Mainland Chinese Buyers Beat a Path to Toovey’s

A group of five Chinese famille rose porcelain rectangular plaques, Republic period (1912-1949), sold at auction by Toovey’s for £16,000
A view of the entrance to The Forbidden City from Tiananmen Square, taken by Rupert Toovey on a business trip to Beijing

We are familiar with stories of revolution in China. When you go there, the influences of the communist takeover of mainland China in 1949 and Mao’s Cultural Revolution from 1966 onwards are apparent everywhere. Tiananmen Square in Beijing is dominated by marching Chinese People’s Liberation Army guards and enormous television screens project images of modern China beneath fluttering red flags. A queue, ten people wide, stretches patiently as far as the eye can see, processing into Mao’s mausoleum, where his embalmed body lies in state. On the other side of this square is the entrance to the Forbidden City. You enter past an army guard through a narrow arch beneath an enormous portrait of Mao and, as you do, you witness families and people venerating him, bowing and reaching out to touch one of the large bronze studs on the ancient red door, which are polished by the stream of hands. It is apparent that Mao is perceived by many to be the father of the nation and is now a cultural icon in his own right. It is as though these people are on a pilgrimage to visit the relics of a saint. There are the qualities of both the ancient and the modern in these scenes. Once inside the Forbidden City, the atmosphere is more playful with Chinese families enjoying a day out.

A Chinese porcelain circular plate, Republic period (1912-1949), sold at auction by Toovey’s for £8,500

The Xinhai Revolution began with the Wuchang Uprising in October 1911. By January 1912, the Republic of China had been established. It brought to an end two thousand years of imperial rule. Emperor Puyi was allowed to continue to reside in the Forbidden City, his story made famous by Bernardo Bertolucci’s film ‘The Last Emperor’. Through much of the 19th century, Imperial China fought numerous rebellions and invasions. The relative stability which the Republic period brought in the 20th century signalled a revival in porcelain manufacture in Jingdezhen in the Jiangxi province.

A Chinese porcelain rectangular plaque, Republic period (1912-1949), sold at auction by Toovey’s for £4,000

The items of Chinese porcelain shown here date from the Republic period (1912-1949) and were sold in Toovey’s specialist Asian Art auction in August. They were the property of a local collector, who had spent several years in the Far East. His interests reflected the tastes of the Western connoisseurs from Britain and America who purchased this porcelain in the early 20th century. The delicacy of the enamelling on the group of five porcelain plaques, each measuring 19 x 12.5cm, is exquisite and the composition of birds and flowers is highly refined. Despite the fact that two of them were restored, they sold at auction for £16,000 to a collector in Shenzhen, China. Just as fine is the single plaque, measuring 37.5 x 24cm. The two birds in flight are beautifully depicted, framed by the restrained floral branches. This piece was sold to a Chinese collector from Nanchang for £4,000. The delicately painted Republic period plate, diameter 23.5cm, decorated with a scene of a man and maiden in a boat beneath a willow tree, also found favour with Chinese bidders and went under the hammer to the same collector in Nanchang for £8,500. All pieces bear the black enamelled calligraphic script which is so often found on objects from this period. Although many such pieces imitate Imperial designs, these later examples are sometimes signed or give clues to the artists or private workshops which proliferated at this time in Jingdezhen.

Tom Rowsell, head of Asian and Islamic Ceramics and Works of Art at Toovey’s, commented: “We have specialised in Chinese porcelain and fine art for almost twenty years at Toovey’s. We have a long-standing Chinese client base but we are continuing to build relationships successfully with new, emerging mainland Chinese collectors through our business activities out there, working with China’s leading collectors’ internet platform, EpaiLive.”

Today, it is the Chinese collector who is driving the demand for Republic period porcelain, rather than the Western buyers who originally patronised this beautiful work. Tom Rowsell is always pleased to offer advice, whether you are interested in selling or acquiring Chinese objects in this boom market. He is now taking in entries for his next specialist sale on Thursday 9th October 2014 and can be contacted on 01903 891955.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 27th August 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Teddy Bears’ Picnic at Borde Hill Garden

Rose Garden at Borde Hill

This coming Bank Holiday Monday, 25th August, sees a Teddy Bears’ Picnic supporting the work of Chestnut Tree House at Borde Hill Garden, near Haywards Heath in West Sussex.

Our possessions are so often markers in the procession of our lives, reminding us of particular moments and memories. They allow us to share our personal stories with others. It is as if they are in some way bound up in the patchwork quilt of our lives.

Binky and Jane
Binky and Jane

The photograph of Binky and Jane depicts a plush fur teddy bear and bunny. They are a little play-worn, their fur rather thin after a lifetime of love and attention, and yet they are beyond price. Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke, the current custodian of Borde Hill House and Garden, tells their story: “Binky and Jane belonged to my late mother, Nidia, and accompanied her when she and her family fled the island of Jersey as the Germans prepared to invade the Channel Islands. They could bring only a few precious possessions with them and my mother chose these two favourites.” The Channel Islands remained under occupation until 9th May 1945. Andrewjohn continues, “My mother always held Binky and Jane in great affection.” It is remarkable that these two threadbare but much-loved characters should represent a little girl’s particular place in the turbulent procession of history in the 20th century.

Summer borders at Borde Hill Garden

The garden at Borde Hill reflects the passion of Colonel Stephenson R. Clarke, who purchased the house and grounds in 1892. After restoring and extending the house, he set about creating the garden, funded by his family’s successful shipping firm. Established in 1730, Stephenson Clarke Shipping was, until its demise in 2012, the oldest British family shipping company. I ask Andrewjohn if it could have been one of his family’s ships that had brought Nidia and her family back to England. He replies, “It could well have been; our collier ships did go to Jersey.”

The Chestnut Tree House hospice also seeks to create special memories with its swimming pool, outdoor adventure trails, games and interactive rooms. Those with life-limiting conditions and their families are blessed by being gathered together into this special place with its dedicated and talented team. Chestnut Tree House’s work is deserving of our support.

A teddy bear waiting with his young owner for the picnic to begin at Borde Hill!
A teddy bear waiting with his young owner for the picnic to begin at Borde Hill!

At its heart, Borde Hill House, an Elizabethan mansion dating from 1590, provides a superb backdrop to the formal seventeen-acre garden, which flows into a series of distinctive ‘garden rooms’, each with its own individual character and style. It is the perfect setting for a Teddy Bears’ Picnic and a great place in which to make fond family memories with games and activities throughout the day.

Binky, Jane and Nidia witnessed extraordinary events in history. Chestnut Tree House bears witness to extraordinary events in the everyday, through its very special work with children and their families – memories which, for them, are beyond price.

Our thanks should go to Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke for preserving and sharing this wonderful garden and for supporting such an important local charity.

The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, supporting Chestnut Tree House Children’s Hospice, will be at Borde Hill Garden, Borde Hill Lane, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 1XP, on Bank Holiday Monday 25th August 2014, 11am to 4pm. Go and enjoy the fun and the spectacular garden!

For more information on opening times and forthcoming events, go to or telephone 01444 450326. To find out more about Chestnut Tree House, its work and how you can offer support, go to

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 20th August 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Sussex Artist Andy Waite on the Arundel Gallery Trail

Artist Andy Waite at work in his home and studio in Arundel

This weekend sees the start of the 26th Arundel Gallery Trail and among the participating artists is Andy Waite, whose home at 54 Tarrant Street will once again be given over to an exhibition of his work.

I am visiting Andy as he puts the final touches to the exhibition. There appears to be an ordered approach, which speaks of a generous and enabling discipline. I ask him about his working method. He explains that he is content to paint in his studio for days and weeks without need of contact with the outside world. Yet the inspiration for his landscapes comes from his experience of walking in the countryside. Back in the studio, he returns to his sketchbooks and photographs, constantly in the process of creating, as well as recalling his sense of a particular moment and place in the studio.

Andy Waite – ‘Icon – The Last Farewell’, oil on scaffold board

Earlier series of Andy’s icons reflected memories of his family and friends. This latest series is painted on old scaffold boards. I am interested to understand what the gold halos around these purely imagined faces mean to him. He replies: “The idea there is that everyone is special.”

Andy’s spirituality is bound up with his relationship with the landscape and those who are close to him. These qualities are apparent in his work. Both his landscapes and icons seem to be connected with the 19th century Romantic tradition in art and literature, which witnessed a return to the hopeful belief in the goodness of humanity and the grandeur and power of nature. Its celebration of our senses and emotions sought to balance our reason and intellect.

As we walk upstairs past a series of landscapes, I remark on Andy’s depth of vision. His skilful handling of rich, layered oil paint strikes the viewer’s eye with a particular intensity as each scene unfolds in our imaginations. He responds, “Although I paint for myself, as a creative person it is always with the desire to share my experience of the world with other people. My landscapes don’t tell you the whole story immediately but reveal new insights over time.” Certainly, as you take time to stare and to inhabit his paintings in your imagination, you will find that your perception of the scene will change and evolve as more of the artist’s vision and experience of that particular moment and place is revealed. You will find an honesty in Andy’s work, which reflects both the joys and sorrows of our human experience in the world.

Andy Waite - ‘A Million Beating Wings’, oil on canvas

So what is it like for this contemplative artist to open his doors to Arundel Art Trail visitors, given that his work represents such a personal, connected view of the world and his relationship with it? “It’s actually okay,” he remarks. After a pause, he continues: “It may seem a strange thing to invite strangers into your home. Although it’s hung like a gallery, it is our personal living space. I enjoy it – people’s feedback gives you a real sense of their engagement with your work.” The relationships between the artist and the world and the artist and the patron clearly feed and affirm Andy and his work. My eye is drawn to a large canvas hanging in his studio, titled ‘A Million Beating Wings’. There is a musical quality in its depiction of this winter scene. The vanilla clouds dancing against the cold blue sky are reflected in the lake below, connected by the drama of the trees moving in the cool breeze, which you can all but hear and feel. The composition, light, palette and handling of paint is wonderful. Although abstracted, the subject is still apparent.

Andy Waite – ‘Walking through the Long Grass’, oil on canvas

Andy Waite’s work has been described as being united with the English Romantic tradition and he acknowledges this, pleased by the sense of place in the procession of artists which includes John Constable, Ivon Hitchens, Graham Sutherland and many others. John Piper considered his fellow artist Paul Nash to be part of this tradition. Nash, however, was keen to emphasise the ‘poetic’ in his work. He sought to look beyond the immediate to what he referred to as the ‘genius loci’, the spirit of the place, to ‘a reality more real’. This resonates with Andy Waite’s work. Andy describes himself as an occasional poet but I would say that the poet is at play in all his work, which is united by the ‘poetic’, whether that be in his oil paintings, their titles, his writing or his film-making. Certainly as an artist, he returns again and again to the poetry of the English landscape and the people close to him in his life.

It is not often people have such unmediated contact with an artist and it is very special to accompany Andy Waite and his work at his home. Andy Waite’s solo exhibition as part of the Arundel Gallery Trail runs from this Saturday 16th to Monday 25th August at 54 Tarrant Street, Arundel, West Sussex BN18 9DN. For more information go to or

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 13th August 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Once upon a time…

Lot 3333 (Front and Back of the Menu)

The history of an object can add value or increase an object’s saleability dramatically, which is why provenance is so important to many antique and collectable items. It was announced recently that The British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA) is to issue provenance certificates for pieces sold by members, as part of a series of changes to modernize the trade association. In their blog announcement BADA state:

Provenance is a crucial element in the sales process and of importance to the art market at large, and for the first time, the fact that an object has been bought from a member of the British Antiques Dealers’ Association can now be recorded as part of its permanent provenance.

People also love a good story, so family history can distort or exaggerate the facts of an item’s history. For this reason, documentation detailing the history of a valuable object is often crucial. The BADA certificates will provide this in the future, in the same way that receipts and letters from times gone by help substantiate the family tale.

Many items have a story to tell without the need for provenance or family history; they are self-explanatory and often fascinating in their own right. The sales of Paper Collectables at Toovey’s are one of the specialist areas in which these items appear most frequently.

The sale on 12th August 2014 includes a group of royal menus (Lot 3333), collected by one of the royal chefs. These 150 or so menus were swept up after various state, official and other meals as a memento of the vendor’s culinary work for H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. Having worked on H.M.Y. Britannia and at Windsor, Sandringham, Buckingham Palace and Holyroodhouse, the vendor’s collection offers a fascinating insight into ‘how the other half live’. Among the menu cards is one of particular interest. Dated ‘Samedi Le 25 Decembre 1993’ and offering a list of delectable dishes, this menu is fascinating because of what is written on the back. The inscription, by a nine-year-old Prince Harry, asks of his brother: “William, What are you talking about Signe [sic] back =.” This eight-word note conjures an image of what the royal meal might have been like for a young boy eager to play with his presents on Christmas day, rather than sitting at a stuffy dinner table with conversation circulating well above the nine year old’s sphere of interest and understanding. Of course, at this date his mum, Princess Diana, would have been at the table at Sandringham.

Lot 3339

From the prince’s charming note to the villain’s devious missives, with a macabre group of four letters from John George Haigh, better known as the ‘Acid Bath Murderer’ (Lot 3339). The group of two typed letters and two autograph letters are all addressed to Miss Bishop and concern the whereabouts of Mr McSwan. Haigh had supposedly taken over Mr McSwan’s affairs so that the latter could go to Scotland to avoid the Second World War. By the time these letters were written in 1945-46, however, McSwan had already been dead for nearly a year, murdered by Haigh, who subsequently dissolved his body in sulphuric acid and poured the remains down a manhole. More victims followed, similarly dissolved in a warehouse which Haigh rented in Crawley. Further local Sussex interest is provided as, after his arrest, Haigh was remanded in custody at Horsham Police Station and was charged with murder in the nearby court house, today known as the Old Town Hall. In the courtroom it took just minutes to find Haigh guilty and he was hung for his crimes on 10th August 1949. The initials ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘G’ can be seen in the top corner of each letter, inscribed by a later hand, presumably as a reference for them being used as evidence.

Lot 3192

The heroes of this blog post can be found on the vintage picture postcards offered in the auction. The outbreak of the First World War was during the Golden Age of postcard production and so many of the postcards provide either a visual or written commentary of the war years. These first-hand accounts might be seen in group portraits of troops prior to leaving for the horrors of the war, or in the images of bomb-damaged cities. They could also be in the brief, censored messages sent home from the front line on the back of French embroidered silk postcards, like those seen in Lot 3192. Postcards and ephemera can provide valuable primary sources for those researching and studying the era. A revealing glimpse into one side of the First World War is presented in Lot 3153, a collection of 24 postcards, the majority of Münster Prisoner of War Camp. Including postcards of the Detention Block and Officer’s Mess, this group of postcards provides a visual snapshot of everyday life in a prisoner-of-war camp during the Great War.

Lot 3153

The Sale of Paper Collectables on 12th August starts at 1.30pm. Viewing for the auction is on Saturday 9th August between 9.30am and 12 noon and on Monday 11th August between 10am and 4pm. With about 350 lots of Stamps, Postcards, Cigarette and Trade Cards, Photographs, Autographs and Ephemera on offer, there is plenty in this auction for collectors and traders to choose from, hopefully meaning they will live happily ever after!

Scottish Colourist J.D. Fergusson at Pallant House Gallery

Fergusson in his studio
'J.D. Fergusson in his studio at 4 Clouston Street, Glasgow’, circa 1955, © The Fergusson Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council, Scotland

John Duncan Fergusson (1874-1961) is known as one of the four ‘Scottish Colourists’, along with F.C.B. Cadell, G.L. Hunter and S.J. Peploe. Fergusson’s career, however, was much more international than those of his peers. He spent much of his adult life in France and England, which explains his association with the European modern art world and its influence on his work. He has been described as one of the leading figures of Celtic Modernism. In common with his fellow Scottish Colourists, Fergusson painted still lifes, landscapes and interiors, but he was always drawn to the female form.

J.D. Fergusson, ‘Bathing Boxes and Tents at St Palais’, 1910, oil on board, presented by the J.D. Fergusson Art Foundation, 1991, © The Fergusson Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council, Scotland
J.D. Fergusson, ‘Hortensia’, 1910, oil on canvas, bequeathed by Eric Linklater, 1976, The University of Aberdeen Museums, © The Fergusson Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council, Scotland

Living in Paris between 1907 and 1913, Fergusson found himself at the centre of the birth of modern Western art. It was while he was in Paris that he made his name.

The restrained quality of his work from this period is in sympathy with the new Fauve approach. Fauvism describes a group of early twentieth century artists, including Henri Matisse and André Derain, who emphasised strong colour and painterly qualities over representationalism and Impressionism, as shown in ‘Bathing Boxes and Tents at St Palais’, painted in 1910.

The Fauvist simplicity of his blocked-in colour gives Fergusson’s art a more Expressionist edge. Take, for example, ‘Hortensia’, painted in 1910. The subtle composition gifts this painting with informality and the black edging finely balances the figure. His paintings increasingly recorded a response to a particular place, a moment, and as they did so, they became more vibrant and decorative.

J.D. Fergusson, ‘Danu, Mother of the Gods’, 1952, oil on canvas, on loan to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, © The Fergusson Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council, Scotland

The 1930s begun triumphantly for Fergusson when ‘Déesse de la Rivière’ was purchased for the French National Collection. But with the outbreak of war in in 1939, he and his lifelong partner, Margaret Morris, moved to Glasgow. They had met each other in Paris in 1913. The photograph shows Fergusson in his studio in Glasgow in the 1950s; in the corner you can see ‘Danu, Mother of the Gods’. Fergusson often painted stylised visions paying homage to his Celtic roots, like this work from 1952. Here Danu, the mother goddess worshipped by the first Celtic tribes to invade Ireland, is depicted in dramatic pose. The handling of paint, colour and strong composition is typical of this artist’s hand.

Fergusson and Morris co-founded the New Art Club and the New Scottish Group. These exhibiting and discussion societies were at the heart of the arts revival in Glasgow at the time. Fergusson remained a generous man and went to great lengths to help other artists and promote modern art. His generosity is apparent in his work.

J.D. Fergusson’s paintings, with their dazzling palette and dramatic handling of subjects, still capture and delight the viewer’s attention. It is a rare treat to see such a body of work exhibited outside Scotland. The exhibition runs until 19th October 2014. For more information go to

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 6th August 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.