Patron & Artist Celebrate the Triumph of Love & Hope at Easter

The St Mary Magdalene Chapel, Chichester Cathedral, with Graham Sutherland’s ‘Noli me tangere’.
The St Mary Magdalene Chapel, Chichester Cathedral, with Graham Sutherland’s ‘Noli me tangere’.

Over the centuries, it has always been the gift of great artists to reflect upon the world we all share and to allow us, through their work, to glimpse something of what lies beyond our immediate perception. The 20th century brought the shared and shocking experience of war to two generations. In 1944, the artist Hans Feibusch in his book ‘Mural Painting’ wrote, “The men who come home from the war, and all the rest of us, have seen too much horror and evil; when we close our eyes terrible sights haunt us; the world is seething with bestiality; and it is all man’s doing. Only the most profound, tragic, moving and sublime vision can redeem us. The voice of the Church should be heard loud over the thunderstorm; and the artist should be her mouth piece as of old.”

Graham Sutherland – ‘Portrait of Walter Hussey’, begun 1965, oil on canvas, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985).
Graham Sutherland – ‘Portrait of Walter Hussey’, begun 1965, oil on canvas, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985).

It has often been the role of enlightened patrons to enable artists to express their visions. In 1942, as bombs fell upon Britain, Walter Hussey, on Kenneth Clark’s recommendation, commissioned Henry Moore to carve ‘Madonna and Child’ in the warm hues of Hornton stone at St. Matthew’s, Northampton, where he was vicar. As the sculpture was nearing completion, Hussey talked to Moore about a number of artists he was considering for a large painting in the south transept, opposite ‘Madonna and Child’. Henry Moore unhesitatingly recommended Graham Sutherland.

Hussey had in mind the Agony in the Garden as a subject. Sutherland confessed his ambition “to do a Crucifixion of a significant size” and Hussey agreed. Writing of the finished work, Kenneth Clark, then Director of the National Gallery and responsible for the War Artists project, said, “Sutherland’s Crucifixion is the successor to the Crucifixion of Grünewald and the early Italians.”

Graham Sutherland – ‘The Crucifixion’, 1947, oil on board, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985)
Graham Sutherland – ‘The Crucifixion’, 1947, oil on board, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985)

In 1955, Winston Churchill’s last ecclesiastical appointment was to install Walter Hussey as Dean of Chichester Cathedral, where his influence bore much fruit. Hussey can be credited with commissioning most of the exemplary 20th century art at Chichester Cathedral. How appropriate, then, that Walter Hussey’s gift of much of his art collection to Chichester should reside at Pallant House Gallery.

Sutherland’s 1947 version of the ‘Crucifixion’ from the Hussey Bequest is displayed at Pallant House Gallery. It illustrates the artist’s obsession with thorns as metaphors for human cruelty; their jagged lines are reflected throughout the composition. The American military published a book of photographs which featured scenes of the Nazi concentration camps, including images of those held captive at Belsen, Auschwitz and Buchenwald. To Sutherland, “many of the tortured bodies looked like figures deposed from crosses” and he acknowledged the influence of these photographs on his Crucifixions. Here, Jesus Christ’s body hangs lifeless upon the cross, the shocking red of his blood accentuated by the fertile green. There is agony in the body’s posture, the weight clearly visible in the angular shoulders, chest and distorted stomach. This is a God who understands and shares in human suffering. Graham Sutherland, a Roman Catholic, was sustained by his Christian faith all his life. He commented that he was drawn to the subject of the Crucifixion because of its duality. He noted that the Crucifixion “is the most tragic of all themes yet inherent in it is the promise of salvation”.

In Sutherland’s versions, a generation united in their common story finally had depictions of the Crucifixion which reflected their experience of the world and yet spoke loudly of the triumph of hope in response to the tragedy of violence and war.

Graham Sutherland’s vibrant oil on canvas ‘Noli me tangere’ of 1961 was commissioned by Walter Hussey for the St Mary Magdalene Chapel in Chichester Cathedral.

The painting depicts the moment on that first Easter morning when Mary Magdalene becomes aware that she is in the presence of her risen Lord who has just spoken her name. As she reaches out to touch him his gesture stops her. The angular composition of the figures, plants and staircase allude to the Passion narratives which lead up to and include Jesus’ crucifixion. At the centre of the painting is Jesus Christ dressed in white symbolising his holiness and purity. Christ’s finger points towards God the Father symbolising His presence. Graham Sutherland invites us into the narrative at this liminal moment so that we, like Mary, might acknowledge Jesus, our creator, teacher and friend, as advocate and redeemer of the whole world.

Here we witness the triumph of hope and love over evil and hatred.

There are a number of special services and concerts at Chichester Cathedral in the coming days to mark Holy Week and Easter. For more information and times go to www.chichestercathedral.org.uk. To find out more about Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester, PO19 1TJ, its collections, exhibitions and opening times go to www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 1st April 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Terry Frost and the Poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca

Katy Norris, Assistant Curator at Pallant House Gallery, with Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías by Sir Terry Frost
Katy Norris, Assistant Curator at Pallant House Gallery, with Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías by Sir Terry Frost

A dramatic exhibition of Terry Frost’s prints from his Lorca Suite is currently on show in the De’Longhi Print Room at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex.

It focuses on the British abstract artist Terry Frost and his engagement with the poetry of the Spanish poet, playwright and theatre director Federico García Lorca. Lorca became one of the first martyrs of the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War when he was killed by fascist Nationalist rebels in 1936. Assistant Curator Katy Norris explains, “Lorca’s death has come to epitomise the violent suppression of the intellectual left by right-wing partisans.” When General Franco seized power in 1939, at the end of the conflict, he banned Lorca’s work from publication in Spain.

During the Second World War Terry Frost was a prisoner of war under the Nazis and a victim of fascism. Katy keenly describes how this loss of freedom awakened his political and artistic consciousness, an experience which would inform his life and work, saying: “Frost exercised a lifelong pursuit of his artistic right to freedom of expression.”

Sir Terry Frost 1915–2003, The Moon Rising, 1989, etching with hand colour on Somerset Satin paper, Austin / Desmond Fine Art © The Estate of Sir Terry Frost
Sir Terry Frost 1915–2003, The Moon Rising, 1989, etching with hand colour on Somerset Satin paper, Austin / Desmond Fine Art © The Estate of Sir Terry Frost

Frost would later acknowledge how, as a prisoner, his hunger and suffering gifted him with “a tremendous spiritual experience [and] a more heightened perception”. The artist described this formative experience as “an awakening”. Katy adds: “Frost discovered his profound sense of connection with nature and landscape at this time.”

The liberal society in which Terry Frost was working in the 1970s and 1980s was certainly in complete contrast to Franco’s earlier repressive regime. Frost would return to Lorca’s work over a fifteen-year period, creating paper collages, drawings and prints in response to the writer’s work. It culminated in the portfolio of coloured etchings on display here. Produced in 1989 and titled Eleven Poems by Federico García Lorca, they have become known as the Lorca Suite. Together these images, each based on a specific poem, provide a visual window illuminating Lorca’s writing.

Lorca’s writing employs an economy of vocabulary. In these poems life is stripped back, allowing clarity of vision expressive of the author’s heightened perception. This writing is filled with ambiguity and a lack of fulfilment, which gifts it with space and nobility.

Sir Terry Frost 1915–2003, The Spinster at Mass, 1989, etching with hand colour on Somerset Satin paper, Austin / Desmond Fine Art © The Estate of Sir Terry Frost
Sir Terry Frost 1915–2003, The Spinster at Mass, 1989, etching with hand colour on Somerset Satin paper, Austin / Desmond Fine Art © The Estate of Sir Terry Frost

This distance between the artistic representation and the reality of the subject would give Frost space for freedom of expression. Terry Frost, like Lorca, also distilled the world around him. He, too, used a carefully conceived vocabulary, though Frost’s was one of colour, light and form in the abstract.

I remark on the dramatic hues of black, white and red which are apparent in many of these works. Katy responds, “Lorca used black, white and red to describe the blazing light and heat of the Mediterranean sun. In the 1960s Frost had begun to use these colours in relation to the Spanish landscape, years before engaging with Lorca’s writing. However, it is in the Lorca Suite that we perhaps see his most sophisticated use of this colour scheme.”

This is clearly illustrated in The Spinster at Mass and The Moon Rising. I am drawn to the emblematic etching Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías. Sánchez and Lorca were friends. The matador Sánchez died in the bullring. Lorca’s awareness of death informed his creative spontaneity in this poem; its repetitive rhythm informs this lament. Take, for example, these lines:

“Oh white wall of Spain!

Oh black bull of sorrow!

Oh hard blood of Ignacio!”

Katy Norris reflects on the economy of colour, shapes and form used to the same dramatic effect in Terry Frost’s etching of the same title. She says: “The black of the bull’s horn and the red blood of Ignacio against the white ground echo the description in Lorca’s poem. The action takes place beneath a setting sun represented by a pulsating yellow disc in the etching.”

The drama and tragedy of the Spanish Civil War and the life and death of Lorca are captured with real intensity in Terry Frost: Eleven Poems by Federico García Lorca. Entrance to this exhibition is free but it is worth treating yourself to tickets for Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War. Both exhibitions run until 15th February 2015 at Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester, PO19 1TJ. For more information go to www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557. You must add them to your 2015 New Year’s must-see list!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 28th December 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Nativity Painted at Berwick, Sussex

The decorative painted scheme in the Renaissance style at Berwick parish church

With Christmas approaching, I have come to see the remarkable painted interior at St Michael and All Angels church at Berwick in East Sussex. I want to reflect once again upon Vanessa Bell’s beautiful depiction of the Nativity.

The fine decorative scheme was commissioned by Bishop George Bell of Chichester. Bell was a great patron of the arts. He wished to see churches once more filled with colour and beauty. Eternal truths would be proclaimed anew in modern art, poetry and music. More people would be drawn into the Christian community by the revival of this old alliance and renewed vitality. Bell founded the Sussex Churches Art Council. Relying on generous patrons, like the famous economist John Maynard Keynes, he began to commission work. Keynes was a frequent visitor to Charleston, where Duncan Grant had a great influence on his artistic sensibilities. Visitors to the Bishop’s Palace in Chichester included Gustav Holst, Vaughan Williams, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and T.S. Eliot.

The Revd. Rupert Toovey admiring Vanessa Bell’s Nativity at St Michael and All Angels church, Berwick, East Sussex

During the summer and autumn of 1940 the Battle of Britain was fought over the skies of Sussex. The Luftwaffe failed to defeat the R.A.F. but the Germans continued the Blitz into the May of 1941. Against this backdrop, Bishop Bell commissioned Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell to paint St Michael and All Angels. The parish church at Berwick is just a few miles from the artists’ home at Charleston.

Writing to Angelica Bell in 1941, Vanessa Bell proclaimed that Charleston was “all a-dither with Christianity”. Large panels were prepared to be painted on in the barn at Charleston. Family, friends and neighbours were used as models.

Initially the project met with local opposition but Kenneth Clark and Frederick Etchells acted as expert witnesses and the scheme was accepted. At the time Kenneth Clark was director of the National Gallery in London and Surveyor of the King’s Pictures.

The visitor today is met with a scheme of paintings in the Renaissance style. They depict scenes from the New Testament, which include the Annunciation, Christ Crucified and Christ in Majesty.

Vanessa Bell’s Nativity sets the familiar Christmas story of the birth of Christ in the folds of the Sussex Downs. The scene is painted in a barn beneath the Firle Beacon. Local shepherds posed for the panel. Their distinctive shepherds’ crooks are typical of those made at Pyecombe since medieval times. Vanessa’s daughter, Angelica, is depicted as Mary. St Luke writes: “Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Here Mary looks on, preoccupied with her thoughts. Many people have suggested that the baby Jesus is reminiscent of Vanessa’s son Quentin, but I have often wondered if she was thinking of her older son, Julian. Julian Bell, a poet, had been killed in the Spanish Civil War. Peter Durrant, a local farm worker, is painted as Joseph. He lost his left arm as the result of an accident in which he fell from a wagon. To his right are three children, who worship at the crib in their school uniforms. They are Ray and Bill West, sons of the Charleston gardener, and John Higgens, son of Grace, the housekeeper. The stable is lit by a lamp at the foot of the composition. The lamb below is a symbol for Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

Berwick’s Nativity brings to life this timeless, much-loved and familiar story, placing it in the heart of Sussex. It also remembers the joys and sorrows, and the hopes and fears of this community of people. Like the first Christmas, the season remains a time of gathering, reflection and remembrance. A time of shared memories and stories.

The Rector, the Revd. Peter Blee, will be celebrating a candlelit Midnight Mass, which starts at 11.30pm on Christmas Eve, and a Family Holy Communion at 11.00am on Christmas Day. St Michael and All Angels is one of my favourite places to stop and pray when I am in the east of our county. My thanks go to the Revd. Peter Blee and his congregation, who make this a living, prayerful place of pilgrimage for us all.

I wish you all a very happy and blessed Christmas!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 24th December 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

An Attic Find: Undiscovered Eduardo Paolozzi Collection

From left: Cubist bust, Computer Head and Skyscraper, plaster maquettes by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi

People often remark how exciting it must be for me as a fine art auctioneer to discover wonderful things which have lain undiscovered – it is and it happens more frequently than you might expect. It was on a visit to Newhaven, Sussex, early in the New Year when the gales were blowing, that I discover a marvellous collection of sculptures and prints by the important Modern British artist, Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) which are to be auctioned at Toovey’s on Wednesday 26th March 2014.

The sculptures and prints represented in the sale were given to the current owner over a period of years after he and his family had been befriended by Eduardo. They recount fond memories of visits to Eduardo’s home and studio, of outings and meals together.

Eduardo Paolozzi claimed to have embraced “…the iconography of the New World. The American magazine represented a catalogue of an exotic society, bountiful and generous, where the event of selling tinned pears was transformed in multi-coloured dreams…” This fascination with American culture is clearly expressed in the plaster maquette of a Sky Scrapper included in the sale and illustrated here. In the late 1940s and early 1950s a cold-war generation of artists in Britain began to turn towards New York for inspiration rather than Paris. Paolozzi had a foot firmly in both camps. He emerges as an artistic bridge between post-war Europe, Britain and the US.

Eduardo Paolozzi Bronze Relief
‘Newton after Blake’, bronze bas relief by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi

One of Paolozzi’s most celebrated sculptures is ‘Newton after Blake’ made for the forecourt of the British Library. It was commissioned by its architect the late Colin St John Wilson, who was also responsible for the Pallant House Gallery extension in Chichester, which houses many works from the architect’s own collection. The collection on sale includes several bas reliefs depicting ‘Newton after Blake’. Eduardo Paolozzi was fascinated by the artist William Blake’s image of Sir Isaac Newton from 1795. In Blake’s depiction the scientist appears oblivious to all around him, consumed by the need to redact the universe to mathematical proportion. Paolozzi explained of his own sculpture that “…Newton sits on nature, using it as a base for his work. His back is bent in work, not submission, and his figure echoes the shape of rock and coral. He is part of nature.”

Alongside Paolozzi’s cultural icons and totems the resilience and fragility of the human person and the influence of humankind’s relationship with technology expressed through the culture of science fiction and robots also recur as themes in his work. The complicated array of influences are often collaged into a single work. Take for example the two heads illustrated which are defined by the geometric shapes from which they are formed. The smaller plaster bust ‘Computer Head’ references technology’s effect on our consciousness. The larger bust ‘Head’ is an example of the busts which Paolozzi described as an amalgam of African art, geometric art which speaks of the machine in our age, and the influence of boogie woogie. A rich collage which, for him, described modernism.

'Mozart Magic Flute' screen print by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi

Paolozzi’s prints give voice to the idea of relationship between collage and image making. The prints with their often vibrant colour allowed the artist to explore the theme of finding visual comparisons between music and drawing. They are also connected with Paolozzi’s sculptural reliefs.

This exciting collection provides a valuable insight into the work of Eduardo Paolozzi. There are iconic examples and more modest pieces describing his delight and humour in the world, often with a surrealist influence. Paolozzi’s work is layered, textural and thought provoking delighting the eye and the mind. The sale exhibition provides a wonderful opportunity to see this famous artist’s work and to acquire an example for your own collection. It is on view from Saturday 22nd March 2014 and will be auctioned on the morning of Wednesday 26th March 2014. Further details of opening times and images are available on tooveys.com. Catalogues are available from Toovey’s offices or by telephoning 01903 891955.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 19th March 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Sean Scully: Triptychs at Pallant House Gallery

Sean Scully, ‘River’, 1984, oil on linen, private collection

If you are in Sussex between now and the 24th January, treat yourself to the Sean Scully: Triptych exhibition at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. Sean Scully, twice nominated for the Turner Prize in 1989 and 1993, is an abstract artist whose work is defined by panels of vertical and horizontal lines. His images are often arranged as triptychs. Sean Scully was born in Ireland and spent time in London before moving to New York.

His abstract work is uncompromising and demanding of the viewer’s attention. Stop and stare. As you reflect on the texture of the oil paint upon the canvas, or the effects of watercolour and ink on paper, you will become aware of the subtlety of tone inherent in the clear colour schemes of each image. Scully talks of his use of colours as being intuitive, of reflecting mood and circumstance. At a recent event, Scully described the importance of his “metaphysical relationship with materials, which of course is fundamental to all my work – that relationship between materiality and light”.

Sean Scully, ‘1.6.91’, 1991, watercolour on paper, private collection
Sean Scully, ‘Bridge’, 1991, woodcut print, private collection

Much abstract art today is art reflecting on art. For me, this seems to be at odds with the gift of great artists to reflect upon the world we all share and to allow us, through their work, to glimpse something of what lies beyond our immediate perception. So for me, Sean Scully’s work is refreshing. It is connected to his life and the world. Music and literature also provide him with rich seams of inspiration. These resolute visual images can seem stark but there is an underlying quality of hope. Whilst Scully has an apparent and deeply held confidence in the work that he does, his approach is not without humility or sensitivity. He sees himself as a communicator and unifier, building bridges to make the world a better place. Through his pictures, he seeks to move people. He believes that this form of communication can help people to realize that they are connected and not isolated.

Scully describes the horizontal lines in his pictures as metaphors for land-lines or the horizon, whilst the vertical lines in his compositions represent the person and proclaim that ‘I exist’.

Simon Martin, Artistic Director at Pallant House Gallery, has noted that Sean Scully is “concerned with expressing a sense of spirituality”. Certainly, for Sean Scully spirituality is important, something he notes as a particular artistic quality in Ireland. He grew up in the Roman Catholic Christian tradition and has a fondness for the sensory quality of their worship with incense, bells, music and fine robes. But he is an eclectic soul, who seeks to speak across the boundaries of religious traditions. Scully feels that it is possible to manufacture prejudice, though he claims never to have experienced it. Instead, he maintains that if we project love into the world, it is reflected back to us.

The canvases which make up Sean Scully’s triptychs, although highly related, can at once be viewed individually or as a whole. It is interesting to note how they relate to one another when viewed together.

These abstract triptychs are stimulating on many levels and provide a narrative to human sorrow, joy and hope, with a particular directness and honesty. They regain a sense of reference to the richness and complexity of the world and what it is to be human. They allow us to glimpse something beyond our immediate perceptions.

We are exceptionally fortunate to have an artist of such international standing exhibiting in Sussex. Sean Scully: Triptychs at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, runs until 26th January 2014. For further information go to www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 8th January 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.