Live Premier of a New Concerto Inspired by Sussex

Andrew Bernardi and the 1696 Stradivarius preparing for the live premier of Paul Lewis’ new Violin Concerto © Malcolm Green 2020

This week I am in the company of Andrew Bernardi bathed in the dappled light in his garden. The Shipley Arts Festival has commissioned a new Violin concerto by the acclaimed Sussex composer, Paul Lewis.

I ask Andrew about this exciting new commission. He replies “Paul Lewis who’s been a friend now for well over 10 years and a part of the festival is a composer who lives in Sussex. He’s written a wonderful violin concerto. The minute we began to rehearse it we knew it was going to be a hit.

We’re going to be playing the whole concerto which is very cleverly written. The opening movement is titled 1696 Stradivarius. The intervals at the beginning are one-six-nine-six after the year the Stradivarius was made.”

The second and third movements are titled Shipley Idyll and Chinese Adventure.
Andrew says “This [concerto] is a real story that comes out of Sussex. Paul’s very cleverly also continued our journey which, as you know, has gone across Asia, so the concerto ends with Chinese Adventure.” Andrew’s important cultural dialogue with China has continued throughout the pandemic as have his performances with the Shipley Arts Festival embracing the opportunities of online concerts during lockdown. Andrew is delighted by the opportunities the technology has provided and to be performing in front of audiences once again now restrictions are easing.

I remark that he is rooted and sent from Sussex. Andrew smiles and agrees. Shipley has such big place in his heart I ask him what it is like to play the Shipley Idyll movement. He pauses to reflect and says “It’s very beautiful, very witty, brilliantly written and very challenging to play I might add.”

He continues “It reminds me of going down the river from here at our house which carries on to the church and goes through the Knepp Estate and eventually ends up in the sea. And that kind of describes what music does. That idea of something small becoming something huge. I think the river system brilliantly reflects this. So that’s what I think the Shipley Idyll reflects. You go out and find all these beautiful places and then you meet all these wonderful people on your journey and then you’re part of the sea, this amazing thing that you never knew was so large.”

As Andrew talks it seems to me that this could also be a metaphor for the growing national and international reputation of the Shipley Arts Festival here in Sussex.

Andrew plays me the Shipley Idyll movement. It is deeply moving, hope filled, shimmering descriptive, like the changing seasons, it seems to capture the passage of time and love – the pilgrimage of life in a Sussex landscape.
Andrew describes how for him the character of Sussex is born out of its people.

He concludes “My friends, the people here in Sussex are really warm hearted, hospitable, open and sharing, like the countryside. That’s what it’s all about.”
Andrew Bernardi’s generosity of spirit is at the heart of the Shipley Arts Festival with its community of musicians and supporters. Paul Lewis’ beautiful Violin Concerto’s live premier will be at Nuthurst Church on 18th July 2021. To book tickets for this and other concerts in the 2021 Shipley Arts Festival season visit

Global Art Market Report Highlights Future Growth in Collecting

Furnishing sustainably with English Country House art and antiques © Toovey’s 2020

The findings of the 2021 Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report highlights the trends we are witnessing here in Sussex with future growth in collecting.
Covid-19 has affected our lives in so many different ways, there have been joys and sorrows. And yet those I meet are hopeful about the future.

In the auction, art and antique world I have witnessed a collecting boom alongside the tender shoots of a renaissance of interest in more traditional art and antiques. English Country House Taste, which the young are now calling The New Minimalism, gives expression to their desire to have a minimal impact on the world by celebrating older furniture and objects which make no demands on the world’s precious resources. Women, too are having a stronger influence on collectors’ markets. The huge investment in our online offer over many years has brought dividends to our clients as collectors have embraced our digital showroom.

However, collectors and sellers have been delighted to return to the salerooms and sales once again by appointment.

The report notes that the US retained its position as market leader in 2020 with a share of 42% of global sale values. For the third year running the UK maintained its second place position with a 20% share but this year on level pegging with China.

The report illustrates how the digital transformation has accelerated as auctioneers, galleries and fairs moved their sales online in response to the challenges of Covid-19. Perhaps unsurprisingly online sales doubled in value from 2019 to reach a record high of $12.4 billion. The report highlights that for the first time the share of e-commerce in the art market exceeded that of general retail. The figure represented a record 25% share of the market’s total value.

The collectors surveyed remained actively engaged with the art market. Despite having fewer opportunities to buy in person they purchased almost as many items in 2020 as they had in 2019.

Online and in person, report highlights future growth in collecting © Toovey’s 2021

Among the most exciting statistics in the report 66% of those surveyed said the pandemic had increased their interest in collecting, and one third (32%) said significantly. This increase shows the resilience and appeal of our market and matches our experience at Toovey’s here in Sussex. The majority of collectors noted their intention to be active in 2021, with 57% planning to purchase more work.

Foot traffic data from UBS Evidence Lab offered early indications of renewed visits to commercial galleries in 2021 and that has been our experience too.
An exciting development is the continued growth in women’s buying power and influence in the market. In 2020 women spent more than men with their average expenditure rising 13% year-on-year.

Millennials are also becoming influential in the market and are more likely to be active online, the report noting greater use of online viewing and social media.
The trend towards future growth in collecting and furnishing in a sustainable way in the looks set to continue with Britain maintaining its success in the global art market.

Stewarding the Sussex Landscape

Frank Wootton’s oil on canvas ‘A Passing Storm, Windover Hill, Sussex’ © Toovey’s 2021

The South Downs have for centuries been shaped by farming. The ancient, managed chalk grasslands are still maintained on some of the steep downland slopes. The rich biodiversity of birds, fauna and insects predate on those that eat the crops. In the valleys and open fields mixed farming ensures that the fertility of the soil is improved and maintained by the under planting of cereal crops with rich clovers and grass grazed by sheep and cattle in seven year crop rotations to limit disease. Some of the most balanced and sustainable farming practice in the country is to be found in the leas of the South Downs.

The oil painting titled ‘A Passing Storm, Windover Hill, Sussex’ by the Sussex artist Frank Wootton. OBE (1911-1998) depicts a rural idyll with grazing cattle beneath the majesty of the Sussex Downs. It sold at Toovey’s for £2600. You sense the heat in the tone and palette of the scene. The storm casts its shadow, moving quickly across the landscape as the rain falls. It is this quality of landscape which speaks into the very identity of our nation. What the Shipley poet Hilaire Belloc described as ‘The great hills of the South Country, They stand along the sea’.
Frank Wootton studied at The Eastbourne College of Art under Eric Ravilious and Arthur Reeves-Fowkes. Whilst his landscapes and equestrian scenes are celebrated Wootton is perhaps most famous for his aeronautical paintings.
In the late 19th and 20th centuries many of Britain’s leading artists were inspired to leave London, our towns and cities for the country. For some it was to escape the effects of the industrial revolution and for others the wars

And here’s the thing, that sense of the rural idyll remains alive in popular culture and the public’s imagination. In contrast we have become more and more removed from the reality of country life even though the debate around farming in this country is entering into our national conversation.

The overwhelming majority of the farmers here in Sussex work constantly to achieve a balance between maintaining the fertility of the land, producing food in a sustainable way for the nation with close attention to the preservation of nature.

In a mixed agricultural response to the challenges of climate change it is vital that we seek to restore our soils and feed the nation through mixed agriculture. Local food supply chains, balanced mixed farming, and working with nature must surely have a dramatically reduced carbon footprint over the alternative of importing our food on hugely polluting ships and planes.

Our farmer’s continue to steward the landscapes which have inspired artists and musicians over the centuries and never more so than in Sussex in the 20th century. In our hearts and minds the countryside with its generous communities connected with the seasons and the abundance of the land have provided hope against the back drop and grind of urbanisation.

Walking with nature and in conversation with those we love is a great blessing. Our countryside, maintained by our farmers, is the perfect place for a day’s holiday-after all Sussex has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. And we must do our best to support our Sussex farmers as we shop.

Robert Hill-Snook and the Royal Pavilion Gardens

Robert Hill-Snook, Head Gardener at the Royal Pavilion Brighton

Robert Hill-Snook’s passion for gardening as Head Gardener at the Royal Pavilion is matched by his passion for people. When you meet him it quickly becomes apparent that gardening is not a job but a vocation, a way of life.

I remark that I cannot imagine that there would have been any peace without answering his sense of calling and vocation to be a gardener. Robert smiles and agrees.

As we walk in the gardens people approach him to talk about their lives and how this space at the heart of a city affects and blesses their lives. The most creative and exciting things are born out of relationship. It is clear that Robert’s care for and relationship with the gardens, his professional team, volunteers and those who come here has been transformative. A friend and colleague describes Robert as an “Anima Naturaliter Christiana”, a naturally Christian soul, and his work is a natural expression of faith.

Robert explains that John Nash’s Regency designs and the Royal Head Gardener William Aiton’s planting reflected the British taste for landscape gardens and the creation of picturesque views. Nash’s restored serpentine drive and the naturalistic beds of mixed flowers and shrubs reveals a series of vignettes of the Pavilion framed by the planting.

Robert remarks “The planting is all about textures, different shades of green – not dense so you can see through. The effects change with the light throughout the day. We’ve introduced succession planting so there is always something of interest to see as we move through the seasons. But we’re late this year because of the weather. There is a wholeness to the gardens and the building bringing together the English countryside and exotic plants from China and around the world.”

The Royal Pavilion Gardens at the heart of a city

The bird song rises in an anthem amongst the beautiful Elm trees alongside the bustle and noise of the city as Robert bends to pick a weed he’s spotted. He continues “We’re still bringing nature into the town. It’s really blessed people, especially during Covid.” I am pleased to hear this. I have been concerned for people deprived of an adequate outside space during these times.

I ask Robert about his legacy as he retires after almost twenty-five years at the Pavilion. He pauses and says “Every gardener uses one’s own expression because it is a living thing. And things will continue to change. The gardens gather and it’s a beacon, a great source of well-being for people and nature.”

I comment on his remarkable achievements in the gardens. Robert with his usual humility responds by talking about the importance of his team and the volunteers. Accompanying and enabling people, his individual friendships and the chance encounters with people in the gardens are clearly very important to him. Gardens provide a wonderful place for conversation and relationship. Robert explains that these encounters are built on mutual respect.

Robert’s care for the gardens and people, his sense of servant leadership, of putting the needs of others before his own is refreshing. For a busy chap there is a rooted stillness to his spirituality which blesses him with a wholeness of life. His stewardship has blessed these precious gardens and the community of people who share them.

A Collection Inspired by The Natural World

Emma Faull – Snipe in reeds, watercolour on a gold ground

The things that we collect so often reflect our lives and interests. This is true of the collection of the connoisseur and patron, the late Frank Warren, who lived near Horsham. A gentleman, amateur naturalist and sportsman, his collection of art and his library reflect his deep love of nature and the countryside and are to be auctioned at Toovey’s.

A man of broad interests with a knowledge, care and excitement for the world in which he lived the collection reflects his outward facing, generous nature.
The paintings are from an established group of contemporary realist artists who are once again returning to the British tradition of recording the world and nature. Many of the paintings in the collection are by Michael Jevon, as well as Rodger McPhail, George Lodge and Emma Faull, artists who this private collector counted as friends. He enjoyed the quality of patronage when buying work from these contemporary, realist artists. They depict birds, wildlife, and the countryside.

Painted in watercolour on a gold ground the beautiful study of Snipe in reeds is by Emma Faull. There is an accuracy and life to her work which defines her painting. Emma works with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey and is a passionate conservationists. Her art is represented in permanent collections such as the Audubon Society in the USA and collectors of her work include HM the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Six limited edition, leather bound volumes on British sporting game birds and wildfowl, illustrated and published by Richard Robjent

The book department is one of my favourite rooms at Toovey’s; a library where the volumes are constantly changing. I catch up with Toovey’s book specialists, Charlie Howe, who is busy cataloguing and ask him about the books in the collection. He says “It’s notable to see that all these books are in very fine condition – he obviously was a genuine collector with wide and varied interests.

There’s literature and poetry, fine bindings of Shelley and Keats, all sitting alongside a strong collection of books on hunting and natural history.”
Six beautifully bound volumes in slip cases catch my eye. Charlie explains that the volumes are limited editions, bound in leather with tipped in illustrated plates by the artist and publisher, Richard Robjent. They cover all the sporting game birds and wildfowl of the British Isles and were published by Fine Sporting Interests. The volume ‘The Partridge – Studies in Words and Pictures’ includes a foreword by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.

Charlie continues “Frank had a keen interest in travel too. There’s a first edition of Bruce Chatwin’s ‘In Patagonia’, as well as a scarce first printing of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ‘A Time to keep silence’. There are many other rare volumes.

Estimates range from under £100 to the low thousands. This beautiful collection reflecting the interests of a country gentleman and connoisseur will be auctioned in Toovey’s Fine Art sale on Wednesday 23rd June and the Antiquarian and Collectors Books sale on Wednesday 21st July 2021.