The Important Example of a Mother’s Love

A Charles Vyse figure ‘The Tulip Woman’, circa 1921

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 once again 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 Zoom, FaceTime and the like. The Church of England streamed its services – gathering us against the backdrop of the beautiful early spring weather which lifted our spirits despite the chilly wind.

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 to all of us in our current times.

There is a need for patience too. I’ll never forget how as children whenever we set out in the car my brothers, sisters and I would cry out in unison with the chorus of all children “Are we nearly there yet!” My Mother would usually reply in a weary and slightly despairing tone “No, not yet!”

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 and in response to 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 when she describes the quality of his love for us.

I love the hope filled portrayals of mothers by the studio potter Charles Vyse. His depictions of street vendors and figures from the streets of London in the 1920s are influenced by his fellow artists from the Camberwell School of Art where he studied in 1912.

Charles Vyse married his wife Nell in 1911. They worked together producing sculptural figures from 1919 until 1940 when their Cheyne Walk studio in Chelsea was bombed out during the Blitz. They were intricately made often involving forty or more individual moulds taken from Vyse’s original clay models. Nell Vyse became adept at painting them. Her colour schemes were carefully chosen and varied so each figure is unique.

A Charles Vyse figure ‘The Madonna of World’s End Passage’, circa 1922

The Madonna of World’s End Passage and the Tulip Woman are particular favourites of mine. Both figures stare into the distance pondering things in their imaginations as they tenderly enfold their children in their arms. Vyse’s depictions of these mothers gifts them with a strength and nobility.

Love, like prayer, reaches across physical boundaries and shared stories of joys and sorrows bind families and communities together. As lockdown eases I hope that each of us, like a loving mother, will 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.

The Art of Time

A Breguet Type 20 Chronograph steel cased gentleman’s wristwatch, circa 1971 © Toovey’s 2021

Over the millennia humankind has sought to record and measure time. Watches which can tell the time with exceptional accuracy can be bought for very little today and yet our enduring fascination with exquisitely engineered mechanical watches remains undiminished. Not only do these watches connect us with the present but they also link us with points of extraordinary human endeavour and adventure.

Breguet and Rolex remain two of the world’s most enduring brands. The art of time is given expression in the Breguet Type 20 and Rolex Submariner illustrated which realised £13,500 and £10,000 respectively at Toovey’s.

The great-great grandson of the founder of Breguet was Louis Charles Breguet (1880-1955). Louis was amongst the early pioneers of aviation building hydroplanes and warplanes used by the French during the First and Second World Wars.

After World War II the Breguet type 20 was one of the most popular watches for pilots.

Amongst the defining characteristics of a Type 20 chronograph is its black dial with two or three registers at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock that count up to 30 minutes. They have luminous hands and Arabic numerals, as well as Flyback function which stops, resets and restarts the chronograph with a single press of the lower button. They also have to be accurate within eight seconds per day.
In an age where we rely on satellites, even in our cars, it is hard to imagine the importance of timekeeping in flight navigation.

Since routes were determined by a series of navigational directions and flight times a pilot’s ability to precisely measure time intervals was vital.
In the 1970s Breguet began to produce a revised Type 20 wristwatch. The distinctive black dial with batten hands and luminescent numerals remained, though the case was made larger and a black anodised rotating bezel was introduced. The chronograph was powered by a Valjoux 725 calibre movement with two, or three counters as you see here.

Perhaps the most iconic of all diving watches is the Rolex Submariner. The idea was conceived in 1953 by Rolex board member and keen diver, René- Paul Jeanneret, who identified the potential for a diving watch which could also be worn every day. The French underwater explorer, Jacques Cousteau, invented the aqua-lung ten years earlier in 1943 and is said to have used a Rolex Submariner himself on occasions. His underwater adventures aboard the ship Calypso would be made famous by the BBC television series of the 1960s and 1970s.

Rolex diving watches have been design icons since their introduction in 1953. They were the first diving watches to be waterproof to 330 feet. Early and rare examples of Rolex Submariners can command five and six figure sums at auction. The stainless steel cased Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner illustrated with its leather strap dates from 1964.

We have a fascination with handmade watches and chronographs and value them far more highly than homogenous, mass produced timepieces. Interest, demand and prices continue to rise in this evocative field of collecting.

A New Minimalism Expressed in English Country House Taste

A beautiful Sussex Dining Room in the English Country House Taste

I have to own that I much prefer a rich layered interior in the English Country House Taste to the austerity of modern minimalism. There is such a joy in an eclectic mixture of objects which speak of our place in the procession of history and of our own stories – objects which reflect the patchwork quilt of our lives.
The Sussex Dining Room you see here gives voice to that English Country House Taste. The first spring sunlight reflects on the Dutch display cabinet’s glass panels as it gives life to the silver-plated, flower filled wine-cooler of Campana Urn form and the pair of candelabrum with their glass spear drops.

A Chinese blue and white bowl and a polychrome enamel dish decorated with scattered flowers rest on top of the Dutch walnut display cabinet. Both date from the mid-17th/early 18th century Kangxi period when the Dutch and the British East India Company competed for trade in the Far East. As a curator at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam once remarked to me with a wry grin “The Dutch and the English – keeping it sharp”. The Chinese pieces are flanked by two earthenware Dutch Delft tin glazed blue and white vases.

There is a delight to a display cabinet. Curated objects jostle for attention and compliment one another. The alcove cabinet with its crisp painted white gloss and Regency blue interior frames the eclectic mixture of porcelain: figures in the 18th century taste, a Royal Crown Derby vase, a Dresden bottle vase decorated with summer flowers and a Chinese Qianlong period famille rose teapot with a silver handle.

There is nothing new in these scenes except the artistic composition of furniture and objects arranged like pieces in a painting.

Here is minimalism at its height. Not the austerity of throwaway contemporary minimalism driven by fashion, but a minimalist approach to how we walk in the world.

Everything you see in this room is personal and beautiful. The quality of manufacture and design honours the finite and precious materials from which these things were made. They have already delighted many generations and they will continue to delight and serve generations to come too.

These pieces and the interiors they create are not bland or homogenous but unique, allowing us to give expression to who we are. The comfortable, inclusive and timeless taste of the English country house is once again on the rise.

Perhaps, rather than being herded into uniformity, we might embrace a new minimalism which English Country House Taste gives expression to. It allows us to speak of who we are; embracing antique and vintage pieces to create generous, gathering homes whilst treading lightly on the world.

The Fabulous House of Fabergé

A Fabergé two-colour gold and enamel gum pot by workmaster Henrik Wigström, height 4.5cm © Toovey’s 2021.

Peter Carl Fabergé (1846-1920) described himself as an artist-jeweller. It was his originality and flair which created the unmistakeable character that sets apart the house of Fabergé’s creations.

Fabergé were famous for their Imperial Easter Eggs made for Tsar Nicholas II and the Russian Imperial Royal family. The Romanovs gave these fabulous objects to each other and to their Royal relatives including, notably, our own Queen Alexander.

This patronage ensured that Fabergé were internationally celebrated. Fabergé made exquisite, intimate objects not only for royalty and the wealthiest in Russian, European and British society, but also pieces for the increasingly prosperous middle classes. Fabergé opened in in London in 1906.

Peter Carl Fabergé trained in St Petersburg and travelled in Western Europe before taking over his father, Gustave’s silver and jewellery business in 1870. He was joined in the business by his brother Agathon in 1882.

Peter Carl appears to have personally directed the artistic and commercial policy of the company which at its height employed more than 500 assistants, designers, modellers, gem-cutters, goldsmiths and enamellers.
Peter Carl designed some of the most important pieces including the famous Imperial Easter Eggs.

Fabergé’s business model was very progressive. He provided workshops, tools and raw materials to his direct employees without charge, and it seems likely that he shared the profits with his master craftsmen from the items made by them.

These playthings for the rich were often of a scale which enabled them to be held and admired. These were intimate pieces.

The house of Fabergé produced a remarkable range of objects employing silver, gold, enamels in a rainbow of colours, carved hardstones and jewels.

The early 20th Century Russian Fabergé two-colour gold and enamel gum pot is by Henrik Wigström. Wigström was head workmaster at Fabergé between 1903 and 1917. He was responsible for almost a hundred works now in the Royal Collection, including the Colonade Egg, an Imperial Easter Egg made for the Romanov family.

The rose gold detachable brush with its cabochon moonstone finial compliments the spherical body. The translucent strawberry red enamel over the engraved flower swags and pendants on a waved guilloche sunray ground reflects the neo-classical style which is typical of Wigström’s work. It bore not only Henrik Wigström’s workmaster’s ‘H.W.’ mark but also the mark of assay master Alexander Romanov.

A Carl Fabergé silver guilloché engraved pattern sample panel inscribed ‘C. Fabergé’ to the reverse, 15.5cm x 12.6cm © Toovey’s 2021.

The Fabergé engraved silver sample panel also dates from the early 20th century and was engraved with twenty-five different pattern squares. It was inscribed ‘C. Fabergé’ on the reverse. The panel was removed from Fabergé in London by Mr Cooper, a workshop employee, before the store closed in 1915.

The allure of Fabergé objects remains as strong as ever amongst today’s collectors and these examples realised £13,000 and £15,000 at Toovey’s.
When the revolutionary Bolsheviks came to take over Fabergé’s business in 1918 he asked only to be allowed to put on his hat as he walked out of the door. He fled in disguise to Finland assisted by the British Embassy. His wife, Augusta and their son Eugène escaped from Russia crossing into Finland through snow-covered woods on foot and sleigh under cover of darkness.

Exiled, they made their home in Lausanne on Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Fabergé died aged 74 in September 1920 of a broken heart, separated from his craftsmen, beloved Russia and his remarkable business.

Art and Industry in the Work of James Giles

A Worcester porcelain plate, circa 1770, painted in the London workshop of James Giles © Toovey’s 2021

As I write this week’s column I can still see a light dusting of snow covering the garden borders. The snowdrops are bravely out and the primroses are flowering. As the bulbs poke their heads up I am reminded that spring is not far away and the abundance of summer will soon follow.

These thoughts bring to mind the extraordinary work of the English ceramic decorator James Giles.

In the 18th century scientists and collectors sought to catalogue the natural world influencing society’s awareness and engagement with nature. In response to this, naturalistic and botanical styles of decoration became increasingly popular on porcelain.

In the 18th-century Britain’s porcelain industry flourished. Unlike its continental competition our famous porcelain manufacturers were not subsidised by royal patrons. Rather, it was our inventiveness, artistry and entrepreneurial skill which created such a flourishing industry and expression of decorative art.

James Giles was an outside decorator and a leading proponent of painting and enamelling on porcelain. Giles produced some of the most richly decorated of all Worcester porcelain. It was painted in his independent London studios. I am unaware of any Worcester porcelain decorated by Giles prior to 1760. An advertisement for his studio in January 1768 states that a large stock of white goods were available for enamelling ‘to any patterns his patrons might chuse’.
His ledgers and company records suggest that much of the painted porcelain from his works was actually decorated by Giles himself. He purchased ‘white’ china not only from Worcester but also Philip Christian of Liverpool, Thomas Turner at Caughley, and William Duesbury of Derby.

James Giles is noted for his botanical and armorial wares. The dessert plate and tankard illustrated are thought to have been decorated by James Giles in his London studios. The exceptional quality of his work is still prized by collectors today and they each made £1600 at Toovey’s.

There is an abundance to his decoration of the Worcester porcelain dessert plate which dates from around 1770. It is beautifully enamelled with fruit and insect decoration framed by the blue and gilt border. Its crack is repaired with rivets, a favoured method in the 18th and 19th centuries.

A Worcester armorial porcelain tankard, circa 1765, finely painted in the workshops of James Giles © Toovey’s 2021

The Worcester porcelain tankard provides an example of Giles’ armorial ware and dates from around 1765. Its slightly tapered cylindrical body is finely enamelled with a coronet enclosing a broken spear above a floral ‘RS’ cypher between two delicately articulated broad sprays of fruit and flowers.

The spirit of industry, inventiveness and entrepreneurial skill expressed in the nation’s 18th and 19th century porcelain manufacturers and decorators is still to be found across the United Kingdom.

We have always brought together science, art, design, manufacturing and industry and I feel confident about the positive contribution we will continue to make in the world.