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 www.bordehill.co.uk/events/borde-hill-garden-festival/ 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.

The Important English Artist and Modernist Paul Nash

An illustration from Genesis by Paul Nash – ‘Let us make man in our image’

Private Press books published in the 20th century were often illustrated by leading British artists. Many of these are printed in signed limited editions like the volume Genesis illustrated by Paul Nash.

In the 20th century many artists rediscovered their role as artisan artists and designers, as well as painters and sculptors of fine art. One of the ways that they this expressed this was through making printed woodblock illustrations for fine books produced by Private Presses.

Paul Nash is often thought of as an essentially English artist but between the wars he also sought to champion the hope embodied in continental modernism defending Picasso and experimenting with abstraction before embracing Surrealism and founding Unit One with Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Ivon Hitchens.

He served as a soldier in the trenches of the Great War and became an important war artist on the Western Front between 1917 and 1918 and again during the Second World War.

In 1920, the Society of Wood Engravers was formed and Nash joined. The twelve stark monochromatic illustrations for Genesis illustrates Nash’s move towards modernism and semi-abstraction for a period. The influences of Vorticism and Cubism are apparent in the dynamic sense of movement and the fragmented space he creates in these images. The figures have an ethereal quality. This technique, combined with his unerring and poetic eye, seeds drama in our imaginations and allows us to glimpse something beyond our immediate perception of the world.

Genesis with Twelve Woodcuts by Paul Nash, circa 1924

Genesis was produced for the Nonsuch Press by the Curwen Press in 1924 in a limited edition of 375 copies. The dramatic text is in Rudolf Koch’s Neuland type. This copy lacked its orange, paper dust jacket and despite some issues of condition it realised £800 in a Toovey’s specialist book sale.

Paul Nash exhibited at the important ‘Exhibition of the Work of English Post-Impressionists, Cubists and Others’, where his work was selected by Spencer Gore of the Camden Town Group. The exhibition was held at the Public Art Galleries in Brighton between 16th December 1913 and 14th January 1914. Nash also taught and championed two other artists noted in Sussex, Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden, at the Royal College of Art in London.

I have long been of the opinion that Sussex stands out as an important centre for Modern British Artists working in the 20th century. Paul Nash’s original and influential work, and his connection with Sussex, makes him a favourite of mine.

When History Becomes the Stuff of Legend

Pleasure craft of a type that went to Dunkirk painted by the Sussex artist Ronald Ossory Dunlop after the war, image © Toovey’s

There are moments in the procession of the our long island history which in their re-telling have become the stuff of legend and which define the character of our island people. They have inspired our writers, artists and leaders.

It was Shakespeare in Richard II who, alluding to the Divine Right of Kings and England as an earthly paradise, gave these dying words to John Gaunt, The Duke of Lancaster…

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars.

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

It was King Alfred the Great who first to commissioned and personally translated many of the world’s great Christian and classical texts from Latin into Old English more than half a millennium before the Reformation. He hid from the Viking hoards in the marshes of Athelney in Somerset and emerged to defeat their armies. |His actions have become part of our nation’s folklore and the stuff of legend.

As the 80th Anniversary of the D-day landings approaches I have been reflecting on another moment in our nation’s history when we stood alone in the face of almost certain invasion and defeat. Our army of some 338,000 men were surrounded by Hitler’s forces and under constant attack on the beaches at Dunkirk. Vice Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay had formulated and begun planning the evacuation of The British Expeditionary Force on the 20th May 1940 assembling a flotilla of more than 800 civilian pleasure craft to be sent across the channel. He called it Operation Dynamo. The boats sailed from Ramsgate on the 26th May 1940 rescuing almost all of our soldiers. They became known as the Dunkirk Little Ships. It was the stuff of legends. Ramsay would be made Commander in Chief of the Allied Naval Forces for Operation Neptune, the naval part of Operation Overlord – the D-day landings.

Sir Winston Churchill, image © Toovey’s

Speaking to the House of Commons on 4th June Winston Churchill invoked our long island history and said ‘…we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…’ The Battle of France was ending the Battle of Britain was about to begin.