English Arts & Crafts ~ Inspired by the Garden

Archibald Knox for Liberty & Co
A red earthenware jardinière on stand, designed by Archibald Knox for Liberty & Co

As September progresses, we look to the change of seasons and we have been blessed by a last and precious glimpse of summer before autumn comes. Many of us will be out in our gardens this weekend preparing for autumn, pruning back shrubs and tidying borders. As the ground lies fallow, the structure and design of our gardens holds its own delights. At the heart of these designs architectural features are often to be found: jardinières, sundials and pots. In the late nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries a very British expression was given to the Art Nouveau through the Arts and Crafts movement.

Among the leading exponents of the Arts and Crafts taste was Liberty & Co. Its founder, Arthur Lasenby Liberty, built the Liberty brand by employing some of the country’s leading designers, though he insisted that they work anonymously. One of these designers was Archibald Knox, who joined Liberty & Co in 1899. Knox was the creative force behind Liberty’s Celtic Cymric and Tudric designs, worked in silver and pewter. In addition to metalwork and jewellery, Knox designed terracotta garden ornaments, carpets, wallpaper and fabrics for Liberty & Co, displaying virtuosity across all of these disciplines.

A pot of typical Compton design
A pot of typical Compton design

Another notable designer of garden pottery in the Celtic style was Mary Seton Watts. In 1900 she founded The Compton Potters’ Arts Guild. Inspired by the thinking of John Ruskin and William Morris, the Guild sought to celebrate and enable craftsmen through their creative handiwork. Mary’s Compton Pottery quickly became a successful business and it continued to prosper until 1955. The Arts and Crafts gallery, designed specifically to house the work of her husband, George Frederic Watts, was designed by Christopher Turnor and opened in 1904. It also served as a hostel for Mary Seton Watts’ potters. The Watts Gallery in Compton, Surrey, remains open to visitors today and, as well as exhibiting examples of G.F. Watts’ art, it houses over two hundred examples of Compton pottery.

My first single-owner collection and country house sale at Toovey’s was held at Little Thakeham, the exquisite Arts and Crafts home designed by the renowned architect Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1902. The contents of the sale reflected the exceptional eye, particular taste and sensitivity to the stylistic quality and period of this important house of its then custodians, my late friend Tim Ractliff and his wife Pauline. Tim and Pauline loved the house and its gardens, preserving and sharing their home as one of the country’s leading country house hotels. Once sold, Little Thakeham retired again from the public gaze and it remains a very private family home.

A Compton Pottery sundial
A Compton Pottery sundial

The garden effects in the auction included the Liberty & Co pottery jardinière illustrated here, which was designed by Archibald Knox. It added focus to the formal garden. The bowl and stem were typically decorated in relief with a Celtic knot design. Today a jardinière of this quality and design would potentially realise in excess of £5000. The lavender-filled pot also shown is a famous Compton design and one which is still reproduced today. Displaying Mary Seton Watts’ use of Art Nouveau design is the terracotta sundial. Although at the time there was no record of this design being from the Compton Pottery, it can be attributed to Compton by comparing the decorative motif on its stem with a similar one used on a known birdbath from the pottery. Today, an example like this would carry a pre-auction estimate of £3000-5000.

We British remain pots about pots, as illustrated by their values. They provide form and focus to a garden. Charming examples can be bought for a few hundred pounds, while the finest collectors’ pieces achieve thousands at auction. As you tidy your garden for the onset of autumn and winter, perhaps take time to stop and stare and imagine if a pot might work for you!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 11th September 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Collage in British Modern Art

John Piper’s Chichester Cathedral reredos tapestry, circa 1966, depicting the Trinity, the Evangelists and the Elements.
John Piper’s Chichester Cathedral reredos tapestry, circa 1966, depicting the Trinity, the Evangelists and the Elements.

Picasso, Matisse, Braque and other celebrated, international artists all worked in collage. The word collage comes from the French verb coller, to stick or glue. The technique was used by both cubists and surrealists. British artists like John Piper, Nigel Henderson and Eduardo Paolozzi all embraced this method of working.

The current exhibition Modern British Collage and its Legacy at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, seeks to explore the role of collage in the course of modern British art. Exhibition curator Katy Norris comments, “Collage evolves in the 20th century from a marginal process to become a central part of the modern aesthetic.” She continues, “It is extraordinary how surrealists, pop and conceptual artists all embrace this method of working.” The works in this captivating exhibition are from the Gallery’s own remarkable collection. The pictures by Ben Nicholson, John Piper, William Scott, Ceri Richards, Nigel Henderson and, of course, Eduardo Paolozzi clearly articulate the importance of collage in British modernism.

I am particularly drawn to a preliminary collage design by John Piper for the reredos tapestry at Chichester Cathedral. In his book Patron of Art, Walter Hussey, then Dean of Chichester Cathedral and famous for his patronage of the arts, notes how he chose to follow Henry Moore’s advice to commission John Piper to create a worthy setting for the High Altar. Piper, known for his atmospheric depictions of English architecture and landscape, returned to the abstraction of his earlier work for this commission. A distinguished artist with a great sympathy for old churches, he suggested a tapestry. Tapestry, he argued, would work in concert with the old stonework and the 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. The original plan was to gild and paint these medieval sections but John Piper advised that they should be left plain and his advice was accepted. In January of 1965 Piper presented a final sketch, which met with favourable opinion. At lunch with Hussey and others, however, 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 collage by John Piper, shown here with Katy Norris, is notable. Katy explains, “In this preliminary design we see the early scheme, worked out using simple cut-out shapes, which enabled Piper to trial different pictorial arrangements.” After much consideration, Piper introduced the white light left of centre on the tapestry itself, shown here in situ. 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, Saint Matthew (a winged man), Saint Mark (a winged lion), Saint Luke (a winged ox) and Saint John (a winged eagle), beneath the Four Elements, earth, air, fire and water. Woven by the Pinton Frères atelier at Felletin, near Aubusson, the tapestry was installed in the autumn of 1966.

Whether we immediately understand the symbolism of the tapestry or not, it speaks to our senses and we cannot fail to be moved on many levels. The work’s length, structure, tone, rhythm and colour have a lyrical quality, which tells of our creator God in His Trinity.

Katy Norris, Pallant House Curatorial Assistant and Exhibition Curator for Modern British Collage and its Legacy, with John Piper’s preliminary collage design for the Chichester Cathedral tapestry, circa 1965.
Katy Norris, Pallant House Curatorial Assistant and Exhibition Curator for Modern British Collage and its Legacy, with John Piper’s preliminary collage design for the Chichester Cathedral tapestry, circa 1965.

Before seeing the current series of exhibitions at Pallant House Gallery, I had not fully appreciated the importance of collage to artists like John Piper. Katy Norris concludes, “The link between the preliminary collage and the tapestry at Chichester Cathedral emphasizes that an important international artist like John Piper was working in Chichester at the Cathedral, thanks to the patronage and insight of Walter Hussey.”

I am excited that Toovey’s Fine Art Auctioneers are sponsoring Modern British Collage and its Legacy at Pallant House Gallery. The exhibition runs until 29th September 2013. While you are there, you must make sure that you also see Eduardo Paolozzi: Collaging Culture and perhaps wander over to Chichester Cathedral and allow the Piper tapestry to move you and delight your senses. It is a wonderful thing to reflect upon as you listen to and join with sung evensong – the modern and the ancient united.

For more information and opening times, go to www.pallant.org.uk and www.chichestercathedral.org.uk

Image1: John Piper’s Chichester Cathedral reredos tapestry, circa 1966, depicting the Trinity, the Evangelists and the Elements.

Image2: Katy Norris, Pallant House Curatorial Assistant and Exhibition Curator for Modern British Collage and its Legacy, with John Piper’s preliminary collage design for the Chichester Cathedral tapestry, circa 1965.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 28th August 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Charleston: An Eloquent Home in the Heart of Sussex

Charleston Studio © P. Fewster, courtesy of the Charleston Trust.
Charleston Studio © P. Fewster, courtesy of the Charleston Trust. In later years the studio doubled as Duncan Grant’s sitting room, in which there was always much to delight the visitor’s eye

As you visit Charleston, home to the Bloomsbury group of artists, you cannot fail to be captivated by the extraordinary collection of art and the intimacy of this house and its stories. This week I am delighted to be returning to Charleston once more, to see it through the eyes of author Virginia Nicholson. Virginia has warm memories of happy summer holidays spent with her grandmother, Vanessa Bell, and Duncan Grant at Charleston.

Duncan Grant's Studio. Photograph by Axel Hesslenberg (c) courtesy of the Charleston Trust
“The house still has the evocative smells of books and turpentine, which Virginia describes as memories from her childhood.”

Virginia describes how as a child visiting Charleston on holiday, she found it such a warm, freeing and welcoming place to be. “At Charleston you did art,” she says. “You engaged in the act of creation – messy was good – it was virtuous to create.” Virginia has only distant memories of her grandmother, the well-known artist Vanessa Bell. Her recollections of Vanessa’s lifelong love, Duncan Grant, however, are much more vivid. “There was something of the child in Duncan – innocent, open and benign – he always thought the best. He had an energy and appetite for life.” These playful, boyish qualities were expressed in games of charades and he was even known to dress up as a cow with coathangers for horns. “As children we were paid sixpence an hour to pose to be painted by Vanessa and Duncan,” Virginia explains. “Sometimes we got the fidgets!” There were just seven years between Duncan’s death and the opening of the house to the public in 1986. The house still has the evocative smells of books and turpentine, which Virginia describes as memories from her childhood. There is a tangible sense of continuity at Charleston, as though Vanessa or Duncan might appear in a doorway or the studio.

The house was cold, without even running hot water, when Vanessa and Duncan arrived in 1916. They set about creating an aesthetic whole. Here was a unified work of art, created by bringing together paintings, furniture, objects, ceramics and books. Charleston remains the most complete example of Bloomsbury group sensibilities, a piece of art out of time, set permanently in the 1950s. It is art to be inhabited, not something to be viewed with dispassion through the separation of time. Duncan Grant, David Garnett, Vanessa, her husband, Clive, and the children, Julian, Quentin and Angelica, all lived at Charleston and were often joined by visitors.

Charleston provided refuge for artists, writers and intellectuals during a tempestuous century, marked by the Great Depression and two world wars. Visitors included the writers T.S. Elliot, E.M. Forster and Lytton Strachey, the composer Benjamin Britten and his friend and muse, the tenor Peter Pears, as well the influential economist John Maynard Keynes. Keynes visited Charleston so often that he was given his own room. Roger Fry founded the Omega Workshops in 1913. Famous as an art critic, artist and organiser of the influential London Post-Impressionist exhibitions of 1910 and 1912, Fry was also regularly to be found at Charleston and contributed to the design of the house and garden.

Studio Fireplace © P. Fewster, courtesy of the Charleston Trust.
Studio Fireplace © P. Fewster, courtesy of the Charleston Trust. The panel around the fireplace was painted in 1932 by Duncan Grant and the accumulation of cuttings, invitations and photographs are things that caught his eye. The photograph on the left was taken in the 1930s and depicts Duncan and Vanessa Bell’s daughter, Angelica

Together they represent an extraordinary generation. Virginia concludes, “They questioned: how do we live our lives; what do we do; what do we seek? The house speaks eloquently of this. It is liberating and freeing.” It has always seemed to me important to remain questioning. At Charleston they lived out their lives being creative and inquisitive, rather than being content with the superficialities that today’s culture encourages.

With the August Bank Holiday approaching, treat yourselves to a summer holiday visit to the house and garden of Charleston, just across the border in East Sussex. Experience the lives of the artists, writers and intellectuals who lived, visited and were blessed by this most eloquent of houses. Virginia Nicholson has inherited the creative gifts of her forebears and works as an established and highly regarded author. Charleston a Bloomsbury house and garden, written by Virginia Nicholson with her father Quentin Bell, gives a very personal view of the lives and art of those who lived and visited Charleston and is lavishly illustrated. Her book Among the Bohemians – Experiments in Living 1900-1939 adds depth and insight into the lives and work of a generation of eccentric and free-spirited artists. Both are favourites of mine and are available from the Charleston shop, prices £18.99 and £10.99. For opening times and more information, go to www.charleston.org.uk/whats-on or telephone 01323 811626.You may be certain of a warm welcome as Charleston gathers you, as she has gathered generations of visitors before you.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 21st August 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Arundel Gallery Trail 2013

The artist Josse Davis working in his potter’s studio
The artist Josse Davis working in his potter’s studio

This weekend marks the beginning of the Arundel Gallery Trail, which opens on Saturday 17th August 2013 at 12.00noon. It combines the delights of discovering art from more than 100 established and emerging artists in many of the historic houses and gardens of Arundel not normally open to the public. These homes provide the perfect setting for this annual selling exhibition and celebration of Sussex as a centre of art. The Arundel Gallery Trail is now in its 25th year. Founded by Arundel artist Derek Davis (1926-2008), Renee Bodimeade, Ann Sutton and Oliver Hawkins, the event is an essential part of the Sussex art calendar.

Josse Davis has played an active role in the Arundel Gallery Trail over many years and will be exhibiting his pottery again this year. The son of ceramicist and painter Derek Davis and the painter Ruth Davis, he works from his home town of Arundel. His affection for Arundel is clear. Asked if he plans to stay put, he answers wryly, “I am reluctant to move now I have a kiln or two.” Having grown up happily in Arundel and inspired by his parents, Josse is very grounded in the town. “Potters don’t move often… kilns don’t budge easily,” he continues with a smile.

‘Salad I (The excuse me)’, thrown stoneware bowl by Josse Davis.
‘Salad I (The excuse me)’, thrown stoneware bowl by Josse Davis.

This wit is expressed in his work and its titles, like the bowl ‘Salad I (The excuse me)’ illustrated here, which clearly shows the influence of his father’s work. Josse describes his decoration as being “divided into two distinct styles: the spontaneous and the disciplined”. “As a confident draughtsman,” he says, “my designs are figurative and often described as traditionally English in approach.” His work is, though, a contemporary take on this tradition.

Another important contributor to the Arundel Gallery Trail is Susie Jenkins, whose art employs photography to challenge our perceptions of the world in which we live. Susie comments, “My work intends to immerse the viewer into a different world or abstracted view, but are, in truth, extreme close-up photographs of the bottom of boats or other ‘found’ objects. It is up to the viewer to decide whether a specific image is a landscape view of the world from above or a piece of abstract art.”

Susie’s view of the world is practical as well as abstracted. Together with her daughter-in-law, Beatriz Huezo, she founded the charity ‘Art for Life’, holding art auctions in conjunction with other Arundel Gallery Trail artists. My brother Nicholas and I have been privileged to work with Susie on this project, which has raised money for the homeless and children in El Salvador in Central America. Houses, a community clinic and a school for children in poverty are part of the fruits of this collaboration of artists. Susie Jenkins’ work, both as an artist and for charity, deserves to be celebrated. It always interests me that when we set off on our own in life, we invariably end up going round and round in ever decreasing circles. But when we bring our gifts together with the gifts of others and share them in a common and generous purpose, exceptional things happen. This collaborative spirit is deeply ingrained in the Arundel Gallery Trail and Arundel Festival, which celebrate community as well as the arts.

‘Event Horizon’, colour photograph by Susie Jenkins, © the artist 2006.
‘Event Horizon’, colour photograph by Susie Jenkins, © the artist 2006.

The 2013 Arundel Gallery Trail will take place between Saturday 17th August and Bank Holiday Monday 26th August alongside fireworks, Shakespeare at Arundel Castle and many other Arundel Festival events. The Arundel Gallery Trail is open 12.00noon to 5.30pm on weekends and Bank Holiday Monday, and 2.00pm to 5.30pm on weekdays. It provides an exciting opportunity to enjoy and buy art from leading Sussex artists. For more information on this year’s exhibiting artists and where you can see their work, go to www.arundelgallerytrail.co.uk. The whole town becomes a gallery – you really must go!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 14th August 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Japanese Art of Beauty and Restraint

A Chelsea porcelain hexagonal teapot and cover
A Chelsea porcelain hexagonal teapot and cover, circa 1750-1755, decorated in the Kakiemon palette.

European collectors of Asian porcelain from the 18th century to today have celebrated the technically and artistically superb production of Japan. Amongst the most influential styles is Kakiemon, produced from the late 17th century onwards. Kakiemon porcelain is typically lightly decorated with asymmetrical patterns, usually depicting landscapes or flowers; the delicate painting is of high quality. Whilst there is a consensus that the Kakiemon style was produced at numerous kilns, it is the famous milky-white ‘nigoshide’ body, produced at the Nangawara kiln in Arita, which is particularly revered by connoisseurs. These qualities are emphasised by the near-colourless glaze.

Kakiemon is named after Sakaida Kakiemon, an almost mythical figure in Japanese porcelain history, to whom this polychrome enamelled decoration is first attributed. This skill in enamelling is illustrated in the way that the body is never decorated with underglaze blue. Though rarely imitated in China, Kakiemon was a great inspiration to porcelain manufacturers in France, Germany and England.

From the 1720s and throughout the 1730s, copies of Japanese Kakiemon achieved popularity in Continental Europe and England. Meissen examples were inspired by the Asian ceramics collection of Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. In 1717 Augustus acquired a small palace on the bank of the Elbe River in Dresden. It became known as the ‘Japanese Palace’ and was home to his extensive collection of Oriental ceramics, which included some 20,000 objects. Rooms on the second floor were reserved for examples from the Meissen factory, which he founded by royal decree in 1710. Although not completed during Augustus’ lifetime, the Japanese Palace remains one of the outstanding artistic achievements of the 18th century.

A Meissen porcelain circular saucer dish
A Meissen porcelain circular saucer dish from the Japanese Palace, circa 1730, painted in the Kakiemon style.
A pair of Japanese porcelain dishes
A pair of Japanese porcelain dishes, late 18th/ early19th century, painted in the Kakiemon style.

The Meissen porcelain circular saucer dish illustrated dates from 1730 and was originally from the Japanese Palace. It is painted in the Kakiemon style with a gilt-enriched, iron-red tiger opposite flowering bamboo. The base is marked with crossed swords in underglaze blue and an incised and painted Japanese Palace inventory number, ‘N=ZZ5. W’. Measuring just 21.2cm in diameter and with a minor chip to the rim, the dish realised £5800 at auction in Sussex at a Toovey’s specialist sale of Continental ceramics.

At the Chelsea porcelain factory in England, the Kakiemon taste of 17th century Japanese porcelain was also notable from the early 1750s. In this instance, however, the influence was derived from Meissen. Chelsea’s Kakiemon pieces were characteristically octagonal in form, like the porcelain teapot and cover shown, circa 1750-1755. Note how the body is decorated in the Kakiemon palette with an asymmetrical design of blossoming prunus, bamboo and banded hedge, the reverse with a ho-o bird in flight. This example was unmarked and had restoration to the spout and metal reinforcement to the handle. Nevertheless, it realised £2200 in my recent specialist auction.

Perhaps surprisingly, late 18th and early 19th century examples of Japanese Kakiemon, like the pair of plates illustrated, can be acquired much more reasonably. Today, a pair of plates like this would carry an auction estimate of £300-500, though the finest examples are valued in the thousands.

Kakiemon porcelain, whether Japanese, Continental or English, has for over four centuries provided an articulation of beauty through its restrained depictions of flowers and exquisite use of polychrome enamels. Its style resonates with our contemporary taste and, whilst prices continue to rise, it still represents great value and opportunities for the collector. Toovey’s next specialist auctions of British and Continental porcelain and Oriental ceramics and works of art will be held on the 12th September and 10th October 2013.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 7th  August 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.