Marking Valentine’s Day

A 19th century sailor’s shell valentine of typical octagonal form, the glazed case enclosing a geometric pattern of various shells within coloured card borders, width 37cm © Toovey’s 2021

Music is so evocative often reminding us of points of love in our lives and I am looking forward to Andrew Bernardi’s online Valentine’s Day concert this Sunday.

Over the centuries people have found ways to mark love on Valentine’s Day. Amongst my favourite expressions of love are Sailor’s Valentines.
Sailor’s Valentines were made in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Shells from the Caribbean were glued to cotton batting in intricate patterns. Contained within glazed octagonal frames they would be gifted to loved ones by the sailors when they returned home from their voyages.

At the centre of these designs you find love hearts, anchors and nautical emblems and, as you see here, flowers. It is often said that these love tokens were made by the sailors but they were actually made in the Caribbean where a cottage industry grew up, particularly in Barbados.

Amongst the best known retailers was Belgrave’s Curiosity Shop in Bridgetown which was run by the English brothers Benjamin Hinds and George Belgrave.
The brothers organised local women to create the designs using seashells. The design of the Sailor’s Valentine you see here is centred around a central flower head made from bi-valve sunrise tellin shells. The compartmentalised design includes olive shells, cowries, limpets, moon shells and small purple sea snails.
Barbados was often the last stop before the voyage home. Sailors could be away from home for years so although they purchased their valentines rather than making them the sentiment behind these exotic examples of shell art were expressions of genuine affection.

The feast of St Valentine, celebrated on 14th February, was inaugurated by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD. The day became associated with romantic love in the 14th and 15th centuries.

These shell tokens of love are still made today but early examples like the one you see here are highly prized by collectors. This one was sold at Toovey’s for £2600.

If you haven’t got a Sailor’s Valentines up your sleeve for this coming weekend perhaps you might celebrate love by joining Andrew Bernardi who will be holding a Valentine’s Day concert in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society this coming Sunday 14th February 2021. The concert will be streamed live from Leonardslee House. Andrew will be supported by pianist, Maria Marchant, cellist, Jonathan Few and Classic FM’s John Suchet. Our musicians, museums, theatres and art galleries have all faced enormous challenges because of Covid-19 and deserve our support.

At Toovey’s we strongly believe in the value of building communities through the arts and heritage here in Sussex. They are vital to the life of our county and we are proud to be continuing our sponsorship of the Shipley Arts Festival, especially in these times.

This innovative online concert will bless you with stunning musicianship and a wonderful romantic program – a ‘virtual’ evening out! Tickets cost just £10 and can be purchased by visiting www.bernardimusicgroup.com.

Icebergs and Oil Rigs

Cattle grazing on the coastal path between Blakeney and Cley, Norfolk

The north Norfolk coast has a special place in my heart. When I was a boy we would take a cottage with my Gran and Grandpa at Blakeney or Cley.
Dressed crab from Cromer was always a particular treat and picnics on the Sheringham line as the steam engine puffed along the coast to Holt with its lovely galleries and shops.

The shingle ridge at Cley was a favourite spot. My Grandpa would take my brother and I swimming there. He was of that particular generation where his face and hands were sun-kissed and brown but otherwise he was as white as porcelain standing there in his knitted trunks. “Come on boys” he would cry as my brother and I followed him into the freezing North Sea, “nothing between us and the North Pole except icebergs and oil rigs!” It really was that cold. I have said the same things to my girls many times swimming off the north Norfolk coast. It’s called wild swimming now but since childhood I’ve always enjoyed the excitement of swimming in the sea from April to October at Goring and elsewhere.

At Blakeney we would fish for baby crabs on the quayside. Delighted if we made a catch the crabs were always returned to the estuary and its fast flowing tide.
My wife, Teresa, and I were blessed to spend a long weekend at the wonderful Blakeney Arms Hotel late in the season last year. With its gathering English country house interiors and antique furniture the hotel provides a welcome retreat from the busyness of life. Wonderful food and the generous staff made for a special weekend.

The view from the Blakeney Arms Hotel, Norfolk

We arrived late in the evening and drank thermos tea on the quay as the sky darkened. When we awoke the following morning the rain had cleared. We drew our curtains and were greeted with a rich late autumn light illuminating the marshes and incoming tide. The sky always seems bigger on the north Norfolk coast and extends the horizon, a welcome experience in these times.
After breakfast we set out on the coastal path heading out to sea and then east towards Cley with its famous windmill and pottery. The path is raised above the marshes and to the side of us cattle grazed in a timeless scene reminiscent of a painting by Sir John Arnesby Brown RA.

News that we will probably all be holidaying in the UK and at home in Sussex this year is an exciting prospect.

Here in Sussex we are blessed with some of the most beautiful countryside and varied coastline in the country. Our museums, country houses, gardens, theatres and art galleries add to the cultural richness of our landscape and they will need our support.

Post lockdown I look forward to exploring our own county with you once again, celebrating the richness and beauty of Sussex, her history and her heritage.
Until then stay local and stay safe.

The Artistic Voice of Women in the 20th century

Laura Knight – ‘Sleeping Dancer’, monochrome drypoint etching, signed in pencil recto © Toovey’s 2021

One of the exciting aspects of modern British Art from the early 20th century was the emergence of a generation of gifted female artists. Although they faced challenges their artistic voices were increasingly celebrated.

Today there is a growing interest and demand for works by prominent women artist at auction, the prints you see here sold at Toovey’s for £1100 and £4500.
Laura Knight (1877-1970) was part of the English Impressionist movement. She worked in the figurative, realist tradition and became one of the most popular modern British artists of her generation raising the status and recognition of women artists in a male dominated arena.

Laura Knight’s subjects included studies of Gypsies, Circus performers and figures from the world of theatre and ballet in London. She worked in oil and watercolour as well as producing etchings, drypoints and engravings. She was inspired not only by the glamour of the theatre but also the domestic aspects of stage life which she depicted with intimacy and sensitivity.

The drypoint etching ‘Sleeping Dancer’ captures a young woman too tired after her performance to change asleep in a wicker chair. She is framed by her full-skirted tutu which spreads out behind her framing this unguarded scene.

Sybil Andrews – The Giant Cable, linocut, signed and editioned in pencil © Toovey’s 2021

Sybil Andrews (1898-1992) is another highly sought after modern British female artist. She began making linocuts after attending Claude Flight’s classes at The Grosvenor School of Modern Art in 1925. She had moved to London with the artist and architect Cyril Powers in 1922.

The school promoted elements of Cubism, Futurism and English Vorticism to capture the dynamism and movement of the machine age. The Vorticists lacked the romanticism of the Post Impressionists and European Cubists. Although harsher in nature it never reached the aggressive extremes of the Italian Futurists led by Marinetti. Founded in 1914 the Vorticist movement was short lived. Its main proponent Wyndham Lewis and others were profoundly affected by their experience of the Great War. Demoralised, there was a sense that the aggressive qualities of their art had, in some way, been prophetic.

Sybil Andrews’ linocut The Giant Cable illustrates the Vorticist cubist fragmentation of reality with its hard edged imagery derived from the machine and urban environment. It is typical of the way Sybil Andrews captures scenes filled with movement, both human and mechanical. It illustrates her bold use of geometric forms and vibrant flat colours in dramatic arrangements. The figures seem to rotate, caught up in the centrifugal force of the cable drum which the artist uses to create the illusion of movement.

Art so often reflects its own times giving voice to social and economic change in society. These two beautifully conceived, powerful images highlight the importance of women artists in the 20th century and their appeal to collectors today.

I am looking forward to Toovey’s next specialist sale of prints which, Covid willing, will be held on Wednesday 17th March 2021.

Art is harmony in parallel with nature

Édouard Vuillard’s ‘Modèle assise dans un fauteuil, se coiffant’, oil © Pallant House Gallery 2020

This week I thought I would take you to Pallant House Gallery for a flavour of their latest show Degas to Picasso. The exhibition provides a platform to showcase a number of the international, continental European modern prints and paintings in the gallery’s collection from the 19th and 20th centuries. It includes works by Degas, Manet, Picasso, Bonnard, Klee and Léger.

Amongst my favourite images on display is the 1898 lithograph by the Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne titled ‘Les Grands Baigneurs’. Cézanne is regarded by many as the father of modern art. His work foreshadows Cubism and Fauvism. In this image the abstracted figures are united with the artist’s emotional engagement with the rhythms in nature and the landscape. Writing to a friend in the 1890s Cézanne would declare “Art is a harmony parallel with nature.”

Paul Cezanné, ‘Les Grands Baigneurs’, lithograph © Pallant House Gallery 2020

The print seems to evoke Cézanne’s fond memories of swimming as a schoolboy with his closest friends, Émille Zola and Jean-Baptiste Baille in the Arc River near his home in Aix-en-Provence. It is an expression of idealised comradeship, of true friendship rather than passing acquaintance. It is my experience that the best and most creative things in life always come out of long-term relationships built on trust. These ideals were highly valued by the novelist Émille Zola.

The other is another intimate scene ‘Modèle assise dans un fauteuil, se coiffant’ from 1903 by the Post-Impressionist Édouard Vuillard. It was painted in Vuillard’s studio in Rue Truffant in Paris where his mother ran the family sewing business. It is redolent of many of the artist’s interiors. Vuillard believed that a painting is a grouping of harmonious lines and colours. The beautiful pattern of the brushwork in this oil on paper gives life, texture and space to the scene. There is an economy in the palette Vuillard employs which draws our eye through the composition. At the centre the model is lost in her thoughts as she combs and pins her hair.

This exhibition reminds us that many Modern British artists, including Walter Sickert and Harold Gilman, were influenced by the modern artistic movements of continental Europe.

As a nation we have always embraced the ‘modern’ across the centuries whilst, of course, keeping one eye on the past. After all the British are a processional people – we celebrate the past as we confidently embrace the future. Our eclectic taste, like our art, is distinctive to our island nation. The influence of the international has always informed British culture reflecting our nation’s global, outward facing character.

The importance of our museums, theatres and art galleries in articulating our hopes, common stories and identity is often overlooked and misunderstood: as is their significant and positive economic impact on our local economy. I hope that our politicians will continue to look at creative ways to support this sector through the current challenges.

These are difficult times for our county’s museums, theatres and art galleries. I hope that you will join me in supporting them once the current restrictions are eased.

It would be lovely to just talk about the weather again!

Stanley Roy Badmin – ‘Skating on a Winter Afternoon’, watercolour with touches of gouache © Toovey’s 2020

Last Wednesday I popped into McColl’s newsagents in Storrington as usual to collect my copy of the West Sussex Gazette. The ladies greeted me cheerfully “We’ve really been enjoying the snow, it’s so lovely to have something to talk about instead of Covid and Brexit.” I agreed, it would be lovely to just talk about the weather again.

As I drove to the salerooms at Washington the fields and Downs looked beautiful beneath their light dusting of snow.

The scene brought to mind two joyful winter landscapes by the Sussex watercolourist and print maker, Stanley Roy Badmin (1906-1989) which sold at Toovey’s for £1700 and £2400 respectively. Badmin moved to Bignor, Sussex in 1959 with his family and second wife Roasaline.

Born at Sydenham, Badmin trained at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts between 1922 and 1924, and the Royal College of Art between 1924 and 1927 where he studied painting and design. He taught and worked as an etcher, illustrator and artist. In the 1930s he was elected to the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers, and the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours. During the Second World War Badmin worked on Kenneth Clark’s Recording Britain project. After the war he contributed illustrations to The Shell Guide to Trees and Shrubs, and four volumes of the Shell Guides to the Counties of England.

Together with artists like John Piper and Graham Sutherland, Stanley Roy Badmin was part of a collective English re-thinking of the role of locality and place in relation to our identity from the 1930s onwards.

In both the watercolours illustrated there is beauty in Badmin’s detailed, accurate depiction of the trees and the anecdotal charm of the people.

Stanley Roy Badmin – ‘River Ouse looking E. from Odell’, watercolour with gouache © Toovey’s 2020

Although the first watercolour is a snow covered Yorkshire scene it reminds me of that piece of open country which ascends to the Downs to the west of Washington. Here our familiar flock of sheep is replaced by a small but happy gathering of dogs with their owners and children on toboggans.

In the playful landscape Skating on a Winter Afternoon the lyrical sweep of the frozen river emphasises the speed and movement of the skaters which is echoed in the rhythm of the trees. In the lower left hand corner a Mallard duck seems to quack in appreciation at the happy commotion of the gathering.

In line with government advice, and to keep our community safe, Toovey’s is gathering people to our Winter Season of sales online. Until the current lockdown is lifted we can no longer welcome people at the salerooms except for ‘click and collect’. But people are delighted to be able to email images for online valuations or book a home visit. I am still visiting people in their homes, in line with government guidance, to provide valuations.

Online is an incredible blessing in these times. I hope that you are able to stay safe. For now I look forward to gathering you online to Toovey’s Winter Season of sales which can be viewed at www.tooveys.com.