Art Inspired by the Sussex Landscape at Pallant

Duncan Grant (1866-1934) – Landscape, Sussex, oil on canvas, 1920 © Tate

For more than a thousand years Sussex has drawn artists to her rolling Downland landscape and exciting coastline. Artists such as JMW Turner and John Constable, William Blake and Samuel Palmer were all inspired by, and worked in, Sussex and are represented in this exhibition. The 20th Century saw a revival of this ancient tradition with many of the leading Modern British artists living and working in the county.

Sussex Landscape – Chalk, Wood and Water at Pallant House Gallery eloquently describes Sussex as a creative centre for artists and writers. But at its heart this beautifully narrated five star exhibition examines how the particular qualities of the Sussex landscape have inspired artists across the centuries.

Work by JMW Turner are accompanied by contemporary artists like Pippa Blake, Jeremy Gardiner and Andy Goldsworthy.

And at its heart is a roll-call of many of the leading Modern British artists of the 20th century including William Nicholson, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Eric Ravilious, Ivon Hitchens and Edward Burra. Camden Town, Vorticists, Surrealists and Abstract artists are all represented.

Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) – Detail of the Chalk Paths, watercolour, 1935 © Bridgeman Images

Eric Ravilious’ watercolour from 1935, The Chalk Paths leaves space for us as viewers to enter and occupy the landscape or scene in our imaginations.

The distance of the ancient, undulating chalk paths is emphasised by the barbed wire fence and the play of the breeze is discernable in the grassy hillsides painted in muted tones.

It was Vanessa Bell’s love for Duncan Grant and her sister Virginia Woolf which brought her to Sussex during the First World War. Her sister, the author, Virginia Woolf, wrote to her in the May of 1916 from Rodmell extolling the virtues and potential of Charleston house near Firle in East Sussex.

Duncan Grant’s Landscape, Sussex was painted in oils in 1920 and depicts the pond at Charleston. The curve of the pond’s edge echoes the enfolding Sussex Downland landscape.

Both paintings describe the inspiration and influence of the Sussex landscape on artists across the centuries.

We are a processional nation. We confidently embrace the modern and the new but always with one eye to the past. It is wonderful to see the modern and contemporary united in their narrative with works by JMW Turner and others from the 19th century. The exceptional exhibition catalogue is a must, too, and can be purchased from Pallant House Book Shop or online at Sussex Landscape – Chalk, Wood and Water runs at Pallant House Gallery Chichester until 23rd April 2023

Showbusiness at Toovey’s!

Norman Wisdom receiving his ‘This is Your Life’ book in 1957 which is being sold at Toovey’s

Important costumes and collectors’ items belonging to Sir Norman Wisdom and Dame Vera Lynn are to be sold at Toovey’s Washington salerooms on Thursday 1st December 2022.

Norman Wisdom was famous as an actor, comedian, musician and singer. He was best known for a succession of comedy films produced between 1953 and 1966 featuring his hapless onscreen character, often called Norman Pitkin.

Amongst the items entered for sale are three suits, a dressing gown and other accessories from the movies as well as related collectors’ items.

These include the iconic Norman Wisdom ‘Gump Suit’ made by W. Snape & Son, Wolverhampton in June, 1956. The suit is complete with its original cap, shirt and tie. Norman Wisdom wore his ‘Gump Suit’ in his first five films for the Rank Organisation. It would have been worn during the making of ‘Up in the World’ (1956) and ‘Just my Luck’ (1957), and was also used during his many performances in the theatre from the 1950s through to the 1980s. It carries a pre-sale estimate of £3000-£5000.

Also included is his leather bound ‘This is Your Life’ book which was presented to him in 1957. It contains approximately thirty-nine mounted black and white photographs from the show and carries an estimate of £300-£500.

A number of Dame Vera Lynn’s costumes are also to be sold at Toovey’s in the same auction in aid of the Dame Vera Lynn Charitable Trust.

A Norman Wisdom ‘Gump Suit’, and a blue dress and gown worn by Dame Vera Lynn on television, which are being auctioned at Toovey’s

Amongst these is a blue dress and matching gown. Designed by Fortuny, the dress with its blue silk trim and beautiful beaded and sequin appliqué would have been worn by Dame Vera Lynn on television. It is estimated at £150-£250.

During the Second World War Dame Vera was known as the Forces Sweetheart, a singer of undoubtable talent she became an icon of hope in the face of the sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges of the Second World War.

Speaking to Vera Lynn’s daughter, Ginny, about the sale she said “Mummy’s charitable work was very precious to her, so it is very fitting that the costumes we have entered for auction at Toovey’s will benefit the Dame Vera Lynn Charitable Trust.”

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Duncan Grant Painting to be Sold in Aid of Sussex Heritage Trust

Charleston House, Sussex

A still life oil painting by the famous Charleston and Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant is to be sold at Toovey’s in aid of the Sussex Heritage Trust at 10am on Wednesday 30th November. It carries a pre-sale auction estimate of £6000-8000.

Through its work and awards the Sussex Heritage Trust promotes and encourages best practice in our county’s built environment and landscape.

The oil on canvas, titled Still Life with Bloomsbury Chair and Spring Flowers was donated to the Trust by Peter Carreras, a distinguished Sussex artist and printmaker, and his wife, Greta. It is believed that they purchased the painting in 1972 at The Ringmer Festival organised by the philanthropist Ian Askew.

Duncan Grant’s painting provides a very British voice to the influences of Post-Impressionism. It depicts a handmade jug, of the type made by both Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, filled with flowers upon a painted Bloomsbury chair. His handling of the paint and the joyous palette is reminiscent of Bloomsbury and although a later work it is a fine example. A very similar chair can be seen in Duncan Grant’s studio at Charleston House in Sussex and is thought to have been painted by Richard Shone in 1970.

Duncan Grant (1885-1978), Chair with Flowers. Still Life, oil on canvas

It was Vanessa Bell’s love for Duncan Grant and her sister Virginia Woolf which brought her to Sussex during the First World War. Vanessa was living with the artist Duncan Grant, and his lover David Garnett, at Wissett Lodge in Suffolk when her sister, the author, Virginia Woolf, wrote to her in the May of 1916. She extolled the virtues and potential of Charleston house near Firle in East Sussex. Virginia explained that not only did Charleston house need a tenant but that the neighbouring farmer was short of ‘hands’ to work on the land. Duncan Grant and David Garnett needed to be essentially employed on the land to avoid being called up to fight in the Great War or the prospect of gaol as conscientious objectors.

They covered the walls and furniture at Charleston with painted decoration. Duncan and Vanessa painted those who visited, the countryside around them and scenes from their home as can be seen in this still life.

The Sussex Heritage Trust’s work is important in promoting best practice in our county’s built environment and landscape whilst encouraging and supporting talented young people into careers in conservation, building and horticulture. I feel sure that the sale of this beautiful Duncan Grant Still Life will bless the Trust and its work.

A Postcard from Cley

Cley-next-the-Sea from the coastal path on the North Norfolk Coast

As I write this there’s a break in the weather and those huge skies which define the North Norfolk Coast are filled with scudding clouds against the brilliant blue above the important coastal village of Cley-next-the-Sea. My wife Teresa and I often come up to this beautiful part of the country.

From Saxon times Cley was an important port on the River Glaven, one of the busiest in England. Fish, spices, coal, barley and oats arrived and left our shores through Cley. Many of the houses in Cley are defined by their gently arched Flemish gables, a reminder of our trade with the Low Countries over the centuries.

As we arrived we were blessed with a beautiful sunset which framed the famous 18th century windmill, a favourite subject amongst artists.

St Margaret’s church dates predominately from the early 14th century, its grandeur speaks of the port’s trade and wealth.

From the 17th century land reclamation increasingly separated Cley from the sea, and although it is no longer next-the-sea it is surrounded by marshes which provide internationally important habitat for rare breeding and visiting birds. The Cley Marshes bird reserve has been in the care of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust which was founded in 1926. Amongst the resident breeding birds are bitterns, marsh harriers and spoonbills which are joined by winter visitors which include numerous wading birds and brent geese.

We love to go out to the shingle ridge where at this time of year it can be difficult to discern where the pale grey sea ends and the sky begins. The wind and rain coming in from the North Sea makes you feel really alive.

The 18th century Cley Windmill against the setting sun

Together with Teresa I’m adding new and precious memories to those of this place from my childhood and our children’s. I would often holiday with my grandparents on this bit of the coast. The adventure would begin with the journey from Sussex in our elderly pale blue Morris Travellers. The pilgrimage to Cley and Blakeney for family holidays has continued across the generations.

It’s fascinating how important place is to us as human creatures, it roots us in the procession of our lives and blesses us, as shared stories of joys and sorrows unite us.

In Sussex Steyning shares a similar story to Cley and was once an important port. The green opposite the town’s magnificent church is said to have been where the harbour was from Saxon times.

I love Sussex and the North Norfolk Coast. It remains to say – Wish you were here!

Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

A 1605 engraving by Crispijn van de Passe the Elder, depicting eight of the thirteen Gunpowder plot conspirators, including Guy Fawkes
A 1605 engraving by Crispijn van de Passe the Elder, depicting eight of the thirteen Gunpowder plot conspirators, including Guy Fawkes

I love bonfire night. The beauty of the flashing fireworks against the dark sky, the whizzes, pops and bangs, the mist of drifting smoke and the smell of gunpowder on a cold, still November night are, for me, truly evocative.

Bonfire night gatherings have become a celebration of the coming together of family and friends. It is an important marker in my year.

Amidst our excitement, though, it is easy to forget that fireworks on Bonfire Night commemorate a particularly bloody and turbulent time in our island’s history.

The 1603 engraving depicting Elizabeth I (1533-1603) by Isaac Oliver is remarkable. There had been much conflict and bloodshed after Henry VIII’s break with Rome as Roman Catholics and Protestants each sought to establish their authority and particular understandings of the Christian faith in England.

Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558. Her first aim was to return England to the Protestant faith. What she and her advisors created was a church which was, and remains, both Catholic and Reformed. Elizabeth famously declared that she did not wish to “make windows into men’s souls” on the basis that “there is only one Jesus Christ and all the rest is a dispute over trifles”.

A 1603 engraving of Elizabeth I by Isaac Oliver

Nevertheless this resulted in the The Gunpowder Plot of 1605. It was an attempt by provincial, English Roman Catholics to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament, in order to assassinate James I of England (VI of Scotland) and install his nine-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, on the throne as a Roman Catholic head of state. The plot, led by Robert Catesby, was revealed by means of an anonymous letter. Famously, Guy Fawkes was discovered with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder during a search of the House of Lords at midnight on 4th November 1605. He and his seven surviving accomplices were tortured, tried, convicted of high treason, and sentenced to death. He was hung, drawn and quartered.

The print shown here was published around 1605 by a leading Dutch printmaker, Crispijn van de Passe the Elder, and shows eight of the thirteen conspirators, including Guy Fawkes. It is an extraordinary depiction of some of those involved, giving life to this particular moment in history.

This passage in our history speaks loudly of the importance of democracy in our nation and the world. Although sometimes untidy democracy gives us the opportunity for hope and change in the face of violence.