The English Love Affair with Gardens Captured in Art

George Henry Boughton – Three Quarter Length Portrait of a Girl in a Rose Garden, 19th century oil on canvas © Toovey’s

The English love affair with the garden has been conducted over centuries.

The influence of the Arts and Crafts movement led by designers like Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens combined structured layouts with more naturalistic informal planting. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries artists captured this expression of Englishness and our love affair with gardens in their art.

These equalities are apparent in A Path of Roses by the Anglo-American artist George Henry Boughton (1833-1905). Boughton was born in Norwich. His family emigrated to America in 1835 when he was just two. He would grow up in New York. Throughout his life he journeyed between and exhibited in America and London. He was elected as a Royal Academician in 1896. In A Path of Roses Boughton depicts a young girl walking in a rose garden, her cat upon her shoulder. This stylized scene provides an American romantic interpretation of the English affair with gardens giving expression to the Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts voices prevalent in British art at the time. The light, palette and composition create a stillness, it is as though we glimpse a moment out of time. The oil painting, which sold at Toovey’s for £2200, was a cabinet sized version of the artist’s 1875 Royal Academy exhibited work of the same title.

Beatrice Emma Parsons – ‘Water-Garden, Gravetye Manor’, early 20th century watercolour © Toovey’s

Beatrice Emma Parsons (1869-1955) was invited to paint the delicate early 20th century watercolour of the Water-Garden at Gravetye Manor in West Sussex by the garden’s designer and patron, William Robinson. He began to create the gardens in 1885. From humble beginnings in Ireland Robinson made his fortune as a garden writer. Amongst his most influential books were The Wild Garden and The English Flower Garden. Today he is best known for his understanding of the wild garden, a garden which celebrates nature rather than controlling it. He introduced the modern mixed border and popularised things we take for granted today like secateurs and hosepipes. Beatrice Parson’s was famous for her paintings of gardens in full colour. Her depiction of the rhododendrons reflecting in Gravetye’s lake is beautifully conceived. It realised £1000 at Toovey’s.

Rudyard Kipling opened his poem The Glory of the Garden with this verse – ‘Our England is a garden that is full of stately views, Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues…’

The English love affair with the garden remains as strong today as it has always been.

Jaeger-Lecoultre and the Art of Time

The fine Jaeger-LeCoultre movement

A rare gentleman’s wristwatch by Jaeger-LeCoultre has just been sold at Toovey’s for £50,000. The watch was formerly the property of Sir John Reeves Ellerman, 2nd Baronet (1909-1973) who was believed to be the richest man in Britain in his day. He was just twenty-three when he inherited his name, title and fortune form his father.

His father, Sir John Ellerman, 1st Baronet (1862-1933) was the son of a Lutheran ship broker and corn merchant who came to Britain in 1850. John senior lost his father when he was young, left home at fourteen and trained as an accountant. He made his fortune by identifying established businesses with a good product which were suffering from managerial decline after the death of a founder. In 1892 he turned his attention to shipping and by 1917 owned 150 million tons of shipping, equivalent to the entire French merchant fleet at that time. In 1916 his fortune was at its height and estimated at some £55 million (the equivalent of about £4.7 billion today).

Even after the Great Depression and inheritance tax his son inherited some £20 million and continued to successfully run the Ellerman shipping line as well as being a talented natural historian. He was also a great philanthropist.

The LeCoultre watchmaking atelier was founded in 1833 in the Vallée de Joux in Switzerland by Antoine LeCoultre (1803-1881). He was obsessed with accuracy manufacturing the tools necessary to make the most accurate parts to the finest calibre. In 1903 Edmond Jaeger and Jaques-David LeCoultre came together and in 1937 the Jaeger-LeCoultre name was created. They combined the French style and Swiss technique of which Sir John Ellerman’s watch is such a fine example.

A Jaeger-LeCoultre 18ct gold perpetual calendar gentleman’s wristwatch displaying the fine art of recording time

Sir John’s fine and rare Jaeger-LeCoultre 18ct gold gentleman’s wristwatch illustrates the fine art of recording time. Made in 1938 it would have been amongst their earliest perpetual calendar watches. It had a tonneau case with a signed and jewelled movement. The unsigned silvered dial had gilt Arabic hour numerals and subsidiary day, date and month dials above subsidiary seconds with a moonphase.

Today this tradition of fine craftsmanship continues. Jaeger-LeCoultre remains one of the only watch manufacturers which develops, decorates and produces all its timepieces in its own workshops which are still located in the Vallée de Joux in Switzerland.

Whether you are looking to collect or sell fine watches Toovey’s watch specialist and Director, Tom Rowsell, is always delighted to share his passion for remarkable timepieces.

A Garden Festival to Delight the Senses at Borde Hill

The Jay Robin Rose Garden

Gardens, nature and the arts will be celebrated in Sussex at Borde Hill’s new season flagship garden festival on Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd June.

Events will be held throughout the world famous gardens at Borde Hill with art, music, stalls and rare and unusual plant sellers. You will be able to savour the finest of English sparkling wines from Wiston whilst enjoying the music in the splendid rose garden. Amongst the many notable speakers will be the international artist, Claire Luxton, who will explore The Nature of Looking: Art, Femininity, and The Natural World. Claire’s work is deeply inspired by the natural world, flowers and butterflies. The four times Chelsea gold winning garden designer, Jo Thompson, will be talking about the art of creating Romantic Gardens for the 21st Century. We are fortunate that both of these exceptionally talented and respected women are based in Sussex. The Knepp Estate, famous for its re-wilding projects, will also be contributing to the weekend.

As I walk through the gardens the light and reflections play on the water in the Italian garden framed by the glorious Alliums. Across the lawns in front of the house I pass abundant borders filled with scent and colour and then to the exquisite rose garden where the roses are already out. The gardens are looking beautiful and delight the senses.

The Jay Robin Rose Garden

I catch up with Jay Goddard whose family created and have stewarded these internationally important gardens and their plant collections for more than 130 years. Jay is clearly excited about the Garden Festival. She says “This new flagship event is our first festival on this scale celebrating the beauty of nature and how it inspires creativity, art and music.”

Borde Hill’s Garden Festival will also be showcasing the best finds for both home and garden with over 40 curated independent stalls. Rare and unusual plants from national specialist nurseries will feature alongside planters, garden furniture, lifestyle trends and artisan accessories. And the leading designer Cath Kidston will be speaking about her Passion for Pelargoniums. Jay concludes “I hope everyone who comes will have a vibrant, wonderful weekend and will have time to discover and delight in the garden. Time to celebrate the beauty of nature the importance of our natural world, and shine a spotlight on sustainability and climate change.” Borde Hill’s gardens bless you. As you walk your conversations cannot fail to be informed by the beauty of the place. For more information and to buy tickets for Borde Hill’s Garden Festival visit or telephone 01444 450326

Stories of Courage and Duty Bound Up with Art at Berwick Church

Vanessa Bell’s Nativity at Berwick Church

This week we commemorate the 80th Anniversary of the D-day landings and give thanks for the courage and bravery of our service men and our allies in their defence of freedom, justice and righteousness in the face of Nazism. I am returning to Berwick Church in East Sussex where two of the scenes in the decorative scheme speak into this moment in our long Island history.

As the storm clouds of war gathered over Europe British artists and writers stood in protest against our nation’s appeasement of fascism. Many chose to fight in the Spanish Civil war against the Fascists. Amongst these was the English poet Julian Bell. He was the eldest son of the Bloomsbury and Charleston artist Vanessa Bell and her art critic husband Clive. In 1937 Julian volunteered as an ambulance driver. He was fatally wounded by bomb fragments on a stretch of road just outside Villanueva de la Cañada and died aged just 29.

In 1940 as the Battle of Britain was being fought above the skies of Sussex Bishop George Bell commissioned Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant to paint the scenes we see at Berwick Church today.

Vanessa’s depiction of the Nativity in the Sussex Barn at Charleston with Firle Beacon behind is filled with allegory. Jesus is depicted as the Lamb of God in the foreground his light in the world spilled onto the scene by an old lantern. The Sussex trug is filled with vegetables hinting at the abundance of God’s love for us. Vanessa and Duncan Grant’s daughter Angelica is painted as Mary with the infant Christ upon her lap. There is a sense of longing in Mary’s face. Perhaps Vanessa is reflecting upon the loss of Julian and Christ’s promise of resurrection and eternal life.

Douglas Hemming and his fellow service men painted at Berwick Church

Above the chancel arch Duncan Grant paints Christ in Majesty. The downland scenery below enfolds figures of the time. To the right is the patron Bishop Bell and the Rector of Berwick. To the left a local airman, a sailor and the soldier, Douglas Hemming, who was killed near Caen in June 1944 soon after D-day.

These paintings are bound up with personal stories of courage, duty, love and loss in the defence of freedom, and righteousness. I hope in the coming days each of us will find time to reflect and give thanks for the courage and example of all those who fought in the D-day landings. Those whose courage and sacrifice have blessed us with freedom and opportunity.

Still Life in Britain at Pallant House

Eric Ravilious’ Ironbridge Interior, 1941, © Towner, Eastbourne

A rather wonderful exhibition has just opened at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester which explores the place of the Still Life in the procession of British art with a particular emphasis on the 20th century and the contemporary. The Still Life was introduced to England in the 17th century by the Dutch. Ever since artists have used the genre to explore and experiment.

The show is arranged chronologically with works from the 17th century to the present day and cleverly traces the progression of British art from realism and post-impressionism through the major art movements of the 20th and 21st centuries. In the first room Ethel Walker’s ravishing Flower Piece No.4 keeps company with paintings by Ivon Hitchens, Harold Gilman, the Scottish Colourists and a delicate interior scene by the Sussex artist Eric Ravilious titled Ironbridge Interior. I’ve often reflected that an English Country House interior is made up of a series of Still Lifes formed of eclectic, arranged objects, art and furniture. Here Ravilious paints the restrained interior with his customary use of light. The hatching, shadows, tone and colour on the chair, wall and flower filled jug lending life to the stillness of this scene. The composition cleverly creates a layered perspective leading the viewer’s eye through the room to the window and landscape beyond.

Ben Nicholson’s oil St Ives, Cornwall (detail) © Tate

Ben Nicholson’s beautiful Still Life, St Ives, Cornwall, painted in 1943-45, depicts a large white mug on a curtained windowsill which, like Ravilious’ interior, draws the eye to the landscape through the window where toy-like, traditional fishing boats nestle against the backdrop of sea and sky. The Union Jack wouldn’t look out of place on a seaside sandcastle. There is an innocence to the scene which contrasts with the experience of war. 17th century Still Lifes are often filled with allegory. The Nazis considered modernist art to be degenerate so the painting’s modernism is an allegory in itself which provides a very British, understated voice speaking eloquently and powerfully of peace and innocence in reaction to the violence of Nazism.

Director of Pallant House Gallery, Simon Martin, has described this season’s series of exhibitions as “…an artistic journey that transcends time and borders and invites you to explore the intersections of tradition and innovation.”

This exhibition shows us how the genre of Still Life has constantly evolved reflecting our changing society and the themes of love, loss, beauty, decay and consumerism. The Shape of Things: Still Life in Britain is a stunning exhibition, eloquent and beautiful. You really must see it.