2020 – A Year Defined by Courage, Duty and Service

Sir David Attenborough with exhibition curator and Turner’s House Trustee Andrew Loukes (foreground) © Turner’s House Trust/Anna Kunst

2020 marked the 75th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War. We reflected on the courage, duty and sacrifice of a generation united by their common story. They worked and fought for what Winston Churchill described as “…the victory of the cause of freedom in every land”.

In the face of a global pandemic the men and women of our NHS reminded us that these qualities are still at the heart of our nation.

Our shared experience of Covid-19 has renewed our common story. A story of joys and sorrows. I have been humbled by the resilience of people and generosity of spirit towards those in need. Communities rose to the evolving challenges. In the face of adversity and separation from loved ones there was a sense of genuine care for others.

There can be no doubt that the government’s intelligent, fast and evolving action to support businesses will have preserved the corner stones of Britain’s economy and a huge number of families’ livelihoods and homes.

Amongst the silent majority there seems to be an intentional renaissance, a real shift towards the importance of supporting local shops, businesses and community.

A nation is defined by its history, heritage and the arts. This year has brought huge challenges to this important aspect of our lives. And yet there have been triumphs too. Andrew Loukes has won much acclaim for the National Trust through his curatorial flair at Petworth over many years. He once again attracted national attention with his sell out exhibition Turner and the Thames, at Turner’s House in Twickenham. David Beevers launched A Prince’s Treasure, an exhibition of international importance which continues at The Royal Pavilion, Brighton. The positive economic impact of the arts and heritage on our economy is often misunderstood. I hope that the government will continue to look to find imaginative ways to support this important sector of our economy which speaks into the nation’s very identity.

At Toovey’s we celebrated our 25th Anniversary with a Valentine’s night fund raiser for Chestnut Tree House Hospice – one of the many important local charities which we support.

Rupert Toovey with trademark bowtie on appointment in the downland village of Amberley, West Sussex

For me there is a joy to accompanying people through their art, collectors’ items and antiques. I have continued to be invited into people’s homes to value their treasures for auction and probate in a Covid-safe way.

We have gathered people at our specialist auctions, at times in person by appointment and at other points online, keeping people safe and supporting the government as the demands of Covid-19 evolves. Prices at our auctions have continued to rise throughout 2020.

Toovey’s re-opens on the 4th January 2021 with an exciting calendar of winter specialist auctions. I feel optimistic about the coming year and look forward to welcoming you in person or online.

It remains for me to wish you and those you love a Happy New Year.

The Meaning of Christmas defined by a Mother’s Love for her Child

Manner of Francesco Salviata (1510-1563) – Madonna and Child, 18th century oil on canvas © Toovey’s 2020

The image of the Madonna and Child is timeless and its Christmas story still speaks to us across the millennia.

The depiction of the Madonna and Child you see here is an 18th century copy of the 16th century oil on panel by the Renaissance Mannerist Francesco Salviati (1510-1563) which hangs in the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence. Salviati (also known as Francesco de’ Rossi) was born and worked in Florence. His apprenticeship concluded under the remarkable Andrea del Sarto in 1529-1530. In 1531 he left for Rome where he was reunited with his former Florentine master Baccio Bandinelli. Together they worked on the frescoes depicting the Life of John the Baptist in the Palazzo Salviati for Cardinal Giovanni Salviati whose surname Francesco took on.

In the 16th century, as in earlier times, paintings, frescoes and carvings often contained complex iconography and were frequently used as teaching tools. In this depiction, the Christ Child embraces the Virgin Mary. His right hand is raised in a symbol of blessing as his mother supports him. Mary holds in her hands a veil symbolising their innocence and obedience to God’s will. To the right in the sky above them a winged angel holds a cross alluding to God’s plan for the redemption of humankind through the Crucifixion which is to come. The stylized landscape frames the Marian blue of her cloak. The expressions and gestures of this devoted mother and her child, combined with the delicacy of line and composition, create an effect which is extraordinarily naturalistic and tender.

The painter’s scene is filled with rhythm and beauty, allowing us at once to discern love and authority. Mary’s response to God’s calling and love is acceptance, obedience and service. Her example continues to inspire us.

As you read this I and millions of other Christians across the country will be preparing to celebrate that very first Christmas when God came among us as a baby in a manger. His parents were displaced and without their home.

People over the ages have often talked of value in terms of the material; by this standard, Mary and Joseph had little and yet they knew that they had been richly blessed. They shared the gift of their child with the world. This gift was so precious, so valuable that even the heavenly host of angels rejoiced and praised God. What was being celebrated was love.

Most of us have been expectantly preparing for Christmas as we anticipate the arrival of loved ones, or journey, like Mary and Joseph, to our ancestral homes (whether grand or modest). These shared moments will be particularly precious after the separation caused by Covid-19. Our processions towards Christmas day will be different and particular this year.

As we give and receive gifts this Christmas I hope that like Mary and Joseph we will be inspired to share what we have with the world through acts of generosity, kindness and concern for the needs of others, especially the displaced and the homeless. The message of Christmas is that true value is defined by love and service to others.

It remains for me to wish you and those you love a very happy and blessed Christmas. Keep safe.

Tinsel Rush and the Joy of a Christmas Tree

A chromolithographic Christmas Greetings Card, circa 1901, depicting the joys of a Christmas treeOne of the greatest joys of Christmas is being gathered with my family around our Christmas tree. She is already bedecked with baubles representing love and life. Hundreds of lights twinkle like stars in a night sky amongst what can only be described as a tinsel rush. Beneath the angel an array of Alessi baubles represent the Holy Family, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, accompanied by a donkey and an ox.

The fir tree, evergreen and verdant in the depth of winter has been used to decorate homes over millennia. In Christian times it came to symbolize everlasting life with God. The Christmas tree has also become a symbol for the bonds of friendship. Since 1947, in a special ceremony, Norway has donated a Christmas tree to say thank you for the help that our nation gave them during World War II.

By the 1860s most well to do homes would have had a decorated Christmas tree. Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert played a key role in popularising this tradition in Britain. In 1848 a drawing of the ‘Queen’s Christmas tree at Windsor Castle’ was published in The Illustrated London News with the Queen and her family gathered around it. The image was replicated in numerous publications. But it is thought that the Christmas tree, a German custom, was actually introduced by George IV’s wife Queen Charlotte, herself of German birth.

I was pleased to hear Boris Johnson and Chris Whitty’s reassurance that despite Covid-19 it is safe for Father Christmas to deliver presents with his reindeer this year. Though the best present will be the company of loved ones after so much separation, and the hope of the vaccines now being deployed.

A chromolithographic Christmas Greetings Card, circa 1901, depicting Father Christmas

Father Christmas and the joy of a Christmas tree are vividly portrayed in the Anglo-German chromolithograph greetings cards from Toovey’s paper collectable’s sale. Father Christmas is depicted in his famous red coat with white fur cuffs and collar carrying a sack full of presents. The boy pulls a sleigh laden with presents and carries a fine tree through the snow. Both cards date from the early 20th century.

The original Father Christmas was Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra in the 4th century. He was famous for his gifts to the poor as an expression of Christian love. During the Middle Ages children were given gifts in his honour on the 6th December.

Our gifts, too, are expressions of love for one another, for those in need, and our local charities which have had such a difficult time this year.

This has been a year of challenge and blessing, joys and sorrows, a time for all of us to reflect on what is most important to us – family, friendship, community and the common good. I hope this Christmas will bring you hope and blessing.

The Art of Chinese Cloisonné

An impressive Chinese cloisonné vase (hu), Ming dynasty, height 20inches © Toovey’s 2020

The tradition of enriching metal objects by fusing a composition of ground up multi-coloured glass under heat stretches back over some 3000 years.

It is likely that the origins of these techniques came from the Near East. From the 13th to 12th centuries BC you find it in the Aegean within the cultural sphere of Cyprus. Enamel was employed in Celtic objects from the 5th to 2nd centuries BC and provincial Roman pieces in the first centuries of the Christian era. It reached its heights in Byzantium and European sacred art of the early and high Middle Ages.

The term cloisonné describes the method of creating compartments on a metal object using raised wirework borders, known as cloisons in French. These thin borders remain visible on the finished object separating the compartments of variously coloured enamels. The enamelled powder is worked into a paste to allow its application before being fired in a kiln.

It is likely that these techniques reached China from the Middle East in the 14th century though Byzantium also influenced these developments especially after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 when refugees, in all likelihood, brought their knowledge of enamelling to China.

In China high quality enamelling becomes apparent during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Importantly this branch of artistic endeavour received the patronage of the Imperial Court in China where large pieces were produced.

The impressive Chinese cloisonné vase or hu illustrated dates from the mid-Ming dynasty. The body is decorated in a subtly graded colour palette where two pairs of auspicious, lapis blue dragons frame stylized flaming pearls above the Mountains of Longevity and the Sea of Bliss (shoushan fuhai – live as long as the mountains and may your happiness be as immense as the sea). The chased pair of gilt metal mask and loose ring handles are thought to be of later date.

A Chinese cloisonné bottle vase decorated with a lily pond, Qianlong period, height 8inches © Toovey’s 2020

In the 18th century the emperor Qianlong (1736-1795) surrounded himself with resplendent enamel works in his summer residence which he remodelled in the European Rococo taste guided by Italian and French Jesuit missionaries.

The Qianlong period Chinese cloisonné turquoise ground bottle vase of ovoid form is decorated with a lotus pond whilst the narrow neck has lotus flowerheads and scrolling tendrils above a stiff leaf band. Once again a dragon is depicted, this time cast in gilt metal. Thanks to its symbolic qualities of potent and auspicious powers the dragon is an emblem often associated with the Emperor in China. The turquoise ground is typical of much Chinese cloisonné. Pieces like this embody the search for perfection and originality in an increasingly industrial age.

These two fine examples of the art of Chinese cloisonné were sold for £19,000 and £4,600 at Toovey’s specialist sales of Chinese and Asian Art reflecting its continuing allure to collectors today.

Turner’s Modern World

‘The Fighting Téméraire Tugged to her last Berth to be broken up’, 1839 © The National Gallery London

Tate Britain’s current exhibition Turner’s Modern Britain could not be more timely as our nation once again turns its attention to our industrial heartlands and begins to re-imagine and re-ignite our inventiveness and manufacturing base.

JMW Turner (1775-1851) had strong associations with Sussex through his patron and friend the 3rd Earl of Egremont at Petworth. Turner witnessed an extraordinary period of change during his lifetime: Britain’s industrial revolution and the advent of steam power, social reform, the Napoleonic Wars and French political revolution, the Great Reform Act of 1832, and the abolition of slavery.

This ambitious exhibition seeks to place Turner’s art in the context of his times. It takes a holistic view of the influences of Turner’s broad interests on his work.

The Georgian Britain that Turner grew up in was unrecognisable when compared to the economic powerhouse this country had become by 1851. This period of startling and rapid change has resonances for our own times.

This processional show begins with Turner’s early work as a topographical watercolourist and charts his remarkable development as he found and embraced a new vocabulary to describe his modern age. It was a vocabulary which many of his contemporaries found shocking. The exhibition also highlights Turner’s evolving views towards war, peace, political reform, societal injustice and slavery. Turner celebrated the modern but did not shy away from depicting human tragedy and suffering with an increasing and enduring commitment to reform.

Turner was the first to depict rail and steamboats in significant works which startled his contemporaries. The speed of change must have seemed giddying. Today they provide remarkable evocations of not just the scenes but of the experience of encountering revolution, science, invention and steam.

Two paintings in the exhibition more than any, for me, encapsulate the procession of Turner’s life and his modern age.

‘The Fighting Téméraire’ painted in 1836 provides a muted melancholic scene. Beneath the setting sun and the early risen moon a distinguished old warship, one of the last survivors of the Battle of Trafalgar, is towed away by a steam tug representing the modern age which has made her redundant. The sky, half molten and half glassy green remains, one of the extraordinary achievements in Western art.

JMW Turner, ‘Rain Steam and Speed’, 1844 © The National Gallery London

‘Rain Steam and Speed’ provides an impression of the new age of steam engines and travel. The train appears elemental, at one with the wind and rain as it moves at speed towards us. It captures not only a visual impression but also the experience of this relatively new invention. Nature, science and industry appear united by a modern age in this painting.

Tate Britain, Covid-19 willing, will reopen today. To book tickets for this exceptional and timely show, and to find out more visit tate.org.uk. The exhibition runs until the 7th March 2021.