Unflinching Exploration, Walter Sickert at Tate

Walter Sickert - Brighton Pierrots © Tate
Walter Sickert – Brighton Pierrots © Tate

Tate Britain’s summer exhibition focuses on the controversial and influential British artist Walter Sickert (1860-1942) who bridged the influence of Paris and Post-Impressionist painting to Britain.

Sickert had studied at the Slade in 1881 under Whistler who had a great influence on him. In 1883 he found himself in Paris where he encountered Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet and Pierre Bonnard. The exhibition has works by Degas and Manet illustrating the affect they had on his work.

Sickert lived in and near Dieppe in the early 1900s. He returned to London in 1905 where he rented two studios. On Saturday afternoons he would keep his studio open to a group of artists which gave rise to the birth of the Fitzroy Street Group. As they were joined by a series of other artists their work came to be described as Camden Town painting. The paintings are often intimate in scale depicting the working class in humble scenes with figurative interiors including nudes as well as townscapes. These themes are readily apparent in the breadth of Sickert’s work. Sickert led the group with an unflinching exploration and depiction of his subjects. In different works throughout the show the artist captures despair, hardship and beauty.

In contrast to Whistler’s slightness of tone and form Sickert employed an increasingly contrasting palette which included deep opaque colours that lend a monumental character to his work. These qualities are apparent in Brighton Pierrots painted in 1915. It is highly original in its composition and use of warm, vivid colours. Unusually Sickert produced two versions of the picture. We view the scene from the side of the stage separated from the audience and the performers. This perspective lends an ambiguity to the painting – the fading daylight broken by the glare of the stage lights. The empty deck chairs allude to losses at the front during the Great War. The sense of the desolation of war pervades.

Walter Sickert – The Front at Hove (Turpe Senex Miles Turpe Senilis Amor), detail, © Tate

The Front at Hove was painted in 1930. Although lighter in palette and tone, the picture is also filled with metaphors which relate to age and decline. The aged figures chatting on a promenade bench are reflected and framed by the crumbling facades of the Regency townhouses in Adelaide Crescent, Hove.

Tate’s exhibition is as unflinching in its exploration of Walter Sickert and his work as the artist was in his exploration and depiction of the world he lived in. Walter Sickert at Tate Britain runs until 8th September. To book tickets and to find out more visit tate.org.uk.

Rupert Toovey appointed as Deputy Lieutenant for West Sussex

The Revd. Rupert Toovey., DL

The directors and staff at Toovey’s would like to congratulate Rupert on his appointment as a Deputy Lieutenant for West Sussex. Appointment to the office of Deputy Lieutenant is in recognition of distinguished service to the community, or to the country or county.

Throughout his career, Rupert has supported charities and communities across the county both personally and through his business. As an art historian he has a particular interest in medieval wall paintings and Modern British Artists working in Sussex. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in London, and a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. He remains a keen advocate for building communities through art, music and heritage. In 2010, Rupert was ordained in the Church of England. He serves as a self-supporting Priest in the Diocese of Chichester whilst working full-time at Toovey’s. In short, his appointment is very well deserved!

International Surrealism at Tate Unites London and Sussex

Salvador Dalí Lobster Telephone, c.1938, Tate © Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation/DACS, London 2022

A major exhibition exploring the international Surrealist art movement is the subject of an ambitious and expansive exhibition at Tate Modern. Surrealism Beyond Borders explores how, from its beginnings in Paris in the 1920s, Surrealism evolved into the 1970s becoming an interconnected global movement.

Two of the most iconic works in the show associated with the revolutionary idea of Surrealism, Salvador Dalí’s Lobster Telephone and René Magritte’s Time Transfixed, have connections with the patron Edward James whose Sussex home was West Dean, now the famous college. Edward James encountered and embraced Surrealism through his friendship with Magritte.

Tate’s exhibition has been curated in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art in New York. It examines how Surrealism came into being in Paris around 1924 generating poetic and humorous works as artists set out to de-familiarise the familiar. Inspired by Sigmund Freud they looked to dreams to unlock the unconscious mind. It also explores an international, evolving narrative of how Surrealism continues to be embraced by artists across the world to promote political, social and personal freedoms, often providing a voice for change.

I first encountered Salvador Dalí’s playful Lobster Telephone at West Dean. Dalí produced it to contrast with the formal grandeur of Edward James’s Wimpole Street, London home where sober rooms were theatrically transformed.

It was the critic Herbert Read, and writer and Surrealist artist Roland Penrose who, through the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London, first introduced the concept to the British public.

René Magritte Time Transfixed, c.1938, The Art Institute of Chicago © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022

Edward James invited Magritte to paint a number of works for his ballroom in London. Time Transfixed was the result. The viewer cannot fail to be delighted by the contrast of Magritte’s precise realism and the surprising juxtapositions and scale of seemingly unrelated elements. The artist would later explain ‘I decided to paint the image of a locomotive…In order for its mystery to be evoked, another immediately familiar image without mystery—the image of a dining room fireplace—was joined.’ I am always captivated by the subtle conceits of this painting: the smoke rises from the locomotive up the chimney as though it is emerging from a tunnel and only one candlestick has a reflection in the mirror.

Magritte hoped it would hang on the staircase to ‘transfix’ visitors but Edward James hung it above one of his own fireplaces.

This Surrealist exhibition has the power to transfix and runs at Tate Modern until 29th August 2022. To find out more and to book tickets visit tate.org.uk.

Sun, Sea and Sand on the Island of Jersey

Gorey Castle bedecked with flags for the Queen’s Jubilee

Just before HM Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee I found myself in Jersey. The town of St Helier and the Parishes around the Island were swagged abundantly with celebratory Jubilee bunting, Jersey flags and Union Jacks. The whole island looked like a scene from a painting.

Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands. The Islands have always held a strategic importance to the British Crown thanks to their geographical position just off the coast of France.

The English crown’s claim to be the rightful Duke of Normandy was not given up until the Treaty of Paris in 1259 when the King of France also gave up his claim upon the Channel Islands. In Jersey the loyal toast is traditionally to the “The Queen our Duke!”

Over the centuries these independent Island States, with their own parliaments, have remained loyal to the British Crown.

For over a century, we’ve flocked to the coast in search of sun, sand and sea. Jersey provided an exotic destination – at once familiar and abroad.

By the end of the 1930s some 15 million British people were holidaying by the sea.

Leonard Richmond – ‘Jersey Sunshine Sands Scenery’ colour lithograph, printed by Waterlow & Sons, circa 1930s

The railway companies were keen to attract customers by promoting leisure travel and seaside posters where often produced by those whose trains served the holiday resorts. The early posters were sometimes reproductions of paintings, but poster design soon evolved under the influence of professional artists, art directors, and designers like Leonard Richmond (1889-1965). Born in Somerset he spent a large part of his career in Canada before making London his home. He was most noted for his railway posters but was also as an author and an illustrator. In the 1930s he established a summer painting school at St Ives in Cornwall.

Richmond’s poster for Southern Railway and the Great Western Railway with its joyful palette and graphic qualities advertises Jersey as a destination for Sunshine, Sands and Scenery. It sold at Toovey’s in a specialist print sale for £1100. Published by Waterlow & Sons in the 1930s it promotes an idyllic image of a beach holiday. The bay is Anne Port, one of my wife and I’s favourites on the island. It is hard to imagine that until Jersey airport opened in 1937 with its four grass runways scheduled flights landed on the beach at St Aubins and West Park, the ticket office was a bus!

Jersey is still familiar and yet abroad – a special place for a holiday.

International Baritone Roderick Williams to Perform in Sussex

Sedgwick Park House and Gardens, Horsham

The Shipley Arts Festival added to the joyful celebrations of HM Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee in West Sussex with a sell-out concert at the Blue Idol at Coolham. Festival director, Andrew Bernardi is now turning his attention to a concert at Sedgwick Park House near Horsham on Wednesday 22nd June 2022 which is set to be one of the highlights of this season with international baritone and composer, Roderick Williams, performing and bringing a new composition for the festival.

The concert is being hosted by Festival Patron Clare Davison who, with her late husband John, were amongst the earliest supporters of the Shipley Arts Festival. Clare’s patronage has also extended to Sedgwick Park House and its magnificent gardens which she and John lovingly restored. I ask Clare how she feels to be selling this house that she has invested so much love into and shared so generously with the community over so many years, She replies “We never really own anything we just look after things for a bit and the time has come for this wonderful, generous place to bless a new custodian.”

The long term relationships which Andrew has fostered with his audiences, patrons and musicians through the Shipley Arts Festival are rare and have enabled an extraordinary renaissance in the patronage of music and creativity in our county.

Speaking about the music he has commissioned through the Shipley Art Festival Andrew says “Sussex has a rich artistic history for music especially in the early 20th century, a tradition I am keen to keep alive. We’re following in the footsteps of Sir Edward Elgar who for a time composed at Fittleworth, Ralph Vaughan Williams who gathered many of his famous folk songs and tunes from the fields around Horsham and of course John Ireland who lived at Rock Mill, Washington.”

International baritone and composer Roderick Williams

I can’t wait to hear Roderick Williams’ latest composition which will join his remarkable Goodwood by the Sea. The Shipley Arts Festival commissioned Goodwood by the Sea for pianist Maria Marchant. The piece provides an impressionistic articulation of the sea. I have longed to be able to adequately describe the whoosh and clatter of waves breaking on the pebbles of a beach and the feeling of being so very alive as the wind carries the salty spray ashore and the elements overwhelm the senses and this piece captures that.

This will be a remarkable evening. To book your tickets, which include a glass of Nyetimber, and to find out more about this season’s concerts visit www.bernardimusicgroup.com/events and Sedgwick Park House and Gardens can be viewed on Rightmove.