Printmaking by the Best of British

Tracy Emin’s etching ‘The Golden Mile’ from 2012
Tracy Emin’s etching ‘The Golden Mile’ from 2012

In the 20th century Britain’s modern artists assimilated the influences from the Continent within our nation’s unique artistic procession. Despite prices continuing to rise prints can provide an accessible way to collect work by the best of British artists.

Artists as diverse as John Piper, Paul and John Nash, Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden and Ivon Hitchens all worked in Sussex. They sought to articulate the British landscape, architecture and life of our nation adding a modern voice to the romantic tradition.

Others like Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore followed a more modernist path though their art never failed to articulate something of the world they inhabited.

Henry Moore illustrated Sacheverell Sitwell’s ‘Valse des Fleurs, A day in St Petersberg and a Ball at the Winter Palace in 1968’ for The Fairfax Press in 1980
Henry Moore illustrated Sacheverell Sitwell’s ‘Valse des Fleurs, A day in St Petersberg and a Ball at the Winter Palace in 1968’ for The Fairfax Press in 1980

Henry Moore illustrated Sacheverell Sitwell’s ‘Valse des Fleurs, A day in St Petersberg and a Ball at the Winter Palace in 1968’ for The Fairfax Press in 1980. The copy illustrated here is number nine from the edition of just twenty signed by Sitwell and Henry Moore. The limited edition was accompanied by a lithograph by Moore. The reclining figure was a theme which Henry Moore returned to throughout his career. He acknowledged that he was first inspired to the subject when he discovered an illustration in a book of the pre-Columbian figure Chacmool in the 1920s. The stillness and alertness of the figure depicted in the lithograph is typical of Moore’s reclining figures.

John Piper was one of the most versatile British artists of the 20th century. Alongside his paintings and designs for stained glass, tapestries and ceramics, Piper’s large corpus of prints are highly acclaimed. They record the topography of architecture and landscapes following in the tradition of 18th century watercolourists whilst reinterpreting the romantic genre.

John Piper’s lithograph ‘The Annunciation to the Shepherds’ printed in 1973
John Piper’s lithograph ‘The Annunciation to the Shepherds’ printed in 1973

‘The Annunciation to the Shepherds’ illustrated here is a large lithograph dating from 1973. I love the look of surprise and trepidation in the shepherd’s face as he looks up to discover the angel above him which has come to tell him that Jesus Christ has been born in Bethlehem.

More recently Brit Artists like Tracey Emin have been employing printmaking. ‘The Golden Mile’ photogravure seen here captures her childhood memories of the Golden Mile beach at Margate with its neon lights, ice cream parlours and fun fairs. There is a joy and energy to the image depicting this memory of a seaside resort.

Today’s Print collectors are passionate about acquiring work by the best of British Artists from the 20th and 21st centuries and the market is continuing to rise. Earlier prints, too, continue to attract the collector’s eye.

These prints will be sold in Toovey’s specialist prints auction on Wednesday 4th October 2017 with estimates ranging between £200 and £500. Further entries are still being accepted.

Toovey’s Print and Map specialists, Nicholas Toovey or Timothy Williams, who are always delighted to meet with fellow connoisseurs and can be contacted on 01903 891955 or by emailing auctions@tooveys.com.

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.

Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion

John Piper, View of Chichester Cathedral from the Deanery, 1975, ink, watercolour and crayon on paper, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985) © The Piper Estate / DAC
John Piper, View of Chichester Cathedral from the Deanery, 1975, ink, watercolour and crayon on paper, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985) © The Piper Estate / DAC

Readers of this column will know that for many years now I have been promoting and telling the story of Sussex as a centre for art and artist, especially in the the 20th century. So I am excited by the exhibition ‘Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion’ being shown at Two Temple Place, London WC2R 3BD. This exhibition gives voice to how Sussex found herself at the heart of the Modern British Art Movement and the relationships and events which brought artists to Sussex.

This ambitious show is the work and inspiration of Dr Hope Wolf, of Sussex University who has brought together works from the collections of many of our county’s most famous museums and art galleries including Pallant House Gallery, The Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, Towner, Jerwood and the homes of artists and patrons like Charleston, Farleys Farm and West Dean.

For more than a thousand years Sussex has drawn artists to her rolling Downland landscape and exciting coastline. Artists such as J M W Turner and John Constable, William Blake and Samuel Palmer were all inspired by, and worked in, Sussex. The 20th Century saw a revival of this ancient tradition with many of the leading Modern British artists living and working in the county.

Familiarity and the passage of years has dulled our sense of how shocking much of this art was to its contemporary audiences in the early 20th century. The contrasting context of the Neo-Gothic architecture and panelled rooms of Two Temple Place helps us to rediscover the impact of this important moment in British Art.

The first room gathers you with the work of the Sussex born artist, Eric Gill. In 1907 Gill moved to Ditchling in Sussex. Together with a group of fellow artists he founded and worked within the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic at Ditchling. These artists lived in community with their wives, children, associates and apprentices. They upheld the principles of the artisan artist in the Arts and Crafts tradition.

Duncan Grant, Bathers by the Pond, c1920-21, oil on canvas, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985) © 1978 Estate of Duncan Grant, courtesy Henrietta Garnett
Duncan Grant, Bathers by the Pond, c1920-21, oil on canvas, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985) © 1978 Estate of Duncan Grant, courtesy Henrietta Garnett

Duncan Grant’s Post-Impressionist ‘Bathers by the Pond’ celebrates the male body and pacifism. It is one of the works illustrating the influence of Bloomsbury and Charleston House in the show.

Many people are surprised to learn that Salvadore Dali worked in Sussex for Edward James at West Dean and that Picasso stayed with his great friend Roland Penrose at Farleys Farm. A joyful Mae West lips sofa, designed by Dali, is on display, one of a number of works illustrating Surrealism in Sussex.

Graham Sutherland, Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene (Noli Me Tangere), 1961, oil on canvas, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985) © The Estate of the Artist
Graham Sutherland, Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene (Noli Me Tangere), 1961, oil on canvas, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985) © The Estate of the Artist

The influence of church patrons like The Revd. Walter Hussey, then Dean of Chichester Cathedral, is also explored. Pieces from his personal collection, now curated by Pallant House, unite the exhibition with the art of Chichester Cathedral and provides one of the best examples of Graham Sutherland’s work, ‘Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene, Noli Me Tangere’, and a charming view of the Cathedral by John Piper whose Neo-Romantic architectural studies unite him with the British watercolour tradition.

The narrative of this exhibition is particularly strong placing the artists and their work in the contexts of their relationships, the times they lived in and Sussex. Dr Hope Wolf acknowledges that there is more to be said but this excellent and timely exhibition should be celebrated. She is deserving of our thanks, as are the Bulldog Trust whose patronage has made this show possible.

‘Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion’ runs until 23rd April 2017 at Two Temple Place, London, WC2R 3BD and admission is free. For more information go to www.twotempleplace.org.

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.

Art and Design at the Heart of Change in Postwar Britain

John Piper’s large ‘Arundel’ fabric panel © The Piper Estate
John Piper’s large ‘Arundel’ fabric panel © The Piper Estate

This week I am returning to Pallant House Gallery’s latest exhibition ‘John Piper: The Fabric of Modernism’ which runs until 12th June 2016.

This insightful and visually stunning exhibition has been curated by Pallant House Gallery Director, Simon Martin. It explores John Piper’s important relationship with both the church and industry. It is the first major exhibition to explore John Piper’s textile designs.

John Piper had a long standing interest in textile design. He had taken part in the 1941 exhibition ‘Designs for Textiles by Twelve Fine Artists’ which formed part of the wartime export drive. It was the first of a series of influential shows organised by the Cotton Board. Other participating artists included Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious and Graham Sutherland, all of whom worked in Sussex.

John Piper’s ‘Abstract’ fabric © The Piper Estate
John Piper’s ‘Abstract’ fabric © The Piper Estate

This generation of British artists restored the Renaissance tradition of the artisan artist.

The Pallant House Gallery exhibition highlights the idea of ‘painterly textiles’ during the period of post-war austerity. Art and design formed part of the re-articulation of hope and national identity after the experience of two world wars and in the face of enormous political, social and religious change. It fell to artists and their patrons to give voice to this new national consciousness. This was reflected in John Piper’s commercial designs as much as in his art and ecclesiastical schemes for tapestries, vestments and windows.

David Whitehead Ltd produced fabric designs by John Piper. They unite the recurring themes in Piper’s work which include the abstract, religious imagery and historic architecture.

The design ‘Abstract’ from 1955 was based upon an oil painting by John Piper which he produced in 1935. The rhythm and tones of Piper’s original oil painting lend themselves to the repeated nature of fabric design and still seem modern today. During numerous trips to Paris in the 1930s Piper had been exposed to the cubist work of Pablo Picasso and others. Together with his friends and fellow artists, Ben Nicholson and Henry Moore, Piper was a leading member of the Seven & Five Society which was formed to promote the cause of abstraction and modernism in Britain.

John Piper’s ‘Foliate Heads’ fabric © The Piper Estate
John Piper’s ‘Foliate Heads’ fabric © The Piper Estate

The design ‘Foliate Heads’, produced by David Whitehead Ltd in 1954, with its crowned faces, was inspired by the carved foliate masks which can be found decorating medieval bosses and miserichords in churches across England. The foliate mask is a repeated theme in Piper’s work which he would return to later in his life.

John Piper also produced textile designs for Arthur Sanderson & Sons Ltd. Amongst these was the fabric ‘Arundel’ which was issued in 1960. The design is composed of fifteen brightly coloured vignette panels each with an abstracted figure. Part of the inspiration for this design undoubtedly comes from the tomb of the 5th Earl of Arundel in the Fitzalan Chapel of Arundel Castle and the Arundel Tomb in Chichester Cathedral. But the luminosity of the colours and the composition is reminiscent of the stained glass windows which Piper designed, in the early 1950s, for the chapel of Oundle School in Northamptonshire.

Through John Piper’s fabrics this intelligent exhibition illustrates how the artist reworked his ideas, themes and interests in various media, making modernism accessible to a far broader audience. This exciting exhibition continues that work revealing John Piper’s brilliance when working with textiles.

The superb exhibition catalogue, published by Pallant House Gallery and written by Simon Martin, is available at the Pallant House Bookshop and costs just £14.95.

I am delighted that Toovey’s Fine Art Auctioneers are sponsoring ‘John Piper: The Fabric of Modernism’ at Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester, PO19 1TJ. This perceptive and striking exhibition runs until 12th June 2016. For more information on current exhibitions, events and opening times go to 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.

John Piper Exhibition an Easter Feast

The artist John Piper in 2000 © Nicholas Sinclair
The artist John Piper in 2000 © Nicholas Sinclair

A remarkable exhibition ‘John Piper: The Fabric of Modernism’ has just opened at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. It marks the fiftieth anniversary of the installation of John Piper’s Chichester Cathedral reredos tapestry.

This is the first major exhibition to explore John Piper’s textile designs. It highlights the influence of Piper’s paintings and drawings on his designs. There is much to feast your eyes on. Paintings are displayed alongside designs and textiles illustrating how he reworked his themes and interests in various media. He worked in the abstract, romantic and classical traditions as a painter, designer, writer, printmaker and ceramicist. Whilst there is something of the modern in all his work he is, nevertheless, rooted in the tradition of individual voices in British Art. The exhibition highlights the central and recurring themes in Piper’s work which include religious imagery, historic architecture and the abstract.

In the 20th century two industrialized world wars had forged a shared experience of suffering and conflict in Britain. It fell to artists and their patrons to give voice to this new national consciousness in a period of political, social and religious change. John Piper’s work is deeply bound up with this story.

Walter Hussey was Dean of Chichester Cathedral and famous for his patronage of the arts through the church. In his book ‘Patron of Art’ Hussey notes how he chose to follow Henry Moore’s advice to commission John Piper to create a worthy setting for the High Altar. With his great sympathy for old churches he suggested a tapestry. Tapestry, he argued, would work in concert with the old stonework and 16th Century carved oak screen. He felt that the seven strips of tapestry would be able to be read as a whole across the narrow wooden buttresses of the screen with its crest of medieval canopies.

John Piper’s preliminary design for the Chichester Cathedral tapestry © The Piper Estate
John Piper’s preliminary design for the Chichester Cathedral tapestry © The Piper Estate

In the January of 1965 Piper presented a final sketch. The artist’s familiarity with the language of abstraction remains evident. It met with favourable opinion. But at lunch with Hussey and others, Piper was deeply troubled when the Archdeacon of Chichester commented that there was no specific symbol for God the Father in the central section of the design. The lack of this symbol in the earlier design by John Piper, illustrated here, is notable. After much consideration Piper introduced the white light to the left of centre on the tapestry itself. The tapestry panels are schematic in their use of symbolism. The Trinity is represented in the three central panels. God the Father is depicted by a white light, God the Son by the blue Tau Cross and the Holy Spirit as a flame-like wing, all united by a red equilateral triangle within a border of green scattered flames. The flanking panels depict the Gospel Evangelists St Matthew (a winged man), St Mark (a winged lion), St Luke (a winged ox), and St John (a winged eagle); beneath the Elements earth, air, fire and water.

As we journey through Holy Week and mark Jesus’ death upon the cross on Good Friday the Tau Cross seems particularly poignant with its symbolic wounds on each spar. Jesus’ role in creation from before the beginning of all things to the triumph of his death and resurrection are powerfully proclaimed in this extraordinary tapestry.

John Piper’s Chichester Cathedral reredos tapestry, circa 1966
John Piper’s Chichester Cathedral reredos tapestry, circa 1966

John Piper set himself to the task of designing the tapestry panels. He employed subtle changes in the colour of threads to avoid jagged edges. Piper was convinced that Pinton Frères, in the small French town of Felletin, near Aubusson, was the right atelier of weavers to produce the tapestry. The weavers worked with a true and faithful sense of the artist’s intentions and hopes for this design. Their painstaking, lengthy discipline in producing these panels gift the work with contrasting qualities of life, movement and spontainaity. The subtleties and life in the tapestry are best observed in natural light. The tapestry was installed fifty years ago in the autumn of 1966.

I am excited that Toovey’s Fine Art Auctioneers are sponsoring ‘John Piper: The Fabric of Modernism’ at Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester, PO19 1TJ. The exhibition runs until 12th June 2016.

What a wonderful Easter treat – Pallant House Gallery and Chichester Cathedral!

For more information on current exhibitions, events and opening times go to www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557. For details of Holy Week and Easter services at Chichester Cathedral visit www.chichestercathedral.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.

John Piper’s Brighton Aquatints

John Piper – ‘Regency Square from the West Pier’, plate III, circa 1939
John Piper – ‘Regency Square from the West Pier’, plate III, circa 1939

John Piper was one of the leading artists of the 20th century Modern British Art Movement. He worked in the abstract, romantic and classical traditions as a painter, ceramicist, writer, designer and printmaker. Piper’s 1939 illustrations for the book ‘Brighton Aquatints’, have been credited with the revival of the aquatint as a 20th century print medium in Britain.

The book consist of twelve aquatints of Brighton. Two hundred standard copies were printed and a further fifty-five copies were hand-coloured by the artist. The prints were not signed, although Piper did sign and dedicate some copies of the book. The illustrations were printed by the two Alexander brothers who had a basement workshop in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London. The watermarks which appear in the paper are irregularly placed and are styled as a hand raised in blessing, a head, said to be that of Christ, and the date 1399.

The process of creating an aquatint involves exposing a plate, usually of copper or zinc, to acid through an applied layer of granulated, melted resin. The acid incises the plate between the granules creating areas of evenly pitted surface. This can be varied by applying additional resin, scraping and burnishing. Different strengths of acids are also employed. When the grains are removed and the plate is printed it results in variations of tone. The effect often resembles watercolours and wash drawings, hence the name Aquatint.

Rooted in the English tradition John Piper’s work often relates to a place, be that a landscape or a building. Piper brings a particular quality of engagement to his subjects. He captures the poetic, his emotional response and thoughts, as well as the essence of the physical reality. These themes and responses belong to the English Romantic tradition. Piper seeks to look beyond what is immediately apparent; to what the artist Paul Nash referred to as the ‘genius loci’, the spirit of the place, ‘a reality more real’.

John Piper - ‘The Royal Pavilion’, plate II, circa 1939
John Piper - ‘The Royal Pavilion’, plate II, circa 1939

John Piper’s ‘Brighton Aquatints’ combine technical innovation with exceptional draughtsmanship, complexity and detail. They are accompanied by a very personal introduction by Lord Alfred Douglas and notes to each image by the artist.

This ‘Piperesque’ view of Brighton re-acquaints us with the familiar. I was in Brighton last week as a sea fret rolled in causing the Brighton Pavilion to shimmer in the bright spring sunlight. The scene was reminiscent of Piper’s view of the ‘The Royal Pavilion’ which remains remarkably unchanged from his 1939 aquatint. In his notes Piper describes the building’s extravagant beauty and the great affection in which it is held.

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton in the spring sun light
The Royal Pavilion, Brighton in the spring sun light

In ‘Regency Square from the West Pier’ we are reminded of a view now lost to us. John Piper describes how the pier appears like a ‘dazzling white meringue, brittle and sweet…florid and grand as anywhere.’ Regency Square is laid out on a gentle slope in the view beyond.

In both these aquatint prints the use of acid at different stages in the process has created the texture of the grass and background. Stopping out varnish repeatedly applied has been used to create the waves and skies.

John Piper wrote quoting Constable ‘Painting is with me but another word for feeling…’ Piper’s ability to use landscapes and buildings as a focus for his emotions has the effect of gifting the world with, what has been described as, ‘a human sensibility’. These qualities are apparent in ‘Brighton Aquatints’. His work gives an extraordinary articulation of the English vision and spirit.

John Piper’s ‘Brighton Aquatints’ rarely comes to the market and so it is with some excitement that I am looking forward to Toovey’s specialist Book sale on Tuesday 21st April, in which a copy, signed by the artist, will be auctioned with a pre-sale estimate of £2000-3000. (View the lot here)

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 15th April 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.