Asian Art Preview in London

Bowman Sculpture Gallery

Toovey’s will be previewing items from their Single-owner Collection of Asian Art and items already consigned for their auction of Asian Art on 29th November. The preview coincides with Asian Art in London’s Late Night Opening Tours in St James’.

Alongside other members of the Association of Accredited Auctioneers, like Halls, Forum Auctions, Cheffins, Ewbanks and Chorleys, Toovey’s Asian Art specialist Tom Rowsell and Will Rowsell will be at Bowman Sculpture gallery at 6 Duke Street, St James’s, London, SW1Y 6BN, between 12 noon and 9pm.

Important London Collection of Asian Art to be Sold in Sussex

Toovey’s Asian Art specialist, Tom Rowsell, with one of a pair of rare Chinese Qianlong period cloisonné enamel elephants from an important London single owner collection of Asian Art

This week I am in the company of Toovey’s Director and Asian Art specialist, Tom Rowsell, who has just finished preparations for the sale of an important London single – owner collection of Asian Art.

I ask Tom how the collection looked in the collector’s London home and he replies “Many of the pieces were beautifully displayed around the house, but it was when I discovered and began to unpack boxes and go through the shelves in an upstairs room that the scale and importance of this collection became apparent. The collection had remained largely untouched for 40 or 50 years. The vast majority of the pieces are from the imperial Kangxi (1654-1722), Yongzheng (1723-1735) and Qianlong (1735-1796) periods of the late 17th and 18th centuries.”

Tom explains how today’s Chinese collectors are following in the tradition of the Qianlong emperor who was the last of the great imperial art collectors and patrons in Chinese history. His genuine passion for art and collecting seems to have been inspired by his grandfather, the Kangxi emperor (1654-1722), and his uncle Yinxi (1711-1758).

The Qianlong emperor was prolific in his collecting applying an exceptional personal connoisseurship. His collection would number more than a million objects.

The Qianlong emperor took a personal interest in porcelain production and was an ardent patron and collector of it. Many of the types of porcelain associated with the Qianlong emperor, however, were seeded under the Emperor Yongzheng’s supervisor of the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, Tang Ying (1682-1756).

A garniture of five Chinese Yongzheng period (1723-1735) porcelain vases estimated at £15,000-£25,000 from an important London single owner collection of Asian Art

My eye is taken by a rare and beautiful garniture of five Chinese porcelain Yongzheng period vases. Tom comments “Yongzheng porcelain is known for the quality of its glazes, these vases are very fine quality. It’s very unusual to find a set of five still together in such remarkable condition. The finely enamelled decoration with its delicate flowers and landscapes has wonderful fresh colours. Look at the subtle, recessed panels with their moulded borders. Lovely details – these would have probably been made for an important European home.”

Tom continues “Toovey’s are one of a very small number of UK auctioneers with the ability to market online directly to mainland Chinese collectors through our working relationship with Epai Live, China’s largest mainland online auction platform for the marketing of art and antiques. This collection will certainly attract Chinese and overseas buyers as well as UK interest. We will be exhibiting the collection’s highlights at the international Asian Art Fair in London on the 4th November before it returns to Sussex to be sold.”

Today’s Chinese collectors are as passionate in their collecting as their imperial forebears and the market shows no signs of abating.

This important single owner collection will be auctioned at Toovey’s on Thursday 29th November 2018. If you would like advice on pieces in this collection or your Chinese objects Tom Rowsell can be contacted on 01903 891955, and visit www.tooveys.com to view the sale online from the 4th November.

James Cox’s Amazing Clocks

The processional clockwork automaton where figures and animals move ‘magically’ across the landscape

A rare late 18th century tortoiseshell and gilt-metal bracket clock with a processional automaton by the celebrated British entrepreneur and goldsmith James Cox (1723-1800) has been discovered by Toovey’s specialist, Tom Rowsell, in a London collection.

From the mid-18th century James Cox ran a company specialising in the manufacture of objects de vertu which were intended to delight and surprise his clients. He became famous for his extravagant clocks with their ingenious automata which made objects move, seemingly of their own volition. The clocks were hugely expensive and were sold across Europe and as far afield as India, China and Russia. Cox employed craftsmen from across Europe to create these extraordinary pieces.

Tom explains that this James Cox automaton clock was part of the estate of a London collector. It was the only clock in the collection which was predominately focused on Chinese porcelain. A late example of James Cox’s work, the clock dates from the late 18th century and has a complicated three train movement with automaton, playing ten tunes on fourteen bells. The automaton on this clock sees figures and animals process from left to right. His clocks are still a source of wonder and were never intended to be practical. Indeed they have been referred to as ‘magical moving objects’.

A late 18th century automaton clock by James Cox

That a British clock like this should appeal to a connoisseur of Chinese porcelain should not be a cause of surprise. The Chinese Emperor Qianlong (1735-1795) collected both Western and Chinese clocks and two of James Cox’s chariot clocks dating from 1765 and 1766 can still be seen in The Palace Museum in the Forbidden City, Beijing.

Although Cox had an early Indian connection most of his business was with China via Canton. A number of exotic, valuable pieces were exported there from 1763. These mechanical objects were received with great curiosity by the Chinese court and must have made Cox substantial profits. Trade seems to have developed steadily but by 1770 the market had reached saturation. The demise of Chinese interest deprived Cox of this his most profitable and important market.

In response to the decline in the eastern markets for his clocks, James Cox opened a museum in London and charged the public to see his amazing clocks. The manner of their sale in 1775 by national lottery was as ingenious as the objects’ mechanisms. Two of the largest and most complicated of these clocks were the Silver Swan and the Peacock Clock which can be seen at the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle, Co Durham, and at the Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia.

Producing such magnificent objects was hugely costly and brought with it significant financial risks. James Cox would face bankruptcy on more than one occasion.

This rare James Cox automaton clock will be auctioned in Toovey’s next curated sale of fine clocks and watches on Thursday 1st November 2018 and is estimated at £15,000-£25,000. If you would like advice on your clocks telephone 01903 891955 or email auctions@tooveys.com.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Remembrance through making

Sussex artist Mary Crabb

‘Significant Figures: remembrance through making’ is an intimate and poignant exhibition which seeks to articulate remembrance through the making of art is currently on show at the Oxmarket Gallery in Chichester.

It tells the story of Cecil, caught in a photograph in his Royal Warwickshire Regiment uniform, following his relationship with Elsie and his role in the Great War through a series of conceptual objects.

Sussex artisan artist, Mary Crabb, is a member of the Basketmakers’ Association, a Yeoman Member of the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers, a mathematician and an educator. Mary brings together these creative threads in her work.

‘I Will Remember Him’ © the artist
‘I Will Remember Him’ © the artist

I ask Mary about the inspiration behind the exceptional narrative of the exhibition. She replies “The story isn’t mine, it belonged to my Grandmother, Elsie, who was born in 1898. She handed it down to me and it has become part of my own journey. It began with a photograph shared with loved ones as an act of remembrance or perhaps as a means not to forget. Elsie met Cecil after her family moved to Birmingham in 1907, her father had won a building contract to work on the Birmingham University. Cecil left school in December 1915 to go to war. In July 1916 Elsie received word from Cecil’s parents that he had been killed in action in France and they gave her the photograph to remember him by.”

I remark that shared stories – memories – of both joys and sorrows unite us as families and communities and Mary agrees.

The exhibition features small intricate work whose simple concepts belie the complexity in the making. There are also examples of more traditional basketwork of the period including a pair of facsimile artillery shell baskets also made by Mary.

Many of the conceptual pieces are mounted on khaki fabric boards. My eye is taken by an installation titled ‘I Will Remember Him’.

Mary explains “‘I Will Remember Him’ is an attempt to quantify the time Elsie maintained her act of remembrance for Cecil.

My Grandmother met my Grandad in Lincoln and they were married in 1934. Their marriage was filled with love, laughter and affection. They were married for more than fifty years. Like many in their generation they shared an understanding of the need to remember those who fought and died, especially those they had loved and lost. Elsie kept the photograph of Cecil from 1916 until her own death in 1992.”

Mary’s mathematical skills become apparent as she continues “Each motif in this piece has a red tag with a year stamped on it and fifty-two twisted strips of blank paper for Bibles each with a handwritten text copying what Elsie wrote on the back of the photograph about Cecil. These strips are held with twining in a circle of seven turns at the centre. Each day between 1916 and 1992 is represented so that each motif mathematically represents a year 7×52+1=365.”

Another work by Mary Crabb

As I stand amongst Mary’s remarkable work it strikes me that Elsie’s act of remembrance for Cecil has a resonance for each of us in our own lives – our joys and our sorrows. But it also powerfully connects and unites us with a particular moment in history and the procession of love and remembrance which flows from it. Mary reflects “Is this Elsie’s story or mine? Through the making of this work it has become both hers and mine, a collaboration.”

‘Significant Figures: remembrance through making’ is at the Oxmarket Gallery, Chichester. PO19 1YH until this coming Sunday, 7th October 2018 and entry is free. For more information visit www.marycrabb.co.uk or www.oxmarket.com.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Circe rediscovered after a century

Briton Riviere’s ‘Circe and the Companions of Ulysses’

It’s  been over 100 years since Briton Riviere’s Circe and the Companions of Ulysses was last seen in public.

The work, which features in Toovey’s September Fine Art Auction, propelled Riviere to fame after it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1871.

Circe and the Companions of Ulysses is arguably Riviere’s most significant work to come to auction in recent years. It was first purchased by John Kynaston Cross, industrialist and Member of Parliament for Bolton, who served as Under Secretary of State for India during William Gladstone’s tenure as Prime Minister, until his death in 1887 when it was inherited by his wife. The first –  and we understand – only time it appeared at auction was in 1911, at Tooth & Tooth’s, where it sold to the enigmatic art dealer William Walker Sampson with the gavel falling at £385 (an enormous sum at that time). Since then its whereabouts was unknown until it was recently discovered by Toovey’s at a local deceased estate.

The oil on canvas painting depicts a scene from Homer’s Odyssey – Circe, a beautiful maiden who possesses magical powers, lures Ulysses’s men to a feast and slips a potion into their drinks that transforms the men into swine.

In an interview with Harry How published in The Strand Magazine, (1896), Riviere elaborated on the conception of the work:

 ‘I was living in Kent at the time I painted it, and I kept pigs there; as a matter of fact, three of them. I had styes made at the end of the garden. By-the-by, pigs are remarkably good sitters. I have had a pig in this very room. They are very easy to manage, and will do anything you require; they really become quite sociable in time. I painted the figure of Circe in London, having by that time moved to the Addison Road. I put in the figure two or three times from a model, but could never get it to my liking. At last I found a lady friend who suggested the long haired daughter of Helios admirably, and I got her to sit’.[1]

The picture was met with critical acclaim for the depiction of the swine after the picture’s first outing at the Royal Academy in 1871. Visitors to the exhibition also revelled in the enchanting scene; John Pye, the celebrated engraver and J.M.W. Turner’s great friend, wrote ‘a charming letter of thanks to the young painter for the pleasure his work had given.’[2] Frederick Stacpoole was engaged to engrave a reproduction of the painting in 1875 – the first of Riviere’s works to have had this honour – and both the painting and the engraving were sent to Philadelphia for the International Exhibition of 1876 where Riviere’s painting was singled out for a medal. Circe, by now world-famous, was exhibited for the final time in 1887 at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition in Manchester.

Circe and the Companions of Ulysses will be offered with an estimate of £30,000-50,000* in our Sale of Fine Art on September 5th at 10am.

[1] The Strand Magazine, vol 11, 1896, p.8

[2] Armstrong, Walter ‘Briton Riviere R.A.’ in the Art Annual, supplement to the Art Journal 1891, p.10

*excluding buyer’s premium see www.tooveys.com for details