A Voyage of Discovery at Horsham Museum

The Maori Poi dancer, Whakarewarewa, published by the New Zealand photographer Thomas Pringle in 1907

Horsham Museum & Art Gallery’s latest exhibition ‘Voyages to the Pacific’ is inspired by the 250th Anniversary of the departure of Captain James Cook’s first voyage to Tahiti in 1768.

The exhibition draws on the museum’s remarkable collection of ethnographic material. The show highlights the interactions and exchanges that have taken place between the peoples of Europe and the Pacific over the last 250 years, including Horsham’s residents whose objects are displayed telling the story.

A collection of Pacific ethnographical objects framed against Horsham’s Causeway

Assistant Curator Rhiannon Jones says “The exhibition shows how the people of Horsham have encountered the people of the South Pacific. These objects were brought back by diplomats, sailors and wealthy people.”

“In the summer of 1768 Captain James Cook set sail from Plymouth for Tahiti hoping to track the transit of Venus. Cook’s techniques in surveying, astronomy and timekeeping were revolutionary, as was his care for his crew and the measures he took to prevent scurvy.”

There was a second charge to Cook to discover the as yet only imagined great southern continent. Cook would sail tantalisingly close, within 75 miles of Antarctica.

Rhiannon explains how this first expedition and Cook’s two subsequent voyages changed European perceptions of world geography leading to trade and colonisation.

The exhibition provides an introduction to the sociocultural anthropology of the peoples of the Pacific through objects and photographs.

My eye is caught by a photograph of the Maori Poi Dancer, Whakarewarewa. It is taken from the book ‘Maori Studies’ published by the New Zealand photographer Thomas Pringle in 1907. The Poi is a traditional Maori dance where weights are swung in rhythmic patterns on the end of tethers.

A rare 19th century Tongan or Samoan Tapa barkcloth panel

On the opposite side of the gallery a series of 19th century Tapa barkcloth panels with striking geometric abstract designs are displayed. These cloths are produced from the inner bark of young shrubs and trees by the process of soaking and beating. They are commonly found across the Pacific and Africa. Barkcloth is still used for clothing, bedding, flooring and ceremonial objects. It is short lived and old examples like this Tongan or Samoan panel are rare.

Rhiannon enthuses about a case filled with ethnographical pieces which include an 18th century pot stand from Papua New Guinea modelled as a head, wooden combs and necklaces, and a small jade totem intended to enhance fertility. I remark that this fascinating array is displayed against the backdrop of Horsham’s famous Causeway which seems to emphasise the town’s connection with the exhibition’s story and objects and she agrees.

Entrance to the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery, The Causeway, Horsham, RH12 1HE, is free with permanent displays and exciting shows. Voyages to the Pacific runs until 26th January 2019. There are plenty of family Christmas activities too. 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.

East Meets West Across the Centuries

A fine Chinese export reverse mirror glass painting, Qianlong period (1735-1796)

In the 17th and 18th centuries mercantile trade exposed the West to Chinese decorative art and, perhaps most importantly, Chinese porcelain. It had a profound influence on English tastes.

In England Chinese motifs were often incorporated into our own decorative schemes like those at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

The £34,000 fine 18th century Chinese export reverse mirror glass painting illustrates this taste and has just been sold at Toovey’s. It is exceptionally well painted with a lady seated on a rock beside a lotus pond with conjugal pairs of pheasants, mandarin ducks and chickens; beyond a pleasure barge processes up the river with an opulent residence on the far shore.

Reverse glass paintings occupy a special position in Chinese art bringing together the genres of Chinese export art, glass working and the painting of idealised beauty. The strong use of colours and exotic flavour ensured their fashionable place in English country house collections during the 18th and later centuries.

In the 20th century Chinese export porcelain and objects from the 17th and 18th centuries once again drew the attention of western collectors.

These interests were reflected in the important single-owner collection from London which has just realised hundreds of thousands of pounds at Toovey’s. One of the features of the collection were a number of fine, rare export porcelain colourful animal, bird and human figures.

A fine, rare pair of Chinese famille rose enamelled export porcelain figure groups of seated maidens with spaniels and phoenixes, early Qianlong period (1735-1796)

Amongst these was a pair of Chinese famille rose enamelled export porcelain figure groups depicting maidens seated in a typical pose with spaniels and marvellous pink phoenixes. 21.5cm high they realised £19,000. They dated from the early Qianlong period (1735-1796) and were fitted with gilt brass candle holders and drip pans. The phoenix, or fenghuang, was the Empress of Birds in Chinese mythology signifying beauty, grace, virtue and the unity of yin and yang.

To understand the importance of this pair of figures it is perhaps helpful to note that a similar pair of figures are to be found in the exceptional Copeland Collection at The Peabody Museum, Salem, USA. The Copeland Collection is known internationally for the superb quality and impressive variety of its many rare pieces. It was put together from 1937 by the American collector, Mrs Lammot du Pont Copeland.

These figures are superb aesthetic objects expressing the form, proportion, detailed decoration, and distinctive modelling that characterize the work of a master potter. They represent the cross-cultural influences and trade between East and West giving a valuable insight into Chinese perceptions of western taste in the 18th century. Being expensive to make and ship these fragile figures were primarily made to order for wealthy private collectors and are therefore rare.

Demand for export pieces like these remains as strong amongst western collectors as it does amongst Chinese. If you would like advice on your Chinese objects Toovey’s Asian Art specialist, Tom Rowsell, can be contacted on 01903 891955 or by emailing 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.