Maggi Hambling and Max Wall

Maggi Hambling., CBE, ‘Max Sitting (no.9)’, oil, signed and dated 1982

An important portrait by the leading British artist Maggi Hambling, from her famous Max Wall series of portraits, is to be auctioned at Toovey’s on Wednesday 19th June 2019.

Maggi Hambling was the artist in residence at the National Gallery in London during 1980 and 1981 as her work grew in confidence and power. It was during this time that she went to see Max Wall at the Garrick Theatre for the first time.

Max Wall’s public life as a clown and entertainer was in contrast to his often unhappy and disrupted private life.

In the summer of 1981 Max Wall played Vladimir in Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ to much acclaim in the Royal Exchange production at the Round House. Hambling went to see him in the role on four or five occasions and began to work out a series of pictures based on his performance. As Max sat for her Maggi’s portraits of him became more intimate and insightful. Although they corresponded between October 1981 and Easter 1982 they remained apart.

In his absence, Hambling completed three of her most impressive paintings in the series. Among these is the picture illustrated, ‘Max Sitting (no.9)’. The painting is an act of recapitulation. Hambling gives expression to a painting of dreams, recalling a dream where a white owl bursts through a pane of glass in an isolated, lonely house. Max sits dreaming, his cigarette smoke hangs in the air as he waits on his muse represented by the owl’s arrival. The challenges of his life are signified by the cat’s shadow as the floor veers off in a nightmarish way. Her use of colour to create mood and atmosphere and the rendering of his features acts as though the portrait is a mirror into his soul. It gives voice to her concern for the individual human predicament.

Hambling would recall “At Easter 1982, Max reappeared and posed for drawings. After painting so long from my internal image of him, it was a traumatic experience to have him in front of me again, and to work from life.” Max thought it was marvellous that he should inspire Hambling in this way.

This powerful portrait would be reproduced on the cover of the exhibition catalogue for ‘Max Wall Pictures by Maggi Hambling’ at London’s National Portrait Gallery in 1983.

It was a measure of Hambling’s status as an artist when, in 1986, ‘Max Sitting (no.9)’ was hung alongside her fellow London Group artists, including Frank Auerbach, Peter Blake, Lucian Freud, David Hockney and Ron B. Kitaj at Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery in the ‘Artist and Model’ exhibition.

This important work will be auctioned at Toovey’s as part of their sale of fine paintings on Wednesday 19th June 2019 with a presale estimate of £10,000-£15,000. For more information telephone Nicholas Toovey on 01903 891955.

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.

Festival of Plants at Sussex Prairie Garden

I arrive at the Sussex Prairie Garden to find the international garden designers Paul and Pauline McBride and their team preparing for this weekend’s Specialist Plant Fair with the Plant Fair Roadshow which takes place on Sunday 9th June between 12noon and 5pm.

They first opened the Sussex Prairie Garden to the public back in 2009 and ever since Paul and Pauline have worked to provide a platform to bridge garden enthusiasts to leading specialists. Pauline says “The Specialist Plant Weekend is a wonderful opportunity to find top nursery men and women from across the South East of England gathered in one place. It’s rare to be able to speak to experts in their fields about their plants and ask their advice about which plants might be best for you.”

Paul and Pauline’s winter has been spent travelling in Central America seeking fresh inspiration, tending the garden and re-planting the North Mound.

As we sit drinking tea and sampling the café’s wonderful food and cake on the terrace we look out over the emerging swathes of planting in this remarkable garden. Pauline remarks “It’s so wonderful to see it re-emerging again – a hundred shades of green.” Paul adds “And there’s lots of blues at the moment – Alliums and Baptisia from Australia. The garden comes on very quickly at this time of year. We have just enjoyed hosting a number of students from the School of Landscape Architecture at Blois in France. When they arrived a few weeks ago there was almost nothing here and look at it now.”

I comment on the poetry and rhythm of the planting in the garden. Pauline agrees and comments “We do like to repeat the same plants in a border to invite you into the sinuous pathways so you can inhabit the colour, texture and shapes in the planting. The garden is planted in the shape of an Ammonite – a form from nature where there is no beginning and no end – there is some kind of harmony in that.”

It brings to my mind these lines from T.S. Elliot’s poem ‘Little Gidding’ which resonate with Pauline:

‘We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate…’

She responds “There is a circular sort of thing to the garden. We’re referencing the Sussex landscape that surrounds us – Chanctonbury ring over there in the distance and the sensuous undulations of the Downs.”

Sussex Prairie Garden designers and owners Paul and Pauline McBride

Alongside the specialist nurseries you must not miss out on Paul’s Pick of the Prairie with all the plants you might need to create your own prairie borders.

An afternoon of plant shopping and cake against the background of the beautiful Sussex Prairie Garden – what could be better – you must treat yourselves, I hope to see you there!

This festival of plants will be held this coming Sunday 9th June, 12noon 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.