Skyscape at Petworth House

Paul Nash (1889-1946), The Sun Descending – Study 3, watercolour and chalk on paper, 1945 © Ashmolean Museum

This week I am visiting Petworth House in West Sussex where their latest exhibition, Skyscape, has just opened. This exhibition showcases the extraordinary breadth of prints, paintings and objects in the Ashmolean’s collections. The show represents a collaborative partnership between the National Trust and the Ashmolean which brings together two great regional collections.

The National Trust’s Exhibition Assistant at Petworth, Natasha Powell

I meet with The National Trust’s Exhibition Assistant at Petworth, Natasha Powell. She is clearly excited to have worked with the Ashmolean on this show.
Speaking about the exhibition Natasha says “The exhibition is chronological and thematic. The prints and paintings date from the 16th century to the present day. They have been chosen for their depictions of the sky in a variety of mediums and techniques. And it’s exciting to see Petworth’s collection anew celebrating the sky rather than the landscape.”
All of us have experienced and understand the wonder of the sky, the fleeting, changing qualities of light, colour and movement.

The Ashmolean’s current major exhibition in Oxford explores Rembrandt van Rijn’s early work. I am pleased to find the etching Three Trees at Petworth. It was produced by Rembrandt in 1643 just a year after Saskia, the love of his life, died giving birth to their son. The combination of etched lines captures the approach of a foreboding sky. In the foreground a man stands fishing on the banks of a river as his wife watches with a picnic. Both are seemingly oblivious to the approaching storm.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), The Three Trees, etching, 1643 © Ashmolean Museum

An artist of towering reputation, by the 1630s Rembrandt was highly respected. His fame and reputation as a painter ensured that his prints were seen as originals and not mere reproductions. Contemporary collectors of his prints afforded Rembrandt a freedom of expression which was sometimes lacking amongst the patrons of his paintings.

Paul Nash’s watercolour study The Sun Descending is painted with an immediacy which Turner would have understood. Like Turner Paul Nash worked in Sussex. As an artist Nash returned again and again to the poetry of the English landscape. He sought to look beyond the immediate to what he referred to as the ‘genius loci’, the spirit of the place, to ‘a reality more real’.

Over in the main house I catch up with Andrew Loukes, the National Trust’s House and Collections Manager at Petworth, in the North Gallery.  As we re-examine J.M.W. Turner’s skies Andrew says “Very few artists can paint like Turner and get it just right with his sheer virtuosity and ability to look at the world anew.” I am reminded how extraordinary Petworth’s own collections are.
Skyscape allows us to celebrate our shared experience of the sky and offers a fresh perspective.

I am delighted that Toovey’s are once again supporting Petworth House’s exhibition program. Skyscape is a revealing exhibition and runs until 18th March 2020. For more information on the exhibition, to book tickets and for opening times visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/petworth.

Turner Show Unites Twickenham and Sussex

Sir David Attenborough with exhibition curator and Turner’s House Trustee Andrew Loukes (foreground) © Turner’s House Trust/Anna Kunst.

The Sussex based art historian, Andrew Loukes has once again captured the attention of celebrities, art connoisseurs and critics alike creating a storm of interest with his latest jewel like exhibition ‘Turner and the Thames: Five Paintings’.

The show, which runs at Turner’s House in Twickenham until 29th March 2020, was opened by Sir David Attenborough who said that the house and exhibition was “an extraordinary journey of the imagination…this is a joy.”

Andrew Loukes, who is the National Trust’s House and Collections Manager at Petworth House curated the sell-out exhibition Mr Turner in Sussex back in 2015. Petworth’s collection has many important works by Turner where the artist was the guest of his patron the 3rd Earl of Egremont.

I meet Andrew at Turner’s House for the opening and he says “This is the first time in almost 200 years that Turner’s work has been shown at the house that he designed here in Twickenham.”

The five oil sketches are displayed in the newly opened gallery space. The exhibition marks an important collaboration between Turner’s House, Tate and The Ferryman Project. The works have been chosen for their depictions of scenes close to his house near the river. They feature landscapes painted by Turner between Isleworth and Windsor. Turner’s fascination with the Thames encouraged him to buy a plot of land in Twickenham where he built a retreat for himself and his father in the 1800s. He designed the villa so that he could glimpse the river from his bedroom window. Turner spent a lot of time on the Thames working and fishing.

Although Turner made preparatory sketches and watercolours en plein air he is best known as a studio painter. Andrew Loukes explains that “It is rare in Turner’s work to find oils made on the spot. They were painted in 1805 on a single sketching campaign. Turner rented Sion Ferry House at Isleworth. These oil sketches are some of his most natural fresh work.”
These small oil sketches on mahogany veneered panels are the perfect scale for the intimate gallery setting.

J.M.W. Turner, ‘Sunset on the River’, c.1805, © Tate, London

My eye is taken by an oil titled ‘Sunset on the River’. Andrew comments enthusiastically “It’s so beautiful that this sunset caught Turner’s attention and he captured it so convincingly on this small bit of mahogany [with] a few little brush strokes.”

J.M.W. Turner, ‘Walton Reach’, c.1805, © Tate, London

‘Walton Reach’ is similarly quickly painted, the verticals emphasising the tranquillity of the scene.

The exhibition ‘Turner and the Thames: Five Paintings’ runs until the 29th March 2020 at Turner’s House, 40 Sandycombe Road, Twickenham, TW1 2LR. For more information and to book tickets visit www.turnershouse.org. As Sir David Attenborough said, the house and exhibition are a wonderful journey of the imagination and a joy.

Wilding at Knepp

Longhorn Cattle at Knepp © Charlie Burrell 2019

Few books have been so influential in engaging the public in the evolving conversation about farming and the environment as Isabella Tree’s Wilding.
It provides a vocabulary and snapshot of our understanding of humanity’s impact on nature and the environment. It gives voice to the importance of working in concert with nature not against it.

Isabella’s book Wilding invites us to celebrate the majestic and the infinite as it charts the re-wilding at Knepp from the role of the Tamworth pig and Longhorn cattle in restoring the natural landscape to the beauty of the network of underground mycorrhizal fungi which nourish plants and even allow them to communicate with one another if left undisturbed in the soil.

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to be invited on a bird safari at Knepp. As dawn came, with the frost thick on the ground, we walked out into the estate with our expert guide. Amongst the scrub and woodland we were greeted by the songs of Nightingales and Turtle Doves which despite a huge decline in numbers are breeding at Knepp.

I was fortunate to catch up with Isabella Tree at Knepp a few days later. It is difficult to find the vocabulary to adequately describe the profound sense of communion with the landscape and nature which I experienced that morning, it was something of an epiphany.

Isabella Tree © Anthony Cullen 2019

Isabella speaks passionately about how important it is for our emotional and spiritual well-being for all of us to be re-connected with the land, and the unexpected blessings which they have witnessed through re-wilding at Knepp with the rapid return of rare plant, insect and bird life. She explains that since the war and Dig for Victory successive governments and policy makers have prioritised food production without fully understanding the consequences for the long-term fertility of the land and its soils. Isabella explains how quickly the land recovers if it is allowed to re-wild even in the short-term.

These views chime with the public’s growing concerns about climate change and the environment. The Wilding project at Knepp provides some answers and insights as to how the poorest land might be repurposed. However, as we seek to feed an ever growing nation at a price that people and the environment can afford wilding in its purest form will not be able to be replicated everywhere. But its ethos resonates with the existing diverse approaches and best practice of the majority of our county’s mixed farms which are employing traditional methods like seven year crop rotations, maintaining ancient chalk grasslands, scrub, hedging, woodland, cover crops and grazing livestock as well as cutting edge technology to maintain and improve our soils and countryside. Balance and sustainability are the two words I most often hear spoken by this cohort of contemporary farmers who seek to produce food for the nation whilst creating a patchwork quilt of nature corridors and giving poor and unproductive land back to nature, with the inevitable benefits that conservation and wilding brings.

As I leave Knepp a herd of Longhorn cattle cross the drive and wander off into the estate. I feel like I am witnessing a scene out of Africa and I am once again humbled by the experience.

If you haven’t read Wilding by Isabella Tree yet it really should be top of your book list. To find out more about the Wilding experiment at Knepp, its work and safaris visit www.knepp.co.uk.

Review of the Year 2019

Bishop Richard Jackson and Hon Sec. Rowan Allan of H. J. Burt at The 2019 West Grinstead Agricultural and Ploughing Match Show

I have long been a passionate advocate and supporter of building communities through Arts, Heritage and Culture in West Sussex and there was much to celebrate in 2019.

A collaboration between Jeremy Knight of The Horsham Museum & Art Gallery and Laura Kidner of the Christ’s Hospital Museum brought us an exceptional retrospective of the important artist Frank Brangwyn which centred on a selection of cartoons produced by Brangwyn for Christ’s Hospital. They had last been exhibited in London in 1924.

Jeremy Knight’s book The Horsham District in 100 Objects distils thirty years of his knowledge and understanding into a concise and accessible format. The book provides a superb companion and guide to a journey of discovery around the district and its rich heritage.

The Horsham Museum & Art Gallery and the Shipley Arts Festival are central to Horsham and her district’s identity, heritage and culture, and this was highlighted by the Council’s 2019 Year of Heritage and Culture.

The Shipley Arts Festival went from strength to strength under the leadership of its founder and long-term Artistic Director, Andrew Bernardi. New music was once again commissioned for the 2019 season with sell out concerts.

I was proud to be President of the West Grinstead and District Ploughing Match & Agricultural Society which celebrates best practice through its awards and bursaries.

Visiting farms across the district I have been humbled and excited to see long-term stewardship of the land combining the best of traditional methods with the modern. I am impressed how farms are striving to achieve a balance between maintaining the fertility of the land and producing food for the nation with close attention to the preservation of nature. Thanks to this work rare species like Turtle Doves and native fritillaries are flourishing in our countryside on farms which remain profitable and productive. Our farming community is deserving of our thanks.

At the heart of the Society is its Honorary Secretary Rowan Allan of H. J. Burt. This year Rowan and I were blessed to be joined at the ploughing match by Bishop Richard Jackson who worked as an agronomist before being ordained.
I am delighted that through Toovey’s I have been able to play a part in bridging these artistic and heritage communities together, adding weight to their vision and work, whilst also offering financial support and professional advice.
The Duke of Richmond, too, continues to give us a unique and exemplary window into our motoring and motor racing heritage as well as the future at the Goodwood race track.

Rupert Toovey at the Goodwood Festival of Speed

These individuals along with so many others are deserving of our thanks. They enrich the quality of our lives whilst contributing enormously to our economy through the visitors and businesses they draw to our county.
I am looking forward to celebrating with you the best artistic, cultural and heritage events our county has to offer in 2020, and wish you all a very happy and peaceful New Year.

Motoring – Uniting Passionate Collectors

A pre-war Dinky Toys No. 44 AA hut, motorcycle patrol and guides, with original diorama box

Last week I celebrated motorsport at Goodwood and it is often a passion for motoring which unites collectors and their specialist areas of interest.
The pre-war Dinky Toys No. 44 AA hut, motorcycle patrol and guides, boxed with diorama, sold at Toovey’s for £220. It’s a scene which would not have look out of place at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Frank Hornby found that accessories for his pre-war O gauge model railways were in great demand. By 1935 these accessories were called Dinky Toys. The earliest vehicles were inspired by the motorcycles and cars of the period rather than the accurate models they would become later.

A photographic postcard titled ‘Nutbourne’ published by Walter Drewett, from the early 1900s

Postcards are also a booming collectors’ market. The postcard seen here made £170. It depicts an earlier period of motoring outside the garage at Nutbourne in West Sussex opposite the Rising Sun pub. Two young children pretend to be driving the Model T Ford with the postman in the foreground. The postcard was published in the early 1900s by Walter James Drewett.

Drewett was born at Steyning in 1869. He specialised in photographing landscapes and outdoor events including parades and garden parties. He also photographed individuals outside their homes and places of work. Drewett began his postcard publishing career in Steyning in 1903 but by 1904 he had opened a newsagent shop in Storrington on the east side of Church Street.

A collection of pre-war enamel motoring signs

Enamel signs are another field of collecting which are enjoying a renaissance and not least motoring examples. The four signs illustrated are reminiscent of those you can just see on the front of the garage at Nutbourne. The Morris Authorised Dealer two sided enamel sign, like so many of the enamel motoring signs, dates from the 1920s or 1930s and was made for Morris dealers to display. The Shell and Castrol signs are particularly rare and fine. These four signs totalled more than £4000 at Toovey’s.

Motoring related collectors’ items and automobilia have such appeal. They connect the motor car enthusiast with the vehicles themselves. Very few of us have the space or the funds to acquire the cars but by comparison toys, postcards and automobilia can be collected on a much more modest budget. These pieces of motoring history are great value and delight the eye.

Entries are already being invited for Toovey’s first 2020 specialist auctions of toys, automobilia, postcards and paper collectables. Whether you are releasing or building your collections Toovey’s specialists are always delighted to share their passion for motoring related collectors’ items and automobilia and offer advice. To find out more check out forthcoming auctions at www.tooveys.com.

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.