Harold Gilman at Pallant House

Harold Gilman – Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord, c.1913, oil on canvas © Tate London, 2018

The Harold Gilman exhibition currently on show at Pallant House Gallery is visually stunning.

Harold Gilman (1876–1919) has been described as an English Post-Impressionist. His portrayal of life in the early 20th century combines the gritty formality of the Camden Group of artists with the vitality of post impressionism.

Harold Gilman was a founder member of both the Camden Group and the Fitzroy Street Group. He enrolled at the Hastings School of Art in 1896 and in 1897 moved to the Slade School of Fine Art in London where he received a traditional training.

Gilman was influenced by the artists Walter Sickert and later Spencer Gore and Lucien Pissarro, all of whom had connections with and worked in Sussex. Gilman’s paint became more textural, a little more broken and opaque in texture. By 1912 he was being grouped with the Post Impressionists.

In 1912 and 1913 Gilman visited Sweden and Norway where he experimented with vivid colours often employing a patchwork of flat, simplified areas of paint as can be seen in his depiction of the Canal Bridge at Flekkefjord painted in 1913. Gilman’s work was never slavish to the current vogue – he took only what was necessary to his own needs. Even during his periods of experimentation Gilman would often work in a traditional way from drawings squared-up for transfer with colour notes. It was this practice which allowed him to present a complex subject like the scene at Flekkefjord in a painterly and coherent way with beautifully articulated compositions.

Harold Gilman – Interior with Mrs Mounter, c.1916/17, oil on canvas © Ashmolean Museum

Amongst the most famous of Harold Gilman’s pictures are those he painted in his lodgings at 47 Maple Street, Camden Town, London between 1914 and 1917. There is often an underlying discipline to the depiction of these interior scenes which lends them an internal dissonance contradicting the richness of his tone and palette. He revels in the mix of patterns, colours and objects – symbols of his middle-class upbringing. They are at once joyful and forlorn.

His paintings of women, whether nude or clothed, of whatever age or class, reveal a rare tenderness which is apparent in Interior with Mrs Mounter. Mrs Mounter was his housekeeper. Her apron, headscarf, the cloth covering the washstand in the background and her pose create a scene which seems ill at ease with itself. Gilman expresses the physical and social separation between Britain’s classes in the early 20th century as society changed. This was especially poignant for women and the issues of suffrage.

In 1919 at the age of just 43 Gilman fell victim to the flu epidemic and died. This exceptional exhibition gives a wonderful insight into the heights that this extraordinary and very British artist reached in the last years of his life. You must treat yourselves and go.

Harold Gilman – Beyond Camden runs until the 9th June 2019. The exhibition can be seen at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. For more information go to www.pallant.org.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.

A Georgian Bureau Makes the Perfect Home Office

Rupert’s virtual study – a Georgian bureau

Fine English antique furniture still represents remarkable value for money and provides the opportunity to own something made of the finest materials, combining beauty with practicality. With rising interest in traditional furniture the time has come to reassess how it can work in our contemporary homes where space is so often at a premium.

The bureau is amongst my favourite pieces.

The famous Georgian furniture designer Thomas Sheraton in his Cabinet Dictionary of 1803 stated that in England the term bureau has ‘generally been applied to common desks with drawers under them, such as are made very frequently in country towns.’

There is such delight in a bureau. As you open it, the fall flap hinges downwards to form a writing surface. It reveals pigeonholes, drawers, a cupboard and sometimes even secret compartments. The sloping sides gather you as you sit at it, whether reading, working or just taking time to imagine.

Good vernacular examples from the 18th century are a real pleasure to own. Indeed, my own bureau is a typical example of this type. Crafted in precious mahogany it lives in the corner of our spare room – a virtual study for our virtual age.

It was made in England around 1770, during the reign of George III. As the world’s first industrial revolution gained its head of steam, a skilled country cabinetmaker set about making it. The drawer interiors are of cedar, the dovetails cut by hand. His eye was good and the proportions are just right. It is layered with prompts to fond memories; a family photograph, a drawer full of pebbles from a favourite beach, a little cupboard for my communion set, books and the odd column all vie for space with my laptop. Best of all I can shut the flap on it all when I’ve done enough or if Aunt Enid comes to stay!

The personal computer with its bulky boxes, screens, cables and keyboard could not be accommodated by the gracious bureau and values were undermined.

But the pleasures of a bureau are finding renewed favour in our wireless age of clouds, ‘iThings’ and laptops. They are once again proving to be the perfect home office or virtual study earning their space in the modern home.

A good George III mahogany bureau like mine can still be bought for a hundred or two at auction. This bureau is almost two hundred and fifty years old and will grace any sitting room, or spare bedroom! It makes no demands on our world’s finite resources and will continue to be a pleasure to generations to come. Perhaps, in the end, antique furniture is green, not brown. You should be buying a bureau for your children and grandchildren whilst you still can – the perfect 21st birthday present!

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.

Mary Crabb at the Oxmarket

The Sussex based artisan artist Mary Crabb, exhibiting at the Guildhall, London as a Yeoman Member of The Worshipful Company of Basketmakers

This week I am in the company of the Sussex based artisan artist, Mary Crabb, as she prepares to run a series of workshops in the art of Basketry at the Oxmarket Gallery, Chichester. These one and two day creative workshops run from Tuesday 26th to Sunday 31st March.

Mary’s own making has developed out of a grounding in traditional basketry techniques and hours of exploration and experimentation. Mary explains “I like to offer workshops to cater for a range of learning – for those interested in the destination, the completing of a made object, and those wishing to make a creative journey where the process is more important than a finished piece of work. Of course sometimes there is an overlap and I always like to be flexible. Workshops can often throw up unexpected ideas!”

Mary’s workshops are in demand across the UK. I ask her what draws people to them. She answers “People come for lots of different reasons, not necessarily just to learn a new skill or develop their practice. Those who join these workshops are engaging in open minded creative thinking which can be quite courageous.” There is a sense in which Mary is building communities through her work bringing people together and providing them with a shared narrative, a common story.

As a practical, practising basket maker Mary was honoured by The Worshipful Company of Basketmakers when she was elected as a Yeoman Member. Yeoman must spend the majority of their time basket making or teaching and are required to demonstrate a high standard of workmanship and skill in the Craft.

My eye is taken by a colourful coiled basket. Mary says “I’m running a day on coiled baskets. We start by looking at the structure of a coiled basket to identify the core and stitching material. Then I teach the techniques for hand stitching around the core to wrap and join threads and begin the basket. I explore a basic stitching technique and suggest how patterns can be added with colours and the placing of each stitch. When you make a small basket it’s important to learn how to place the core material to build a form, and how to finish the basket off. It’s a skills based day to try out a new technique or perhaps as a refresher. All students take a piece home at the end of the day.”

Mary’s enthusiasm is infectious. These exciting workshops will be held at the Oxmarket Gallery, St Andrews Court, off East Street, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 1YH, from Tuesday 26th to Sunday 31st March 2019.

To find out more and to book your place visit www.marycrabb.co.uk then click on Events and Workshops. And you can follow Mary Crabb on social media @crabbbaskets

18th Century English Porcelain Inspired by Nature

I am often asked by people what they should collect and my response is always the same – buy what delights you what you are passionate about. After all most people start to collect as part of a journey of acquiring knowledge and understanding.

That said 18th and early 19th century English porcelain still represents great value to the collector. I find that I am often drawn to the pieces where the decoration is inspired by nature. There is a richness and joy in the finesse of painting which would often be unaffordable if it was on canvas.

Between 1680 and 1820 the imaginations of some of Britain, Europe and America’s leading philosophers, scientists and writers were inspired by a new age of reason and learning which became known as the Enlightenment. As scientists and collectors sought to catalogue the natural world they influenced society’s awareness and engagement with nature. In response to this naturalistic and botanical styles of decoration on porcelain became prevalent. Chinese taste also inclined fashionable collectors towards the naturalistic Rococo.

A rare English Bow porcelain botanical jug, circa 1770

The interesting and unusual Bristol porcelain jug illustrated dates from around 1770. Its pear shaped body is enamelled with flowers on both sides within gilded scroll framing against a veined blue ground. The rim, spout and foot has further gilt scrollwork and trellis detailing. It is exciting to note that the jug has an ‘A. Trapnell’ paper collector’s label to its base. Albert Amor purchased the entire Trapnell Collection of Bristol and Plymouth porcelain in 1912, over 1000 pieces, for an estimated £15,000. It was exhibited and sold at their London gallery. The number ‘353’ to the base of this jug matches the description in Amor’s catalogue, where it is described as ‘an interesting specimen’. This is probably due to the fact that recorded Bristol porcelain with a ground colour, such as this veined blue example, is unusual. The Amor catalogue does not suggest it is not original, although it is known that certain 18th century porcelains, most notably from the Worcester factory, were sometimes redecorated, especially in the 19th century.

A fine Worcester rococo cup, probably decorated by James Giles, circa 1765-70

The Worcester porcelain large coffee or chocolate cup dates from around 1765-70, and was probably decorated in the James Giles workshop. James Giles (1718-1780) was an ‘outside decorator’ of porcelain and glass based in London’s fashionable Cockspur Street. Giles decorated pieces of white porcelain which he purchased from porcelain factories including Bow and Worcester. The cup seen here is of typical ‘U’ shape with grooved loop handle gilded with husks. The main body is enamelled in the rococo style showing the influence of the Chinese with a large Fancy Bird on rockwork, accompanied by smaller birds beneath a gilded rim. It is marked with underglaze blue pseudo Meissen mark to base.

Today late 18th and early 19th century English porcelain, like the pieces illustrated, can still be purchased at auction for middle hundreds of pounds.

Toovey’s next sale of Fine British and Continental Ceramics will be held on Thursday 18th April 2019. Perhaps you too will be inspired by the richness of porcelain inspired by nature.

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.