Rare Martin Brothers Tortoise Emerges from Hibernation

A large, rare Martin Brothers stoneware model of a grotesque tortoise, dated March 1904

Tortoises have always had a special place in my heart so imagine my excitement when I discovered an earthenware tortoise by the important Victorian Art Potters Martin Brothers whilst on a routine valuation in Cranleigh just a few weeks ago.

One of my earliest memories of tortoises is from visiting my Great-Grandpa Edwin and his second wife Aunty Millie as a young boy. It was always rather a formal visit so my brother and I would escape into Aunty Millie’s beautiful and extensive gardens as soon as we could and hide in the herbaceous borders. We would lie down hidden from view and watch the clouds pass overhead whilst we ate wild strawberries. Aunty Millie had large, old tortoises and as we lay there we could hear them munching their way noisily towards us.

In the sitting room of this Cranleigh cottage my eye was caught by the earthenware tortoise sitting nonchalantly beside a brick fireplace on the tile hearth between the coal bucket and grate. As I made my way excitedly towards it the family, surprised at my interest, recounted how their mother had rescued it from the garden decades before.

Robert Wallace Martin started by setting up a studio for the production of salt-glazed stoneware in Fulham in 1873, moving to larger premises at Norwood Green, Southall in 1877. He worked with his brothers Charles, Walter and Edwin.
The prevailing style at the time was Gothic Revival and they produced objects with an almost medieval vitality. The brothers worked in close collaboration predominately using salt glazes with a subdued palette. Their handmade work stood against the tide of the Victorian Industrial Age giving expression to the aspirations of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Like the work of the famous contemporary designer Christopher Dresser their designs were often anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and naturalistic. The atmosphere of connoisseurship which they engendered at their Brown Street shop in Holborn was celebrated by patrons and critics alike. The brothers certainly considered themselves as artists and took part in what has been described as the ‘eclecticism of the late Victorian period’.

Their work found favour and was collected by the Pre-Raphaelite painters Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Queen Mary ordered sixty pieces of Martinware to be exhibited at the Paris Exposition of 1914.
Robert Wallace Martin had worked for the architectural sculptor J B Phillips and attended the Lambeth School of Art in his formative years. In 1879/1880 he began to model their grotesque creatures. Often the faces of these creatures, especially their hugely sought after ‘Wally Birds’, were caricatures of contemporary political and establishment figures.

Since the 1920s Martinware has always attracted strong interest from collectors at auction. The rather marvellous Martin Brothers tortoise you see here dates from March 1904. Its face has a human quality and a mischievous grin, the eyes follow the viewer. Its shell is beautifully conceived, modelled and glazed. The poor thing has some wear, signs of its life in the garden and beside the fire, but it is a rare and large example measuring almost 10 inches in length.

This fine Martin Brothers tortoise has emerged from decades of hibernation to the delight and excitement of collectors and will be auctioned at Toovey’s on 13th August – I can’t wait to see what he makes!

Click here to see the lot.

“There’s a bit of blue sky over Worthing”

Ken Howard OBE RA – ‘Beach with Kites’, oil on canvas

August arrived with a weekend of perfect weather, blue skies and scudding clouds.

In contrast to Friday, and the crowds that the hottest day of the year brought to the South Coast, Saturday saw a generous gathering of much more sensible numbers on the beaches at Worthing. There was a communal delight in the sharing of a different horizon as lockdown eased and the steady on-shore-breeze embraced us. For those who have experienced the Covid-19 lockdown without access to a garden or an adequate outside space this experience must have been especially precious.

Since the 19th century when the railways allowed people in our towns and cities access to Britain’s coast and towns there has always been a wonderfully democratic quality to our beaches.

I grew up in Horsham in the early 1970s. Everyone seemed to have much less materially than we do today and yet we had so much more. We had time, and not just as children but grown-ups too.

It was an adventure to get to the beach in our ancient pale blue Morris Travellers. Many of the roads in Worthing were still concrete and the old cars made a boom-ba-langa noise as they bounced over the joins which delighted me and my brother.

You could leave Horsham’s micro-climate in blazing sunshine to arrive at the coast to find a howling wind or a sea fret. Sunshine or showers my Granny’s response was always the same “Oh there’s a bit of blue sky over Worthing”. An optimistic outlook which has been good training for life. Part of the seaside tradition was Grandpa making tea on an ancient Gaz stove and Granny’s pink iced sponge cake. We would swim, sail, fly kites and walk to the ice cream van. This pebbly bit of beach holds a special place in my heart with a sense of joy and freedom.

The dance of light on an incoming tide, the whoosh and clatter of the waves as they break on the pebbles and the salty wind on my face has the power to restore me in a way I find hard to describe.

These memories bring to mind a wonderful oil painting by the contemporary British artist Ken Howard titled ‘Beach with Kites’ which we sold at Toovey’s for £5000. His art is about revelation, communication and celebration. Here families soak up the sun and sea air in a shimmering light with vibrant colours. The windbreaks with their strong vertical and horizontal lines lead us through the medley of people. You can sense the heat, breeze and happy voices enjoying a picnic beside the sea.

Amongst family, friends and those I meet along the way there seems to be a consensus that we were all going a bit too fast for our own good and the world before Covid-19. Perhaps post-Covid things might look rather more like my childhood where we had less but so much more.

Like the beach itself Ken Howard’s art, inspired by light, lifts our spirits raising us above the challenges and sorrows of life. No wonder there is a need to be beside the sea especially in these times!

With any luck a combination of old-fashioned good manners, common sense and a genuine care for others will prevail and hold back the tide of a second wave. I hope this beautiful weather blesses you and those you love – keep safe.

The Visual Arts and Music Celebrated in the Context of a Home

Jim Ede’s bedroom table © Paul Allitt/Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge University.

This week we are returning to Kettle’s Yard which holds one of the most important collections of 20th century art in the country in its beautiful interiors, the better for being in the context of a home. It has always been open to students and visitors.

Jim Ede, its creator, was a remarkable man who promoted many leading British and Continental artists in the 20th century. In 1954 whilst living abroad he dreamed of creating a living place where works of art could inspire and bring joy in a domestic, relational setting. The generous discipline of his rhythm of life would result in a sequence of rooms and spaces which form a series of 360 ̊ processional compositions.

Jim Ede would write ‘Kettle’s Yard is in no way meant to be an art gallery or a museum, nor is it simply a collection of works of art reflecting my taste, or the taste of a given period. It is, rather, a continuing way of life from these last fifty years, in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability which more and more we need to recognise if we are not to be swamped by all that is so rapidly opening up to us.’

Ede acknowledged the importance of Ben Nicholson in shaping his taste in the 1920s.

View of Jim Ede’s bedroom with works by Alfred Wallis, Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson © Paul Allitt/Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge University.

Jim Ede’s bedroom is perhaps the most personal room in the house. The room reflects the life, interests and relationships of this gifted connoisseur and critic. His intuitive placing of objects is reflective and disciplined which blesses the viewer with a sense of stillness, of being gathered, whilst exciting the eye and our imaginations. It is a space for lively questioning minds and open hearts.

Above the head of his bed hang two Alfred Wallis paintings ‘Five Ships (Mount’s Bay)’ and ‘Houses at the water’s edge (Portleven)’. Jim Ede delighted in Wallis’ directness and simplicity of language born out of a lack of formal training. Wallis, a fisherman, painted on scraps of wood and card with unevenly applied boat paint giving expression to his memories of the scene. His distorted perspective gives the viewer a sense of being amongst the boats. These qualities and his restrained palette lend his work an extraordinary immediacy. On a ledge beside his bed is an early Henry Moore Head carved from Shakespeare’s Head Cliff chalk. Jim Ede would write about its ‘still energy’ commenting ‘I have always loved this Henry Moore which he gave me so long ago’. Henry Moore, like Gaudier-Brzeska, was influenced by non-Western primitive forms and the bust ties in with the ‘domesticated primitive’ aesthetic which emerged after the Great War. Beside it rests the small ‘Abstract’ dating from 1941 by his friend Ben Nicholson. Through the open doorway in the bathroom a George III provincial oak chest of drawers adds warmth and balance to the aesthetic of the space.

Jim Ede installed bay windows in the cottage at Kettle’s Yard to improve the effects of light. In the bay window of his bedroom is this circular pine table with a wrought iron base. Low down on the wall beside it you can see an etching by Ben Nicholson. An eclectic still life of concentric graduated pebbles give voice to an incoming tide the grain in the wood echoing the movement of the water across sand, a scallop shell, a spherical green glass float, flowers, all speak of the importance of found and natural objects at Kettle’s Yard. Amongst them you can see a small bronze by Henri Gaudier-Brzseka titled ‘Toy’.

Jim Ede hoped ‘that future generations will still find a home and a welcome, a refuge of peace and order, of the visual arts and of music’ at Kettle’s Yard. His hopes have been fulfilled. To find out more visit www.kettlesyard.co.uk.

A Way of Life Informed by Beautiful Objects

Kettle’s Yard’s upstairs house extension © Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge University

In this, the first of two articles, we are visiting one of my favourite collections and spaces, Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge. The spirit of the place is born out of the gentle, generous and persistent creativity of Jim Ede, the man who put it all together.

Jim Ede would describe the house and collection as reflecting a way of life, of being, expressing the joy and stability in being accompanied in life by beautiful objects be they humble stones or paintings and sculptures by some of the most important artists of the 20th century. It reflects Jim Ede’s relationships with a group of Modern British artists whose thinking often influenced him, and his personal desire to share it with others.

Reflecting on the inspiration for Kettle’s Yard Jim Ede wrote ‘I suppose it began by my meeting with Ben and Winifred [Nicholson] in 1924 or thereabouts, while I was an Assistant at the Tate Gallery…it wasn’t until I was nearly thirty that the Nicholson’s opened a door into the world of contemporary art and I rushed headlong into the arms of Picasso, Brancusi and Braque without losing my rapture over Giotto, Angelico, Monaco and Piero della Francesca.’ Ede saw a continuity between the early Italians and Ben Nicholson’s work.

In 1926 Jim Ede purchased most of the studio contents of the French artist Henri Gaudier-Brzeska who had been killed in action in 1915. He published ‘The Savage Messiah’ which established the artist’s place in art history whilst ensuring that examples of his work were acquired for Tate and the Contemporary Art Society.
The artist Winifred Nicholson taught him about the ‘fusing of art and daily living’, of holiness in the everyday and its tasks, whilst the artist David Jones, who worked at Ditchling in Sussex for a time, gave him a vocabulary to articulate the ephemeral. Jim Ede’s expression of faith, his spirituality, combined the generous discipline of practical work with reflection, invitation, hospitality, balance and a celebration of beauty which resonates with me as a Benedictine.
In 1970 the extension to Kettle’s Yard was opened creating a space where concerts could be held and which visitors could inhabit. The English Georgian and provincial pieces of furniture, together with the welcoming armchairs, sit comfortably alongside the exceptional 20th century paintings and sculpture in that eclectic, layered way which defines the British interior at its best.

It was Ben Nicholson who introduced Jim Ede to the work of the St Ives fisherman and artist Alfred Wallis. A selection of Wallis’ work would regularly arrive by post and whilst Ede could not afford to buy all that was offered he acquired enough to line several walls as you can see here.

Ede created vistas and layered perspectives in these interiors by the careful and intentional placing of art and objects which interact with each other, the changing light and viewpoints at Kettle’s Yard in a series of extraordinary, processional compositions.

In the foreground is Gaudier-Brzeska’s bronze ‘Garden Ornament’ which Jim Ede has typically filled with stones, and in the distance, to the right, the artist’s 1912 bronze study ‘Maria Carmi as the Madonna’. Our eye is drawn to Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Three Personages’. At the heart of this composition on the far wall is Winifred Nicholson’s large landscape which Jim Ede described as ‘a great world of beauty’. The landscape with its English lane would have been painted from life. Winifred worked quickly completing a canvas in a single siting. The broad areas of colour are made more intense by the white paint used to prime the canvas.

The balance in the composition of the space would be diminished if any one piece were not there.

This exceptional and very personal collection reflects the generous creativity of Jim Ede. Next week we will be returning to Kettles Yard to explore some of the more intimate spaces in the house to explore the relationships between artist and patron. To find out more about Kettle’s Yard visit www.kettlesyard.co.uk.

The Hansom Cab and the Pigeons

‘If men and women abrogate or lose the power to think you may have material welfare but you have no life, no civilisation, no soul, nothing’

A woodblock illustration from The Hansom Cab and the Pigeons, by Eric Ravilious, c.1935

The artist Eric Ravilious worked between the wars, becoming a war artist in 1939. He grew up in Sussex and returned here in the 1930s. He was part of a generation of artists taught at the Royal College of Art in London by Paul Nash. Nash would describe this group of artists as ‘an outbreak of talent’.
Edward Bawden spoke of his life-long friend, Ravilious, as being ‘humorous, easy-going…cheerful, good-natured and intelligent’, qualities which were reflected in his work.

Ravilious’ skill in carving his woodblocks was exceptional. He would first draw the image onto the block lending the images spontaneity, light and life.
The use of punches created rich textures through scratches, flecks and dots. Even in black and white their tonal variation suggests colour. The effect is to give an impression of the artist’s sheer delight in the cutting of the woodblock to create these images.

The Silver Jubilee of George V in 1935 was the first national celebration of its kind since Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. It was seen as a period of stability and change which included the emancipation of women and, despite the shadow of the First World War and Great Depression, a time of continuity and hope.

The new owners of the Golden Cockerel Press, Christopher Sandford and Owen Rutter, marked the Jubilee by publishing a brief text by LAG Strong titled ‘The Hansom Cab and the Pigeons’. Strong was a popular writer of thrillers but here the author reflects on the passing of time and the threat posed by the rise of the Nazis: ‘If men and women abrogate or lose the power to think you may have material welfare but you have no life, no civilisation, no soul, nothing…’.
The book was illustrated by the artist Eric Ravilious. At first glance Ravilious’ watercolours and woodblock illustrations seem to depict an unchanging rural England.

Frontispiece from The Hansom Cab and the Pigeons, woodblock by Eric Ravilious, c.1935

His frontispiece for the book at first appears to give a literal expression to the books title. Pigeons roost without a care under the hood of a Hansom Cab abandoned in the gardens of a Devon tea room, but as the sun rises they are unheeding of the new dawn which will propel the world to war once again. The image is demanding, questioning.
The image that marks the start of the book is amongst my favourites in Ravilious’ oeuvre. Here the past meets the future. Against the backdrop of an unchanging English landscape a train speeds towards us at full-steam, the undulations in the landscape and bridge lend it speed, mirrored by the mono-plane as it soars skywards.

The Golden Cockerel Press was part of the Private Press movement which gave a freedom of expression to authors and artists.

It seems to me that to remain questioning, open hearted and open minded about all things is essential to a good human life as it prevents us from becoming fundamental about anything. Collectors know this intuitively. They often begin collecting in the pursuit of knowledge and of course once we have learnt something our instinct is to share what we have learnt with others. It is my experience that lively minds make open and generous hearts.

Demand from collectors remains strong as the Covid-19 lockdown eases and with book and print sales scheduled as part of Toovey’s Summer of Sales there is much to look forward to. Do phone for a pre-sale valuation or check out the online catalogues at tooveys.com.