A Postcard from Brighton

Banqueting Room mantel clock by Vuillamy, Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020.

This week I am on staycation here in Sussex and I am once again returning to The Royal Pavilion, Brighton to experience ‘A Prince’s Treasure’, this year’s must see exhibition. I cannot impress upon you quite how marvellous this exhibition is.

I meet David Beevers, Keeper of the Royal Pavilion, who has overseen this remarkable collaboration between the Royal Collection Trust and the Royal Pavilion.

I comment on how hard it must have been for David and his team to have had to close and reopen this magnificent exhibition on a number of occasions due to the challenges of Covid-19. He replies by saying how blessed they have been that most of the loans were received before the pandemic broke.

The exhibition showcases a spectacular loan of some 120 decorative works of art from Her Majesty The Queen; pieces that were originally commissioned by the Prince Regent for the Royal Pavilion. It provides a once in a lifetime opportunity for visitors to see these objects of unparalleled magnificence in their original setting. The Pavilion’s exotic, regal interiors come alive in the company of the pieces commissioned for them and further our understanding of the future George IV’s influence and tastes.

David is excited to show me the array of loans some of which have recently arrived.

The Chinese porcelain pagodas, circa 1803, with English additions, at the Royal Pavilion Brighton © HM Queen Elizabeth II, 2019.
The Chinese porcelain pagodas, circa 1803, with English additions, at the Royal Pavilion Brighton © HM Queen Elizabeth II, 2019.

The Music Room’s magnificent decoration works in concert with the objects which have fleetingly returned to their original setting.
Your senses are overwhelmed by the spectacle of the line of enormous porcelain pagodas which make sense of and give voice to the scale of this room.
These imposing porcelain objects were acquired in 1803/1804 from China and the dealer Robert Fogg. Fogg supplied the English Spode porcelain bases as well as the gilded bronze bells, dolphins and dogs, and the dragon finials which were subcontracted to B.L. Vulliamy.

I ask David which object most sums up the Royal Pavilion and the exhibition and he takes me to the Banqueting Room. We stand in front of a magnificent mantel clock. He says “The clock’s supercharged chinoiserie reflects the Pavilion style at its confident best. It is as though the painted panels [in the room] have taken three dimensional form.” He describes how the clock was designed by Robert Jones and made by Vuillamy. The Chinese figures echo those painted on the walls. The gilt-bronze foliage was gilded by Fricker and Henderson and seems to allude to an eagle in flight.

David Beevers explains that George IV was the greatest British Royal collector and builder. For some 40 years David’s career at the Royal Pavilion has marked a number of remarkable achievements including the restoration of The Saloon so I am humbled when he concludes “Having these loans here is a highlight of my career.”

Whether you are visiting or on staycation in Sussex like me ‘A Prince’s Treasure’ must be on your list of holiday treats. To find out more and to book your tickets visit www.brightonmuseums.org.uk/royalpavilion.

Contemporary Objects add to the Rich Tapestry of Parham House

Kate Malone’s crystalline-glazed stoneware Waddesdon Sprigged Big Mother Pumpkin, 2016, at Parham.

Parham House is one of the most beautiful stately homes in England. This fine Elizabethan house was saved and carefully restored by the Hon. Clive Pearson and his wife Alicia during the 1920s and ʼ30s. The collections give voice to their passion for the house and collecting.

The Great Hall at Parham is a remarkable space at the heart of the house. It bridges the ancient and contemporary with its lightly limed pale oak panelling.

The immensely long curtains hang like becalmed sails. As they hinge back against the window recesses the space is filled with light which playfully draws our eye to the familiar array of fine portraits and furniture and then to a series of visitors, objects arranged in a series of vignettes – compositions of the very finest contemporary decorative art. Colin Reid’s kiln cast, polished optical glass Colour Saturation; Open Eye works in concert with the texture and hue of the panelling and the blues in the flanking tapestries with a lyrical quality.

Colin Reid’s kiln cast polished optical glass Colour Saturation; Open Eye, 2021, at Parham

These objects represent a collaboration between the international art dealer and gallery owner Adrian Sassoon and Parham House. It was initially born out of a desire to create a virtual exhibition to share new works during lockdown which resulted in a series of beautifully conceived short films by Freddie Leyden. But with the house just reopened many of these objects have returned to delight connoisseurs and visitors to Parham.

English Country House Taste is textural and eclectic always reflecting the taste and interests of a family and often the patchwork quilt of a family’s stories and interests over generations. It is unpretentious, layered and evolving. These contemporary objects are fleetingly adding to the rich tapestry of the house and its collections.

In the third of the films the celebrated ceramicist Kate Malone is clearly moved to see her work away from the studio and in the context of Parham. She reflects on the embroideries and Parham’s collections and how they speak to her “…there’s so many loving hours in everything that’s here. The makers of these things, it’s as if they’re speaking through their craft – it’s very emotional actually.”
Kate explains “My objective is touching you in the heart not in the mind. When I’m making my work nothing else matters you lose track of time, you just want that feeling where you’re at one with the material.”

Her magnificent crystalline-glazed stoneware Sprigged Big Mother Pumpkin seems to be in conversation with Oliver Messel’s painted ceiling, the tapestries and objects in the long gallery. It allows the visitor to see this remarkable interior anew.

Parham is an optimistic place which provides a window onto our past and our future, an historical narrative from the first to the second great Elizabethan Age. It speaks to us of our own place in the extraordinary procession of human history. Whether you are visiting for the first time or returning Parham never fails to captivate and delight. To find out more about the house and exhibition and to book your tickets visit www.parhaminsussex.co.uk, and www.adriansassoon.com.

Fred Cuming, A Poet in the Landscape

Fred Cuming – ‘Evening Walkers, Camber’, 20th century oil on board, signed recto © the artist/Toovey’s 2020

The artist Fred Cuming, RA, is considered to be one of the finest landscape painters of his generation. He lives and works in East Sussex.

Born in 1930 Cuming studied at the Sidcup School of art in the years after the war. Between 1951 and 1955 Cuming studied at the Royal College of Art in London gaining a Rome Scholarship. He was elected a Royal Academician in 1974 (ARA 1969). He is also a Member of the New English Art Club and an Associate of the Royal College of Art.

Writing about Fred Cuming the biographer Richard Holmes describes him as ‘A truly visionary painter.’ Cuming conveys recognisable scenes transforming them with a poetic intensity born out of light and colour.

Fred Cuming gives voice to his life and inspiration as an artist in the insightful short film Portrait of an artist (Fred Cuming) commissioned by the Royal Academy in 2015.

He describes how he grew up in Woolwich fascinated by the boats and water, painting even as a young boy.

In his Sussex studio he works on numerous paintings at the same time each informing the other as they develop. Form and structure in the scene becomes apparent as he commits the scene to paper.

In the film Cuming reflects how “Camber Sands on the coast beyond Rye is one of my favourite locations. In the summer the beach can be crowded with holiday makers. On other days I might be the only person in miles of open space…living by Camber Sands as I do now I’m confronted by nature’s thousand different aspects and moods. The problem presented by the simple seascape, which is about nothing more than light and space, I find particularly intriguing.”

His oil on board ‘Evening Walkers, Camber’ is a beautiful impression of the experience of people gathered in the landscape, the cool water and sand upon their feet, conversations carried on a gentle breeze, the sense of freedom in the horizon where the sky meets the sea. The scene is recognisable and abstract, a fleeting moment in time.

Fred Cuming – ‘Morning Glory’, 20th century oil on canvas laid onto board, signed recto © the artist/Toovey’s 2018

The cool morning light in the studio is finely captured in ‘Morning Glory’ – the delicate brush work and palette transcends our immediate perceptions. Fred Cuming’s painting stills us, demands our attention, and allows our imaginations to inhabit this precious moment in time.

This questioning artist’s excitement in the world and the landscapes he paints remains undiminished. Cuming reflects “…the more I discover the more there is to discover.”

To discover more about this important Sussex artist visit www.fredcuming.com.

Caroline Seaton at Amberley Pottery

Caroline Seaton in the Amberley Pottery

This week I am in the company of Caroline Seaton at her Amberley Pottery.
I ask Caroline about her life as a potter at Amberley. She replies “I am incredibly grateful for the fact that I love making pots. I lost my husband and then when my mother died I became an elderly orphan. This [place] has been my reason for getting up each day. I still after all these years like the materials. I get tremendous pleasure and excitement unpacking the kiln. It’s out of your control you’ve done what you can but sometimes you get a tremendous surprise, or sometimes not.

I’m so grateful for the fact that I come round here. I don’t ever get bored so I’m very thankful for that.” Caroline has been at the Amberley Pottery for some 40 years, and potted from home before that.

I comment on how I have always admired Caroline’s resilience and grace because whatever life throws at her she’s always put her apron, dusted off her pots and pressed on. Caroline smiles and replies “Well what else would you do?” I agree.

She continues “Since my husband and my mother died the pottery has managed to just fill in all the empty spaces for me without it being a conscious decision so I am grateful and I say a prayer every day to say how thankful I am.”
I suggest that she is called to be a potter and that there would be no peace without making pots and she agrees.

I ask Caroline what inspires her and how she would describe herself. She answers, “I’m a practical potter. I love the materials, the physical side of it, I like working with the clay it opens my mind. So I don’t sit down and draw a design or make out a recipe for a glaze, it’ll come to me while I’m working. The glazes are inspired by the customers and reflect what they like. I don’t make beautiful pottery I make lumpy bumpy country pottery for people to use. It’s tough but if it gets broken I hope you enjoyed using it while you had it.” I interrupt Caroline to say that those handmade qualities are precisely the reasons that I think her pottery is beautiful.

Caroline explains how she has a deep sense of unexpected blessings in her life – unasked for opportunities which have been offered to her and which she has said yes to. “Yes, I have this feeling that you can’t actually organise your life. I think things happen and you either decide to go along with it or you don’t, you make a choice. I’m happy in my own company, a solitary person yet perfectly sociable. I don’t need a radio.”

As we talk visitors and locals process in to chat, choose and buy Caroline’s pottery.

The famous Amberley blue glaze and blue and white expressed in decorative and useful pottery.

Caroline Seaton’s life at the Amberley Pottery provides a constant, a point of stability at the heart of our community. The beauty of her handmade decorative and domestic pottery connects us to this outward facing, generous, practical potter whose work enriches our daily lives by its use.

The Amberley Pottery is open on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11.00am to 3.00pm. To find out more visit www.amberleypottery.co.uk

Ben Nicholson: From the Studio

John Webb, Ben Nicholson’s Studio, London, 1982 © The Late John Webb FRPS

This week I am in the company of Pallant House Gallery Director Simon Martin exploring the gallery’s latest exhibition Ben Nicholson: From the Studio.

I ask Simon about the central themes of the exhibition, he replies “During a career spanning six decades Ben Nicholson used the humble still life as a vehicle for experimentation. It’s interesting how antique objects inspired one of our most famous modernists. There is a real sense of his pleasure in objects in his work.”

The exhibition looks at the inspiration of objects whilst telling the story of the relationships in Ben Nicholson’s life. In particular his artistic and romantic relationships with his wife Winifred Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth.

In a letter to a friend, Nicholson acknowledged ‘I owe a lot to my father…not only from what he made as a painter, but from the very beautiful striped and spotted jugs and mugs and goblets, and octagonal and hexagonal glass objects he collected. Having those things in the house was an unforgettable early experience for me.’

This creative exhibition explores the importance of still life and the studio within Nicholson’s art from his early, highly finished realist paintings to the abstract reliefs that secured his international reputation. Distinctive striped jugs, mochaware mugs and glassware are displayed alongside the paintings, carved reliefs and works on paper which they inspired. The photograph of Nicholson’s studio shows it filled with objects.

Nicholson would move from painting in a realist way to a faux-naïve manner, and then to abstraction with the development of an interplay between space and depth in his famous carved relief panels which explore the same interests but with a new vocabulary.

Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth were influenced by their time in Paris where they spent time with Constantin Brȃncusi, Hans Arp, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, all of whom had explored cubism and abstraction through objects.

Ben Nicholson, June 16- 47 (still life), Oil and pencil on board, Private Collection, © Angela Verren Taunt. All rights reserved, DACS 2021

The abstract June 16 – 47 (Still Life) expresses the joy and stability in being accompanied in life by beautiful objects be they humble ceramics, glass, or paintings and sculptures by one of the most important artists of the 20th century.

The wholeness of the art and objects exhibited together reminds me of the aesthetic of Jim Ede’s home Kettles Yard in Cambridge. Jim Ede would acknowledged the influence of Ben and Winifred Nicholson on him.

Simon Martin concludes “These objects were a vital presence in the numerous studios Nicholson inhabited during his life and were of central importance in his still life paintings.”

The beautiful works on show, the very personal narrative provided by the objects and the focus on Nicholson’s relationships gives this refreshing exhibition a rich textural quality – modern but not minimalist.

Ben Nicholson: From the Studio runs at the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester until the 24th October 2021.