William Blake: Sussex and the New Jerusalem

William Blake, ‘Blake’s Cottage at Felpham’, plate 36 from Milton a Poem, etching and watercolour © The British Museum, London
William Blake, ‘Blake’s Cottage at Felpham’, plate 36 from Milton a Poem, etching and watercolour © The British Museum, London

This week I am revisiting the exceptional William Blake in Sussex exhibition at Petworth House. Many visitors will be surprised to find that many of Blake’s most famous jewel like works are intimate in scale contrasting with their often epic themes.

Amongst these is the preface to Blake’s ‘Milton a Poet’ which was inspired by his time at Felpham and begun here in Sussex. The preface, titled ‘And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time’, measures just 9 x 7 inches and is better known to us today as ‘Jerusalem’. It embodies a creative freedom which responds to the pastoral, natural beauty of rural England whose spirit was awakened in Blake in Sussex.

William Blake, ‘Preface, plate 2 from Milton a Poem’, etching and watercolour © The British Museum, London
William Blake, ‘Preface, plate 2 from Milton a Poem’, etching and watercolour © The British Museum, London

At the heart of the poem is a questioning of the myth that Jesus Christ briefly visited these Isles with his Uncle Joseph of Arimathea, a tin dealer, making the new Jerusalem, heaven on earth, here in Britain.

The poem builds on that wonderful passage from the Bible in chapter 21 of the Book of Revelations where Creation is perfected and renewed as heaven and earth are united:

‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“Behold, the dwelling of God is with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them, he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”’

Blake must have had this passage in his mind when he wrote to Thomas Butts shortly after his arrival in Sussex: ‘the sweet air and the voices of the winds, trees and birds and the odours of our happy ground makes [Felpham] a dwelling for immortals.’ Blake’s language articulates an earthly paradise contrasting with his lifelong experience of the environs of London.

A little over 100 years later in response to the huge casualties of the Battle of the Somme and declining morale Robert Bridges, the Poet Laureate, edited a patriotic anthology of poems titled ‘The Spirit of Man’. Amongst these was the then little known poem by William Blake titled ‘And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time’ better known to us today as ‘Jerusalem’.

In 1916 Bridges invited Hubert Parry to set William Blake’s poem ‘Jerusalem’ to music and the hymn became a national anthem. Jerusalem’s success inculcated redemption, renewal and hope into our national psyche.

‘Milton a Poet’ has an image titled ‘Blake’s Cottage at Felpham’. It depicts Blake visited by the figure of ‘Inspiration’ in the garden of his cottage. The narrative forms part of a very personal mythology of his own creation. Felpham continued to inform the pastoral qualities of his Arcadian figures depicted under a ‘tranquil moon’ and ‘setting sun’ in his later work.

I am delighted that Toovey’s are headline sponsors of this important show which so beautifully connects William Blake’s art and life to Sussex. This is an exceptional exhibition and The National Trust’s Andrew Loukes, Curator of William Blake in Sussex, is deserving of our thanks.

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 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 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.

 

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.

2017 Plough Match and Agricultural Show

Robert Jameson’s steam winched plough
Robert Jameson’s steam winched plough

This week I am in the company of Rowan Allan. We meet as Rowan prepares for the 2017 West Grinstead Annual Plough Match and agricultural show, which takes place this coming Saturday 16th September 2017 at Weston’s Farm, Itchingfield, Nr. Horsham, RH13 0BD.

Rowan Allan of H.J. Burt
Rowan Allan of H.J. Burt

Rowan Allan is a partner at the land agents H. J. Burt at Steyning and Henfield and has been the Honorary Secretary of The West Grinstead & District Ploughing & Agricultural Society for nineteen years. As a Chartered Surveyor and a Fellow of the CAAV he has strong professional and personal links with the rural and agricultural community in Sussex. He explains that H. J. Burt has been associated with the Society and show since 1887 and says “The show seeks to honour and learn from the past whilst looking confidently to the future. It’s a shop window to enjoy and learn about the countryside whether that’s farming or country pastimes. We keep an eye to the past so that an older generation can show off their skills and trades that otherwise would be lost.”

I

Lamb handling classes at the show
Lamb handling classes at the show

comment that it can sometimes seem that life in the countryside is increasingly misunderstood by those living in towns. Rowan responds “We put on lots of activities like the young lamb handling classes at the show. They are an opportunity to connect those of us living in towns with the rural way of life.” The Society seeks to educate and make apparent how important the vital work of the farming and rural community is to our nation. Horsham’s MP, Jeremy Quin, is President of the Society this year. It is a hopeful thing that Mr Quin clearly understands that Horsham is at the heart of a rural community.

This year’s show is being hosted by David Exwood at Weston’s Farm. David started with just a 100 or so acres and now farms more than 1500 acres. His success is down to his skill, resolve, hard work and the remarkable relationship he has built with Christ’s Hospital as a tenant farmer over many years. It is exciting to witness patronage like this of rural life and farming. David’s sons, Tom and Fred, have grown up on the farm. Tom is now working in the farming world and Rowan acknowledges the importance of looking beyond the current generation to the future.

It is fitting that David Exwood and his team have been voted the overall winner of the ‘2017 Best Farmed Farm over 500 Acres’ by the Society in this strongly contested category. It is one of many awards made by the Society every year in support of farmers.

The Society works tirelessly throughout the year to bring together, encourage and support this generous rural community and they deserve our thanks.

Ian Williams and his plough team in action
Ian Williams and his plough team in action

This weekend the ploughing match will be supported by displays, competitions, merry-go-rounds, traction engines, livestock shows and handling sessions – so much to delight the family. I hope to see you there!

The 2017 West Grinstead & District Ploughing & Agricultural Society Annual Ploughing Match and Country Show is going to be a fantastic family day whether you are from town or country. Entry is just £6 per person with no charge for children under 14. For more information contact Rowan Allan at H. J. Burt through www.hjburt.co.uk or go to www.westgrinsteadploughing.co.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.