Punctuation Marks in our Busy Lives

Fred Hall – ‘Morning on the Downs’, oil on board, signed recto, titled verso, 32cm x 39.5cm

Like so many of us I am in the first few days of adapting to working from home separated from the people and busy cycle of my working life.

Toovey’s auction rooms are temporarily closed in line with government policy and the team safely furloughed. I have been overwhelmed by the number of hope filled notes and emails received from clients and friends, each expressing a spirit of generosity and good wishes. And I am embracing digital technology and images to enable virtual visits and valuations – at least for now.

As I adjust, temporarily, to this new rhythm of life I am aware of the blessings of family, self-discipline and time.

The rhythm of walking in the landscape stills me but I am aware that I need to be mindful of how I do this exercise if I am to honour those working in the NHS and do my bit to beat Coronavirus COVID-19.

In more normal times I love to walk on the Downs at the back of Storrington. This thought reminds me of a beautiful landscape by Fred Hall (1860-1948) titled ‘Morning on the Downs’ which we sold at Toovey’s for £1600. The painting captures a cool, spring light as the sheep graze on ancient chalk grassland filled with wild flowers. In the distance we glimpse the sea. It’s a scene we still recognize today.

Born at Stillington in Yorkshire, Fred Hall was a Newlyn artist whose realist paintings were later characterised by the lighter touch and impressionist treatment of his landscapes which you see here. Fred Hall left Newlyn in 1897 and married Agnes Dod. A year later they moved to Dorking in Surrey and the artist took a studio in West Kensington.

In an age of social media there is sometimes a temptation to look at, or worry about, what has passed whilst our eye is firmly set on the next thing. But it seems to me that the most beautiful things in life are often to be found in the here and now. The 17th century Jesuit Priest Jean Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) described it as the Sacrament of the Present Moment. If we dare to shut out the white noise of our lives and seek to be truly present, to still ourselves and be attentive, these blessings reveal themselves.

Whilst I am missing that walk on the Downs we are so lucky that the streets and lanes of our towns, villages and the adjoining countryside in West Sussex are filled with blossom and spring flowers to lift our spirits.

For me the rhythm of prayer, walking and music brings me stillness and silence and allows me to be truly present. Whilst there will be challenges for us all I hope that, like me, you will be able to find punctuation marks in your lives to reflect on the blessings in each day.

A Mother’s Love

A hope filled oil painting by Dorothea Sharp titled ‘The Bath’

For many across West Sussex Mothering Sunday is traditionally a day for gathering at church and with families celebrating and giving thanks for mums and their love.

But last Sunday was no ordinary Mothering Sunday. With churches closed and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plea not to visit our mums to keep them safe there was a real sense of heightened isolation in the face of COVID-19.

Nonetheless we are a resilient and hopeful people and love was shared across generations through Skype, FaceTime and the like. The Church of England streamed its services gathering us and the beautiful early spring weather lifted our spirits.

At its best there is a particular strength and grace to a mother’s love for her children. Constant, abundant and selfless, a mother will strive to bless their children with freedom through boundaries. This generous, constant attention to the needs of others and self-discipline provides an important example for our current times.

The 14th century anchoress Julian of Norwich lived her whole life in Norwich. Close to death she experienced Christ in a series of visions born out of her prayers. She survived and wrote the earliest surviving book in the English language written by a woman titled Revelations of Divine Love. Julian famously speaks of Jesus Christ as mother describing the quality of his love for us.

I loved the hope filled scene painted by Dorothea Sharp which was sold in Toovey’s March Fine Art Auction. Titled ‘The Bath’ it realised £8000 reflecting her reputation as a painter and the ever growing interest in women artists.

Dorothea Sharp’s paintings were influenced by her time in Paris and exposure to the Impressionists including Claude Monet. Best known for her landscapes, which often include children, Dorothea Sharp’s style is spontaneous and impressionistic. ‘The Bath’ depicts a hopeful, joyful, sunlit interior as a mother bathes her baby. Through the window beyond a sailing boat enters the estuary, the blue of the sea brilliant against the grey green hills of the far shore.

The love of a mother for her child is brilliantly captured with a confident palette and spontaneous brush strokes.

Love and prayer reaches across physical boundaries and shared stories of joys and sorrows bind families and communities together. I hope that each of us will, like a loving mother, tend to one another – those close to us and those we meet along the way. If we do then our nation’s story will once again be strengthened and renewed by our acts of compassion, consideration, love and service to others.

Amberley Museum’s Inaugral Sculpture Trail

Contributing artists at the 2020 Amberley Museum Sculpture Trail

The first flash of spring sunshine broke through as Amberley Museum launched its inaugural Sculpture Trail. The Sculpture Trail provides a natural bridge between the artist and artisan. Many of the traditional crafts and skills preserved and maintained at the museum are employed in creating sculpture.

20th century Britain witnessed a great revival in the Renaissance idea of the artisan artist. In Sussex artists like Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden and others worked as designers and woodblock illustrators as well as painters of fine art.

As we walk up through the museum we reach a fork in the path and nestling amongst the dappled light of the still bare Silver Birch we discover a stone form titled ‘Cell’. The artist Will Spankie explains “The sculpture is inspired by bees. I love bees – the way that they live.” Will and his wife Lucy keep bees. The textural cells carved in Purbeck stone reflect the mass of prismatic wax cells built by honey bees in their nests to hold their stores of honey, pollen and as nurseries for their brood larvae. The changing light plays on the contrasting textured and smooth surfaces of the worked stone creating an impression of stillness and movement.

Will Spankie’s stone ‘Cell’

We walk with the sculptor Michael Joseph and his wife Jane down a wooded path as they talk passionately about wild flower meadows and bees. We round a corner and find Michael Joseph’s sculpture ‘Serene’ bathed in sunshine. Its bold figurative outline is repeated by its shadow against a crisp white wall. Michael loves the technical challenges of making his sculptures. I ask him about the creative process of this piece. He says “I made a maquette by bending the metal, but this larger finished work is made from tubing which can’t be bent without distorting it. So I made a number of cuts through to the outer face to very high mathematical tolerances then I welded it. It’s dressed and patinated with powder coating.”

Michael Joseph with his sculpture ‘Serene’

Works by the blacksmith partnership of Sarah Blunden and Ben Fraser, as well as blacksmith Alex Smith give real voice to calling and vocation in creativity expressed by the artisan artist – for them there is no peace without making. The inspiration of nature and its rhythms is beautifully articulated by the sculptor Simon Probyn. His steel abstract ‘Pebbles’ greets you as you arrive. And then there is the architect sculptor Lester Korzilius’ mixed method ‘Vortex’ with its bold palette and abstract form which plays with light and its enviroment.

I often return to the Amberley Museum for its brilliant railway, vintage car, and craft weekends as well as to ride on its fantastic vintage buses and trains. The sculptures are an exciting addition to this industrial landscape allowing us to see the familiar anew.

Amberley Museum’s 2020 Sculpture Trail runs until the 28th June 2020 and there is a celebration of James Bond on the weekend of the 28th March. For more information visit www.amberleymuseum.co.uk or telephone 01798 831370.

Gilbert White’s Tercentenary Celebrated at Pallant House

John Nash, A pair of Hoopoe Birds from‘The Natural History of Selborne’, c.1972 © Estate of John Nash

Pallant House Gallery’s exhibition Drawn to Nature: Gilbert White and the Artists celebrates 300 years since the birth of the Revd. Gilbert White and the centenary of the Society of Wood Engravers. It runs from the 11 March to the 28 June 2020.

The Revd. Gilbert White (1720-1793) was a remarkable man, a pioneering naturalist who hugely influenced the development of the science of natural history, an author and a gardener. He is perhaps most famous for his book ‘The Natural History and Antiquities of Selbourne’. A man of God with a love and interest in science and the natural world sits well with me. It is often argued that White’s study of earthworms and their vital role in creating topsoil influenced Charles Darwin’s thinking around evolution.

White’s Natural History recounts his daily observations of the animals, birds and plant life found on his doorstep in Hampshire and nearby in the South Downs in Sussex. Published in 1789 it was an immediate success.

Gilbert White’s Natural History has also inspired artists over the centuries and never more than in the 20th century as highlighted by the works on display.

In the 20th century many artists rediscovered their role as artisan artists and designers whilst working as painters and sculptors of fine art. One of the ways that this was expressed was by making printed woodblock illustrations for fine books printed by private presses.

Eric Ravilious, The Tortoise in the Kitchen Garden from ‘The Writings of Gilbert White of Selborne’, ed., H.J.Massingham, London, The Nonsuch Press, 1938

The artist Robert Gibbings influenced the revival of wood engraving by artists. In 1920 he founded the Society of Wood Engravers. Members working in Sussex included Eric Ravilious and John Nash. The society ignited a revival of wood engraving where the designs and the blocks were created by the artist, making that vital connection between the artist and the final print.

Eric Ravilious displays the line, flecking and crisp edging which define his woodblocks in The Tortoise in the Kitchen Garden. It depicts Gilbert White in his garden. A keen gardener from his youth, White increasingly took a close interest in the natural world around him, and grew a wide range of traditional and experimental fruit and vegetables, recording weather, temperature and other details.

Clare Leighton, Hop-pickers from‘GilbertWhite, TheNatural History of Selborne’ c.1941, wood engraving on paper © Estate of Clare Leighton

Clare Leighton also belonged to this revival of wood engraving. Her work combines a deep understanding of life and love informed by her Christian faith, with a captivating simplicity and honesty. Many of her compositions are characterized by the use of a series of underlying curves which at once unite the subjects in her pictures while articulating movement, qualities which are apparent in the composition of Hop Pickers.

Against some opposition from her family Clare Leighton persuaded her parents to allow her to attend the Brighton School of Art. She was friends with Hilaire Belloc, who lived at Shipley windmill near Horsham, and Eric Gill, who was at this point living in Ditchling.

John Nash’s Pair of Hoopoe Birds is one of a series of joyful illustrations to White’s natural history.

The exhibition Drawn to Nature: Gilbert White and the Artists brings together a wonderful collection of images, each inspired by Gilbert White’s Natural History. It runs at the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester from 11 March – 28 June 2020.

Toy Valuation Fundraiser for Horsham Museum

Toovey’s toy specialist Chris Gale with an array of collectors toys including a boxed Triang Wrenn locomotive, a Bassett-Lowke lifeboat and other tinplate and die-cast toys

This week I am in the company of Toovey’s toy specialist, Chris Gale who is preparing for his annual toy valuation fundraising event on the morning of Saturday 14th March at the Horsham Museum.

Chris remarks “People are often unaware of how valuable their old toys are and this free auction valuation event gives people the chance to find out and benefit the Horsham Museum as well.”

“Since 2002 I’ve sold more than £1.5 million pounds of toys and models for collectors from across Sussex and the UK in Toovey’s specialist auctions.”

A Bing tinplate clockwork open top double deck bus with external staircase and driver canopy, lithographed with destination boards and advertisements

I ask Chris to describe a few of his favourite toys. He pauses and says “One of my favourite toys was the Bing tinplate clockwork open top double deck bus which sold for £2800. It was beautifully made. Remarkable quality, especially as by the 1920s Bing was one of Germany’s most prolific toy manufacturers. The designs were lithographed onto steel sheets. The designs were then stamped out of the metal and assembled using tabs and slots. The Great Depression brought the company into decline and with the rise of the Nazis the Jewish Bing family came to England.”

An 18th century turned, carved and painted wooden swivel-head doll

“The 18th century turned, carved and painted wooden swivel-head doll I discovered was also exceptional. She had brown hair, black glass eyes, red painted lips and cheeks and the lined eyebrows were emphasised with dots. Her jointed body was wooden except for the upper arms which were stuffed with cotton. The doll came with a letter from the family stating it was bought new in Bath by an Ann Gibbs with her uncle Admiral Gayton in 1790, wonderful provenance, it realised £6400.”

A number of valuable toys have been discovered at previous Horsham Museum valuation events. Chris Gale who is donating his time explains: “If items valued at the event are subsequently consigned for auction with us at Toovey’s we will give a third of our seller’s commission to the Horsham Museum to help with its important work.”

For a morning of fun and free pre-sale valuations come to the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery, The Causeway, Horsham, RH12 1HE on Saturday 14th March, 10am to 12 noon. Toovey’s next specialist toy sale will be held on 20th May 2020.