Maggi Hambling and Max Wall

Maggi Hambling., CBE, ‘Max Sitting (no.9)’, oil, signed and dated 1982

An important portrait by the leading British artist Maggi Hambling, from her famous Max Wall series of portraits, is to be auctioned at Toovey’s on Wednesday 19th June 2019.

Maggi Hambling was the artist in residence at the National Gallery in London during 1980 and 1981 as her work grew in confidence and power. It was during this time that she went to see Max Wall at the Garrick Theatre for the first time.

Max Wall’s public life as a clown and entertainer was in contrast to his often unhappy and disrupted private life.

In the summer of 1981 Max Wall played Vladimir in Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ to much acclaim in the Royal Exchange production at the Round House. Hambling went to see him in the role on four or five occasions and began to work out a series of pictures based on his performance. As Max sat for her Maggi’s portraits of him became more intimate and insightful. Although they corresponded between October 1981 and Easter 1982 they remained apart.

In his absence, Hambling completed three of her most impressive paintings in the series. Among these is the picture illustrated, ‘Max Sitting (no.9)’. The painting is an act of recapitulation. Hambling gives expression to a painting of dreams, recalling a dream where a white owl bursts through a pane of glass in an isolated, lonely house. Max sits dreaming, his cigarette smoke hangs in the air as he waits on his muse represented by the owl’s arrival. The challenges of his life are signified by the cat’s shadow as the floor veers off in a nightmarish way. Her use of colour to create mood and atmosphere and the rendering of his features acts as though the portrait is a mirror into his soul. It gives voice to her concern for the individual human predicament.

Hambling would recall “At Easter 1982, Max reappeared and posed for drawings. After painting so long from my internal image of him, it was a traumatic experience to have him in front of me again, and to work from life.” Max thought it was marvellous that he should inspire Hambling in this way.

This powerful portrait would be reproduced on the cover of the exhibition catalogue for ‘Max Wall Pictures by Maggi Hambling’ at London’s National Portrait Gallery in 1983.

It was a measure of Hambling’s status as an artist when, in 1986, ‘Max Sitting (no.9)’ was hung alongside her fellow London Group artists, including Frank Auerbach, Peter Blake, Lucian Freud, David Hockney and Ron B. Kitaj at Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery in the ‘Artist and Model’ exhibition.

This important work will be auctioned at Toovey’s as part of their sale of fine paintings on Wednesday 19th June 2019 with a presale estimate of £10,000-£15,000. For more information telephone Nicholas Toovey on 01903 891955.

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.

Festival of Plants at Sussex Prairie Garden

I arrive at the Sussex Prairie Garden to find the international garden designers Paul and Pauline McBride and their team preparing for this weekend’s Specialist Plant Fair with the Plant Fair Roadshow which takes place on Sunday 9th June between 12noon and 5pm.

They first opened the Sussex Prairie Garden to the public back in 2009 and ever since Paul and Pauline have worked to provide a platform to bridge garden enthusiasts to leading specialists. Pauline says “The Specialist Plant Weekend is a wonderful opportunity to find top nursery men and women from across the South East of England gathered in one place. It’s rare to be able to speak to experts in their fields about their plants and ask their advice about which plants might be best for you.”

Paul and Pauline’s winter has been spent travelling in Central America seeking fresh inspiration, tending the garden and re-planting the North Mound.

As we sit drinking tea and sampling the café’s wonderful food and cake on the terrace we look out over the emerging swathes of planting in this remarkable garden. Pauline remarks “It’s so wonderful to see it re-emerging again – a hundred shades of green.” Paul adds “And there’s lots of blues at the moment – Alliums and Baptisia from Australia. The garden comes on very quickly at this time of year. We have just enjoyed hosting a number of students from the School of Landscape Architecture at Blois in France. When they arrived a few weeks ago there was almost nothing here and look at it now.”

I comment on the poetry and rhythm of the planting in the garden. Pauline agrees and comments “We do like to repeat the same plants in a border to invite you into the sinuous pathways so you can inhabit the colour, texture and shapes in the planting. The garden is planted in the shape of an Ammonite – a form from nature where there is no beginning and no end – there is some kind of harmony in that.”

It brings to my mind these lines from T.S. Elliot’s poem ‘Little Gidding’ which resonate with Pauline:

‘We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate…’

She responds “There is a circular sort of thing to the garden. We’re referencing the Sussex landscape that surrounds us – Chanctonbury ring over there in the distance and the sensuous undulations of the Downs.”

Sussex Prairie Garden designers and owners Paul and Pauline McBride

Alongside the specialist nurseries you must not miss out on Paul’s Pick of the Prairie with all the plants you might need to create your own prairie borders.

An afternoon of plant shopping and cake against the background of the beautiful Sussex Prairie Garden – what could be better – you must treat yourselves, I hope to see you there!

This festival of plants will be held this coming Sunday 9th June, 12noon to 5pm at Sussex Prairies, Morlands Farm, Wheatsheaf Road, Henfield, West Sussex, BN5 9AT. To find out more about the gardens and this event visit or telephone 01273 495902.

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.

25th Anniversary of the First Women Priests

The Revd Kathryn Windslow, Rector of St Mary’s, Storrington, celebrating 25 years as a Priest in the Church of England
The Revd Kathryn Windslow, Rector of St Mary’s, Storrington, celebrating 25 years as a Priest in the Church of England

This week I am in the company of The Revd Kathryn Windslow. Twenty-five years ago she was amongst an extraordinary cohort of women who were the first to be able to answer God’s call to ministry after the Church of England finally allowed their ordination to the Priesthood.

In 1992 the Church of England General Synod finally approved the way for women to be ordained Priests although it was not until 1994 that the necessary legislation was passed by Parliament.

Kathryn grew up and came to faith at St Mark’s, Horsham, where her father served as a Churchwarden. I ask her when she first became aware of God’s calling, she answers “I was 16 when I first became aware of a calling to serve God and to serve people as a Priest – my family were as surprised as I was.”

“After I had finished school I took a degree in Theology at a Roman Catholic college to discern where God was calling me.” Kathryn would spend a year as a volunteer in Southampton then in 1984 she went forward for selection and started training as a Deaconess. The role of Deaconess was the only paid role for women in ministry at that time. She became a Deaconess in 1986 and in 1987 was ordained as a Deacon by the then Bishop of Horsham, Colin Docker, who had also confirmed her.

In 1989, still unable to be ordained as a Priest, Kathryn became only the fifth woman in charge of a Parish in the Diocese of Lincoln.

I ask Kathryn how it felt in 1992 when the news came that the Church of England’s General Synod had voted in favour of the ordination of women Priests. She replies “It felt like affirmation of my calling at last and my parishioners rejoiced with me – some came clutching Champagne bottles!”

Two years later, on the 22nd May 1994, Kathryn would find herself in a packed Lincoln Cathedral with family and friends. All had come to celebrate and bear witness to the first ordination of women to the Priesthood in the Diocese of Lincoln. The Bishop anointed Kathryn with holy oils and the Holy Spirit. As he prayed the ordination prayer over Kathryn her colleagues came forward to lay hands on her and to pray. Kathryn says “The weight of colleagues and their blessing was both supportive and overwhelming. I felt an overwhelming sense of joy.” She left the Cathedral as an ordained Priest in the Church of England.

The next day she was able to celebrate her very first Eucharist. Kathryn recalls “Celebrating my first Communion was completely different and yet the same – it was just the right thing. It was the final fulfilment of my vocation.” She pauses to reflect and continues “It was wonderful to be amongst that vanguard of women as the church affirmed our calling to be Priests. There was a real sense of gratitude for the women who had gone before us and paved the way for our ministry.”

I ask Kathryn how priestly ministry continues to speak into her life, she responds “Being with people at the big moment in their lives, the death of a loved one, a wedding, welcoming a person into the church through baptism – it’s an immense privilege being invited into people’s lives. The theologian Austin Farrer describes Priests ‘as walking sacraments’, we make God visible to people in their lives.”

I describe how I witness women Priests enriching the church and our communities and how I celebrate and thank God for their work. Kathryn concludes “Women Priests rebalance and inform our understanding of God who made women and men in God’s image.”  I could not agree more.

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.

Steyning Art Trail

Looking towards the Downs by Alison Milner-Gulland
Looking towards the Downs by Alison Milner-Gulland

I arrive at the Washington home of Sussex artist Alison Milner-Gulland to find her busy in her studio preparing to exhibit her work as part of The Steyning Art Trail which takes place on the May Bank Holiday and following weekend.

Alison explains how, in addition to the numerous places where artists will be exhibiting their work in Steyning, the trail will include venues in Washington, Ashurst, Bramber and Upper Beeding. She is excited that the Frankland Arms, under the new stewardship of Matt and Yan Shepherd, have agreed to exhibit her work as part of the Steyning Art Trail.

Alison’s work draws its inspiration from the Sussex landscape, especially the ancient Downs. As in the landscape we see here she often depicts light moving through trees and grass which invites you to journey in and through the landscape. Through her eyes we see the sweeping chalk curves, ancient tracks, rolling hills and far-reaching views of the South Downs committed to paper and canvas from memory in her studio.

At first glance her work is accessible and uncomplicated but over time it reveals layers, subtle details and evolving depths highlighting the talent of this artist. It is often infused with classical, mythical or natural inspiration.

Music too informs Alison’s palette and fluidity of line which can move from the representational to the abstract.

Her method of working is both joyful and reflective. Alison’s paintings and prints often go through a series of re-workings creating a layered and poetic interpretation of the world around us.

A Still life in Alison Milner Gulland’s studio
A Still life in Alison Milner Gulland’s studio

My eye is taken by a lyrical mixed method Still Life which rests on a chair in the studio. The colours are strong and there is life in the outline of the wine glass, bottle, paper and jug filled with summer flowers. I ask Alison if this will be in her show, she replies as she always does “Oh, I don’t know if it’s finished yet I’ve been reworking it. It’s an overpainted collage. Don’t touch the paint is still wet.”

With a number of canvases under our arms we walk across the meadows filled with wild flowers. We clamber over a stile to arrive at the Franklin Arms in Washington where we are greeted by the new landlord Matt Shepherd. He explains how he and his wife Yan are once again placing the Frankland Arms at the heart of this Downland village community. Matt explains that he was born and brought up at Bury so Sussex and her landscape run deep with him. He is enthusiastic about being part of the Steyning Art Trail and about Alison’s art.

Sussex artist Alison Milner-Gulland at work in her studio
Sussex artist Alison Milner-Gulland at work in her studio

I am looking forward to seeing Alison Milner-Gulland’s work hung and for sale at the Frankland Arms and to sampling the pub’s warm welcome, cellar and food. To book your table telephone 01903 891405.

Alison Milner-Gulland’s work and The Steyning Art Trail are always a treat! It runs on the weekends of 25th to 27th May and 1st to 2nd June. To download your free brochure and to find out more visit

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.

The Art of the Lacquer Cabinet

An early/mid-18th century Japanese lacquer cabinet with an English silvered, carved wood and gesso Baroque stand
An early/mid-18th century Japanese lacquer cabinet with an English silvered, carved wood and gesso Baroque stand

In the late 17th century and first half of the 18th century lacquer cabinets were highly prized by English collectors who were captivated by their flawless finish and exotic decoration. Such cabinets commanded very high prices and they remained beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest.

The lacquered furniture which remains in English collections today include Oriental examples like the early/mid-18th century cabinet you see here.

The two door cabinet enclosing small drawers was easily accommodated in European collections. The clarity of line and decoration would have a profound effect on English cabinet making.

In China and Japan these cupboards stood on or near the floor. However, in Europe they were raised on elaborately carved stands to create centrepieces for important rooms.

Unlike the Dutch the English did not trade directly with Japan at this date. It was traditionally thought that Japanese Lacquer was imported to England from Holland. But given the British East India Company’s monopoly to import Oriental goods to England this seems unlikely. More probable is that Japanese lacquer pieces were bought by the British East India Company at Dutch trading stations like Batvia which is now part of Indonesia.

The principle component of Oriental lacquer is the sap of the Laq tree, Rhus verniciflua, which hardens to form a transparent coating. The lacquer was applied in thin coats with each layer being allowed to harden before the next was applied. Coloured pigment, powdered metals, clay and sawdust were added to create colour and the decorative motifs.

18th century collectors, antiquaries and travellers brought together, but also sought to classify, objects from the world around them. Many of these objects were categorised according to the seven major new areas of enquiry during the Enlightenment. These included: natural history, art and civilisation, religion and ritual, the birth of archaeology, discovery and trade, the translation of ancient scripts and classification. It was objects like these which might have once been curated in this cabinet.

The cabinet illustrated is an example of Japanese lacquer and is decorated with exotic birds and flowers.

The stand is most likely English. It is the right period for the cabinet and fits it perfectly which gives a good indication that it was probably made for it. The stand is profusely decorated in the Baroque taste, elaborately carved with cherubs and flower and leaf swags supported by naturalistic cabriole legs.

It will be auctioned at Toovey’s next fine furniture sale on Friday 24th May 2019

Japanese lacquer cabinets with English baroque stands continue to fascinate wealthy English collectors in the 21st century as they did in the 18th.

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.