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

A Postcard from Holkham Hall in Norfolk

Holkham Hall’s magnificent Marble Hall
Holkham Hall’s magnificent Marble Hall

This week I am visiting another of England’s finest country houses, Holkham Hall in Norfolk.

Holkham is always compared with Houghton. This fine pair of Norfolk houses reflect the families who created them. Houghton projects Robert Walpole’s political stature and a London flamboyance. Holkham, though in some ways grander, is also more comfortable and at ease with itself reflecting the Coke family’s important place in rural Norfolk and the influence of the Grand Tour. The two houses provide contrasting interpretations of Palladianism.

Thomas Coke spent six years on the Grand Tour. He returned home in 1718 with a collection of antiquities having formed a strong friendship with the architect William Kent and Lord Burlington. Thomas Coke would design his home at Holkham with the advice of William Kent and his assistant Matthew Brettingham.

Holkham sits confidently and at ease in its landscape. The central rectangle, with its beautifully proportioned portico and rustic ground floor, is flanked by two wings designed to provide separate accommodation for visitors and the family.

The visitor is greeted by the magnificent Marble Hall, the two levels united by a sweeping staircase. It is based upon a design by Antonio Palladio for a Temple of Justice. The flanking Ionic columns carved in brown and white grained Derbyshire alabaster rise to meet an elaborate frieze and the extraordinary ceiling with its deeply incised panels, distorted to accentuate its height to the eye.

In my view the English Country House is one of our nation’s greatest contributions to human civilization. Their assemblance of paintings and objects have a particular beauty born of the passions of their families and, importantly, English Country House taste is also comfortable.

The Long Library designed by William Kent
The Long Library designed by William Kent

The Long Library forms part of the Family Wing which was the first part of Holkham to be built. The wing was designed in detail and decorated in the 1730s by William Kent. Over the fireplace there is a superb 1st century Roman mosaic depicting a Lion, originally from Umbria.

Thomas Coke placed great importance on his books and manuscripts and used the Long Library as his main living room. The Coke family continue to use this room as their Sitting Room on a daily basis – it has the atmosphere of a very social and comfortable space. With William Kent’s gilded bookcases and ceiling as the backdrop the room is once again furnished with that medley of styles and periods brought together by successive generations of the family which typifies English Country House taste.

The art collection at Holkham is also superb. As you process through the Staterooms you are greeted by an array of paintings by Poussin, Claude, van Dyke, and Ruben’s exceptional ‘Return of the Holy Family’.

To find out more about this exemplary English Palladian house and its collections visit www.holkham.co.uk.

It is almost time to leave the North Norfolk coast with its enormous skies, beautiful villages and coast and return to our own stunning county of Sussex. So it just remains to say “Wish you were here!”

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.

A Postcard from Houghton Hall in Norfolk

Houghton Hall in Norfolk, home to Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole
Houghton Hall in Norfolk, home to Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole

This week I am writing to you from one of England’s most important country houses.

The English Country House is one of our nation’s greatest contributions to human civilization. Their assemblance of paintings and objects have a particular beauty born of the passions of their families. Nowhere is this more apparent than at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, the home of Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (1676-1745). The house captures the ambition of a man and a nation in the ascendancy.

Sir Robert Walpole was the most powerful statesman of his day. He was gifted with figures and an adept politician. Between 1722 and 1742 he was both First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. A Whig politician, Walpole’s middle way attracted moderates from both the Whig and Tory camps. He strove for lower taxes, peace and growing exports.

His assured taste in art and architecture enabled him to build Houghton in just thirteen years and to form a remarkable collection of art and objects. It was conceived not only as a power house for political entertaining but also as a family home.

Walpole sought to bring Palladianism to the English countryside.

Palladianism is based on the designs of the 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio. Palladio was inspired by the buildings of ancient Rome. British designers drew on Palladio’s work to create a Classical British style. The most influential and earliest exponent was the English architect Inigo Jones who travelled throughout Italy between 1613 and 1614 with the ‘Collector’ Earl of Arundel annotating his copy of Palladio’s treatise.

Palladian exteriors, like at Houghton, were plain and based on strict rules of proportion. In contrast, the interiors were richly decorated. This style remained fashionable from around 1715 up until 1760.

The first design for Houghton was produced by the architect, James Gibb. The pure Palladian design was interrupted with the addition of the dramatic domes but the house is beautifully conceived. The interior designs, decoration and finishing of the principle floor was originally undertaken by William Kent in about 1725.

Ambition outstripped wealth and Sir Robert Walpole’s debts led to much of his remarkable collection of art being sold in 1779 to Catherine the Great of Russia. Walpole’s collection is one of the major building blocks of today’s Hermitage Collection.

The Cabinet room at Houghton Hall
The Cabinet room at Houghton Hall

The Cabinet room was originally conceived to display fifty-one of his smaller paintings. After their sale the 3rd Earl introduced the fine blue-ground chinoiserie wallpaper we see today. The two English rococo wall mirrors and lacquer wall cabinets compliment this design. Here the classical gives way to decorative motifs drawn from nature and the influences of the Chinese reflecting the international qualities of our nation. The two classical green velvet chairs with their walnut and gilt-gesso frames are earlier from the time of William Kent. This medley of styles and periods brought together by successive generations of the family works with an evolving harmony. It is typical of English Country House taste.

Much of the furniture at Houghton is original to the house and its quality is testament to Sir Robert Walpole’s unerring eye and ambition.

To find out more about this jewel like house and its collections visit www.houghtonhall.com.

Houghton has always been compared with neighbouring Holkham Hall so I will be sending my next postcard from Norfolk to you from there. It remains to say “Wish you were here!”

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.

Conflicting Views of War

Visiting Professor and Curator Gill Clarke with William Crozier’s ‘Bourlon Wood’
Visiting Professor and Curator Gill Clarke with William Crozier’s ‘Bourlon Wood’

Marking the centenary of the ending of the First World War ‘Conflicting Views: Pacifist Artists’ at the Chichester University’s Bishop Otter Gallery explores the stories of artists who were conscientious objectors or pacifists through their art.

The exhibition has been curated by Dr Gill Clarke. Gill Clarke has a rare gift for narrative. A deep understanding of her subject is always distilled in a remarkably coherent and accessible way. These qualities are apparent in this latest show.

As we view the exhibition together Gill explains “The exhibition marks the centenary of the ending of the First World War. It explores the ways artists who were conscientious objectors and pacifists responded to war and conflict.”

Conscription was introduced for the first time in 1916 and again at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

Each painting seeks to illustrate how individual artists experienced and interpreted war, and the ethical, religious and political grounds which informed their views and decisions to refuse to undertake compulsory military service.

Some of the artists included in the show were absolutist Conscientious Objectors and were imprisoned. Others accepted an alternative form of service.

Ernest Proctor’s watercolour ‘SSA at HQ Loading Up, 1917’
Ernest Proctor’s watercolour ‘SSA at HQ Loading Up, 1917’

Gill Clarke says “As a Quaker and therefore a pacifist Ernest Procter accepted an alternative form of service with the Quaker Friends Ambulance Unit.” A number of works have been leant to the show by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain. Amongst these is Ernest Proctors beautifully painted watercolour ‘SSA (Section Sanitaire Anglaise) at HQ Loading Up, 1917’. The Friends Ambulance Service would operate under the Red Cross. Here we see the unit loading up their motorised ambulance convoy in the light of the snow covered landscape.

Amongst the most powerful images in the exhibition are a series of works by the Scottish-Irish artist William Crozier. His imagination was haunted by the images of the Holocaust which he saw as a teenager on the Pathé newsreels as the concentration camps were liberated by Allied forces during the Second World War.

The enormity of this horror informed Crozier’s pacifist stance when in 1953 he declined to serve in Korea through National Service.

Gill says “Drawing on photographs from World War I, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz ‘Bourlon Wood’ portrays the blood-stained, ravaged landscape in Northern France. In the darkness at the foot of ridge lies a skeletal soldier wearing a tin hat. It is so much more than a comment on the horrors of war, it captures the metaphysical idea of death – the skull beneath the skin…”

The work in this timely and challenging exhibition demonstrated the role of artists as moral witnesses providing a series of intimate and highly personal accounts of their experience of war.

‘Conflicting Views: Pacifist Artists’ runs at Chichester University until 7th October 2018 and entry is free.

For more information about the exhibition, associated events and opening times go to www.chi.ac.uk/about-us/art-venues/otter-gallery/current-exhibitions.

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.

Goodwood Festival of Speed Celebrates Silver Jubilee

A 1974 Porsche 911 Carrera RSR Turbo on the hill climb at Goodwood
A 1974 Porsche 911 Carrera RSR Turbo on the hill climb at Goodwood

There was much to celebrate at this year’s Silver Jubilee Goodwood Festival of Speed.

I arrived on the Friday to be greeted by the wail of the Jaguar XJR-9. The sound of its 7.0 litre V12 engine at high revs is hugely evocative. I remember watching Martin Brundle, Andy Wallace and John Neilsen win the 1988 1000km at Brands Hatch. I’ve never forgotten the sound and the flames coming from the exhaust as the car raced through the woods of Dingle Dell.

Andy Wallace would go on to win Le Mans that same year in the Tony Southgate designed XJR-9 with fellow drivers, Johnny Dumfries and Jan Lammer. The scale of Jaguar’s achievement becomes apparent when you consider that between 1981 and 1987 Porsche had won seven consecutive Le Mans. Porsche first competed at Le Mans in 1951 and has won at the famous Circuit de la Sarthe on 19 occasions with 17 outright victories; more than any other manufacturer.

Rupert Toovey at the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed
Rupert Toovey at the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed

Porsche celebrated 70 years of motorsport success at this year’s Festival of Speed. The magnificent installation on the lawns of Goodwood House suspended a number of icons of Porsche automotive design high above the crowds.

On the hill climb the crowds were treated to an array of racing Porsches which included an example of the Porsche 962C which won Le Mans in 1986 and 1987 at the hands of British Driver Derek Bell. Porsche GT racers, Rally cars and Single seaters were also keenly represented.

The Cosworth years were also celebrated. From 1968 the 3.0 litre V8 Cosworth DFV engine transformed the opportunities of numerous Formula 1 cars and teams. Amongst these was the Matra–Cosworth MS80 run by Tyrell which swept Jackie Stewart to victory in the 1969 World Championship. Stewart would win two more Formula 1 World Championships with the Tyrell–Cosworth 003 and 006 in 1971 and 1973. It was poignant to watch Jackie Stewart driving the Matra–Cosworth up the Hill followed by his two sons Paul and Mark in the Tyrells.
Interviewed at Goodwood after the drive with his sons Sir Jackie Stewart reflected fondly “Goodwood has a habit of bringing everyone together.” The weekend had the atmosphere of a huge motoring party.

As the exuberant sound of the racing cars and bikes at Goodwood Festival of Speed ended the cacophony of sound, the smell of racing oil and tyres and the spectacle of speed and colour faded to memory and thoughts turned to the evocative 2018 Goodwood Revival. This year’s three-day event will be held on the 7th – 9th September. The Goodwood Revival celebrates the halcyon days of motor racing with the accompanying glamour of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. For more information or to buy some of the few remaining tickets visit www.goodwood.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.