Coronavirus COVID-19

We have now reopened. We have created a COVID Secure environment to ensure the safety of our staff and clients. As a result, certain aspects of our business will change in the short term.

We are returning with a temporarily smaller team, so please be patient when calling, emailing or visiting our salerooms.

For the latest information please visit https://www.tooveys.com/coronavirus/ 

We understand these are challenging times for everyone and very much appreciate your continued support.

A Way of Life Informed by Beautiful Objects

Kettle’s Yard’s upstairs house extension © Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge University

In this, the first of two articles, we are visiting one of my favourite collections and spaces, Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge. The spirit of the place is born out of the gentle, generous and persistent creativity of Jim Ede, the man who put it all together.

Jim Ede would describe the house and collection as reflecting a way of life, of being, expressing the joy and stability in being accompanied in life by beautiful objects be they humble stones or paintings and sculptures by some of the most important artists of the 20th century. It reflects Jim Ede’s relationships with a group of Modern British artists whose thinking often influenced him, and his personal desire to share it with others.

Reflecting on the inspiration for Kettle’s Yard Jim Ede wrote ‘I suppose it began by my meeting with Ben and Winifred [Nicholson] in 1924 or thereabouts, while I was an Assistant at the Tate Gallery…it wasn’t until I was nearly thirty that the Nicholson’s opened a door into the world of contemporary art and I rushed headlong into the arms of Picasso, Brancusi and Braque without losing my rapture over Giotto, Angelico, Monaco and Piero della Francesca.’ Ede saw a continuity between the early Italians and Ben Nicholson’s work.

In 1926 Jim Ede purchased most of the studio contents of the French artist Henri Gaudier-Brzeska who had been killed in action in 1915. He published ‘The Savage Messiah’ which established the artist’s place in art history whilst ensuring that examples of his work were acquired for Tate and the Contemporary Art Society.
The artist Winifred Nicholson taught him about the ‘fusing of art and daily living’, of holiness in the everyday and its tasks, whilst the artist David Jones, who worked at Ditchling in Sussex for a time, gave him a vocabulary to articulate the ephemeral. Jim Ede’s expression of faith, his spirituality, combined the generous discipline of practical work with reflection, invitation, hospitality, balance and a celebration of beauty which resonates with me as a Benedictine.
In 1970 the extension to Kettle’s Yard was opened creating a space where concerts could be held and which visitors could inhabit. The English Georgian and provincial pieces of furniture, together with the welcoming armchairs, sit comfortably alongside the exceptional 20th century paintings and sculpture in that eclectic, layered way which defines the British interior at its best.

It was Ben Nicholson who introduced Jim Ede to the work of the St Ives fisherman and artist Alfred Wallis. A selection of Wallis’ work would regularly arrive by post and whilst Ede could not afford to buy all that was offered he acquired enough to line several walls as you can see here.

Ede created vistas and layered perspectives in these interiors by the careful and intentional placing of art and objects which interact with each other, the changing light and viewpoints at Kettle’s Yard in a series of extraordinary, processional compositions.

In the foreground is Gaudier-Brzeska’s bronze ‘Garden Ornament’ which Jim Ede has typically filled with stones, and in the distance, to the right, the artist’s 1912 bronze study ‘Maria Carmi as the Madonna’. Our eye is drawn to Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Three Personages’. At the heart of this composition on the far wall is Winifred Nicholson’s large landscape which Jim Ede described as ‘a great world of beauty’. The landscape with its English lane would have been painted from life. Winifred worked quickly completing a canvas in a single siting. The broad areas of colour are made more intense by the white paint used to prime the canvas.

The balance in the composition of the space would be diminished if any one piece were not there.

This exceptional and very personal collection reflects the generous creativity of Jim Ede. Next week we will be returning to Kettles Yard to explore some of the more intimate spaces in the house to explore the relationships between artist and patron. To find out more about Kettle’s Yard visit www.kettlesyard.co.uk.

The Hansom Cab and the Pigeons

‘If men and women abrogate or lose the power to think you may have material welfare but you have no life, no civilisation, no soul, nothing’

A woodblock illustration from The Hansom Cab and the Pigeons, by Eric Ravilious, c.1935

The artist Eric Ravilious worked between the wars, becoming a war artist in 1939. He grew up in Sussex and returned here in the 1930s. He was part of a generation of artists taught at the Royal College of Art in London by Paul Nash. Nash would describe this group of artists as ‘an outbreak of talent’.
Edward Bawden spoke of his life-long friend, Ravilious, as being ‘humorous, easy-going…cheerful, good-natured and intelligent’, qualities which were reflected in his work.

Ravilious’ skill in carving his woodblocks was exceptional. He would first draw the image onto the block lending the images spontaneity, light and life.
The use of punches created rich textures through scratches, flecks and dots. Even in black and white their tonal variation suggests colour. The effect is to give an impression of the artist’s sheer delight in the cutting of the woodblock to create these images.

The Silver Jubilee of George V in 1935 was the first national celebration of its kind since Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. It was seen as a period of stability and change which included the emancipation of women and, despite the shadow of the First World War and Great Depression, a time of continuity and hope.

The new owners of the Golden Cockerel Press, Christopher Sandford and Owen Rutter, marked the Jubilee by publishing a brief text by LAG Strong titled ‘The Hansom Cab and the Pigeons’. Strong was a popular writer of thrillers but here the author reflects on the passing of time and the threat posed by the rise of the Nazis: ‘If men and women abrogate or lose the power to think you may have material welfare but you have no life, no civilisation, no soul, nothing…’.
The book was illustrated by the artist Eric Ravilious. At first glance Ravilious’ watercolours and woodblock illustrations seem to depict an unchanging rural England.

Frontispiece from The Hansom Cab and the Pigeons, woodblock by Eric Ravilious, c.1935

His frontispiece for the book at first appears to give a literal expression to the books title. Pigeons roost without a care under the hood of a Hansom Cab abandoned in the gardens of a Devon tea room, but as the sun rises they are unheeding of the new dawn which will propel the world to war once again. The image is demanding, questioning.
The image that marks the start of the book is amongst my favourites in Ravilious’ oeuvre. Here the past meets the future. Against the backdrop of an unchanging English landscape a train speeds towards us at full-steam, the undulations in the landscape and bridge lend it speed, mirrored by the mono-plane as it soars skywards.

The Golden Cockerel Press was part of the Private Press movement which gave a freedom of expression to authors and artists.

It seems to me that to remain questioning, open hearted and open minded about all things is essential to a good human life as it prevents us from becoming fundamental about anything. Collectors know this intuitively. They often begin collecting in the pursuit of knowledge and of course once we have learnt something our instinct is to share what we have learnt with others. It is my experience that lively minds make open and generous hearts.

Demand from collectors remains strong as the Covid-19 lockdown eases and with book and print sales scheduled as part of Toovey’s Summer of Sales there is much to look forward to. Do phone for a pre-sale valuation or check out the online catalogues at tooveys.com.

“This was their finest hour”

Eric Ravilious, ‘Runway Perspective’, watercolour © IWM 2020.

This weekend marks the 80th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Britain.
There are moments in our long island history which have the stuff of legends about them. These points in our history speak of the resilience, selflessness, inventiveness and fortitude in our national character, an ability to triumph in the face of disaster. The Battle of Britain is amongst them.

In the House of Commons shortly after France had surrendered Winston Churchill set out what was at stake “I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

As the fields were tilled by horse and plough and the harvest brought in a battle for the very survival of the British nation and way of life was fought in the skies over Sussex and southern England. Endless sorties were flown from airfields like Tangmere, Westhampnett on the Goodwood Estate, West Witterings, and Coolham near Horsham.

The Imperial War Museum (IWM) is one of Britain’s most important custodians of our nation’s story. Amongst their collections is an evocative watercolour by Eric Ravilious titled ‘Runway Perspective’. The composition has an explosive geometry. The lines on the runway centre on a distant church on the slightly tilted horizon, and seem to rush towards us lending speed and energy to the two banking Spitfires, emphasized by the sweeping cumulonimbus clouds. As the nearest aircraft climbs overhead it is as though we can hear the evocative Rolls Royce Merlin engine roaring in our ears.

Eric Ravilious’ childhood was spent in Eastbourne and he returned to Sussex in 1934 staying at Furlongs with Peggy Angus who had rented a shepherd’s cottage in sight of Firle. Here he painted landscapes and local scenes. His work is rooted in the landscape and life of pre-war and wartime England. Sussex and the South Downs are strong influences.

At the outbreak of war Ravilious joined the Observer Corps, becoming a war artist in 1940. He often flew with the RAF and died with the airmen he so admired on an air sea reconnaissance mission which failed to return.
Against extraordinary odds the courage and bravery of our young fighter pilots in their Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes combined with the defence system developed by Air Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding to halt the Nazi advance.

The IWM in London, Duxford and across the country is one of Britain’s most important custodians of our nation’s story. Throughout the summer they are holding a series of events at Duxford to commemorate the Battle of Britain. To find out more about these events and how you can support the IWM’s work in these challenging times visit www.iwm.org.uk.

Britain Retains Global Art Market Position

A detail of a Japanese Satsuma dish painted by Sozan for Kinkozan

In 2018 the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Survey confirmed that the United Kingdom had regained its position from China as the second largest global art and antiques market behind the United States. Earlier this year it was announced that Britain had retained this position in 2019.
Given the scale of China’s market this is a remarkable achievement for the United Kingdom.

The British art and antique market is a significant sector in the UK economy. In 2019 the total annual value of art and antique exports broke through £9 billion for the first time whilst imports rose to £2.142 billion.

Britain is the second largest art and antique market in the world with a 20% global market share. It uniquely attracts high value items from around the world for sale recognising the profession’s expertise and ability to add value. These objects are sold, predominately at auction, to a global audience. Britain has the most varied and largest art and antiques market in Europe.

Back in 2013 Toovey’s, together with a small group of the UK’s leading regional auctioneers, was invited to China. The introduction of British auction practice and ethics was seen as an important part of this exchange in Beijing. A working relationship was also formed with Epai Live, China’s largest mainland online auction platform for the marketing of art and antiques, which continues to provide our clients with rare, direct access to this market.

Demand from China has had a profound effect on collectors’ markets.
The Chinese and Asian market for ceramics and works of art proved its resilience and strength at Toovey’s last week.

Our first specialist auction since the Covid-19 lockdown saw strong demand from China, Japan, the UK and Europe. Viewing and bidding at the salerooms by appointment proved popular whilst keeping people safe and successfully combined with interest and competition online, from the bank of telephones and commission bidders.

A fine Chinese polished bronze censer, mark of Xuande but Qing dynasty

One of my favourite lots in the sale was a fine Chinese polished bronze censer. Although of later date it bore the mark of the 15th century Ming Dynasty Emperor Xuande Its rectangular body was beautifully cast in low relief with an archaisitic dragon and keyfret band flanked by a pair of moulded lion mask handles. Raised on four scroll moulded bracket feet it measured just 5 ½ inches and realised £5200.

The Yonghe Lamasery, Beijing

It reminded me of my visit to the Buddhist Yonghe Lamasery in Beijing. There in the courtyards scores of young people lit their incense sticks placing them in giant bronze censers, their prayers rising with the clouds of incense to heaven. Inside towering gold figures provided windows into prayer.

There was a notable increase in competition for Japanese items. The finely painted Satsuma dish by Sozan for the Kinkozan workshop was decorated with two bijin in conversation beneath a pine tree and sold for £3800.
Throughout the Covid-19 lockdown enquiries and interest in art and antiques remained strong. It is exciting and hopeful to see that demand reflected in the confident return of sales with post lockdown prices at auction showing real strength as markets re-immerge.

 

“Rupert’s got his bow-tie on it’ll be alright now!”

Rupert Toovey with trademark bowtie on appointment in the downland village of Amberley, West Sussex amongst the hollyhocks, lavender and rambling roses bordering an abundant English country garden

My week has taken me from Amberley at the foot of the Sussex Downs to the villages and hamlets above Lewes, to Ferring, Shoreham Beach, Horsham and even Kensington – invited to value and share extraordinary collections with families and collectors. Each reflected the stories of their custodians, layered across generations and speaking of their lives and passions in that beautiful, eclectic English Country and Town House way.

Last week, for the first time since the Covid-19 outbreak I donned my bowtie. I breezed into Toovey’s between appointments to find my friend and colleague William Rowsell valuing some beautiful Persian rugs. As he greeted me he remarked to our clients “Oh Rupert’s got his bow tie on it’ll all be alright now!” I have to own that I felt rather pleased. As you know I have a weakness for navy blue bowties with white spots – they’re joyful things. I have just managed to acquire three new ones – well Boris has asked us to shop for the nation – and I can now quarantine each of them for 72 hours as part of my health and safety policy for visiting people.

It’s funny how quickly we adapt to a new routine. As I arrive at people’s homes I ring the door bell and then, feeling rather like a naughty schoolboy, I run 2 metres back from the door turning to greet them. Well it’s important to see a smile and exchange a greeting safely before putting on a face mask and gloves.

Once inside we perform a Covid dance as we seek to honour one another with social distancing and old fashioned good manners. We move around enjoying each other’s company and the treasures, the windows flung open to the breeze in the stunning early summer weather we’ve been enjoying. The blue skies and scudding clouds send my heart racing every day. Is it my imagination or are our skies bluer and more beautiful without the air pollution?

Amberley with its abundant cottage gardens filled with Hollyhocks, English Hidcote lavender and scented rambling roses provides a hope filled view as we move gently out of lockdown.

Our towns, villages and countryside have never looked more beautiful and even the bustling, leafy grandeur of Kensington has been slowed by Covid.

I am delighted to report that we have successfully reopened Toovey’s auction rooms to the public. Providing valuations and viewing for sales by appointment has proven really popular whilst keeping people safe, as has our home visit valuation service.

By the time you read this our first post Covid-19 auction of Chinese and Asian Ceramics and Works of Art, with an online catalogue, will have taken place. It has attracted strong interest from around the UK and the world. I’ll let you know how we get on!