“A nation is defined by its history, heritage and the arts”

The remarkable Chinese porcelain pagodas, circa 1803, reunited with the Royal Pavilion © HM Queen Elizabeth II, 2019

This year the Royal British legion celebrated its 100th Anniversary with a ceremonial Torch which passed through Sussex. Their work supporting the men and women of our armed forces and their families reminds us of the courage, duty and sacrifice of successive generations united by their common story in the defence of righteousness.

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. The extraordinary, evolving and continuing program of vaccination has been filled with hope and blessed so many of us.

Our shared experience of Covid-19 continues to renew our common story. A story of joys and sorrows. There seems to be a weariness amongst people and yet I continue to be humbled by the resilience and generosity of spirit I encounter particularly towards those in need. In the face of adversity and separation from loved ones there has been a sense of genuine care for others across our communities.

A nation is defined by its history, heritage and the arts. This year has once again brought huge challenges to this important aspect of our lives.

David Beevers curated A Prince’s Treasure, an exhibition of international importance at Brighton’s Royal Pavilion.

It showcases a spectacular loan of some 120 decorative works of art from Her Majesty The Queen; pieces that were originally commissioned by the Prince Regent for the Royal Pavilion. It provides a once in a lifetime opportunity for visitors to see these objects of unparalleled magnificence in their original setting. The Pavilion’s exotic, regal interiors come alive in the company of the pieces commissioned for them and further our understanding of the future George IV’s influence and tastes. But be quick this once in a lifetime exhibition closes on the 9th January 2022.

Rowan Allan at the 150th Anniversary West Grinstead & District Ploughing & Agricultural Society plough match

The West Grinstead Annual Plough Match and agricultural show celebrates the work of our farmers and their important contribution, through their stewardship of the countryside, to our county’s rural landscape. At the heart of the Society which runs it is its Honorary Secretary Rowan Allan of H. J. Burt, Steyning. He has spent his life celebrating and professionally supporting the work and life of the countryside. Stunning summer weather brought record crowds to their 150th Anniversary Plough Match at Priors Byne Farm at Partridge Green hosted by John and Alison Ford.

Andrew Bernardi continues to bless our county with the Shipley Arts Festival. Its concerts are celebrated nationally and take place in venues here in the heart of Sussex. Andrew’s work with the young musicians of our county is inspirational.

At Toovey’s we gathered people at our specialist auctions, in person and online as circumstances allowed. Prices at the auctions continued to rise throughout 2021.

Despite the rise of Omicron I feel optimistic about the coming year and like all of us working in the arts and heritage sector I look forward to welcoming you in person or online.

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

Love and Hope at the Heart of Christmas

Albrecht Dürer – The Holy Family with Three Hares, woodcut on laid paper, circa 1496

The early large scale woodcut print you see here is an image by the Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). Produced around 1496, it comes from a series of prints he made illustrating scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary. This image is titled The Holy Family with Three Hares and demonstrates the artist’s extraordinary delicacy of line. It illustrates the qualities of love and hope at the heart of the Christmas story.

Influenced by the artistic life of his native Nuremberg this gifted and versatile artist uses the play of lines on Mary’s dress to give form and mass to her figure. The story of the nativity is told in an enclosed garden symbolising Mary’s innocence and obedience to God’s will. Beyond the garden wall a landscape stretches into the distance. In the garden hares play at Mary’s feet – symbols of Christian love, fertility and protection. The angels hold a crown above the Virgin’s head reminding the viewer of Mary’s role as queen of heaven. She holds a lively looking baby Jesus on her lap. As Joseph watches over his family Mary stares into the distance. The infant Christ, the Word of God, reads the Bible which foretells his life and what will come to pass. The beautifully conceived scene is framed against a landscape with its detailed perspective.

It was Dürer’s woodcuts and engravings which established his reputation and influence.

To produce a woodblock print the artist’s design is pasted to the block so that the engraver can cut the image into the wood. The printer would then print the image.

As you read this I and millions of Christians across the country will be preparing to celebrate that very first Christmas when God came among us as a baby in a manger. Mary’s response to God’s calling and love is acceptance, obedience and service. Her example continues to inspire us.

There has been much to challenge us this year as Covid and its impact has continued to evolve. Whilst there have been points of personal tragedy and heartbreak the response of so many has been generous and hope filled. Our common story remains one of both of joy and sorrow.

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 angels rejoiced and praised God. What was being celebrated was love.

Most of us have been expectantly preparing for Christmas as we hope to be able to welcome or journey to our loved ones. Our processions towards Christmas day will be a little more uncertain and different again this year.

I hope that like Mary and Joseph we will be inspired to share what we have with the world through acts of generosity and kindness, especially in these times. The message of Christmas is that hope comes out of our love and care for others. It is a joyful and hope filled message.

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

The Joy of Christmas Trees and Cards

Rupert Toovey’s Alessi Nativity Christmas baubles

Christmas seems to be arriving at great speed this year. I haven’t even finished my Christmas cards yet let alone begun the wrapping up. But at least our Christmas tree is up!

You probably have a beautifully themed tree with a colour scheme, matching baubles and accessories but mine, I have to own, is rather more of a tinsel rush with lots of sparkly lights. Each bauble encapsulates a precious memory like Betty Southall’s marvellous gold, spray painted and glitter encrusted pine cone. It has matching wire sprays capped with imitation pearls which makes it look like a firework. Bless her, Betty was an avid auction goer years ago and would often be seen racing into the saleroom car park in her sky blue Morris Traveller trying not to be late for a lot or a party.

My favourite baubles though are a set of Alessi ones modelled as the Nativity. They are particularly precious because they were a Christmas present from my family. Designed by Laura Polinoro and Marcello Jori they’re joyful. The face of the baby Jesus smiles out from a bundle of hay, Mary is dressed in Marian blue and Joseph in red. I love the look of surprise on the donkey’s face – and those ears!

Alessi is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The company was founded by the Italian born Giovanni Alessi in 1921. The company followed in the footsteps of Giovanni’s father Carlo. From the 1970s Alberto Alessi collaborated with a number of leading designers including Ettore Sottsass, Michael Graves and Philippe Starck. Following in the footsteps of the Victorian designer Dr Christopher Dresser they once again combined art and design with the manufacture of domestic objects. From the moment these iconic Alessi pieces were released they became collectors’ items.

The tree is done so Christmas cards next.

A pen and ink Christmas card design by Dame Laura Knight

Over the years it has always been exciting to discover for auction Christmas cards from some of the country’s most prominent artists. These drawings and prints are often very intimate and personal like the pen and ink drawing by Dame Laura Knight. The card is dedicated to Gladys and Saxen Snell. The Female Nude holds a scroll inscribed ‘With our fondest love and best wishes for a Happy Xmas, Laura’.

Laura Knight was part of the English Impressionist movement. She worked in the figurative, realist tradition from the early 20th century and became one of the most popular modern British artists of her generation raising the status and recognition of women artists in a male dominated arena.

Christmas trees provide such joy and cards an expression of love – antidotes to the rising concerns around our Christmas plans especially in the light of Omicron. Stay safe.

James Bond, Goldfinger and the Aston Martin DB5

A 1965 Corgi Toys No. 261 James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5, boxed with diorama and unopened instructions

Across Sussex we are all busily shopping and preparing for Christmas.

The must have bestselling toy of 1965 was the Corgi Toys James Bond Aston Martin DB5.

When Ian Fleming’s first spy novel Casino Royale was launched the reviewers delighted in the creation of James Bond and the initial print run sold out in less than a month. The glamorous world of Bond contrasted with post-war rationing and despite its critics the allure of its escapism seems to remain undiminished today.

The publisher Jonathan Cape produced less than five thousand copies of the first print run of Casino Royale in 1953. It is these earliest books of the first novel in the series which are the rarest and most valuable, especially when they are inscribed with a personal dedications from the author.

Goldfinger, the seventh novel in the series, was first published in 1959 and topped the best seller’s lists. This first edition with its original dust jacket made £600 in a Toovey’s specialist book sale. The film of the same title was inspired by the novel and released in 1964. It remains one of the most iconic Bond movies in the franchise. James Bond, played by Sean Connery, is pitted against Auric Goldfinger who plans to contaminate the United States’ gold reserves at Fort Knox with a nuclear device assisted by Pussy Galore and Odd Job.

An example of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, a first edition with original dust jacket published by Jonathan Cape in 1959

The international stage on which the story unfolds, the humour and the sequences with the famous Aston Martin DB5 involving its ejector seat, slicing wheel hubs, smoke and oil decoys, not to mention revolving number plates and machine guns provided a template for many of the Bond films that followed.

The DB5 appeared on a number of occasions during the Daniel Craig Bond era too.

Corgi Toys was licensed to produce the toy version of the Aston Martin. The Corgi range was produced in Swansea hence the Welsh Corgi dog logo and name.

A Corgi Toys No. 261 James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 with its diorama box, two bandits and secret instructions like the one illustrated realised in excess of £200 at Toovey’s toy sale. The toy car was released in October 1965 just over a year after the film was released. The reason for the gold finish on the car was that whilst Corgi had gold paint it was not able to develop the silver in time. Corgi Toys sold more than 100,000 cars in only the first few weeks and would go on to make almost four million of them.

All this talk of James Bond it’s put me in the mood to watch Goldfinger again and dig out my later, silver Corgi Toys James Bond Aston Martin DB5!