Coronavirus COVID-19

Following the government’s recent announcement Toovey’s will be closed to the public from Thursday 5th November. However, we will continue to hold our schedule of auctions online via the third-party website Clients will also still be able to leave commission bids by telephone or via our website. For higher value lots, telephone bidding will also still be available.

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The Medicinal Reciprocal

As I’m writing this, the whole world is struggling with the dire effects of the awful Coronavirus that has caused such devastation to every aspect of our lives. There is a race to find a viable vaccine that could potentially release us all from lockdown and give us back our freedom. In the absence of that vaccine we rely on the medical care we currently have access to and put our faith in. It has been that way since records began, with medicine being an important part of our life.

Today we are used to blister packs of pills and glass bottles of medicine, but before these innovations, apothecaries – the modern day pharmacist – stored their supplies primarily in pottery receptacles. These were ideal for the storage of dry herbs or liquid remedies as they could be made in any size required, sealed with something like wax and labelled accordingly.

During the Renaissance period the role of the apothecary increased greatly as important innovations and discoveries were made in the fields of biology and human anatomy. An increased number of jars for the storage of drugs and remedies were required. An apothecary in charge of a large pharmacy attached to a monastery or palace could reasonably have around one thousand plus different drug-jars.

Lot 1255

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in particular saw these jars take on a decorative side as well as a practical. Pharmacies would have a particular armorial or motif that was applied to all jars supplied to them, and areas of production would use a particular style, glaze or colouring. Much research has been done into the many different types of drug-jars which survive to this day, and we can now with much certainty attribute styles, shapes and decoration to particular areas of Europe or even specific potteries or decorators.

Lot 1267

We are very fortunate to have in our 19th November 2020 auction of European Ceramics a private collection of tin-glazed pottery, which includes a number of drug-jars. This collection is part of that assembled by the late Professor Maurice Stacey CBE FRS, a chemist of the University of Birmingham. For his scientific work Stacey received many awards; this work included the first synthesis of vitamin C and the separation of uranium isotopes for the WW2 atomic bomb project. He was helped in the assembling of his collection by Professor F.H. Garner, also of the University of Birmingham, and a great collector of tin-glazed pottery, known as delftware. Professor Garner’s books on delftware are still widely respected today, so his influence on Professor Stacey’s collection is important.

A number of the drug-jars in the collection, or albarellos to give them their Italian name, have inscribed labels denoting specific drugs or remedies. We can only imagine the ailments and the people they may have potentially been used on 400 years ago.

The collection is available to view online here.

Once in a Lifetime Opportunity at Royal Pavilion Brighton

Royal Pavilion Banqueting Room with fender, mantel clock and serving tables designed by Robert Jones, Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020.

In the first of a series of articles I am exploring a significant and generous loan of objects by Her Majesty The Queen to the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. These important objects will be on display at the Royal Pavilion until the autumn of 2021.

Amongst these are some of the most splendid pieces commissioned by George IV for the Royal Pavilion. The exhibition ‘A Prince’s Treasure’ provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to see this collection in the context of its original setting as George IV would have intended.

This week I am in the company of David Beevers, Keeper of the Royal Pavilion, who has overseen this remarkable collaboration between the Royal Collection Trust and the Royal Pavilion. The loan comprises of more than 120 objects which are on display at the Royal Pavilion for the first time since their removal to London in 1847/48. David explains how Queen Victoria enjoyed her Uncle George IV’s extravagant taste at Brighton.

When Brighton and the building no longer suited Queen Victoria’s family needs it was decided that the Pavilion should be sold and it was assumed that the site would be redeveloped. The fixtures, including fireplaces and wall panels, and the decorative objects, wallpapers and furniture were removed to London where many of them were installed under Prince Albert’s direction in the newly built East Wing at Buckingham Palace.

With remarkable foresight and in an act of enlightened civic patronage the Pavilion was bought and saved for the town by the Brighton Town Commissioners and their Clerk, Lewis Slight.

In 1863 Queen Victoria generously returned a number of important murals and chandeliers. Since then Royal patronage has seen numerous objects returned to the Royal Pavilion, thanks to a series of gifts and loans. In 1955 Her Majesty The Queen returned more than 100 objects on long term loan.
As we enter the Banqueting Room I remark on how the decorative whole is so much more apparent and alive with the loans in place. David agrees saying “Everything speaks – it suddenly starts talking to each other.”

He explains how the designs of Robert Jones can be discerned in the details and overall decorative scheme. Many of the pieces are designed by Jones. As we stand before one of the fireplaces it becomes apparent that the dragon and serpent motifs decorating the steel, brass and gilt-bronze fenders and fire dogs are repeated elsewhere. The legs of the superb rosewood, mahogany and satinwood veneered serving tables, manufactured by Tatham, Bailey and Sanders are delicately carved with gilded dragons. In the overdoor panels, too, carved gilded serpents and dragons are framed beneath arched palmette friezes bringing together the Chinese and Indian styles.

Banqueting Room mantel clock by Vuillamy, Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

I ask David if he has a favourite piece and he shows me an extraordinary mantel clock saying “This clock reflects the Pavilion style at its confident best.” He describes how the clock was designed by Robert Jones and made by Vuillamy. The Chinese figures echo those painted on the walls. The gilt-bronze foliage was gilded by Fricker and Henderson and seems to allude to an eagle in flight.
Benjamin Lewis Vuillamy was horologist to the Royal family and his work rivalled the French manufacturers. With its enamelled figures and peacock surmount it speaks of George IV’s patronage of the very finest craftsmanship of his age.

‘A Prince’s Treasure’ is an extraordinary exhibition which brings to life the patronage of a Prince and King here in the very heart of Sussex and I am looking forward to revisiting. The generous, intelligent procession through the rooms and the other Covid precautions with ticketed, timed entry has been designed to keep the visitor safe. Visit to book your tickets. This is a must see exhibition!

The China Trade

Circle of George Chinnery – ‘Factories, Canton’ (Junk in Canton Harbour), early/mid-19th century watercolour, titled in pencil verso

In 1757, during the reign of the Chinese Emperor Qianlong (1735-1795), Canton was the only port left open to foreign trade after all the other Chinese ports were closed.

The Chinese allowed a limited trade area for westerners to be established outside Canton’s city walls under the watchful eyes of the Co-Hong–thirteen Chinese merchants who were responsible to the Emperor. The westerners, described by the Chinese as ‘foreign devils’, were not allowed to travel in China and all their business had to be conducted through these Chinese Merchants. This system would remain unchanged until the 1841 opium war.

Most European countries established trading companies. The British East India Company was formed in 1600 and the Dutch East India Company two years later. The fashion for tea grew throughout the 17th century adding another valuable commodity to the China trade.

European demand for exotic goods in the 18th century led expanded beyond silks and porcelains to include lacquerware, enamels, furnishings, wallpapers, carvings, ivories, watercolours and paintings. By the third-quarter of the 18th century England, Holland, France, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Spain all occupied hongs at Canton. The small early 19th century watercolour is very much in the style of the artist George Chinnery. It depicts the hongs, also known as factories, which consisted of a front building facing the river with a myriad of buildings connected by courtyards and passages behind them. Westerners’ activities were very restricted. They lived under the constant surveillance of the hong merchants and the Chinese police.

A pair of Chinese famille rose export porcelain candle holder figures of ladies, Qianlong period, each lady modelled holding a lotus bud shaped vase, the figures with brightly enamelled decoration

The importance of the Chinese export trade in ceramics cannot be overstated. It is hard for us to imagine the vast quantities of useful and ornamental porcelain imported into Britain and Continental Europe. These pieces would inform western taste. Whole industries were created to reproduce Chinese blue-and-white patterns. Even the humblest pieces of Chinese were well made.

The British East India Company’s China trade imports predominately comprised of bulk lots of blue and white including wares like plates and dishes which could be packed tightly in the hold with the ballast below the waterline. The second category of imports were important to the commercial success of the voyage for the crew and Company. This officially permitted private trade was made up of pieces of far higher quality. They included armorial, crested, figurative and colourful wares of which the Qianlong period pair of Chinese famille rose export porcelain candle holders modelled as ladies are a fine example.

The watercolour and porcelain candle holders were sold at Toovey’s for £7000 and £2700 respectively.

The company took a percentage of the private trade pieces with the remainder being shared amongst the crew. Much of these wares were sold at the Company’s auctions in London.

Finally the valuable and highly profitable tea and silks were stowed above the waterline in these leaky timber ships.

The lucrative China trade continues today as the Chinese compete with British and European collectors to reacquire items they sold to us for export in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Maynard Keynes, The Great Economist

Laura Knight – Madonna (Head Study of the Dancer, Lydia Lopokova), etching circa 1923, signed in pencil

On the 21st April 1946 The Times reported ‘Lord Keynes, the great economist, died at Tilton, Firle, Sussex, yesterday from a heart attack.’

John Maynard Keynes was a man of great energy, imagination and enterprise. He was born on the 5th June 1883. Educated at Eton he won a scholarship to King’s College Cambridge where he read mathematics and the classics whilst also studying philosophy and economics.

Keynes’s genius was expressed in important contributions to the fundamentals of economic science. He was able to make his theories accessible to the public and was a gifted writer.

As the most frequent visitor to Charleston House in Sussex Keynes was given his own room. Although his love affair with Duncan Grant had ended in 1909 their friendship endured. Maynard Keynes would remain an important figure in the lives of both Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell.

As the Great War came to an end and the armistice was declared Keynes would divide his time between France and Charleston as he worked on the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919.

Keynes strongly disagreed with the reparations being proposed against Germany believing they would negatively affect the world and economy. Following his resignation from the British delegation he lived predominately at Charleston where he wrote his famous denunciation of the Peace Treaty, The Economic Consequences of Peace which you see illustrated. Keynes was a great bibliophile so it is fitting that his own books are highly sort after.

In 1925 Keynes married the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova of the Diaghilev Company. Laura Knight’s sensitive portrayal in the etched portrait from 1923 depicts Lydia as the Madonna. Her face displays a strength and vulnerability. There is a rising demand for women artists like Laura Knight.
Both were sold at Toovey’s for £800 and £2300 respectively.

John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace. London: Macmillan & Co., 1919. First edition

Keynes’s experience of the Great War and of economic depression caused him to reconsider traditional economic theories. He concluded that for a free market system to work at optimum capacity and provide full-employment it would be necessary to have deliberate central control of interest rates and, in some cases, to stimulate capital development.

Keynes would have a great influence after the Second World War ensuring that the mistakes of the Versailles Treaty were not repeated.

Ordinary Englishmen could not return from war a second time to be deprived of work, security and appropriate housing. The bloodless revolution of the Post-War Labour government with its radical redistribution of wealth through inheritance tax at 80% and general taxation may have pre-empted revolution of a bloodier kind. It brought with it the NHS and extended the Welfare State.

Keynes understood that this would inevitably undermine private patronage of the arts. He became Chairman of CEMA in 1942 and the fledgling Arts Council in 1945, as well as introducing resident artists at universities and working with theatres.

I have often wondered whether it was his relationships with Duncan Grant, Lydia Lopokova and his unconsummated, flirtatious affection for Vanessa Bell which influenced his love of the arts, of which he was a tireless advocate and supporter. The great economist was never happier than when in the company of his artistic friends especially here in Sussex.

Governments, including our own, seem to once again be embracing Keynesian economics as they seek to create capital investment in emerging technologies and optimum capacity and employment in their economies.