Edgar Holloway, a Life Recorded in Print

Edgar Holloway in his studio at Woodbarton by Bernard Mitchell © Bernard Mitchell, 1996
Edgar Holloway in his studio at Woodbarton by Bernard Mitchell © Bernard Mitchell, 1996

It is with some excitement that Toovey’s are offering for sale selected works from the studio of Edgar Holloway (1914-2008). The sale provides an important overview and insight into the life and work of this talented, Sussex-based artist.

Lot 12 ‘Self Portrait no.18 (The Etcher II)’, circa 1979
Lot 12 ‘Self Portrait no.18 (The Etcher II)’, circa 1979

Holloway was at the heart of a revival of printmaking in the 1920s and 1930s. In the various phases of his creative life he combined the Arts and Crafts ideal of the artisan artist, influenced by Eric Gill, with the pursuit of fine art. His work is represented in many of our national collections, including the British Museum, the V&A, the National Portrait Gallery, the Ashmolean Museum and the National Museum of Wales. Further afield, his work is even to be found in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Lot 62 ‘T.S. Eliot’, etching by Edgar Holloway
Lot 62 ‘T.S. Eliot’, etching by Edgar Holloway

Edgar Holloway was born in Mexborough, near Doncaster, on 6th May 1914. His father, a former Yorkshire miner, sold art through his shop, including watercolours by Edgar. In January 1930 Edgar persuaded his father to buy him a small etching press and a supply of copper plates and would later write: ‘I like to say I learned to draw on copper plates.’ There is an immediacy and life to Edgar Holloway’s etchings, born of his particular gifts of observation and draughtsmanship. The influential author, journalist and art critic Malcolm Salaman reproduced a landscape print in the art magazine The Studio. By November 1930 the Twenty-one Gallery had agreed to handle his prints and would hold a series of critically acclaimed exhibitions at their Mill Street premises in Mayfair, London. His family had since moved to Essex and then Harrow, so that Edgar could be closer to the London art market.

Holloway obtained a pass to the print room at the British Museum, where he met the Keeper of Prints, Campbell Dodgson, who bought the young artist’s prints personally and for the museum’s collection. The Scottish etcher Ernest Lumsden had influenced the young Holloway and he now invited him to join the Society of Artist Printers in Edinburgh. During this period ‘Eastcote’ (Lot 36) and ‘Self-Portrait, 1932’ were among a series of successful prints.

Holloway’s gift for portraiture is expressed in his beautifully observed self-portraits. These introspective works gift us with a particular insight into the artist and the man. They chart a human procession through life with a piercing directness and integrity, which commands the viewer’s attention. These same qualities inform all of his portraits.

Lot 76 ‘Latton Priory, Essex (interior)’, from 1936
Lot 76 ‘Latton Priory, Essex (interior)’, from 1936

His family returned to Doncaster but in 1934 Edgar Holloway moved to Hampstead and studied at the Slade. The illustrator Alec Buckels introduced Holloway to T.S. Eliot, Herbert Read and Stephen Spender. There is such maturity in his portrait of ‘T.S. Eliot’ (Lot 62) that it is hard to remember that Holloway drew and etched it when he was just nineteen. Holloway would capture the portraits of many of T.S. Eliot’s circle.

Throughout his career, as well as portraiture, Holloway continued to record buildings, landscapes and the world around him. The 1936 etching of a barn interior, titled ‘Latton Priory, Essex (interior)’ (Lot 76), illustrates his command of the medium.

Ill health exempted Holloway from military service during the Second World War. In 1941 he became a Roman Catholic. In 1943, suffering with depression, he visited Capel-y-ffin, the monastery near Abergavenny, which had been home to Eric Gill in the 1920s. There he met Daisy Monica Hawkins, Gill’s last model. Within just a few weeks Edgar and Daisy were married. That she was his muse and inspiration is apparent in his sensitive studies of her, many of which are included in the sale. The couple lived at Capel and Doncaster with their growing family.

An invitation from Philip Hagreen to join the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic at Ditchling resulted in their move to Sussex. For the next twenty years Holloway worked exclusively as a letterer, cartographer, illustrator and designer. Edgar Holloway could not foresee his return to printmaking. He sold all but eleven of his etched copper plates in the 1950s to a scrap-metal dealer. Many of the early prints included in the sale are, therefore, very rare. However, this event gifted Holloway with the opportunity to revisit and record the memory and image of earlier subjects. The artist’s depth and layers of experience allowed him to recapture the voice and spontaneity of his earlier work.

In 1972 a series of commissions for portraits and landscapes from the United States allowed him to return to his love of printmaking. Among these is ‘Self-Portrait no. 16: Prospect of America’ (Lot 51). In 1979 Daisy Monica died. In the years that followed, retrospective exhibitions were held at the Ashmolean Museum, the National Library of Wales, in London and across the country.

In 1984 Edgar Holloway married the artist Jennifer Boxall. Together they purchased Woodbarton, which was designed by Eric Gill for Desmond Chute. When the Holloway’s arrived, there was no plumbing and only an outside toilet and single cold-water tap. This artistic couple set about modernising the house to create a comfortable home and studio in which to live and work. Jennifer inspired and encouraged Edgar in these years. Edgar Holloway was the last Chairman of the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic at Ditchling, which was dissolved in 1989.

In 1991 Holloway was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers.

Alongside Holloway’s prints are a number of paintings, which demonstrate his love of watercolour as a medium from his earliest years. This remarkable collection of works by Edgar Holloway provides a rare opportunity to understand and acquire works by this gifted artist, whose prints and watercolours are rightly represented in our national collections.

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.

A Wealden Artist Goes to War

A watercolour, ‘Destroying Saddam’s Weapons, Iraq 2004’
A watercolour, ‘Destroying Saddam’s Weapons, Iraq 2004’

A selling exhibition titled ‘A Wealden Artist Goes to War – Paintings of Gordon Rushmer’ has just opened at the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery

The exhibition was opened by the Tate Gallery’s Lead Curator of British Art to 1900, Alison Smith. She spoke celebrating the artist’s precise draughtsmanship, acute powers of observation and delicate use of colour.

Artist Gordon Rushmer
Artist Gordon Rushmer

Gordon Rushmer follows in a long tradition of British War Artists. There is a seriousness, restraint and dignity in the man and his work which is unexpected and humbling.

Gordon describes how he seeks to memorialize a particular moment in time so that it can continue to live in and through his paintings. He remarks “It is history being worked through.”

I ask him about his working method in bringing a picture into being. He says “It starts with an idea which can take a year to come together.” I begin to understand that the stillness evident in many of his paintings comes out of a process of reflection. Once Gordon has discerned what it is he wants to convey he works from his photographs and sketches made in the field. The pictures record the memory of a particular moment which transcends time and the purely visual.

I ask whether the proliferation of images of war in the news, on our televisions and in our newspapers, is in danger of desensitizing the public. Gordon replies “I have to find another way in. It’s what you don’t say which allows the public to be involved – to be questioning.”

A watercolour, ‘Flying into Lashkar Gah, Helmand, Afghanistan, 2007’
A watercolour, ‘Flying into Lashkar Gah, Helmand, Afghanistan, 2007’

My eye is taken by a watercolour titled ‘Flying into Lashkar Gah, Helmand, Afghanistan, 2007’. Whilst the painting is very obviously Gordon’s the palette and delicate handling of paint is reminiscent of the 20th century British War artist, Eric Ravilious. Like Ravilious’ paintings there is a reflective stillness; that sense of a sense of a moment out of time. The composition connects the viewer with the scene. It is as though we are seated in the row of soldiers. Gordon comments “They’re tuckered out with the fatigue of being in combat. It’s really noisy in a chinook. Even with the earplugs in you can hear the boom, boom, boom of the rota blades.”

Tate Gallery Lead Curator of British Art to 1900, Alison Smith with Jeremy Knight, Curator of the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery
Tate Gallery Lead Curator of British Art to 1900, Alison Smith with Jeremy Knight, Curator of the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery

Gordon talks about how his insight as a war artist has informed the huge respect in which he holds the British service men and women he accompanies. He says “You are one of the troops, unarmed, but one of their own. There is a real camaraderie. They won’t take you into firefights unless they know you’re ok.”

The watercolour ‘Destroying Saddam’s Weapons, Iraq 2004’ once again firmly places Gordon Rushmer’s art in the procession of British War artists. The cloud of the explosion and palette reminds me of Paul Nash’s work in the Second World War. Gordon reflects “In my opinion this was an ill judged war. Iraq is still a country in turmoil with little sign of a peaceful outcome.” However, this gifted artist is keen to stress the remarkable role of our armed forces, even in this situation, as they seek to make life better where they serve. I comment on the difficulties that they must face in distinguishing between what is right and what is wrong in the theatre of war. I have always admired the discipline of our soldiers and ask if this lends their task honour. Gordon agrees and explains the soldiers’ deep sense of service, fighting for Queen, country and their comrades.

The precise draughtsmanship, acute powers of observation and delicate use of colour, which are apparent in Gordon Rushmer’s studies of war, are also employed in the counterbalance of his paintings of Sussex and the Weald which make up half of the pictures in this show.

The depth and layers of experience in this reflective artist’s work is exceptional and clearly visible in this important exhibition. Curator, Jeremy Knight is once again deserving of our thanks. I am delighted that Toovey’s are supporting this show.

‘A Wealden Artist Goes to War – Paintings of Gordon Rushmer’ runs at the Horsham District Council Horsham Museum & Art Gallery, The Causeway, Horsham, until 28th May 2016. Entrance to the Museum and exhibition is free. It provides a rare opportunity not only to see, but also to acquire the work of an artist who is represented in the collections of Tate and The Imperial War Museum. For more information go to www.horshammuseum.org or telephone 01403 254959.

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.

Art and Design at the Heart of Change in Postwar Britain

John Piper’s large ‘Arundel’ fabric panel © The Piper Estate
John Piper’s large ‘Arundel’ fabric panel © The Piper Estate

This week I am returning to Pallant House Gallery’s latest exhibition ‘John Piper: The Fabric of Modernism’ which runs until 12th June 2016.

This insightful and visually stunning exhibition has been curated by Pallant House Gallery Director, Simon Martin. It explores John Piper’s important relationship with both the church and industry. It is the first major exhibition to explore John Piper’s textile designs.

John Piper had a long standing interest in textile design. He had taken part in the 1941 exhibition ‘Designs for Textiles by Twelve Fine Artists’ which formed part of the wartime export drive. It was the first of a series of influential shows organised by the Cotton Board. Other participating artists included Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious and Graham Sutherland, all of whom worked in Sussex.

John Piper’s ‘Abstract’ fabric © The Piper Estate
John Piper’s ‘Abstract’ fabric © The Piper Estate

This generation of British artists restored the Renaissance tradition of the artisan artist.

The Pallant House Gallery exhibition highlights the idea of ‘painterly textiles’ during the period of post-war austerity. Art and design formed part of the re-articulation of hope and national identity after the experience of two world wars and in the face of enormous political, social and religious change. It fell to artists and their patrons to give voice to this new national consciousness. This was reflected in John Piper’s commercial designs as much as in his art and ecclesiastical schemes for tapestries, vestments and windows.

David Whitehead Ltd produced fabric designs by John Piper. They unite the recurring themes in Piper’s work which include the abstract, religious imagery and historic architecture.

The design ‘Abstract’ from 1955 was based upon an oil painting by John Piper which he produced in 1935. The rhythm and tones of Piper’s original oil painting lend themselves to the repeated nature of fabric design and still seem modern today. During numerous trips to Paris in the 1930s Piper had been exposed to the cubist work of Pablo Picasso and others. Together with his friends and fellow artists, Ben Nicholson and Henry Moore, Piper was a leading member of the Seven & Five Society which was formed to promote the cause of abstraction and modernism in Britain.

John Piper’s ‘Foliate Heads’ fabric © The Piper Estate
John Piper’s ‘Foliate Heads’ fabric © The Piper Estate

The design ‘Foliate Heads’, produced by David Whitehead Ltd in 1954, with its crowned faces, was inspired by the carved foliate masks which can be found decorating medieval bosses and miserichords in churches across England. The foliate mask is a repeated theme in Piper’s work which he would return to later in his life.

John Piper also produced textile designs for Arthur Sanderson & Sons Ltd. Amongst these was the fabric ‘Arundel’ which was issued in 1960. The design is composed of fifteen brightly coloured vignette panels each with an abstracted figure. Part of the inspiration for this design undoubtedly comes from the tomb of the 5th Earl of Arundel in the Fitzalan Chapel of Arundel Castle and the Arundel Tomb in Chichester Cathedral. But the luminosity of the colours and the composition is reminiscent of the stained glass windows which Piper designed, in the early 1950s, for the chapel of Oundle School in Northamptonshire.

Through John Piper’s fabrics this intelligent exhibition illustrates how the artist reworked his ideas, themes and interests in various media, making modernism accessible to a far broader audience. This exciting exhibition continues that work revealing John Piper’s brilliance when working with textiles.

The superb exhibition catalogue, published by Pallant House Gallery and written by Simon Martin, is available at the Pallant House Bookshop and costs just £14.95.

I am delighted that Toovey’s Fine Art Auctioneers are sponsoring ‘John Piper: The Fabric of Modernism’ at Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester, PO19 1TJ. This perceptive and striking exhibition runs until 12th June 2016. For more information on current exhibitions, events and opening times go to www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557.

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.

John Piper Exhibition an Easter Feast

The artist John Piper in 2000 © Nicholas Sinclair
The artist John Piper in 2000 © Nicholas Sinclair

A remarkable exhibition ‘John Piper: The Fabric of Modernism’ has just opened at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. It marks the fiftieth anniversary of the installation of John Piper’s Chichester Cathedral reredos tapestry.

This is the first major exhibition to explore John Piper’s textile designs. It highlights the influence of Piper’s paintings and drawings on his designs. There is much to feast your eyes on. Paintings are displayed alongside designs and textiles illustrating how he reworked his themes and interests in various media. He worked in the abstract, romantic and classical traditions as a painter, designer, writer, printmaker and ceramicist. Whilst there is something of the modern in all his work he is, nevertheless, rooted in the tradition of individual voices in British Art. The exhibition highlights the central and recurring themes in Piper’s work which include religious imagery, historic architecture and the abstract.

In the 20th century two industrialized world wars had forged a shared experience of suffering and conflict in Britain. It fell to artists and their patrons to give voice to this new national consciousness in a period of political, social and religious change. John Piper’s work is deeply bound up with this story.

Walter Hussey was Dean of Chichester Cathedral and famous for his patronage of the arts through the church. In his book ‘Patron of Art’ Hussey notes how he chose to follow Henry Moore’s advice to commission John Piper to create a worthy setting for the High Altar. With his great sympathy for old churches he suggested a tapestry. Tapestry, he argued, would work in concert with the old stonework and 16th Century carved oak screen. He felt that the seven strips of tapestry would be able to be read as a whole across the narrow wooden buttresses of the screen with its crest of medieval canopies.

John Piper’s preliminary design for the Chichester Cathedral tapestry © The Piper Estate
John Piper’s preliminary design for the Chichester Cathedral tapestry © The Piper Estate

In the January of 1965 Piper presented a final sketch. The artist’s familiarity with the language of abstraction remains evident. It met with favourable opinion. But at lunch with Hussey and others, Piper was deeply troubled when the Archdeacon of Chichester commented that there was no specific symbol for God the Father in the central section of the design. The lack of this symbol in the earlier design by John Piper, illustrated here, is notable. After much consideration Piper introduced the white light to the left of centre on the tapestry itself. The tapestry panels are schematic in their use of symbolism. The Trinity is represented in the three central panels. God the Father is depicted by a white light, God the Son by the blue Tau Cross and the Holy Spirit as a flame-like wing, all united by a red equilateral triangle within a border of green scattered flames. The flanking panels depict the Gospel Evangelists St Matthew (a winged man), St Mark (a winged lion), St Luke (a winged ox), and St John (a winged eagle); beneath the Elements earth, air, fire and water.

As we journey through Holy Week and mark Jesus’ death upon the cross on Good Friday the Tau Cross seems particularly poignant with its symbolic wounds on each spar. Jesus’ role in creation from before the beginning of all things to the triumph of his death and resurrection are powerfully proclaimed in this extraordinary tapestry.

John Piper’s Chichester Cathedral reredos tapestry, circa 1966
John Piper’s Chichester Cathedral reredos tapestry, circa 1966

John Piper set himself to the task of designing the tapestry panels. He employed subtle changes in the colour of threads to avoid jagged edges. Piper was convinced that Pinton Frères, in the small French town of Felletin, near Aubusson, was the right atelier of weavers to produce the tapestry. The weavers worked with a true and faithful sense of the artist’s intentions and hopes for this design. Their painstaking, lengthy discipline in producing these panels gift the work with contrasting qualities of life, movement and spontainaity. The subtleties and life in the tapestry are best observed in natural light. The tapestry was installed fifty years ago in the autumn of 1966.

I am excited that Toovey’s Fine Art Auctioneers are sponsoring ‘John Piper: The Fabric of Modernism’ at Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester, PO19 1TJ. The exhibition runs until 12th June 2016.

What a wonderful Easter treat – Pallant House Gallery and Chichester Cathedral!

For more information on current exhibitions, events and opening times go to www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557. For details of Holy Week and Easter services at Chichester Cathedral visit www.chichestercathedral.org.uk.

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 Original White Cube Gallery

J.M.W. Turner’s watercolour of the North Gallery at Petworth

How modern the 21st century gallery interior seems to us with its light, white interiors – but is it really modern?

This week we are at Petworth House, in the company of the National Trust’s inspirational Exhibitions Manager, Andrew Loukes. The Petworth House team are preparing for their spring opening on Saturday 19th March 2016. All around us the house’s treasures are emerging from beneath their winter covers.

The Classical sculpture at Petworth
The Classical sculpture at Petworth
George Wyndham O’Brien (1751-1837), 3rd Earl of Egremont
George Wyndham O’Brien (1751-1837), 3rd Earl of Egremont

As we enter the North Gallery the deep red of the walls sets off the white of the sculptures. It is a remarkable space. The blinds are opened and the light floods in. It reminds me of a watercolour of the North Gallery by the artist J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). The watercolour depicts the gallery luminous and white. John Flaxman’s (1755-1826) famous sculpture ‘St Michael subduing Satan’ is to the fore. The sketch is one of a number produced by Turner which he painted for his own pleasure, they illustrate life behind the scenes at Petworth House. Andrew Loukes explains “At the time of the 3rd Earl these galleries were painted white.” I remark that this must have been the first white cube gallery. Andrew agrees and adds “This is arguably the first purpose built art gallery in Britain.” He reminds me that the Carved Room at Petworth House, sometimes called the Long Dining Room, was created by the 3rd Earl from two rooms. It houses the remarkable Grinling Gibbons carvings. The room would have appeared very much as it does today although the panelling was papered and painted white. Andrew says “The effects of this white colour scheme can be seen in the palette of Turner’s paintings produced specifically for that room.” Some rooms were also painted a bright red.

The North Gallery was altered and expanded by both the 2nd and 3rd Earl’s of Egremont. The influence of George Wyndham O’Brien (1751-1837), 3rd Earl of Egremont, and his forebears is immediately apparent. The best contemporary art of the early 19th century sits alongside sculptures from classical antiquity. Andrew Loukes explains that this is no accident “This is a very personal collection reflecting father and son. The classical sculpture was predominately collected by the 2nd Earl. Under the 3rd Earl the modern was brought alongside the ancient. The house and collection influenced many of the artists of the time. It is not possible to overemphasize how important this place was, in the early 19th century, to British art –it was an unofficial academy.” The 3rd Earl was very discerning so there are no examples of work by artists like John Constable or Edwin Landseer in the collection, even though they stayed at Petworth.

John Flaxman’s famous sculpture, ‘St Michael subduing Satan’
John Flaxman’s famous sculpture, ‘St Michael subduing Satan’

John Flaxman’s ‘St Michael subduing Satan’ is still displayed in the North Gallery. Flaxman based the composition of this piece on Raphael’s painting of St Michael which now hangs in the Louvre. The sculpture tells the story of the eventual triumph of good over evil from the book of Revelations in the Bible. A youthful St Michael prepares to smite Satan as he raises his spear. It is a heroic and patriotic piece produced by Flaxman at the height of his powers.

It was John Ruskin who commented that the white walls made the sculptures look dirty and by the 1850s the North Gallery’s walls had been painted red. Petworth House is one of the nation’s great treasure houses. The house reopens on Saturday 19th March 2016. Whether you are visiting for the first time or returning to an old friend you cannot fail to be inspired by the art and history of the place. For more information go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/petworth-house.

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.