Once in a Lifetime Opportunity at Royal Pavilion Brighton

Royal Pavilion Banqueting Room with fender, mantel clock and serving tables designed by Robert Jones, Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020.

In the first of a series of articles I am exploring a significant and generous loan of objects by Her Majesty The Queen to the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. These important objects will be on display at the Royal Pavilion until the autumn of 2021.

Amongst these are some of the most splendid pieces commissioned by George IV for the Royal Pavilion. The exhibition ‘A Prince’s Treasure’ provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to see this collection in the context of its original setting as George IV would have intended.

This week I am in the company of David Beevers, Keeper of the Royal Pavilion, who has overseen this remarkable collaboration between the Royal Collection Trust and the Royal Pavilion. The loan comprises of more than 120 objects which are on display at the Royal Pavilion for the first time since their removal to London in 1847/48. David explains how Queen Victoria enjoyed her Uncle George IV’s extravagant taste at Brighton.

When Brighton and the building no longer suited Queen Victoria’s family needs it was decided that the Pavilion should be sold and it was assumed that the site would be redeveloped. The fixtures, including fireplaces and wall panels, and the decorative objects, wallpapers and furniture were removed to London where many of them were installed under Prince Albert’s direction in the newly built East Wing at Buckingham Palace.

With remarkable foresight and in an act of enlightened civic patronage the Pavilion was bought and saved for the town by the Brighton Town Commissioners and their Clerk, Lewis Slight.

In 1863 Queen Victoria generously returned a number of important murals and chandeliers. Since then Royal patronage has seen numerous objects returned to the Royal Pavilion, thanks to a series of gifts and loans. In 1955 Her Majesty The Queen returned more than 100 objects on long term loan.
As we enter the Banqueting Room I remark on how the decorative whole is so much more apparent and alive with the loans in place. David agrees saying “Everything speaks – it suddenly starts talking to each other.”

He explains how the designs of Robert Jones can be discerned in the details and overall decorative scheme. Many of the pieces are designed by Jones. As we stand before one of the fireplaces it becomes apparent that the dragon and serpent motifs decorating the steel, brass and gilt-bronze fenders and fire dogs are repeated elsewhere. The legs of the superb rosewood, mahogany and satinwood veneered serving tables, manufactured by Tatham, Bailey and Sanders are delicately carved with gilded dragons. In the overdoor panels, too, carved gilded serpents and dragons are framed beneath arched palmette friezes bringing together the Chinese and Indian styles.

Banqueting Room mantel clock by Vuillamy, Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

I ask David if he has a favourite piece and he shows me an extraordinary mantel clock saying “This clock reflects the Pavilion style at its confident best.” He describes how the clock was designed by Robert Jones and made by Vuillamy. The Chinese figures echo those painted on the walls. The gilt-bronze foliage was gilded by Fricker and Henderson and seems to allude to an eagle in flight.
Benjamin Lewis Vuillamy was horologist to the Royal family and his work rivalled the French manufacturers. With its enamelled figures and peacock surmount it speaks of George IV’s patronage of the very finest craftsmanship of his age.

‘A Prince’s Treasure’ is an extraordinary exhibition which brings to life the patronage of a Prince and King here in the very heart of Sussex and I am looking forward to revisiting. The generous, intelligent procession through the rooms and the other Covid precautions with ticketed, timed entry has been designed to keep the visitor safe. Visit www.brightonmuseums.org.uk/royalpavilion/ to book your tickets. This is a must see exhibition!

The China Trade

Circle of George Chinnery – ‘Factories, Canton’ (Junk in Canton Harbour), early/mid-19th century watercolour, titled in pencil verso

In 1757, during the reign of the Chinese Emperor Qianlong (1735-1795), Canton was the only port left open to foreign trade after all the other Chinese ports were closed.

The Chinese allowed a limited trade area for westerners to be established outside Canton’s city walls under the watchful eyes of the Co-Hong–thirteen Chinese merchants who were responsible to the Emperor. The westerners, described by the Chinese as ‘foreign devils’, were not allowed to travel in China and all their business had to be conducted through these Chinese Merchants. This system would remain unchanged until the 1841 opium war.

Most European countries established trading companies. The British East India Company was formed in 1600 and the Dutch East India Company two years later. The fashion for tea grew throughout the 17th century adding another valuable commodity to the China trade.

European demand for exotic goods in the 18th century led expanded beyond silks and porcelains to include lacquerware, enamels, furnishings, wallpapers, carvings, ivories, watercolours and paintings. By the third-quarter of the 18th century England, Holland, France, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Spain all occupied hongs at Canton. The small early 19th century watercolour is very much in the style of the artist George Chinnery. It depicts the hongs, also known as factories, which consisted of a front building facing the river with a myriad of buildings connected by courtyards and passages behind them. Westerners’ activities were very restricted. They lived under the constant surveillance of the hong merchants and the Chinese police.

A pair of Chinese famille rose export porcelain candle holder figures of ladies, Qianlong period, each lady modelled holding a lotus bud shaped vase, the figures with brightly enamelled decoration

The importance of the Chinese export trade in ceramics cannot be overstated. It is hard for us to imagine the vast quantities of useful and ornamental porcelain imported into Britain and Continental Europe. These pieces would inform western taste. Whole industries were created to reproduce Chinese blue-and-white patterns. Even the humblest pieces of Chinese were well made.

The British East India Company’s China trade imports predominately comprised of bulk lots of blue and white including wares like plates and dishes which could be packed tightly in the hold with the ballast below the waterline. The second category of imports were important to the commercial success of the voyage for the crew and Company. This officially permitted private trade was made up of pieces of far higher quality. They included armorial, crested, figurative and colourful wares of which the Qianlong period pair of Chinese famille rose export porcelain candle holders modelled as ladies are a fine example.

The watercolour and porcelain candle holders were sold at Toovey’s for £7000 and £2700 respectively.

The company took a percentage of the private trade pieces with the remainder being shared amongst the crew. Much of these wares were sold at the Company’s auctions in London.

Finally the valuable and highly profitable tea and silks were stowed above the waterline in these leaky timber ships.

The lucrative China trade continues today as the Chinese compete with British and European collectors to reacquire items they sold to us for export in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Maynard Keynes, The Great Economist

Laura Knight – Madonna (Head Study of the Dancer, Lydia Lopokova), etching circa 1923, signed in pencil

On the 21st April 1946 The Times reported ‘Lord Keynes, the great economist, died at Tilton, Firle, Sussex, yesterday from a heart attack.’

John Maynard Keynes was a man of great energy, imagination and enterprise. He was born on the 5th June 1883. Educated at Eton he won a scholarship to King’s College Cambridge where he read mathematics and the classics whilst also studying philosophy and economics.

Keynes’s genius was expressed in important contributions to the fundamentals of economic science. He was able to make his theories accessible to the public and was a gifted writer.

As the most frequent visitor to Charleston House in Sussex Keynes was given his own room. Although his love affair with Duncan Grant had ended in 1909 their friendship endured. Maynard Keynes would remain an important figure in the lives of both Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell.

As the Great War came to an end and the armistice was declared Keynes would divide his time between France and Charleston as he worked on the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919.

Keynes strongly disagreed with the reparations being proposed against Germany believing they would negatively affect the world and economy. Following his resignation from the British delegation he lived predominately at Charleston where he wrote his famous denunciation of the Peace Treaty, The Economic Consequences of Peace which you see illustrated. Keynes was a great bibliophile so it is fitting that his own books are highly sort after.

In 1925 Keynes married the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova of the Diaghilev Company. Laura Knight’s sensitive portrayal in the etched portrait from 1923 depicts Lydia as the Madonna. Her face displays a strength and vulnerability. There is a rising demand for women artists like Laura Knight.
Both were sold at Toovey’s for £800 and £2300 respectively.

John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace. London: Macmillan & Co., 1919. First edition

Keynes’s experience of the Great War and of economic depression caused him to reconsider traditional economic theories. He concluded that for a free market system to work at optimum capacity and provide full-employment it would be necessary to have deliberate central control of interest rates and, in some cases, to stimulate capital development.

Keynes would have a great influence after the Second World War ensuring that the mistakes of the Versailles Treaty were not repeated.

Ordinary Englishmen could not return from war a second time to be deprived of work, security and appropriate housing. The bloodless revolution of the Post-War Labour government with its radical redistribution of wealth through inheritance tax at 80% and general taxation may have pre-empted revolution of a bloodier kind. It brought with it the NHS and extended the Welfare State.

Keynes understood that this would inevitably undermine private patronage of the arts. He became Chairman of CEMA in 1942 and the fledgling Arts Council in 1945, as well as introducing resident artists at universities and working with theatres.

I have often wondered whether it was his relationships with Duncan Grant, Lydia Lopokova and his unconsummated, flirtatious affection for Vanessa Bell which influenced his love of the arts, of which he was a tireless advocate and supporter. The great economist was never happier than when in the company of his artistic friends especially here in Sussex.

Governments, including our own, seem to once again be embracing Keynesian economics as they seek to create capital investment in emerging technologies and optimum capacity and employment in their economies.

A Connection Through a Handmade Object

A large Della Robbia Pottery two-handled vase, circa 1900, probably designed by Charles Collis and decorated by Lizzie Wilkins (broken, altered and repaired).

“There is a delight in being connected with a craftsman or woman through a handmade object”

At the heart of the Arts and Crafts Movement was a reaction against the gloriously rich interiors of the Victorian middle-classes with their machine made objects.

At the forefront of the movement was the financially independent William Morris. He was able to devote himself to art. With a reformer’s zeal he attempted to establish a new style that would restore the maker’s creative role and free them from being just a small part in repetitive manufacturing processes. A romantic socialism shared by William Morris and John Ruskin, it identified the ills of mechanised production but failed to take account of the great benefits which industrialisation brought to society. Morris and Ruskin both saw in Medieval pieces a simple beauty born out of the skilled craftsmen who made them and delighted in the aesthetic connection with the maker.

Charles Eastlake promoted designs which were more severe and emphasised the craftsman’s role in making them with obvious peg jointing and visible handmade nails.

An Edwardian Arts and Crafts oak and pollard oak side cabinet by Shapland & Petter of Barnstaple

Pieces for the domestic market often displayed little or no ornament relying on proportion and simple lines like those you see on the Shapland & Petter of Barnstaple pollard oak side cabinet illustrated. The influence of the Medieval and Art Nouveau can be seen in its large handles and the hinges placed on the outside of the doors. This example sold at Toovey’s for £1200.

Ceramics also went through a fruitful period under the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement as craftsman based production allowed labour intensive techniques such as experiments with distinctive lustre-glazes. Earthenware was hand decorated with Persian motifs and flowing, scrolling foliage by craftsmen like William De Morgan in London and the short lived Della Robbia Pottery in Birkenhead which was founded in 1894 by Harold Rathbone. The two vases shown here by William de Morgan and Della Robbia illustrate some of these stylistic qualities and made £850 and £900 respectively.

A William de Morgan pottery vase, circa 1888-1897, of urn form with narrow neck, decorated by Joe Juster with a Persian foliate design

William de Morgan’s lusterware and ‘Persian style’ pottery are recognised as outstanding examples of 19th century design. De Morgan and Morris were friends and their designs complement one another.

The Arts and Crafts style fits well with today’s restrained tastes combining function and beauty. Prices remain strong but accessible and I am looking forward to the specialist sales of Arts and Crafts furniture and Art Pottery at Toovey’s on 5th and 19th November.

After all there is a delight in being connected with a craftsman or woman through a handmade object!

The Timeless Appeal of Jewellery

An Art Deco platinum, collet set diamond ring, circa 1925

Over millennia jewellery has held a fascination for humankind bringing together timeless gems, the skill of the craftsman and the beauty of the jewel. Jewellery often marks important moments in our lives and the procession of history. It evolves to the delight of successive generations.

Jewellery designs from earlier periods have always been reinterpreted and adapted over the centuries with collectors prepared to pay a premium for original pieces. Alongside date and the quality of the stones the essential ingredients are the eye of the designer and the skill of the maker.

In the first decades of the 21st century mainstream taste has gravitated towards restrained clean lines.

These same qualities can be found in the Art Deco. Art Deco was a fashionable style in the inter-war years of the 20th century. It co-existed with machine age styles and modernism with clean lines and geometric designs in contrast to the Art Nouveau which preceded it.

The platinum ring you see here is a beautiful example of period, Art Deco jewellery. It dates from around 1925. It is collet set with a 3.5 carat old cut cushioned shaped principal diamond within a surround of smaller cushion shaped diamonds. It was sold at Toovey’s for £10,000.

A delicate, gold, diamond and ruby brooch, circa 1900, designed as a basket of flowers, with variously cut vari-coloured diamond flowers

Today there is also an interest in older antique styles like the delicate, gold, diamond and ruby brooch illustrated. The brooch dates from the late 19th century. Designed as a flower filled basket it is set with variously cut, vari-coloured diamond flowers and a band of calibre cut rubies. Just over 2 inches wide it made £3000 at Toovey’s.

The late Victorian period was characterized by fashionable women reacting against the technical progress in the mechanised production of jewellery for the masses, and the excess decoration of high Victorian designs. Their tastes favoured delicate jewels with understated fine gems and diamonds. Naturalistic designs like this remained popular from the 1840s onwards. Bees, insects and flowers were popular motifs.

In contrast to the earlier corsets and crinolines from the 1890s women’s fashion sought to enhance rather than alter the wearer’s figure employing softer materials. As a consequence brooches, like the flower filled basket, became smaller and lighter.

As these two contrasting pieces demonstrate it is not always just the stones that make a piece valuable. The setting, date and design can be as important. Provenance too influences price. If a jewel has been owned by a respected collector or celebrity it will often add value.

Jewellery at its best adds to the beauty of the wearer and speaks across generations of love and precious moments in our human lives. The appeal of jewellery is timeless.