Inspired by the Countryside and the Changing Seasons

England’s changing seasons and landscape afford a particularly generous accompaniment to my life in Sussex. The artist Clare Leighton shared this delight in the rhythms of nature and the countryside.

A Lap Full of Windfalls from Four Hedges
‘A Lap Full of Windfalls’ from Four Hedges: A Gardener’s Chronicle

In the early part of the 20th century there was a revival of wood engraving in Britain. The softness of line and the strength of contrast in the black and white seemed to articulate something particular to a generation of people who were united in their experience of war. Clare Leighton belonged to this movement and generation. Today she is highly regarded by art historians and collectors. Her work combines a deep understanding of life and love, informed by her Christian faith, with a captivating simplicity and honesty. Many of her compositions are characterized by the use of a series of underlying curves, which at once unite the subjects in her pictures while giving a quality of journeying and movement.

Against some opposition from her family, Clare Leighton persuaded her parents to allow her to attend the Brighton School of Art. From there she went to the Slade School of Art, where she studied under Sir Henry Tonks between 1923 and 1924. Needing to earn a living, she left the Slade and enrolled for evening classes at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. She was friends with Hilaire Belloc, who lived at Shipley windmill near Horsham, and Eric Gill, who was at this point living in Ditchling.

Before the war she wrote and illustrated a series of books, which included The Farmer’s Year (1933) and Four Hedges: A Gardener’s Chronicle (1935). They reflect her fondness for the countryside and her empathy with rural workers and their husbandry. Although her work is modern, it follows in the rich tradition of English Romanticism.

‘April, Sowing’ from The Farmer’s Year
‘April, Sowing’ from The Farmer’s Year
The Fat Stock Market
‘The Fat Stock Market’ from ‘December’ in The Farmer’s Year

Nicholas Toovey heads the pictures and books departments at Toovey’s. With an interest in both these fields of collecting, it is understandable why this artist should particularly appeal to him. “I have long admired Clare Leighton’s work,” says Nick. “She was part of the revival of wood engraving at the start of the 20th century. It fascinates me that from only two colours, black and white, an artist can create a sense of light, movement, tone and hue.” Nick’s thoughts resonate with Leighton’s own reflections on the art of creating a woodblock engraving. She wrote, “The discipline of engraving is demanding, and for a perfectionist, exhaustingly so. Harnessed to this need is to interpret colour and tone through the limitation of black and white.”

In Clare Leighton’s ‘April, Sowing’ from The Farmer’s Year, the curve of the sower’s posture implies movement and unites him with the folds of the hills beneath the scudding clouds, which are reflected in the river. Leighton carves her woodblock with great skill and delicacy, creating mass, light and shade through the use of crosshatching. The curved compositional forms and quality of tone are again beautifully illustrated in ‘A Lap Full of Windfalls’ from Four Hedges: A Gardener’s Chronicle.

Nicholas Toovey with a first edition of Clare Leighton’s The Farmer’s Year from 1933

Nick draws my attention to ‘The Fat Stock Market’ from ‘December’ in The Farmer’s Year and says, “Leighton’s execution of carved line is always so precise. For the wood engraver there is no possibility of changing a mistake; once a line is engraved it must stay. There is a directness in the depiction of this livestock market and a strong feeling of empathy with these stewards of the land on this dark and damp December day. The black and white provides this scene with a real sense of drama.”

Here is an artist connected with her life and times, the countryside and its people, all of which inspired her to give expression to life and love through her woodblock prints.

Clare Leighton’s decision to emigrate to America in 1939 was bound up with her decision to end her relationship with the journalist and writer Henry Noel Brailsford. She settled in North Carolina and enjoyed a full artistic career, which included teaching at Duke University. Clare Leighton’s work is represented in many national collections, including the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Nick and I are excited that Toovey’s is supporting the exhibition Clare Leighton: Working Life, which has just opened at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. This excellent show has been organised by Simon Martin and provides a wonderful opportunity to see a breadth of Clare Leighton’s work. It runs until 24th February 2014; for further information go to www.pallant.org.uk.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 18th December 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Boys, Toys and Automobiles in Sussex

A Kingsbury tinplate model of Sir Henry Segrave’s Golden Arrow land speed record car

Here in West Sussex, many of the thriving collectors’ fields are informed by childhood passions. The land speed record attempts were particularly evocative for those growing up between and just after the First and Second World Wars.

Toovey’s toys specialist Chris Gale and consultant Gordon Gardiner enjoy a Gunthermann tinplate model of Sir Malcom Campbell's Bluebird land speed record car at Toovey’s Christmas specialist auction of collectors’ toys on 3rd December

“I remember watching Donald Campbell demonstrating his Bluebird CN7 land speed record car at Goodwood motor racing circuit, Sussex, in July 1960,” recalls Toovey’s consultant toys specialist Gordon Gardiner with customary enthusiasm. Competition for the world land speed record was particularly strong during the inter-war years, as a select group of courageous gentlemen drivers pushed themselves and their cars to the edge of endurance. Among these drivers were men like Henry Segrave and Malcolm Campbell, Donald Campbell’s father. These successive attempts to become the fastest men on land were celebrated in a mood of patriotism and national pride. Their bravery and achievements inspired a generation of boys. Our interest in their triumphs continues to fuel our appetite for toys and paper collectables relating to the pursuit of speed.

A black and white photograph of Sir Henry Segrave in his 4 litre V12 Sunbeam land speed record car.

It is always great fun to stray into Toovey’s toys department. Our toys specialist Chris Gale is seen here with Gordon Gardiner enjoying a tinplate clockwork model of Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird land speed record car by the German firm Gunthermann. German tinplate toys and trains from this period were made to high standards and are much sought-after by today’s collectors. In view of Gunthermann’s reputation for quality, I ask Gordon why this one does not bear their name and is just marked ‘Foreign’, rather than ‘German’. He replies, “There was a resistance to buying German-made toys after the Great War, so they marked this one simply as foreign to avoid any stigma.” I comment on the condition of this car, which to my eye seems to be remarkably good for its date. Gordon responds, “Most toy land speed record cars were well used by their original owners, so they are often quite play-worn but this one is better than most.” I always warm to the term ‘play-worn’. In all our other specialist departments, problems of condition are often noted as faults, but in the toys department things are play-worn, a fond metaphor for the passage of time and wear. “Nevertheless,” Chris interjects, “it is this model’s rarity and the fact that it still has its original box, albeit torn and incomplete, which led to its remarkable hammer price of £1100 in our Christmas toy sale.”

Chris reminds me of the Kingsbury tinplate keyless-clockwork model land speed record car which his department sold for £650 a couple of years ago. He says, “This is a popular model of the Golden Arrow record-breaker which was driven by Henry Segrave in 1929.”

A menu for a banquet in honour of Sir Malcolm Campbell following his land speed record at Bonneville Flats in September 1935

Interest in land speed record-breakers is strong in other collectors’ areas as well. Take, for example, the menu for a banquet in honour of Sir Malcolm Campbell, ‘as a tribute to his achievement in setting up the New Land Speed Record of 301.129mph at Bonneville Flats, Utah, USA’. It is dated September 24th 1935 and has a bas-relief photograph cover depicting Sir Malcolm. The black and white photograph also illustrated here shows Sir Henry Segrave at the wheel of his 4 litre V12 Sunbeam, which broke the land speed record at 152.33mph in 1926. The card mount is signed in ink by Segrave and other key members of the record-breaking team. Both lots were sold in specialist paper collectables auctions, headed by Nicholas Toovey, for £100 and £300 respectively.

Returning to Toovey’s toys department, I am interested to know what it is about old toys which delight collectors. “Part of it is fulfilling childhood dreams,” says Chris, “but it is also about their interests – particular vehicles, for example, or a certain historical period.” He continues with a smile, “Toy collectors are really generous with their knowledge and their enthusiasm, which is contagious.” I agree. Collecting is often about the acquisition and sharing of knowledge but it is also about community and sharing interests with fellow enthusiasts. After all, lively minds make open hearts!

Chris Gale and Gordon Gardiner are already gearing up for their spring toy auction, which will be held on 25th March 2014. Nicholas Toovey’s next paper collectables auction will be on 22nd April 2014. All are delighted to share their specialist interests with you and offer advice. They can be contacted at Toovey’s Spring Gardens salerooms at Washington.

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

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.