In an English Country Garden

Alfred William Parsons (1847-1929) – Garden Scene with Figure and Dogs, early 20th century oil on canvas, signed recto

Like so many of us I was blessed to spend the weekend in my English Country Garden. The purple Alliums that line the borders have been joined by brilliant orange Geums and an array of abundant, scented Roses whose colours and texture soothes the heart. They are complimented by violet Geraniums and the blue of the Salvia, their hues evolving in the light and heat of the day. As you process up the gravel path between the beds on either side the plants enfold and hold you.

It has once again caused me to reflect on how it must been for those who do not have a garden or access to a green space during the Covid-19 lockdown. I hope they will be blessed by the easing of restrictions with good social distancing allowing them to see some loved ones and keep safe.

Being in my garden brings to mind a Garden Scene we sold recently at Toovey’s for £2000. It was painted by Alfred William Parsons (1847-1920) in the early 20th century. Parsons was a Royal Academician. A very English artist, he worked as an illustrator, landscape artist and garden designer. He was recognised for giving voice to an ‘Englishness’ in his work which resonated with the American imagination.

Alfred Parsons brought art to the garden and his designs. He would produce ‘portraits’ of gardens and precise illustrations of botanical specimens. Parsons worked with the famous gardener, William Robinson, on several books. Alfred Parsons would design gardens in Britain and the United States. His transatlantic connections were strengthened through his membership of the Anglo-American ‘Broadway Group’. It was made up of artists and writers that included the author Henry James and artist John Singer Sargent. Broadway in the Cotswolds drew composers too, like Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The painting, Garden Scene, depicts that moment where spring turns to summer.

A black terrier lies panting, cooling herself on the stone flags beneath the scented Jasmine. The striking blue Agapanthus line the path and invite us into the scene as a young woman, carrying a wicker basket, catches the attention of a Jack Russell with a treat. At the back of the border a climbing rose holds our eye.

I am excited by how strong the demand is for a wide range of collectors’ items, antiques and art like this Alfred Parsons oil at the moment, and by the number of people booking appointments for auction valuations.

Satsuma: Ceramic Art to Delight the Imagination

A rare Japanese Satsuma earthenware presentation circular dish by Sozan at Kinkōzan, Meiji period (1868-1912)

It is with a sense of anticipation and excitement that we are preparing to reopen Toovey’s auction rooms to the public. The ‘R’ number willing, and having already been postponed once, we will open on Monday 15th June.

Our first specialist auction will be a fine selection of Chinese and Japanese ceramics and works of art from across Sussex; it is already attracting strong interest internationally and from across the UK.

One of the pieces which is attracting the attention of collectors and specialist dealers alike is the remarkable Satsuma dish you see here which has a pre-sale estimate of £2000-£4000.

In contrast to the predominately agrarian society which preceded it, a vibrant community of merchants and businesses grew up in Japan’s towns and cities in the early and mid-19th century.

For the first time urban populations had the means and leisure time to support a new culture of theatres, geisha and courtesans. This search for pleasure became known as ukiyo (the floating world), an ideal world of fashion and entertainment.

The prints, netsuke and ceramics which would be exported to, and have such an influence on, the West were born out this cultural movement.

Satsuma ceramics are a quintessential expression of the Meiji period (1868-1912) which continues to delight the imaginations of western collectors and our sense of the exotic.

Satsuma ceramics met with great success at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867. The mature Satsuma style was introduced to Kyoto by Kinkōzan Sōbei VI (1824-1884) and the Awata district became the centre of Satsuma production. In contrast to earlier pieces Satsuma from the Meiji period was elaborately decorated and predominately produced for export. The extravagance of these designs contributed to its popularity in Western markets.

Wares produced in Kyoto were similar in style and taste to the Satsuma produced in other towns and cities like Osaka and Yokohama. Satsuma had become an aesthetic term rather than denoting place. Indeed popular themes were published and shared.

However, it was the painters’ skill, stylistic preferences and range of colours that gave a piece its individual character. The finest painters like Sozan at Kinkōzan cultivated distinctive and personal styles. Sozan whose red seal within a cartouche appears on the presentation dish illustrated is considered to be among the finest painters of his kind in Japan. Dated, documentary Satsuma earthenware, like this dish, is extremely rare.

Whilst the scene is characteristic of Satsuma the distinctive, exceptional quality and style of painting is typically Sozan. Two bijin (beautiful women) stand in conversation in an exquisitely conceived landscape as a child plays with a kite beside a river. In the distance Mount Fuji can be seen, with a village on the horizon.

Items produced by the Kinkōzan Sōbei porcelain company are marked ‘Kinkōzan’. However, some pieces also carry the name ‘Sozan’. Sozan was a painter of porcelain but it is commonly held that he was also responsible for the decorative schemes and designs on these pieces.

This exceptional dish will be one of the highlights in Toovey’s first sale of Japanese and Chinese ceramics and works of art since the lockdown. The auction is scheduled for mid-June.

All being well Toovey’s will reopen to the public on Monday 15th June 2020 so do email us to make an appointment to meet our valuers, virtually or in person.

Unfurling from the Furlough

Rupert Toovey, Director of Toovey’s, in our Spring Gardens auction rooms at Washington, West Sussex

It is with a sense of anticipation and excitement that I am preparing to reopen Toovey’s auction rooms to the public. The ‘R’ number willing, we will open on Monday 15th June.

Toovey’s closed temporarily on 23rd March to support government policy and our NHS. We feel that it has been vital for Toovey’s and so many others to close and to do our bit to help to defeat COVID-19 as a way of protecting and supporting our community here in Sussex.

I was glad to be able to safely furlough most of my team, but I was unprepared for how emotional it would be to lock the doors to the salerooms that week. It has been financially costly too, but safety has always been our first priority and never more important than in these unprecedented times.

There has been much to tend to during this period and I have been overwhelmed by the generous and encouraging notes from our clients and friends.

The government’s most recent online advice to businesses and the NHS pages on COVID-19 have provided a framework which has shaped our thinking and allowed us to prepare risk assessments and a common sense Health and Safety response to keep staff and visitors safe when we reopen.

We’ve created new reception and valuations spaces for the public bringing their treasured possessions to Toovey’s for auction. We’ve ordered direction signs, queuing and viewing point mats to ensure social distancing. The numbers of people viewing our sales at any one time will be limited with timed slots available by appointment. Listen to me being excited by Health and Safety but it’s at its best when it’s practical and empowering!

I strongly believe that in the post COVID-19 world there will be a real need for the continued rise of liberal capitalism; firms which are informed by servant leadership, a sense of care and responsibility to the teams and communities which they serve and which support them. Where firms balance this approach with generous and good stewardship of their resources it is my experience that companies flourish because of these values and not in spite of them.

Many nations are ahead of us in the fight against this dreadful disease. We are receiving enquiries from China and across the world as well as the United Kingdom from collectors and specialist dealers really keen to buy objects at our auctions. In concert with the contemporary blessings of the online world, and especially, I think there is much cause for hope and optimism whether people are buying or selling.

Petworth – ‘The House of Art’

The Carved Room at Petworth House

This week I am returning with you to Petworth. The artist John Constable famously called Petworth ‘the house of art’ and it still has the National Trust’s finest collections of pictures and sculpture.

Horace Walpole described Grinling Gibbons original Carved Room at Petworth as ‘the most superb monument of his skill’. Grinling Gibbons is acknowledged as the leading English Baroque sculptor. The room was about half its current size when Gibbons constructed it around 1690 for the 6th Duke of Somerset (the ‘Proud Duke’).

There was a marked revival of interest in Grinling Gibbons work in the early 19th century. In 1786 the 3rd Earl of Egremont decided to enlarge the Carved Room. He doubled its size to create a Dining Room large enough for banquets.

Gibbons intended that his limewood carvings be lighter than the oak panelling to which they were pinned, rather as they are displayed today. Grinling Gibbons’ still life compositions in carved wood with their Baroque garlands, birds, musical instruments and cherubs surrounding the four full-length portraits in the Carved Room are exquisitely conceived.

Not all of the carvings are by Gibbons and his workshop. Some, including the frame which holds the portrait of Henry VIII after Hans Holbein the Younger you see here were carved by John Selden.

The 3rd Earl employed the carver John Ritson who added numerous carvings in the style of Gibbons to the decorative scheme.

The 3rd Earl also had the oak panelling painted white reversing the effect conceived by Gibbons a century earlier.

It was at this time that JMW Turner’s four landscapes of Petworth and Sussex were installed. You can glimpse Turner’s ‘Brighton from the Sea’ and ‘The Lake in Petworth Park’ beyond the fireplace. Their palette must have been dramatic against the white panelling.

The room was again altered in the later 19th century and the white paint removed from the oak panelling. It was not until 2002 that the Carved Room was restored to the 3rd Earl’s scheme by the National Trust. The oak panelling was kept as Grinling Gibbons had originally intended.

The exceptional Chinese Kangxi period blue and white vases and covers date from around 1690, the period Grinling Gibbons was working at Petworth. They were probably purchased by Elizabeth, the Duchess of Somerset, the Proud Duke’s wife and Percy heiress. Elizabeth was an avid collector of Chinese blue and white porcelain, a passion she shared with her friend, Queen Anne.

The Carved Room at Petworth is amongst the finest examples of the grand English Country House interior. Its layered and eclectic giving voice to Petworth’s reputation as ‘the house of art’. It reflects the patronage, stories and interests of a family over generations.

The National Trust’s work at Petworth, under the leadership of Andrew Loukes, is cause for celebration as the trust marks its 125th anniversary.

Celebrating the Baroque at Petworth

The Marble Hall at Petworth House in West Sussex © National Trust 2020

In this, the first of two articles, we are visiting Petworth House in West Sussex celebrating the Baroque.

The Marble Hall at Petworth was the main entrance to the house and is remarkably un-changed from the time of the 6th Duke of Somerset (1662-1748) who commissioned it. Work on it was largely completed by 1692. It is thought that it was probably designed by Daniel Marot (1663-1752). Born in Paris, Marot worked almost exclusively in Holland and England. He also published influential engraved designs.

Charles Seymour, the 6th Duke of Somerset married the Percy heiress Elizabeth. Known as the ‘Proud Duke’ he used his wife’s money to remodel her family’s seat at Petworth.

The Marble Hall at Petworth culturally embraces the classicising version of the Baroque style developed in France and apparent in the palatial interiors of Louis XIV’s Versailles. The influence of the Dutch can also be seen. Such a complete decorative scheme in the Baroque style is rare in England. The collections of classical sculptures and the late 17th century Florentine black and gold marble topped tables add to the grandeur of the space.

The confident, three-dimensional woodwork, including the Somerset coats of arms you see above the chimney pieces, were carved by John Selden. Thomas Larkin put the panelling up. The locks were made by the locksmith John Draper and engraved with the Duke’s arms. James Sayers indented the black and white marble floor, the design inspired by a pattern in C. A. d’Anvier’s ‘Cours complet d’Architecture’. Published in 1691 it was one of the most popular pattern books of the 17th century.

The 3rd Earl of Egremont filled the Marble Hall with pictures which were hung in tiers in all the available panels. This style of hanging survived until 1952 when Anthony Blunt, unknowingly, returned it to the earlier decorative scheme which you see here with pictures displayed only over the chimneypieces and doors.

Originally the Marble Hall would have opened onto a formal garden with ramparts, terraces and parterres, again commissioned by the Proud Duke. This form of garden design was inspired by the formal straight lines and topiary of the French royal gardens at Versailles designed by André Le Notre (1613-1700). George London (d.1714) and Henry Wise (1653-1738) made the parterre popular in England in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, creating the gardens at Petworth.

In early 18th century England there was a political desire, held by both the Whig government and Hanoverian King George I, to distance themselves from the excesses of the French Court at Versailles. This combined with a fascination for ‘unbounded nature’. In this climate Capability Brown’s park landscapes evolved in dialogue with his patrons, including the 2nd Earl of Egremont. Perhaps this is why his idealised landscape at Petworth speaks into the hearts and imaginations of the English.

Next week we will be visiting Petworth again to rediscover the Carved Room with its superb Grinling Gibbons carvings.