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.

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.

“It is the Victory of the cause of freedom in every land”

Maurice Gautier (second from the right in his St John Ambulance uniform) with the British naval officers Surgeon-Lieutenant Ronald McDonald, RNVR, and Sub-Lieutenant David Milln, RN, shortly after landing in Jersey on the morning of 9th May 1945 as part of the advance liberation party

On the 7th May 1945 the Germans surrendered. The Church Bells rang out and on the 8th May 1945 people poured onto the streets of the towns and villages of Sussex to celebrate VE Day, the Allied Victory in Europe.

Winston Churchill spoke to the crowds in Whitehall “God Bless you all. This is your Victory! It is the victory of the cause of freedom in every land. In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman, has done their best. Everyone has tried. Neither the long years, nor the dangers, nor the fierce attacks of the enemy, have in any way weakened the unbending resolve of the British nation. God bless you all.”

Churchill would announce in his radio broadcast that “…our dear Channel Islands are to be freed today”.

As a stark reminder as to what had been fought for the Channel Islands remained under German occupation until the 9th May 1945 when they were finally liberated.

My wife, Teresa, is a Channel Island girl whose family can trace their roots on the island of Jersey back to medieval times. Her aunt Enid celebrated her 86th birthday last weekend. We telephoned to wish her a happy birthday and our conversation turned to the war and her late husband uncle Maurice. Enid said “The Germans banned all clubs and gatherings even the Girl Guides but church was allowed. The churches were packed during the war, we had forms in the aisles. I worshipped with the Methodists up at Sion. Everyone had someone away. We didn’t know if they were alright so it became a tradition to finish our services with the hymn ‘God be with you till we meet again’. The Germans allowed us to sing any hymn from the English Hymnal so on special occasions we sang ‘God save our gracious King’. They put a stop to that when they found out. You tried to defy the Germans whenever you could.

You felt really safe before curfew, the Germans were very strict with the discipline of their troops. They weren’t feeding their prisoners, Russians and POWs. They let them out at night to scavenge. Some people hid [the prisoners] or fed them on the quiet, others built crystal wireless sets. People split on them and they ended up in prison or were sent to Germany to the camps – they never came back.

We were hungry especially after D-day when we were cut off. We really relied on the Red Cross Parcels that came in on the ships – oh my goodness the parcels were our life line.

Maurice was older than me – eighteen at the end of the war and interested in what was going on – he realised he was witnessing history. Maurice was in the St John Ambulance. They worked with the Red Cross. When the SS Vega came into St Helier harbour on the 9th May Maurice was there to unload the Red Cross parcels onto trolleys. The farmers came with their horses to pull the trolleys into the sheds. All of a sudden a little boat came in with the first British Naval officers, so Maurice and his friend ran down the steps to meet them and shook their hands. A car was found and the advance party were taken to the Pomme d’Or hotel where the expectant, cheering crowds were waiting.” Enid paused and concluded “It’s all history now.”

Like in Sussex flags and bunting were found and hung up. The celebrations were heartfelt providing a moment of respite and hope. Many had lost loved ones oversees and at home, and the war against Japan was far from over. But the first victory in the cause of freedom in every land had been won.

Stories from a Tulip Field

George Hitchcock – ‘La Culture des Tulipes (Tulip Culture)’, oil on canvas, circa 1889

What a beautiful week it has been. The tulips in my garden have been so joyful in the spring sunlight, they remind me of a painting and a particular sale.

There is a stillness and beauty to an English country house interior which has remained unchanged over many years. That stillness and beauty was reflected in George Hitchcock’s ‘La Culture des Tulipes’. I remember seeing the painting for the first time. It was bathed in sunlight, hanging in a dining room as it had for some seventy years. The picture was part of the collection Toovey’s sold in 1998 from the Rusper home of the famous De la Rue family who printed money and stamps for the British Empire.

The American, George Hitchcock (1850-1913) came to London in 1879 to study art. In 1882 he enrolled at the Académie Julian, Paris where he was influenced by the artists Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre. By 1884 Hitchcock had settled in Egmond aan Zee on Holland’s North Sea coast where he established an art colony. Described as the ‘Painter of Sunlight’ Hitchcock painted en plein air.

‘La Culture des Tulipes’ depicts a field of tulips bathed in light. A woman wearing a blue coat stands with her back to us. She holds a tulip filled basket in her left hand. The spring sunlight plays on the tulips and warms her face. The artist’s handling of light, colour and paint is delicate, textured and impressionistic.

There is always an air of expectation and excitement when something extraordinary is about to happen in an auction. All day the De la Rue collection had been setting records and finally we arrived at the George Hitchcock painting. An American buyer had sent his agent. I opened the bidding at £30,000 and before long it was £100,000 quickly rising to £250,000. The bidding, now between the American and a London Gallery on the telephone, was conducted with perfect manners and at speed. The bidding slowed in front of the hushed saleroom – “three hundred, three-twenty at £340,000, fair warning” and the American said “Gee will you take another five”. I paused, “£345,000”, the London Gallery offered its congratulations, withdrew from the fray and my gavel fell. The saleroom burst into applause as the American walked quickly to reception to pay before heading back to Heathrow to catch his return flight on Concorde; he was keen to be back in time to read his two young daughters a bed time story.

Although the canvas was holed and in a poor state it broke all records for the artist at the time.

I had remarked on the holes in the canvas when I first saw the painting in the company of the family. The nephew, John, explained how his Uncle had been practising archery on the lawn. People who love each other very much can sometimes be cross with each other too. On this particular morning he and his mother had argued so he had marched into the dining room and shot at her favourite painting with arrows. Very soon after the young man De la Rue was called up to the Great War and was killed. His mother was heartbroken and forbade that the painting ever be restored. For many years the painting was displayed in America with a photograph of the young De la Rue in his uniform.

Art and objects can afford us such a powerful sense of our place in the procession of human history. So often the greater the human story the greater the price. It always seems rather a hopeful thing that the art world values people more than things.

The news of the sale was reported in the New York Times.