£80,000 Old Master at Toovey’s

Pierre Subleyras’ 18th century oil on canvas, Half Length Study of Saint Jerome, measuring 64.5cm x 47cm, sold for £80,000 at Toovey’s

An early 18th century Old Master oil study of St Jerome by the French artist Pierre Subleyras (1699-1749) has just sold at Toovey’s for £80,000.

The painting had been known to Toovey’s head of fine art, Nicholas Toovey, for many years before it was recently consigned for sale. Quality and provenance with Old Master paintings is always important and this painting was purchased by the family from the prestigious Hazlitt Gallery in London in the 1960s.

Pierre Subleyras was born in Saint Gilles du Gard in Provence. He moved permanently to Rome in 1728 having won the Prix de Rome in 1727 painting a variety of subjects including still lifes and portraits. However, it is his religious paintings which are most highly regarded. They are notably more serious in tone than many French works of the Rococo period.

He attracted the attention of many prominent patrons painting a portrait of Pope Benedict XIV. The Pope would commission Subleyras to paint both ‘The Marriage of St Catherine’ and the ‘Ecstasy of St Camilla’ for his private apartments.

Subleyras’ talent as an incisive portraitist is brilliantly employed in this study of St Jerome which is heavily influenced by the solemnity of 17th century Italian Baroque. The study contrasts with the early 18th century French taste for the playful Rococo which developed in reaction to the Baroque which preceded it.

Subleyras’ study is beautifully considered showing St Jerome’s concern and wonder as he is blessed with a vision from God. It is a subject the artist would return to on several occasions. The paint is applied in a series of thin washes using oil glazes which lends the work a remarkable depth and life particularly to the face and skin.

Cardinal Valenti Gongoza arranged the commissioning of the ‘Mass of St Basil’ for St Peter’s in Rome. This huge painting was highly acclaimed when it was unveiled in 1748. It can still be seen at St Maria degli Angeli in Rome. But Subleyras was too exhausted by overwork to enjoy the success of his most famous work. He moved to Naples seeking respite but returned to Rome and died soon after on 28th May 1749.

Today Pierre Subleyras’ work is represented in many of the world’s international collections including the National Gallery, London and the Louvre, Paris.

Entries are already being received by Toovey’s for their next curated sale of fine art which will be held on Wednesday 28th November 2018. Nicholas Toovey is always keen to share his passion for art with collectors. If you would like his advice Nicholas can be contacted by telephoning 01903 891955 or at auctions@tooveys.com.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Country Show a Great Family Day Out

This week I am in the company of Rowan Allan who is putting the finishing touches to the 2018 West Grinstead and District Ploughing Match which this year is being held at Priors Byne Farm, Partridge Green on Saturday 15th September.

The West Grinstead and District Agricultural Society Ploughing Match Hon. Secretary, Rowan Allan

Rowan Allan, the societies long serving Hon. Secretary, says “Priors Farm is always a popular venue. John and Alison Ford always give everyone a warm welcome – it’s our third time here and the agricultural community is looking forward to coming together once again.”

John Ford’s farm is mixed arable with a herd of Sussex cattle.

This year the farming community have been facing the challenges of the freezing, wet spring and the long hot, dry summer, against the backdrop of a government exploring changes of emphasis in the nation’s support of our vital farming industry with the uncertainty that has brought.

An increasingly urban society can sometimes seem out of touch with farming’s important role in stewarding the land, practising good husbandry and sustainable food production with a deep understanding and respect for the environment and the natural world. My experience of the farming community is that they are passionate about their responsibilities and rightly proud of their stewardship.

Rowan comments “Balancing one’s heritage and nature with the needs of food production is perfectly possible.”

The West Grinstead and District Ploughing Match and Agricultural Society has been holding shows for over 140 years. It seeks to re-connect town and country and educate the public.

Rowan says “The ploughing match provides a shop window for people to engage with what farming and the countryside are really about.”

The society’s bursary programme continues to provide financial support to enable and encourage young people to take up careers in the agricultural industry.

One of the current beneficiaries of a bursary is Kobe Hedgehock. He is rising 15 and is continuing his academic schooling whilst studying at Plumpton College as well.

Rowan explains “Kobe wrote to us and his Headmaster to take a day out to attend the course – it’s helped him focus on his school work as well as beginning a path in agriculture. We’re delighted that the bursary and our support made it possible.”

Creating vocational opportunities like this through education is remarkable and hope filled.

Rowan tells me that alongside the twelve classes of ploughing, ranging from Novice to Open, the ever popular Horse Ploughing and Vintage steam will be very much in evidence. This year entrants ranging in age from 14 into their 80s will be competing.

The ever popular lamb handling session

Alongside the Livestock Show there will be a parade of Hounds, Terrier racing, a Clay Pigeon Shoot, Field and Produce competitions and the marvellous Harris Fun Fair with their classic rides – the lamb handling sessions are always a favourite with youngsters – fun for all the family!

I will be supporting Rowan and this year’s Chairman, Mark Streeter, at Priors Barn Farm, Partridge Green, RH13 8EQ on Saturday 15th September for the 2018 West Grinstead and District Agricultural Society Ploughing Match and Show. Entrance is just £6 per person with children under 14 free – it’s going to be a fantastic family day – I hope to see you there!

For more information contact Rowan Allan at H. J. Burt through www.hjburt.co.uk or go to www.westgrinsteadploughing.co.uk.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Sussex Prairie Garden

The play of Echinacea, Helenium, Deschampsia and Sanguisorba at the Sussex Prairie garden, Henfield

This week I am excited to be visiting the Sussex Prairie garden at Morlands Farm, Henfield, created and designed by Pauline and Paul McBride.

I pass some happy pigs beneath the canopy of oaks as I walk towards the garden. As the path opens into bright daylight your senses are immediately captured by the scale, colour, light, texture and movement expressed in the planting and design – it is really beautiful.

In the first border I come to the swathes of raspberry pink and white Echinacea play against the Helenium’s flash of orange and red. Beyond, the Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’ grasses with their gossamer like flower plumes have matured into a warm golden colour which contrast with the strong vertical of the white Sanguisorba canadensis.

I catch up with Pauline and Paul McBride on the farm terrace amongst the nursery plants for sale outside their splendid tearooms. The terrace overlooks the gardens.

They are delighted as I explain that their garden is food for my heart. Pauline says “It is a beautiful thing – people are moved by it.”

Sussex Prairie garden designers Pauline and Paul McBride
Sussex Prairie garden designers Pauline and Paul McBride

I comment on the exquisite synergy of the plants in the border I have just encountered. Pauline responds “The plants are like our friends we knew how they would behave and how to put them together from the gardens we have worked on.” From the wilds of Rajasthan, to the quiet beech wood valleys of Luxembourg Paul and Pauline McBride have been creating gardens for over 30 years.

I am fascinated by the way that the garden invites you into itself. Wherever you are your eye is met by stunningly conceived views with layered perspective. Pauline explains “It’s to do with the big spiral design. We drew up huge plans for the gardens – each designed in minute detail – we had to think how it would work together, the structure, plants and use of grasses. The gardens readily invite you in with their pathways through the borders in a very calming and seductive way. We want people to engage with the garden – be close to the bees and insects, brush against the plants, engage with them, touch them and experience the fragrance and a freedom as the garden takes on a life of its own and becomes something extraordinary.”

The naturalistic planting belies the underpinning of the generous discipline of their design. Pauline and Paul’s lifetimes work and experience is distilled into their Prairie garden.

Pauline continues “The garden is still evolving as we add new plants to the mix. The garden itself is changing as it seeds and cross-pollinates…the plants have done it themselves it is very exciting.”

Preparations are underway for the Unusual Plant and Garden Fair this coming Sunday. Pauline explains “We invite a great selection of specialist nurseries with their wonderful plants – it’s rare to find so many specialist plants men and women in one place. There’s Jazz and great food too, it’s a real day out!”

This festival of plants will be held this coming Sunday 2nd September 2018, 11am to 5pm at Sussex Prairies, Morlands Farm, Wheatsheaf Road, Henfield, West Sussex, BN5 9AT. To find out more about the gardens and this event visit www.sussexprairies.co.uk or telephone 01273 495902.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Jeremy Knight and the Horsham Museum

The iconic Horsham Museum & Art Gallery in the Causeway, Horsham

As The Horsham Museum celebrates its 125th Anniversary Jeremy Knight is marking 30 years as its curator on the 15th August 2018.

This August the Horsham Museum is celebrating its 125th Birthday. It was founded in 1893 by members of the Free Christian Church and the Horsham Museum Society was born. In 1974 Horsham District Council took over responsibility for running the museum.

Jeremy has been the curator at the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery for thirty years. As I meet him I comment on the remarkable coincidence of the timing of these two important anniversaries, he agrees and says “We’re continuing those noble Victorian aspirations of learning, public service and working for the civic good.”

I ask Jeremy what most delights him about his role at the museum, he replies “Listening to people talking about the museum as their museum, it’s then that you know you’ve got it right.”

Curator Jeremy Knight celebrating 30 years at the Horsham Museum

Jeremy Knight is a modern antiquarian; passionate about the use of objects in telling stories from our past. He stands against the current concerning trend of removing objects and labels from our nation’s museum displays. He comments “It’s about story-telling, it always has been, using objects to bring history to life by exploring historical connections and peoples’ relationships.”

Jeremy is a gifted historian. His excellent volumes on the history of Horsham are published by the museum and the profits go to help support its work.

Reflecting on his thirty years at the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery he smiles and says “It has been exciting to professionalise and develop the curatorship of the collections whilst re-inventing the museum.” Jeremy explains how he has edited and managed the collections. His policies in this area have been celebrated by museums and fellow curators. Jeremy comments “If you have collections they enable you to work with and borrow from others.” Jeremy has built relationships with national institutions and collaborated with the Worshipful Company of Loriners, the V&A and the Royal Academy.

Jeremy developed an interest in objects and history at an early age. He explains how his mother encouraged him to collect geological specimens when he was 11 years old. From geology he moved onto the natural world with a Christmas gift of an antique taxidermy red squirrel. And then to books, not just as documents of learning but as aesthetic objects.

In the museum he balances the public’s appetite for art with an ability to display our local social and economic history in creative and unique ways. Under Jeremy Knight’s leadership the Horsham Museum and Art Gallery has become one of the most visited art and heritage attractions in West Sussex.

He is quick to praise his staff and community of volunteers “I work with a small, dedicated and talented staff at the museum. We are supported by over sixty volunteers ranging in age from nineteen to nearly ninety – they work on everything from gardening, to making fittings for exhibitions, cataloguing, researching collections, digital recording and local history, as well as guiding.”

The Horsham District Council’s continued commitment to the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery is deserving of praise.

Jeremy Knight continues to have an enormous influence on the promotion of culture and heritage across the whole Horsham District. His work illustrates the importance of generous, long-term leadership and service, in preserving the history and art of our county and he is richly deserving of our thanks.

Entrance to the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery is free with permanent displays and exciting shows like the current Frankenstein exhibition. For more information visit www.horshammuseum.org.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Circe rediscovered after a century

Briton Riviere’s ‘Circe and the Companions of Ulysses’

It’s  been over 100 years since Briton Riviere’s Circe and the Companions of Ulysses was last seen in public.

The work, which features in Toovey’s September Fine Art Auction, propelled Riviere to fame after it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1871.

Circe and the Companions of Ulysses is arguably Riviere’s most significant work to come to auction in recent years. It was first purchased by John Kynaston Cross, industrialist and Member of Parliament for Bolton, who served as Under Secretary of State for India during William Gladstone’s tenure as Prime Minister, until his death in 1887 when it was inherited by his wife. The first –  and we understand – only time it appeared at auction was in 1911, at Tooth & Tooth’s, where it sold to the enigmatic art dealer William Walker Sampson with the gavel falling at £385 (an enormous sum at that time). Since then its whereabouts was unknown until it was recently discovered by Toovey’s at a local deceased estate.

The oil on canvas painting depicts a scene from Homer’s Odyssey – Circe, a beautiful maiden who possesses magical powers, lures Ulysses’s men to a feast and slips a potion into their drinks that transforms the men into swine.

In an interview with Harry How published in The Strand Magazine, (1896), Riviere elaborated on the conception of the work:

 ‘I was living in Kent at the time I painted it, and I kept pigs there; as a matter of fact, three of them. I had styes made at the end of the garden. By-the-by, pigs are remarkably good sitters. I have had a pig in this very room. They are very easy to manage, and will do anything you require; they really become quite sociable in time. I painted the figure of Circe in London, having by that time moved to the Addison Road. I put in the figure two or three times from a model, but could never get it to my liking. At last I found a lady friend who suggested the long haired daughter of Helios admirably, and I got her to sit’.[1]

The picture was met with critical acclaim for the depiction of the swine after the picture’s first outing at the Royal Academy in 1871. Visitors to the exhibition also revelled in the enchanting scene; John Pye, the celebrated engraver and J.M.W. Turner’s great friend, wrote ‘a charming letter of thanks to the young painter for the pleasure his work had given.’[2] Frederick Stacpoole was engaged to engrave a reproduction of the painting in 1875 – the first of Riviere’s works to have had this honour – and both the painting and the engraving were sent to Philadelphia for the International Exhibition of 1876 where Riviere’s painting was singled out for a medal. Circe, by now world-famous, was exhibited for the final time in 1887 at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition in Manchester.

Circe and the Companions of Ulysses will be offered with an estimate of £30,000-50,000* in our Sale of Fine Art on September 5th at 10am.

[1] The Strand Magazine, vol 11, 1896, p.8

[2] Armstrong, Walter ‘Briton Riviere R.A.’ in the Art Annual, supplement to the Art Journal 1891, p.10

*excluding buyer’s premium see www.tooveys.com for details