Flesh and Bones Unites Oxford and Chichester

Second Version of Triptych 1944 © The Estate of Francis Bacon
Second Version of Triptych 1944 © The Estate of Francis Bacon, painted in 1988

Francis Bacon, Henry Moore – Flesh and Bone is an extraordinary exhibition, currently showing at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The exhibition brings together the work of two of the most important Modern British artists of the 20th century, Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and Henry Moore (1898-1986).

Henry Moore’s work, especially from the earlier part of his career, like Madonna and Child, carved in the warm hues of Hornton stone in 1943 and 1944 for St. Matthew’s, Northampton, conveys to me a quality of reverence, universal hope, strength and endurance. The theme of mother and child is one Moore would return to often, especially after the Second World War. For many, Francis Bacon’s figures offer a nihilistic world view; the bones of his subjects have a dissolving, disintegrating effect, suggesting an arbitrary existence subject to chance. Indeed, some people find Bacon’s images profoundly disturbing. The Ashmolean Museum’s Head of Exhibitions, Agnes Valenčak, however, provides an alternative view. She argues that it is not Henry Moore but Francis Bacon who best captures human suffering with understanding, integrity and empathy. Agnes has spent a considerable amount of time exploring and researching the body of work represented in this exhibition. Her perspectives offer fresh insight. While acknowledging the hope expressed in Moore’s earlier sculptures, Agnes says, “I find Francis Bacon’s work less harsh than Henry Moore’s. A lot of Bacon’s images appear painful but show a deep understanding and tolerance.” The Francis Bacon triptych Second Version of Triptych 1944 was painted in 1988. Agnes notes two differences from the original 1944 triptych: “Bacon is copying himself, as with the work of earlier artists. There are few changes, dimensions – a formal choice. He hardly changes the figures between the first and the second but there is more space in the composition.” The later version is larger than the original version and less cruel. The bared teeth of the person in the central panel are reminiscent of the horse in Picasso’s Guernica. The figures have a deformed physical appearance.

Francis Bacon chose to subvert the Christian iconography and the title of the 1944 triptych Three Studies for Figures at the base of the Crucifixion by identifying his distorted figures with the vengeful Greek Furies from classical mythology, who lacked mercy and forgiveness. In all this, Bacon the atheist was challenging us to remain open-minded and questioning about the ‘lenses’ through which we view the world. As a Christian, I feel an empathy with this triptych nonetheless. Francis Bacon captures this bleak moment in the Easter story, filled with cruelty, suffering, anguish and sorrow as Christ dies on the cross, attended by his mother St. Mary, St. Mary Magdalene and St. John. It is an image devoid of hope. At this point in the narrative, Christ’s resurrection is still unknown; it has not yet happened.

The Reverend Canon Dr Anthony Cane
The Reverend Canon Dr Anthony Cane reflects on one of Michel Clark’s Wounds of Christ in Chichester Cathedral

Francis Bacon’s friend, admirer and fellow artist Michael Clark continued the theme of flesh and bone in a series of works, titled Wounds of Christ. A group of five of these works is to be found at Chichester Cathedral in Sussex but they are easy to miss. I was introduced to them by my friend the Reverend Canon Dr Anthony Cane, who is Chancellor at the Cathedral. I ask Anthony what the wounds mean to him and he answers, “When I see Michael Clark’s Wounds of Christ, they remind me that the imposing Cathedral building would not exist without the particular flesh and blood of a human life, a life visibly marked by suffering. The five wounds are mapped on to the cruciform shape of the architecture, so that the very space I walk through becomes the body of Christ. Most artworks are looked at; this one is lived within.”

A detail from the conceptual Wounds of Christ by Michael Clark
A detail from the conceptual Wounds of Christ by Michael Clark at Chichester Cathedral

I am interested to find out whether one of the wounds particularly speaks to him. Anthony responds, “The wound in the south transept, the ‘left hand’ of Christ, is the one I see most often as I walk past it on the way to the altar for one of our daily services of Holy Communion.” He pauses, then says, “At the heart of that service is a story of wounded love and God’s compassion for all who are scarred and marked by life. Clark’s small glazed square [lesion], placed where it is in the Cathedral, evokes the relationship between love and pain but it also speaks of resurrection – bodily wounding and death are not the last word.” He concludes, “In the end, Clark’s work speaks to me of hope as well as suffering.”

Francis Bacon, Henry Moore – Flesh and Bone runs at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, until 19th January 2014. Agnes Valenčak’s inspiration and hard work deserve to be celebrated. This courageous and exceptional exhibition explores what it is to be a human creature through the work of these two great 20th century British artists, who speak with a directness and an honesty which challenge us. It is, however, an exhibition which, like Michael Clark’s Wounds of Christ, speaks of both hope and sorrow. These works help us to glimpse the complicated beauty of being human. I cannot recommend this exhibition highly enough to you; for further information go to www.ashmolean.org. The Wounds of Christ can be seen at Chichester Cathedral, which is open daily, and admission is free. To find out more about services and events go to www.chichestercathedral.org.uk.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 4th December 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Eric Ravilious, Exhibition of Prints at Pallant House Gallery

Eric Ravilious, Newhaven Harbour, 1937, Lithograph, Private Collection.
Eric Ravilious, Newhaven Harbour, 1937, Lithograph, Private Collection.

An intimate exhibition of prints by the artist Eric Ravilious, who lived and worked in Sussex, is on show at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester until 8th December. The exhibition highlights prints and book illustrations from Ravilious’ oeuvre. His work is rooted in the landscape and life of pre-war and early wartime England, especially the South Downs where he grew up.

Eric Ravilious was born in 1903. As a very young boy he moved with his parents from Acton to Eastbourne in Sussex. There his father ran an antique shop. Ravilious was educated at Eastbourne Grammar School. In 1919 he won a scholarship to Eastbourne School of Art and in 1922 to the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London, where he met his lifelong friend and fellow artist Edward Bawden. Both men studied under the artist Paul Nash at the RCA. Nash was generous in encouraging and promoting their work and he helped Ravilious to acquire some of his first commissions for prints and book illustrations. Ravilious subsequently taught part-time at both art schools.

Eric Ravilious, Commander of a Submarine, Pallant House Gallery
Eric Ravilious, Commander of a Submarine looking through a Periscope from the Submarine Series, 1940-41, Lithograph, Pallant House Gallery, The Dennis Andrews and Christopher Whelan Gift (2008).
Eric Ravilious, Manor Gardens, 1927, Wood Engraving, Towner, Eastbourne
Eric Ravilious, Manor Gardens, 1927, Wood Engraving, Towner, Eastbourne
Eric Ravilious, Amusement Arcade, 1938, Lithograph, Private Collection
Eric Ravilious, Amusement Arcade, 1938, Lithograph, Private Collection

Alan Powers, in his excellent and beautifully illustrated new monograph Eric Ravilious, Artist and Designer, maintains that “Ravilious was a printmaker and illustrator first and a painter afterwards”. Ravilious was to excel in both mediums. Certainly, the exceptional textural quality he gives to the play of light upon surfaces is given life through his characteristic use of line and colour.

The print Newhaven Harbour perfectly illustrates Ravilious’ strong connection with Sussex. Here the westerly wind causes the clouds to move across the sky and the light dances on the gentle incoming tide, which brings an ocean liner safely to harbour. Texture, light and movement connect the artist’s work to the English Romantic tradition but with a particular and fresh voice. It is at once figurative and yet highly stylized. The life in this print is made possible by the process of autolithography, which was being promoted by the Curwen Press and others in the 1930s. This process allowed the artist to draw directly on to stone or printing plates, rather than relying upon an intermediary to transfer the image from a drawing. It is evident that Ravilious was trying to recapture his watercolour. The small brush strokes demanded by the viscous lithographic ink are combined with the effects of sponging in the treatment of the sky. There is a hopeful, joyous air to the scene depicted in this large poster-size print.

The mood of the pre-war Newhaven Harbour contrasts with the lithograph Commander of a Submarine looking through a Periscope from 1941. Here, the view from the periscope is abstracted into the shadows of the submarine, the flash of blue connecting this vignette to the commander’s eyes.

Wood engraving was Eric Ravilious’ first medium for print. It allowed for fine lines to be drawn against the black ground. The revival of wood engraving in the early 20th century provides a connection to 18th century artists like Thomas Berwick and William Blake, and to 19th century artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement, who worked in the same medium. By 1927, the date of the wood engraving Manor Gardens, Ravilious displays the line, flecking and crisp edging which define his woodblocks.

Illustrations by many artists are often viewed as being secondary to other aspects of their output. With Ravilious, however, his consistent and particular voice always shines through. Take, for example, the illustration Amusement Arcade from the book High Street, published by Country Life in 1938. Once again the luminosity of light is created by line and tone, creating an image of an arcade at night which is alive with movement and texture.

Entrance to this jewel-like exhibition is free and it is on show until 8th December 2013 at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. Further details of this and the gallery’s other current exhibitions (which are really worth the ticket price) can be found at www.pallant.org.uk. The Pallant House Bookshop has copies of Eric Ravilious Artist & Designer at a special price to visitors of £30 – the perfect start to your Christmas shopping!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 27th November 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Geoffrey Sparrow, Horsham Doctor, Artist and Huntsman

Dr Geoffrey Sparrow (image courtesy of Horsham Museum & Art Gallery)
Dr Geoffrey Sparrow on horseback (image courtesy of Horsham Museum & Art Gallery)

Geoffrey Sparrow was a doctor living in Horsham with a particular talent for drawing. His pictures often express his love of horses and hunting and provide a witty insight into country life in and around Horsham between the wars.

An Illustrated Alphabet by Geoffrey Sparrow
An Illustrated Alphabet, hand-illustrated book by Geoffrey Sparrow
The letter 'H' from the Illustrated Alphabet
The letter 'H' from the Illustrated Alphabet

My family moved to Horsham in the 1960s from Pinner and Harrow, a story common to many at that time. In those days Horsham was still very much a provincial market town with its wonderful, faded, Regency theatre and houses where Swan Walk stands today. The town centre was on a human scale, rich in its vernacular architecture and independent shops. I have fond childhood recollections of watching the Crawley and Horsham Hunt riding out from the Carfax on Boxing Day. The smell of the horses, the colours of the hunting coats and the sounds of hooves on the road, huntsmen’s horns and barking hounds all remain vivid in my memory. I imagine that the town’s atmosphere then had changed little since the days between the First and Second World Wars, when Geoffrey Sparrow was practising as a doctor and making his prints, paintings and drawings.

Geoffrey Sparrow was born on 13th July 1887 in an age of trains and horses, not cars. He grew up in Devonshire and lived for foxhunting. He studied medicine at Cambridge and Bart’s but the Great War disturbed the procession of his life, as it did for many others of his generation. Sparrow volunteered and was accepted by the Admiralty as a temporary surgeon in the Royal Navy in September 1914, bearing the rank of Surgeon-Lieutenant. He served with distinction in numerous campaigns and was awarded the Military Cross, though he never described the events that led to this decoration.

Sparrow was demobilised in 1919. He had thought to specialise in London after the war but his former chief advised that, as he was then thirty-three and unknown in medical circles, he would be better off taking his Edinburgh Fellowship and practising in the provinces. Sparrow enjoyed his time in Edinburgh, which for him had the added appeal of a bit of grouse-shooting!

In those pre-NHS days, Dr Sparrow journeyed south to Horsham, where he joined the old family practice of Messrs Vernon and Kinneir. Well-liked and well-respected, he served prosperous families and schools in the area, like Christ’s Hospital. In addition, he attended to local tradespeople, undertook Poor Law work and public vaccinations and held a part-time position at the infirmary. Foxhunting with the Crawley and Horsham Hunt remained his passion.

During the Second World War he again engaged in military service. At the end of the war he retired from medical practice to devote time to his hunting and art until his death in 1969. Geoffrey Sparrow’s evocative pictures represent a warm and witty commentary on his times. The work is of exceptional quality with a sense of movement and line which delights collectors, especially from Sussex.

A Scurry in a Pewy Country by Geoffrey Sparrow
A Scurry in a Pewy Country by Geoffrey Sparrow

I am excited that a private collection of some twenty-one examples of his work have been entered into Toovey’s Christmas auction of fine paintings and prints to be held on Wednesday 4th December 2013. Pre-sale auction estimates range from £50 to £500. One of my favourite entries is this book, An Illustrated Alphabet, estimate £300-500, with hand-painted illustrations by Sparrow in watercolour and gouache; the page “H for the Huntsman who rides a grey mare” seems particularly apt. The hunting theme continues with the dry-point etching A Scurry in a Pewy Country, estimate £150-250, which shows Sparrow’s skill as a printmaker.

Dr Geoffrey Sparrow’s work, like the man himself, is regarded fondly around Horsham and further afield. It is worth mentioning how fortunate we are that the wonderful Horsham Museum and Art Gallery has a fine collection of his work, as well as his war medals. For more information, visit www.horshammuseum.org

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 20th November 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Hester Bateman, 18th Century Entrepreneur and Silversmith

As the Industrial Revolution burst into life during the 18th century, a new professional class emerged, marking the birth of the middle class. Success for members of this social group was accompanied by a desire to give expression to their new wealth and position in society.

In the 18th century they were often referred to as the ‘middling sort’ and among this diverse group were a number of lady entrepreneurs. It took the intuition of one particular lady to notice the potential demand from this emerging professional class for aspirational silver; her name was Hester Bateman. (1708-1794). Hester was the mother of six children. In 1760 her husband, John Bateman, a maker of gold chains, died of tuberculosis, leaving her his tools in his will. Hester took over the family business and began to make silver objects. In 1761 she registered her first maker’s hallmark, an ‘HB’ in script, with Goldsmiths Hall in London. By the mid-1770s she had significantly expanded her family firm. Bateman pieces were often pierced and punched from thin gauge silver sheets using machines. Industrial manufacturing techniques allowed the firm to compete with those making Sheffield Plate pieces.

A set of three George II silver graduated tea caddies or condiment vases and covers by Nicholas Sprimont, London 1743
A set of three George II silver graduated tea caddies or condiment vases and covers by Nicholas Sprimont, London 1743

The finest silver in the mid-18th century set fashions and tastes. Regular readers of this column will remember the part played by the Chelsea porcelain manufactory in establishing the rococo taste in England. Chelsea founder Nicholas Sprimont (1716-1771) was born in Liège and apprenticed as silversmith to his uncle Nicholas Joseph Sprimont. He came to England in 1742 and worked as a silversmith until he established the Chelsea factory in 1745. His work as a silversmith is of the highest quality and today examples are to be found in The Royal Collection. He worked in silver for such a short time that his silver objects are rare. Take, for example, this set of three George II silver graduated tea caddies or condiment vases and covers by Nicholas Sprimont. Each cover has a tapering, foliate knop finial above a fluted, undulating rim. The pentagonal lobed bodies have oval guilloche borders above later-engraved crests, inscribed ‘Feroci Fortior’. The reeded, tapering bases are raised on spiral-fluted, undulating pentagonal feet. Hallmarked in London in 1743, they measure between 15cm and 14cm high and sold in a Toovey’s specialist silver auction for £7600.

Silver sweetmeat basket by Hester Bateman
A George III silver sweetmeat basket by Hester Bateman, London 1784

For the emerging professional class, objects as fine as these Nicholas Sprimont caddies were out of reach. Hester Bateman and her sons, Peter and Jonathan, expanded their range to include items like sweetmeat baskets, jugs, tea caddies, salvers and salt cellars in the neoclassical style. In addition, they continued to produce silver tableware. The silver sweetmeat basket shown here, which realised £550 at Toovey’s, illustrates the characteristic bright-cut engraving and beaded decoration so typical of their output.

Hester Bateman retired in 1790 but the business continued under the direction of her sons and family. She died on 16th September 1794. Her work and achievements are applauded by silver collectors and social historians alike. As a true 18th century manufacturing entrepreneur of the Industrial Revolution, Hester Bateman challenges our contemporary perceptions of women’s place in Georgian society and deserves to be celebrated.

Today, English silver has become one of the boom markets at Toovey’s with interest from collectors throughout Britain and the rest of the world, including the newly emerging professional class of China. Hester Bateman pieces are particularly popular with collectors in America.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 13th November 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November…

Concilium Septem Nobilium Anglorum Coniurantium in Necem Jacobi I, blog.tooveys.com
Concilium Septem Nobilium Anglorum Coniurantium in Necem Jacobi I (The Gunpowder Plotters conspiring), monochrome engraving by Crispijn van de Passe the Elder, circa 1605, auctioned at Toovey’s for £700.

Bonfire Night is an event that many of us look forward to with a sense of excitement and anticipation. The beauty of sparkling light, the whizzes, pops and bangs, the mist of drifting smoke and the smell of gunpowder on a cold, still November night are, for me, truly evocative. As a nation, fireworks also form part of our celebrations of major occasions: the New Year, Royal Jubilees and the Olympics, to name but a few. Amidst our excitement, though, it is easy to forget that fireworks on Bonfire Night commemorate a particularly bloody and turbulent time in our island’s history.

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is widely regarded as an attempt by provincial, English Roman Catholics to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament, in order to assassinate James I of England (VI of Scotland) and install his nine-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, on the throne as a Roman Catholic head of state. The plot, led by Robert Catesby, was revealed by means of an anonymous letter. Famously, Guy Fawkes was discovered with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder during a search of the House of Lords at midnight on 4th November 1605. He and his seven surviving accomplices were tortured, tried for and convicted of high treason and sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering.

The print shown here was published around 1605 by a leading Dutch printmaker, Crispijn van de Passe the Elder, and shows eight of the thirteen conspirators, including Guy Fawkes. A copy of this print is in the National Portrait Gallery, London. It is an extraordinary depiction of some of those involved, giving life to this particular moment in history.

Traitors,-Garnet-a-Jesuite-and-his-Confederats, blog.tooveys.com
A True and Perfect Relation of the Whole Proceedings against the late most barbarous Traitors, Garnet a Jesuite and his Confederats, first edition, published by Robert Barker, London 1606, auctioned at Toovey’s for £350.

The book illustrated is a first edition of A True and Perfect Relation of the Whole Proceedings against the late most barbarous Traitors, Garnet a Jesuite and his Confederats, which tells the story of the Gunpowder Plot. Published in 1606, it is the earliest account of these events and centres on the story of the Roman Catholic priest Henry Garnet, who was hung, drawn and quartered in connection with the Gunpowder Plot. Many historians believe that having heard of the plot during confession, Garnet felt bound to tell no one. Instead, they claim, he wrote secretly to Rome, urging the Vatican to dissuade Catholics from such action but, sadly, there was no response to his plea. When fear overtakes understanding and tolerance, it is often innocent and good people who bear the consequences. Toovey’s were fortunate enough to auction this volume some years ago. Many of you will remember Brocks Fireworks and, rather wonderfully, the book had once been the property of the late Frank Arthur Brock, director of the firm in the early 1900s.

It is the cause for much celebration, especially for me as an Anglican priest, that these prejudices and misunderstandings are broadly behind us and that Christian people of all denominations now journey together, holding their differences, and one another, in a spirit of love, rather than fear.

Eileen Soper November 5th blog.tooveys.com
November the Fifth, monochrome etching by Eileen A. Soper, auctioned at Toovey’s for £320.

The delightful Eileen Soper monochrome etching shown probably best captures our contemporary experience of Bonfire Night. Eileen Soper illustrated wildlife and children’s books for many authors, including Enid Blyton. Her etchings often depict children and in this example, titled November the Fifth, their faces, lit by the sparklers against the night sky, display wonder and excitement.

It is vital that, as a nation, we guard against replacing past animosities with new mistrust and prejudice between faiths and peoples. If we do not, it will be the innocent who bear the consequences. Perhaps Bonfire Night can be a time to acknowledge the contemporary diversity in our ancient nation in a spirit of fondness and celebration.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 6th November 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.