marche, a company established by Frank C. Lewis, who in the years preceding the First World War became Horsham’s leading postcard maker. Many of these postcards are notable because of the quality of the photographs. Their images included towns and villages across the west of Sussex. A copy of this card could be bought today for about £15 at a postcard fair.

Where should Sussex collectors begin if they would like to explore collecting postcards? “I’m always pleased to advise,” Nick explains. “The important thing is to see as many postcards as you can and compare one with another, so that you begin to be able to see differences in quality between images, publishers, subjects and condition and to see how these differences affect their value. When you are starting off, though, always ask advice. Those involved with postcards are usually delighted to share their experience.” Aside from Nicholas’s specialist auctions, the three main postcard fairs locally are held at Haywards Heath on the first Saturday of every month, Shoreham every other month and Horsham once a year. A valuable resource for postcards of Sussex interest is the website www.sussexpostcards.info.

Nick is presented with endless albums of postcards in his work; does he ever tire of them? “No,” he replies without hesitation. “I never know what I will find and it’s always exciting to discover images which I haven’t seen before. People bring in albums for sale in my specialist auctions all the time and they are often surprised and delighted by how much they are worth. It’s a pleasure to share one’s knowledge and passion for postcards with others.”

Whatever your interests, postcards provide an opportunity to acquire wonderful images and a glimpse back into the past.

Toovey’s next specialist auction of postcards and paper collectables is to be held on 6th August 2013 and Nicholas is accepting entries until 3rd July 2013.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 12th June 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Hans Feibusch ~ Church, Art & Patronage

‘Christ in Majesty’, 1954, St Mary’s, Goring-by-Sea
‘Christ in Majesty’, 1954, St Mary’s, Goring-by-Sea

Hans Feibusch represents a figurative tradition in 20th century art, which has sometimes been overlooked in favour of abstraction and other modern artistic expressions. He also has an important place in the history of a revival in church patronage of art in the Modern British Period.

Hans Feibusch arrived in England in 1933 from Nazi Germany to escape persecution as a Jew. He had become an established painter in Germany, being awarded the German Grand State Prize for Painters in 1930 by the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin. His talent was soon recognized in England and he exhibited regularly, often with the London Group, to which he was elected in 1934. The London Group included many of Britain’s leading artists.

His first public commission came in 1937 when Edward D. Mills invited Feibusch to paint a mural, ‘Christ washing the Disciples’ Feet before the Last Supper’, for the new Methodist Hall in Colliers Wood, London. The painting attracted a great deal of interest from the national press and brought the artist to the attention of Kenneth Clark, later Lord Clark. Clark was very influential and was director of the National Gallery in London during the war. His television series and book ‘Civilisation’ would subsequently capture the imagination of a generation.

Bishop George Bell of Chichester wrote to Kenneth Clark at the National Gallery in 1939 asking for suggestions as to artists who might be prepared to accept commissions. Clark introduced Feibusch to Bell and the two men met for lunch in Brighton on New Year’s Day 1940. It marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship, during which Bell would be Feibusch’s leading patron. Both men were unprepared to turn their backs on evil. Feibusch personified Bell’s deep and active concern for the plight of the Jews in Germany and its refugees.

In 1929 Bell became Bishop of Chichester, bringing with him the patterns of worship and the arts from Canterbury Cathedral, where he had been dean. He wished to see churches filled once more with colour and beauty. Eternal truths could be proclaimed anew in music, modern art and poetry. More people would be drawn into the Christian community by the revival of this old alliance and renewed vitality. Among visitors to the Bishop’s Palace in Chichester were Gustav Holst, Vaughan Williams, Henry Moore, Hans Feibusch, T.S. Eliot, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

Bell and Feibusch’s very particular friendship blessed Sussex with a number of murals by this artist, which can be seen at St Wilfred’s, Brighton, Chichester Cathedral, The Bishop’s Chapel, Chichester, and St Mary’s, Goring-by-Sea.

Sketch for ‘Christ in Glory’ at St Sidwell’s, Exeter, circa 1957
Pencil sketch for ‘Christ in Glory’ at St Sidwell’s, Exeter, circa 1957

Painting onto the walls of churches and cathedrals requires painstaking preparation and the pencil cartoon by Feibusch shown here gives us a valuable insight into his work. It is a sketch for the mural ‘Christ in Glory’, painted in 1957 at St Sidwell’s, Exeter. Most striking to me are the prompts from Feibusch’s earlier works in Sussex. ‘Christ in Majesty’, also shown, was painted in 1954 at St Mary’s, Goring-by-Sea. Like in the sketch for St Sidwell’s, it displays Feibusch’s knowledge of Renaissance artists, whose influence is displayed in this mural. The Mediterranean lilac-blue, ochre and terracotta hues serve to emphasize Christ’s own pose, his arms open in a gesture of welcome and embrace. The figures are convincing, almost sculptural, with a quality of mass and light. Feibusch’s painting gifts them with a grace and nobility through their poses, which to some can seem to deprive them of life and passion. At first glance there is little that is unexpected but, as we look more closely at the angels, we note that the expressions on some of their faces are less angelic and more mischievous, acknowledging his depth of insight into the human condition, which can reflect good and evil. In the St Sidwell’s sketch, men and women look up to Christ with gestures of praise and thanksgiving, reminiscent of the figures painted in the Ascension scene painted by Feibusch in the Bishop’s private chapel in Chichester.

While the attention of the art world moved on to focus on the abstraction of Ben Nicholson and the new depiction of naturalistic forms by artists like Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland, Hans Feibusch continued to paint and draw in his own particular figurative style, influenced by the Renaissance. His style of painting has been the subject of renewed interest in recent years, with retrospective exhibitions held at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, in 1995 and more recently at the Bishop Otter Gallery, University of Chichester, in 2012.

The murals deserve to be celebrated. They represent the work of a gifted artist whose life is inexorably bound up with the extraordinary history and events of his time. For me, though, it is Feibusch’s sketches and drawings that reveal his true talent.

Hans Feibusch’s work rarely comes to the market and so it is with some excitement that I am looking forward to Toovey’s specialist fine art sale on Wednesday 12th June, in which the St Sidwell’s ‘Christ in Glory’ sketch and a number of other studies and prints by the artist will be auctioned.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 5th June 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Chelsea Porcelain

Chelsea Red Anchor Period porcelain
A collection of Chelsea Red Anchor Period porcelain, circa 1755, sold at Toovey's

Chelsea is unique amongst English porcelain manufacturers of the 18th century in that its entire production was devoted to the luxury market and intended to delight the ‘Gentry’ and ‘Nobility’ of these Isles. Porcelain made at Chelsea, especially during the Red Anchor Period (1753-1757), is regarded by many as the finest porcelain made in England in the 18th century. Today Chelsea porcelain is still revered by connoisseurs, just as it was when it was first made.

18th century Continental porcelain manufacturers like Meissen and Sévres often benefited from the financial security afforded by royal and aristocratic patronage. In contrast the English factories were private enterprises predominately manufacturing soft-paste porcelains rather than the hard-paste porcelains from China and the Continent. The survival of these English factories was entirely dependent on their commercial success in what was a highly competitive market. Factories like Bow, Liverpool and Lowestoft produced wares whose decorative styles were influenced by earlier earthenware pieces. The confident, forthright quality of their output broadly reflected the tastes of a wide cross-section of English society. Porcelain from factories like Chelsea, Derby and Worcester were finely made, their tastes influenced by Meissen and Sévres.

Nicholas Sprimont was not only a proprietor of the factory but is generally accepted as being the guiding artistic force at Chelsea. He was born in Liege in 1716. I have always felt that the fashionable styles employed at Chelsea, its concentration on the luxury market, and the quality of modelling, all owe something to Sprimont’s background as a Huguenot silversmith.

By opening the porcelain works in Chelsea close to the fashionable Ranelagh pleasure gardens Sprimont made the company accessible to the ‘Nobility’ and ‘Gentry’ for whom his porcelain output was expressly created. Although Nicholas Sprimont did not benefit from a patron to subsidize his commercial activities he did have influential contacts and amongst these was Sir Everard Fawkener. Fawkener provided financial backing to the Chelsea porcelain factory and was secretary to George II’s second son, Prince William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765). The Duke was a celebrated figure in 18th century England for his victory at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 which crushed the Jacobite rebellion. There is a popular, but inconclusive, theory amongst art historians that it was actually the Duke who invested in Chelsea through his secretary Fawkener. Whether this is true or not society letters of the time confirm that Prince William expressed a great interest in the factory and Chelsea made a bust of him around 1746.

Porcelain made during the Red Anchor Period at Chelsea (1753-1757) is regarded by many as the finest porcelain made in England in the 18th century. The Red Anchor Period derives its name from the anchor mark which was painted on the base of objects in underglaze red during this period. During this period the glaze became more translucent, though prone to crazing, and a new formula for the porcelain body allowed for thinner potting making wares lighter in weight. A shift in the emphasis of design reflected the continuing influence of Meissen’s output. The celebrated fruit and vegetable forms of this period reflect a move towards the naturalistic.

Illustrated here are several Chelsea Red Anchor naturalistic tureens and a pair of plates which are increasingly rare and sort after in today’s market. These examples came from the estate of a collector who lived to the north of Chichester where I discovered them on a cold winter’s day late last year. They all date from the mid-1750s. Their marks were discretely placed on the bases which is typical of Chelsea at this date. The underglaze red mark has a rounded crown beneath which is the anchor’s shank and arms which terminate in sharp, barbed flukes. The cauliflower and pair of lettuce tureens are so beautifully modelled and enamelled that they seem almost edible; the curled lettuce leaf handles on the latter are a particularly charming detail. Despite damage and repairs these two lots, just 11cm and 13cm high, realised £2600 and £2700 respectively in a specialist auction.

The pair of Chelsea porcelain circular dishes with stalk handles followed the mid-18th century naturalistic taste; white glazed and relief moulded with scolopendrium leaves picked out in green and puce, they were in exceptional condition which was reflected in the £5300 paid for them.

My favourite piece from this collection was the asparagus tureen and cover naturalistically modelled as a bundle of tied asparagus spears. It reminded me of happy days in Jersey where my wife’s Grandpop had a large asparagus bed in his beautifully kept walled vegetable garden. His house and garden nestled in a former quarry and from the wooded bank you could see Gorey Castle and the ocean beyond. The tureen deservedly made £2700.

This fine, horticultural inspired, collection delighted connoisseurs of English porcelain and provided quite a crop of fine prices! But the true value of even the most exceptional objects is often that they provide prompts to fond memories in our busy lives.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 29th May 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Golden Age of Model Railways

Bassett-Lowke O gauge
A Bassett-Lowke O gauge electric 4-6-0 locomotive

This year marks the 21st anniversary of the Brighton Toy and Model Museum in Brighton. It was founded in 1991 by museum director Chris Littledale, whose passion for model railways is at the heart of this extraordinary, jewel-like museum. The museum’s centrepiece is a working, 1930s O-gauge railway layout.

From left to right, Alan and Rupert Toovey, directors of Toovey’s, and Chris Littledale, founder of Brighton Toy Museum

Chris Littledale describes his interest in trains as a lifelong passion, which he traces back to a live-steam model railway which he visited in Southsea with his uncle. “I still remember the smell, the steam and the noise,” Chris enthuses. “It seeded a lifelong passion for trains, which has never left me. When I was at boarding school, I found a second-hand O-gauge model railway for sale – it was beautiful!” Chris recalls that he so loved the set that he even tried to acquire a loan from the headmaster’s wife to purchase it, but was unsuccessful. All collectors have a list of the things which they have missed or failed to buy and it would seem that Chris is no exception. In his teens and early twenties, as his friends turned out their railways, he was on hand to buy their unwanted trains and accessories; they were wonderful things to his eyes. In those days just a pound or two would buy something lovely. By his twenties he was already restoring and repairing these childhood treasures. This collecting passion continued until one day there was model railway everywhere. “It was in cupboards, kitchen cabinets, even under the bed,” he acknowledges, “and I decided that I needed to share it all with others.” Collectors like Chris are often defined by this sense of custodianship, rather than ownership. Their delight in the acquisition of knowledge is frequently as strong as acquiring the object itself, and once we have acquired knowledge, we want to share it and our excitement with others.

Emma Toovey driving the Bassett-Lowke with Chris Littledale
Emma Toovey driving the Bassett-Lowke with Chris Littledale

Out of Chris Littledale’s generous desire to share his collection, the Brighton Toy and Model Museum was born. It fills a number of railway arches under the forecourt of Brighton railway station. The collection has many exhibits of national and international importance to the history of toys. On display are collections of Steiff and other soft toys, Meccano, Dinky, Tri-ang and Corgi vehicles and, of course, the trains. Today it draws people of similar passions from all over the world and is mostly run by volunteers.

A passion for trains is something which speaks into my own childhood. They say that the memories of those we love are as real to us as if they are our own. I grew up enthralled by Dad’s memories. My father, Alan Toovey, recounts, “I still remember vividly the noise and smell of the streamline L.M.S. Royal Scot express, liveried in blue and silver, coming at full tilt through Hatch End station, near Harrow, as I stood as a young boy on the footbridge, on my way to primary school.” This passion for trains has never left him. Enthusiasm for trains is something I have been rediscovering with my daughter, Emma, who you see here driving the rare Bassett-Lowke model of the Royal Scot with Chris Littledale.

A Hornby Trains No. 2 Special Pullman set
A Hornby Trains gauge O clockwork No. 2 Special Pullman set

This year celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of Frank Hornby. He invented Meccano in 1901 and went on to make model trains after the Great War. The appeal of Hornby trains remains undiminished almost a century later. Many model trains are still affordable. Emma’s and my Hornby OO-gauge railway layout, with landscape and even a beach, is on a much more modest scale than Chris’ magnificent set at the museum, but it still delights. If you want to share in a passion for trains with fellow enthusiasts or relive childhood memories, visit the Brighton Toy and Model Museum. This is a place filled with life. The trains are not just static exhibits but are often run.

The museum is open Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm and Saturdays 11am to 5pm. To find out more, go to www.brightontoymuseum.co.uk or telephone 01273 749494.

More information on Toovey’s Specialist Sales of Toys, Dolls and Games can be found by clicking here.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 22nd May 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.