Antique Furniture for the Sustainable Consumer

Thomas Faed oil sketch
Thomas Faed - Interior Scene with Two Mothers in Conversation beside Two Coy Children, oil sketch over pencil traces on board, signed

The news seems to be increasingly focused on climate change and the World’s resources. In the West decades of cheap imports from emerging economies have given us a false sense of the price of things. With ever growing international demand for finite resources raw materials must, overtime, continue to rise inexorably. Things will become ever more expensive and once again items will have to be built to last and be repairable. Our sense of value should of course take account of pay and conditions for the workers in the factories and workshops which can sell their wares for so little.

George III figured mahogany chest of drawers
A fine George III figured mahogany serpentine front chest of drawers
George III mahogany chest of drawers
A George III mahogany chest of drawers with brushing slide

When I started out as an Antique and Fine Art Auctioneer and Valuer some thirty years I can remember driving across a field to a cottage outside Horsham to be met by an elderly gentleman with a snow white beard. There was no electricity and the water for our tea came from a hand pump well. Victorian oil lamps filled the corners of his room and the house smelt comfortingly of wood smoke. I felt that I had stepped into a 19th century painting like the one illustrated by the 19th century Royal Scottish Academician, Thomas Faed. This small oil sketch with pencil traces depicts a comfortable interior scene with two mothers in conversation as the children shyly glance awkwardly at each other. This delightful painting was auctioned at Toovey’s for £1700.

At that time a phrase you often heard amongst the well to do middle class was “we’re too poor to buy rubbish.” There was something so practical and sensible in buying good quality items that would last. For a generation who had married and set up home before and after the wars antique furniture, both from their families and bought, provided the opportunity to have beautiful things in an age of austerity, rationing and a shortage of raw materials.

Fine examples of English furniture still command good prices like this George III mahogany serpentine front chest of drawers with its beautiful figured mahogany. The timber seems to be alive in the way that it reflects the light. It realised £3200 at Toovey’s. But a well-proportioned George III mahogany chest of drawers with a brushing slide like the one illustrated can be purchased at auction for about £400 and will give pleasure and utility to your family over generations to come, with no impact on the World’s diminishing resources.

The time has come for us to reassess brown furniture. Prices can only rise for these pieces which combine the aesthetic with quality and longevity. Perhaps once again we will be heard to say “we’re too poor to buy rubbish.” Toovey’s next sale of fine furniture will be held on Friday 25th April 2014.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 9th April 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race Comes to Sussex

Late 19th century oil on canvas by J.B. Allen depicting The Boat Race, London
Late 19th century oil on canvas by J.B. Allen depicting The Boat Race, London

This coming Sunday, 6th April 2014, the 160th annual Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race will be held. The Boat Race was first held in 1829, making this one of the oldest surviving sporting events in the world. The second Boat Race took place in 1836 in London, where it has been held ever since.

The competition began as a challenge between two old school friends, Charles Merivale and Charles Wordsworth, the nephew of the famous poet William Wordsworth. Today it has become an important fixture in the English sporting calendar and one which underlines the international and outward-looking qualities of the English at their best. The crews fielded by Oxford and Cambridge often reflect the global standing of these universities, whose students and oarsmen come from across the world.

Over the years I have increasingly found myself in London, invited to value and sell important collections by their owners. It was during a recent day spent in Sheen, near Richmond, that I discovered this marvellous 19th century oil painting of the Boat Race by J.B. Allen. It struck me as rather wonderful that it was residing near the very shores of the Thames where Allen depicted the view, between Putney and Mortlake.

In this Victorian scene the crowds are so numerous that they have taken to boats in order to get a better view of the crews as they row by. Arms and hats are raised as the excited spectators cheer their chosen team onwards. There is a cold wind blowing, causing flags to flutter. The greys and blues in the artist’s palette remind us that Easter is approaching and spring is only just arriving. Though less finely painted, the panorama of the crowds is reminiscent of that great Victorian painter William Powell Frith, who painted ‘The Derby Day’ between 1856 and 1858. In a similar way to Powell, J.B. Allen depicts a series of very personal vignettes within the grand sweep of his Boat Race scene: boatmen steady ladies in their boats; gentlemen point towards the action and cheers go up amongst different parties of people. It is a painting which is alive and still creates excitement in us today. I am pleased to say that this oil on canvas subsequently came to Sussex to Toovey’s and was auctioned in our fine art sale on 26th March 2014 for £10,500.

Wedgwood earthenware bowl, designed by Eric Ravilious, circa 1938, the interior decorated with a scene of Piccadilly Circus at night
Wedgwood earthenware bowl, designed by Eric Ravilious, circa 1938, the exterior decorated with the Boat Race Day pattern

Around 1938 the Sussex artist Eric Ravilious provided an alternative view of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race in his designs for Wedgwood. Known as the Boat Race Day pattern, the exterior of this bowl depicts three successive scenes from the race and a mermaid device. Again, the numerous crowds are depicted cheering in the foreground, their arms raised in excitement, but the stylized scene appears as a moment captured outside of time, as is often the case with Ravilious’ work. The interior of the bowl shows Piccadilly Circus at night. Today at auction, a Boat Race Day pattern bowl would realise between £800 and £1200.

This Sunday at 12.00 noon, between church and lunch, millions of us will be cheering on our team. We will be held in the moment as the drama unfolds on our televisions or before us from the banks of the Thames. We will be caught up in the atmosphere and mood of celebration of this most English of sporting events, celebrating the highest standards of amateur sportsmanship, captured with such life by J.B. Allen more than an hundred years ago.

Advice on your paintings is freely available from Toovey’s; contact us to make an appointment with our fine art specialists.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 2nd April 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Bignor Roman Villa

The Ganymede mosaic
The Ganymede Mosaic at Bignor Roman Villa

Bignor Roman Villa is for me one of the most special places in all of England. The remains of this important villa nestle in the beautiful Bignor valley in view of the South Downs, a short distance from Stane Street, the important Roman road which linked London with Chichester in the first century AD.

Lisa Tupper in the North Corridor
Lisa Tupper in the North Corridor

The villa was discovered in 1811 by the farmer George Tupper, who unearthed the famous Ganymede mosaic while ploughing. John Hawkins of nearby Bignor Park took charge of the site and excavations and invited Samuel Lysons, a leading antiquary of the day, to supervise the work. In 1812 more mosaics were uncovered under the orchard hedge, which probably included the Venus panels. Lysons was meticulous in his work, presenting three papers to the Society of Antiquaries between the villa’s discovery and 1818. The barns that were erected to protect the mosaics are rare examples from the late Georgian period and are Grade II listed.

Lisa and her husband, William Tupper, are the fifth generation of the Tupper family to be custodians of this remarkable historical sight. They work closely with William’s father, Tom, and their grandparents, Jack and Jill Tupper. Lisa says: “For our family the Roman Villa stands for longevity, a sense of place and family.” The villa site has remained in the Tupper’s ownership for centuries and the family still farms 2000 acres today. “It is wonderful to think that the Romans were farming here some 2000 years ago,” Lisa continues, “and they were farming 4000 acres, a huge estate.”

The Head of Medusa
The Head of Medusa
Venus and the Gladiators
Venus and the Gladiators

The mosaics seem out of time, conserved beneath their thatched Sussex barns. The youthful Ganymede tended his father’s sheep on Mount Ida. Here he is depicted being carried off by an eagle to become a cupbearer to the gods. His cap is typical of those worn in Phrygia, an ancient kingdom in Anatolia, now part of the Republic of Turkey. I have always loved the remarkable mosaic which, although there is some debate over the subject, is thought to depict Venus. The woman’s head is flanked by long-tailed birds and delicate fern leaves above a frieze depicting cherubs enacting famous gladiatorial scenes. The scheme, composition and execution of this panel is exquisite and among the finest in Britain. Away from the main complex, the depiction of Medusa in the bathhouse delights too. In its final form, the villa would have covered some five acres, much of which remains to be excavated. Lisa concludes, “I am delighted to be carrying on the work here that has been going on generation by generation.”

Tea and an enthusiastic welcome await the visitor to the remarkable Bignor Roman Villa, which speaks so eloquently across the millennia. We are fortunate that this exemplary archaeological jewel should be in the generous custodianship of the Tupper family. Bignor Roman Villa is open seven days a week. For more information visit or telephone 01798 869259.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 26th March 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Read an archive of Rupert’s articles by clicking here.

An Attic Find: Undiscovered Eduardo Paolozzi Collection

From left: Cubist bust, Computer Head and Skyscraper, plaster maquettes by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi

People often remark how exciting it must be for me as a fine art auctioneer to discover wonderful things which have lain undiscovered – it is and it happens more frequently than you might expect. It was on a visit to Newhaven, Sussex, early in the New Year when the gales were blowing, that I discover a marvellous collection of sculptures and prints by the important Modern British artist, Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) which are to be auctioned at Toovey’s on Wednesday 26th March 2014.

The sculptures and prints represented in the sale were given to the current owner over a period of years after he and his family had been befriended by Eduardo. They recount fond memories of visits to Eduardo’s home and studio, of outings and meals together.

Eduardo Paolozzi claimed to have embraced “…the iconography of the New World. The American magazine represented a catalogue of an exotic society, bountiful and generous, where the event of selling tinned pears was transformed in multi-coloured dreams…” This fascination with American culture is clearly expressed in the plaster maquette of a Sky Scrapper included in the sale and illustrated here. In the late 1940s and early 1950s a cold-war generation of artists in Britain began to turn towards New York for inspiration rather than Paris. Paolozzi had a foot firmly in both camps. He emerges as an artistic bridge between post-war Europe, Britain and the US.

Eduardo Paolozzi Bronze Relief
‘Newton after Blake’, bronze bas relief by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi

One of Paolozzi’s most celebrated sculptures is ‘Newton after Blake’ made for the forecourt of the British Library. It was commissioned by its architect the late Colin St John Wilson, who was also responsible for the Pallant House Gallery extension in Chichester, which houses many works from the architect’s own collection. The collection on sale includes several bas reliefs depicting ‘Newton after Blake’. Eduardo Paolozzi was fascinated by the artist William Blake’s image of Sir Isaac Newton from 1795. In Blake’s depiction the scientist appears oblivious to all around him, consumed by the need to redact the universe to mathematical proportion. Paolozzi explained of his own sculpture that “…Newton sits on nature, using it as a base for his work. His back is bent in work, not submission, and his figure echoes the shape of rock and coral. He is part of nature.”

Alongside Paolozzi’s cultural icons and totems the resilience and fragility of the human person and the influence of humankind’s relationship with technology expressed through the culture of science fiction and robots also recur as themes in his work. The complicated array of influences are often collaged into a single work. Take for example the two heads illustrated which are defined by the geometric shapes from which they are formed. The smaller plaster bust ‘Computer Head’ references technology’s effect on our consciousness. The larger bust ‘Head’ is an example of the busts which Paolozzi described as an amalgam of African art, geometric art which speaks of the machine in our age, and the influence of boogie woogie. A rich collage which, for him, described modernism.

'Mozart Magic Flute' screen print by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi

Paolozzi’s prints give voice to the idea of relationship between collage and image making. The prints with their often vibrant colour allowed the artist to explore the theme of finding visual comparisons between music and drawing. They are also connected with Paolozzi’s sculptural reliefs.

This exciting collection provides a valuable insight into the work of Eduardo Paolozzi. There are iconic examples and more modest pieces describing his delight and humour in the world, often with a surrealist influence. Paolozzi’s work is layered, textural and thought provoking delighting the eye and the mind. The sale exhibition provides a wonderful opportunity to see this famous artist’s work and to acquire an example for your own collection. It is on view from Saturday 22nd March 2014 and will be auctioned on the morning of Wednesday 26th March 2014. Further details of opening times and images are available on Catalogues are available from Toovey’s offices or by telephoning 01903 891955.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 19th March 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Eric James Mellon (1925-2014)

Eric James Mellon
Eric James Mellon painting a pot in his studio

It was my great pleasure to count the internationally acclaimed, Sussex-based artist Eric Mellon as my friend. Eric is most famed for his work as a potter and his pioneering use of ash glazes, but he also worked as a painter and printmaker. Eric was both artist and artisan.

Over many years Eric strived to be able to transfer drawings onto his predominantly stoneware pots and dishes. He was always counter-cultural and believed strongly in the importance of narrative and fine drawing. His subjects drew on his Christian faith, stories from classical antiquity and his pleasure in the world around him. He also delighted in the human body, particularly the female form, which he depicted with honesty and fondness.

Eric James Mellon Jessica in a Hat
Eric James Mellon - 'Jessica (in a Hat)', stoneware bowl with brush-drawn decoration and bean-ash glaze, 2005
Daphne and Apollo by Eric James Mellon
Eric James Mellon - 'Daphne and Apollo', stoneware pot with brush-drawn decoration and Philadelphus-ash glaze, 2005
Chalice by Eric James Mellon
Eric James Mellon – stoneware chalice with brush-drawn decoration and bean-ash glaze, 2011

Years of research and experimentation into ash glazes brought him worldwide recognition as an artist, a ceramicist and a scientist. The ash glazes, especially those created with the ashes of certain bushes, prevented the lines of the brush drawings on his ceramics from bleeding during firing.

For Eric, his art was his calling. He embraced this path and everything in his life was bound up with it. Eric would recall how as a boy all he wanted to do was “to be an artist and to draw and paint”. At the age of 13 he won a place at Watford School of Art, where he studied until 1944. From 1944-1947 he attended the Central School of Arts and Crafts, where he met his lifelong friend, the Arundel-based artist Derek Davis. It was with Derek at a party held for art students that Eric met his wife-to-be, Martina Thomas. Martina was passionate about fine art and worked as a painter while Eric brought art and craft together through his pottery, drawings and prints. In the early 1950s he set up an artistic community at Hillesden, Buckinghamshire, with Derek Davis and fellow artist John Clarke. It was in 1951 that he began working increasingly as a potter. He married Martina in 1956. She was a gifted and talented artist and exhibited at the Royal Academy. They had two children, Martin and Tessa.

Eric, always an enthusiastic and generous teacher, ran summer art schools for some thirty years. In 1958 he set up a pottery at his home in West Sussex, where he worked for 56 years. To visit Eric’s studio and home was to be exposed to a lifetime of artistic endeavour and a riot of pottery, paintings and prints. He would say: “When I get up in the morning, I want, by the end of the day, to have created something new.”

Often we compartmentalize our lives but with Eric art and existence intermingled; for him, work and life were one. So when you visited him, he would hold you with that particular care, keen to know about you and your news. Fondly and inevitably, though, your life in that particular moment would become bound up with his vocation – his art – for it was this that rooted him in this life. Later, in 2011, Eric wrote, “It takes many years to learn to draw, but eventually the pencil becomes a friend and, in a few minutes, moments in life can be recorded; these I call ‘frozen time’, as the sketches are no longer mere drawings.”

Eric came to the service at which I was ordained as a priest and informed me that he had made me a chalice. The symbol of Christ he drew upon it was, he said, designed to speak to all. It reflected the importance to him of communicating narrative. When I next called at his home, he presented me with it. I suggested that we celebrate a home communion there and then. Eric’s broad smile crossed his face and he accepted. We used his potter’s wheel as an altar, anointed the chalice with holy oils for use and celebrated our Eucharist.

Eric, in the foreword to ‘Pages From My Sketchbooks’, wrote: “Pages From My Sketchbooks records the joy of new life, the anticipation of pregnant women, the sadness of terminal illness, and the incredible moment when life departs the body into eternity… an artist records his life and shares it with everyone who cares to look.” His relationships with his family and friends sustained him at the end, as they had done throughout his life.

Eric Mellon’s work has been exhibited and acclaimed around the world, fitting recognition for this generous and gifted Sussex artist, who died on 14th January this year.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 5th March 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.