Hogarth and his Contemporaries

William Hogarth, Marriage A-la-Mode: 2, The Tête à Tête, 1743/45 © The National Gallery, London

William Hogarth (1697-1764) has been described as one of Britain’s most important artists. His work is the subject of a major exhibition at Tate Britain which opens next week. This beautifully conceived show places Hogarth’s work in the context of his British and Continental contemporaries.

Hogarth’s satirical commentary on the excesses of dissolute lives in 18th century English society are defined by the strength of their pictorial narratives, and though the figures depicted are often caricatures they are also examples of portraiture of the highest order.

Hogarth’s own father underwent periods of mixed fortune and at one time was in debtor’s prison. This experience perhaps lends Hogarth’s work its uncompromising edge in his series of satirical social commentaries which included A Harlot’s Progress, A Rake’s Progress, and Marriage A-la-Mode, a scene from which you see here titled The Tête à Tête.

The couple are clearly disinterested in each other. The wife sits in an un-ladylike pose. Her attire and the look on her face implies her infidelity. In contrast her husband sits dolefully and impotent whilst the steward, dressed as a pious Methodist, walks away with a look of disapproval and a ledger under his arm which we are to presume is full of unpaid accounts. The picture is filled with hidden references to the couple’s dissolute lives and its emerging consequences.

William Hogarth was not only a painter but a printmaker and it was through his prints that his popularity grew making him perhaps the most significant English artist of his generation.

The exhibition highlights the influence of French and Italian painting and engraving on Hogarth’s work.

William Hogarth, The Painter and his Pug, 1745 Tate

I love the indifference of Hogarth’s pug as he sits before his master’s self-portrait. It gently illustrates Hogarth’s wit and realism.

Hogarth objected to slavishly pandering to his patron’s demands which he called phizmongering. The remarkable un-finished sketch Heads of Six of Hogarth’s Servants is my favourite in this rich exhibition. It illustrates the artist’s absolute gift and delight in portraiture at a democratic level. There is such insight into the sitters’ characters and concerns, reverence without caricature. Mrs Hogarth kept the painting in her possession at their Chiswick home until her death.

William Hogarth, Heads of Six of Hogarth’s Servants, c 1750/5, Tate

This welcome exhibition at Tate Britain provides a refreshing narrative for William Hogarth, his times, his contemporaries and his work. To book your tickets visit www.tate.org.uk

Picasso at Vallauris

A collection of Picasso Madoura editions ceramics, from left to right: ‘Bunch with Apple’, ‘Bull and Picador’ and ‘Two dancers’, all made in 1956

In the summer of 1946, Pablo Picasso decided to visit the annual potter’s exhibition in the provincial village of Vallauris whilst staying with his friend, the engraver Louis Fort. There he met Suzanne and Georges Ramié, the founders of the Madoura workshop, who were keen to persuade him to come to Vallauris.

Picasso returned in July 1947 bringing his extraordinary imagination and creative energy to ceramics. He was first attracted by the large, almost rectangular dishes in the workshop. Here Picasso took the everyday and transformed it in to high art, painting and incising with a richness of expression which still causes my heart to race. Favourite themes included figures, bullfights and still lifes as depicted on the jug and plates illustrated here. In each you see the free, graphic rhythm which typifies Picasso’s ceramics.

These pieces are Picasso Madoura editions. They were made in two ways. The first involved making an authentic replica of an original work by exactly repeating the size and decoration. The second method transferred an original subject by means of an engraved, hardened plaster mould, to a fresh ceramic sheet which would be applied in order to take a clay impression. These editions are authenticated by a stamp to the base. Their close connection with Picasso’s hand, like a handmade print, attracts the attention of an international group of collectors. Picasso’s relationship with Madoura and the Ramiés grew and between 1948 and 1955 Picasso lived at Vallauris before moving to Cannes.

Picasso resurrected the ancient tradition of the all-round artist exploring painting, sculpture, graphic art, engraving and ceramics.

Picasso delighted in the craft of the ceramicist and quickly began to talk with the Ramiés using the technical language of the potter. The Ramiés, for their part, indulged the often extremely unorthodox practices of the artist which included his methods of firing, glazes and form. Take as an example the plate ‘Bunch with Apple’, made in 1956, in an edition of 400, it was decorated with oxidized paraffin.

Rupert Toovey in the square outside the Musée National Picasso, Vallauris

You approach the Musée National Picasso at Vallauris in Provence through a square filled with shops and restaurants. Amidst the life of the village stands the bronze L’homme au mouton given by the artist in 1949. Inside the museum there is a jewel like array of original ceramics made by Pablo Picasso which is guarded fiercely by the museum staff. The pieces capture the spirit of Provence in a way which speaks of a joy and freedom after the artist’s years under Nazi occupation in Paris. You sense the effect that the light and warmth of Provence had on Picasso which he expressed in his ceramics in the post-war years.

Eric Ravilious – Sussex Artist and Designer

A Wedgwood Elizabeth II coronation cup, circa 1953, designed by Eric Ravilious

The artist Eric Ravilious lived and worked in Sussex. Known primarily for his watercolour landscapes and wartime studies, Ravilious was also a talented illustrator and designer.

Eric Ravilious was born in 1927. 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 in London, where he met his lifelong friend and fellow artist Edward Bawden. Both men studied under the artist Paul Nash, who was generous in encouraging and promoting their work. Ravilious subsequently taught part-time at both art schools.

In the early part of the 20th century there were attempts to address the separation between craftsmen and artists. Among the leading voices in this movement were William Rothenstein, principal of The Royal College of Art, and a number of artists, who lived and worked in Sussex. They included Paul Nash, Eric Gill, John Piper, Graham Sutherland, Eric Ravilious, and the Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

In 1935 Eric Ravilious was invited by the Wedgwood factory to design a commemorative mug for the coronation of Edward VIII. After the King’s abdication in 1936, the design was reworked for the coronation of his brother, George VI, and subsequently for that of our own Queen Elizabeth II. The designs give a reserved English voice to the joy and excitement that these coronations brought to our nation. Each monarch’s royal cipher and coronation date are set in bands of blue or pink, beneath cascading fireworks against a clouded night sky. Ravilious’ work offers a very English corrective to modernism’s extremes, expressed in his emotionally cool, structural paintings and designs.

A Wedgwood Alphabet mug, circa 1937, designed by Eric Ravilious

The delightful alphabet mug illustrated was commissioned by Wedgwood in 1937. Banded in apple green, each letter of the alphabet is accompanied by a printed vignette; ‘A’ is for aeroplane, ‘E’ is for eggs, ‘O’ is for Octopus and so on.

A Wedgwood Garden lemonade jug, circa 1939, designed by Eric Ravilious

I love the poetic gardening lemonade jug dating from 1939. The pink lustre is reminiscent of lustre ware from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The delightful vignettes display Ravilious’ remarkable skill: a cat sleeps on a garden wall above depictions of garden beds, a cloche, a green house, a wheelbarrow and a beehive with honey bees.

Eric Ravilious and his fellow modern British artists enriched our lives in the interwar years of the 20th century as they allowed their artistic voices to inform the manufacturing and design of beautiful objects for our homes.

Exciting New Displays as Horsham Museum & Art Gallery Re-Opens

Jeremy Knight, retiring long-term Curator of the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery

As the newly refurbished Horsham Museum & Art Gallery reopens Jeremy Knight, its Curator for some thirty-three years, is preparing to retire.

I ask Jeremy about his time at the museum, he replies “I arrived in 1988 and remember thinking what a fabulous building and collections and that feeling has deepened over time. Horsham and the District has such a rich history and cultural story which needs to be celebrated. The museum is the only organisation that brings those threads together and makes it accessible to the people who live here and visitors to the district.”

Building up the collection for future generations has required all of Jeremy’s deep knowledge and understanding of the history of Horsham and her district. Without him being here so much would have been lost.

Thanks to Jeremy Knight’s curatorship the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery’s reputation has grown beyond all measure. His vision and work has attracted the attention of curators and institutions ranging from Tate Britain, the V&A, the Royal Collections, the National Trust and the RA to name but a few. This reputation has brought extraordinary bequests, gifts and partnerships which most recently have included works by John Constable and the artist Vincent Lines.

Jeremy has always practiced servant leadership; what he does is always about the flourishing of others and not about self.

The new galleries tell the stories of Horsham, her industries, people and communities across centuries through wonderful objects. The new cabinets and displays bring the collections alive and it is as though you are discovering the objects for the very first time.

One of the newly refurbished displays with the Gruffalo

I notice a number of the displays are lower down. “They’re for the children.” Jeremy explains “It’s really important that all this is accessible to them and their families.” I agree, I have been coming to the Horsham Museum since I was a child.

Jeremy Knight has the qualities of a patron supporting artists, local historians and bibliophiles. Through his work at the museum he has created strong links with local people and enriched the heritage community.

He explains that he is looking forward to writing, and a PhD on The Book in the Museum. There is a fine new display of the important history of literature in the Horsham District.

I ask Jeremy about the reasons behind his leaving. He answers “The museum is a constant in people’s lives as the narratives and displays change reflecting the community. The refresh is a perfect moment, [the new layout] makes it possible to change the displays so that the museum can remain relevant to each generation in its turn. And it will allow those who take it forward to reflect their own and the public’s evolving interests.

All I have achieved and this exciting refurbishment has only been possible because of Horsham District Council’s support of the museum and me, and the help of the staff and volunteers.”

The refurbishment of the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery is a terrific footnote to Jeremy Knight’s long-term stewardship. You must see it.

This gifted and generous antiquarian has blessed us with his professionalism, knowledge and passion for the people and history of Horsham and her district. Jeremy Knight is deserving of our thanks.

Jerusalem – A Sussex Hymn

‘Blake’s Cottage at Felpham’ © Toovey’s 2021

The central threads of William Blake’s art and writing are beautifully woven together with the formative time that this revolutionary artist spent in Sussex.

William Blake spent most of his life in London. However, for a number of years he lived in Sussex. In 1800 he moved to a cottage in Felpham, West Sussex, to illustrate work by the poet William Hayley. During this period William Blake wrote the poem titled ‘And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time’. It formed part of the preface to his epic work ‘Milton a Poet’ which he worked on until 1808. The poem builds on that wonderful passage from the Bible in chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation where Creation is perfected and renewed as heaven and earth are united.

Blake wrote to Thomas Butts shortly after his arrival in Sussex: ‘the sweet air and the voices of the winds, trees and birds and the odours of our happy ground makes [Felpham] a dwelling for immortals.’ Blake’s language articulates an earthly paradise contrasting with his lifelong experience of the environs of London.

‘Milton a Poet’ has an image titled ‘Blake’s Cottage at Felpham’. The lithographed facsimile illustration you see here is from The Works of William Blake, Poetic, Symbolic, and Critical which was published by Bernard Quaritch in London in 1893. It depicts Blake visited by the figure of ‘Inspiration’ in the garden of his cottage. The narrative forms part of a very personal mythology of his own creation. Felpham continued to inform the pastoral qualities of his Arcadian figures depicted under a ‘tranquil moon’ and ‘setting sun’ in his later work.

The Works of William Blake, Poetic, Symbolic, and Critical provided an important interpretation of Blake’s esoteric system and was edited by Edwin John Ellis and William Butler Yeats. This example realised £950 at Toovey’s.

The importance of Blake’s work was not wholly understood during his own life-time though it inspired a new, younger generation of visionary artists which included Samuel Palmer, George Richmond and Edward Calvert, who called themselves ‘the Ancients’.

A little over 100 years later in response to the huge casualties of the Battle of the Somme and declining morale Robert Bridges, the Poet Laureate, edited a patriotic anthology of poems titled ‘The Spirit of Man’. Amongst these was the then little known poem by William Blake titled ‘And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time’ better known to us today as ‘Jerusalem’.

In 1916 Bridges invited Hubert Parry, who was living at Rustington, to set William Blake’s poem ‘Jerusalem’ to music and the hymn became a national anthem. Jerusalem’s success inculcated redemption, renewal and hope into our national psyche.

So Jerusalem is a hymn inspired and born out of the beautiful county of Sussex and perhaps the new Jerusalem, ‘England’s mountains green’ and ‘pleasant pastures seen’ are to be found in the folds of the ancient Sussex Downs and the Sussex Weald.