Horsham Museum & Art Gallery Raises Cultural Bar

Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell (1883-1937), Marble Quarry, Iona, early 20th century oil

Horsham Museum & Art Gallery’s latest exhibition ‘A Collector’s Passion – Scottish Oils and Watercolours’ is the most significant in the 2019 Horsham District Council’s Year of Culture.

The exhibition explores a local collector’s passion for Scottish pictures. There is a tremendous quality of patronage in them being loaned for the public to see.
Horsham Museum & Art Gallery Curator Jeremy Knight says “This very private collector was awarded the art prize by his artist teacher Archie Watt whilst growing up in south-west Scotland and this inspired his passion for art and collecting. It’s the fantastic colours in Scottish art which delights him.” Three of Archie Watt’s paintings are on show.

The qualities of patronage are also apparent in the collection with leading contemporary Scottish artists.

Alongside an exquisite Venetian inspired oil by Anne Redpath my eye is drawn to an important group of paintings by the four Scottish Colourists FCB Cadell, GL Hunter, SJ Peploe and JD Fergusson. They painted landscapes, still lifes and interiors, influenced by their direct contact with French Post-Impressionism and their early knowledge of the work of Matisse and the Fauvres. Their paintings were amongst the most progressive in early 20th century British art and they developed an international following.

FCB Cadell first visited the Hebridean island of Iona in 1912 and would return most summers, usually to paint outside. The cool tonalities of the work Cadell produced on Iona in the 1920s contrasts with the sharp dissonance of colour employed in his studio paintings of the same date. The Iona landscape you see here is filled with light and movement, the nature of the coastline accentuated in the stylized blocks of colour which define the composition. The effect is moving and beautiful.

GL Hunter used a brush loaded with paint, combining broad strokes with a skilful manipulation of strong warm and cool colours in the Still Life with Flowers and Fruit.

Some twenty Scottish paintings, including contemporary works, are included in the exhibition.

George Leslie Hunter (1877-1931), Still life with Flowers and Fruit, early 20th century oil

‘A Collector’s Passion – Scottish Oils and Watercolours’ once again raises the cultural bar of the visual arts in the Horsham District. I hope that the growing reputation of the Horsham District Council’s Horsham Museum & Art Gallery will continue to attract loans and work of this quality to its exhibitions and permanent collection. A cultural offering at this level lends so much to the reputation, prosperity and quality of life of the Horsham District. Horsham District Council has an important ongoing role in this and I hope our councillors will continue to build on their success. They, Jeremy Knight and this passionate collector are deserving of our thanks.

It is exciting to see such a body of work exhibited in Horsham. The exhibition runs until 26th October 2019 and entrance is free of charge. For more information go to www.horshammuseum.org.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

German Émigré Artist Walter Nessler at Pallant House

Walter Nessler – Pigeons on Windowsill, Paris, oil, c.1952 © The Artist’s Estate

This week I am visiting the retrospective exhibition of the German émigré artist Walter Nessler (1912-2001) at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, with the artist’s son Conrad.

Walter Nessler’s work reflects the plight of the émigré artist and the challenges of the war years. Nessler fled the Nazis and although he was not Jewish he felt an affinity with the Jews. He moved to London in 1937 where he lived until his death in 2001. However, there was always a sorrow in being separated from ‘his’ Germany and ‘his’ Dresden.

Walter Nessler – Haverstock Hill, London, oil, c.1938-9 © The Artist’s Estate

The bleak palette of the war years can be seen in Haverstock Hill painted in 1938/9. Its subdued blues and greys and the camouflage effect patterns in the painting lend the scene a surreal quality. After the war this muted palette would be replaced with the vibrant colours which were such a part of Nessler’s German Expressionist training.

Nessler worked intermittently for the Marlborough and Leger Galleries in London during the 1940s and 1950s during which time he visited Paris. His painting was inspired by the city’s artists and streets. He met Picasso, Giacometti and Cocteau. In the post-war period there was a return to a sense of optimism in his work expressed in bold outlines and colour.

Conrad explains how his mother and father were divorced in 1947 when he was six years old and the joy of rebuilding his relationship with his father and rediscovering his art later in life. He says “I believed in him and loved his work. His work stands up very well against his peers. This exhibition at Pallant House Gallery affirms my father’s reputation and that my confidence in him and his work was right.”

My eye is taken by a vibrant oil on canvas titled Pigeons on Windowsill, Paris painted in 1952.

Speaking about the painting Conrad remarks “I am confident that the bridge is the Pont Neuf and for me this is an optimistic landscape. My father had a wonderful sense of humour as you can see in his depiction of the pigeons. I often question whether the fish are in the Seine or a bowl?”

I agree, the view is hopeful and playful in its depictions of the birds and fishes in a strident palette – the outline of a cup of coffee on the windowsill. But this optimism is held in tension. The composition of the picture is divided. The dramatic depiction in monochrome of Parisian street architecture and jagged branches describe a sorrow and the shadow of war.

This retrospective of Walter Nessler’s work portrays him as an emotionally intelligent artist who remained optimistic but owned with integrity that he and his art were informed both by the joys and the sorrows of his life. It reflects a very personal journey of reconciliation and hope expressed through art.

‘Walter Nessler – Post-war Optimist’ runs at Pallant House Gallery until 6th October 2019. For more information visit www.pallant.org.uk.

And you must make time to see the exceptional and beautiful ‘Ivon Hitchens: Space through Colour’ exhibition whilst you are there.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Ivon Hitchens at Pallant House

Ivon Hitchens – ‘Arno II’, c.1965, oil on canvas © The Estate of Ivon Hitchens
Ivon Hitchens – ‘Arno II’, c.1965, oil on canvas © The Estate of Ivon Hitchens

Pallant House Gallery’s long awaited retrospective exhibition of the important Sussex based Modern British artist Ivon Hitchens is exceptional and beautiful.
This chronological exhibition highlights the themes that preoccupied Ivon Hitchens and the development of his unique voice in Modern British Art – a poetic artist in the landscape.

The show explores how Ivon Hitchens emerges from surrealism into lyrical abstraction with an increasing connection with that most English of obsessions, the landscape. His distinctive style is immediately recognisable.
Pallant House Gallery Director, Simon Martin says “The very first artworks that Pallant House Gallery acquired were two paintings of Sussex donated by Ivon Hitchens before his death in 1979.”

The exhibition describes how Hitchens joined the Seven and Five Society in 1919. This group included many of Britain’s leading artists and was distinguished by their freedom of association and lack of artistic dogma.

In the mid-1920s Hitchens painted with Ben and Winifred Nicholson staying at their Cumbrian farmhouse, Bankshead. These paintings focus on Still Lifes in domestic settings, themes which would remain central to his work.
Ivon Hitchens painted ‘Spring in Eden’ in 1925 on his return to London from Bankshead. This reflective, luminous painting with its classical torso is airy – light in tone and colour – creating a dialogue between the world of classical art and mythology.

When his Hampstead studio was bombed in 1940 Ivon, his wife Mollie and their young son John evacuated to Sussex near Lavington Common where they had bought six acres of woods and a Gypsie Caravan. Hitchens became rooted in this landscape – his eye captured by the woodland that surrounded him.
He became more interested in painting the underlying harmony of the natural world through his landscapes. Music informed him stating “I often find in music a stimulus to creation, and it is the linear tonal and colour harmony and rhythm of nature which interests me – what I call the musical appearance of things”.
Hitchens famously said “My pictures are painted to be listened to.”

Ivon Hitchens – ‘Spring in Eden’, c.1925, oil on canvas © The Estate of Ivon Hitchens
Ivon Hitchens – ‘Spring in Eden’, c.1925, oil on canvas © The Estate of Ivon Hitchens

There is a rhythm in his long canvases which are often divided into three vertical panels which play against each other. In ‘Arno II’ sunlight filters through the foliage to reveal a boat lying on a woodland pool in the left hand section. The centre and right sections of the composition are more abstract, suggestive and experiential. This poetic, lyrical landscape conveys the experience of inhabiting, space and emotion in a remarkable way – it has a spiritual quality.
I am excited that Toovey’s together with Irwin Mitchell Solicitors are headline sponsors of this exceptional exhibition. Thanks must also go to the Arts Council England for their support.

‘Ivon Hitchens: Space through Colour’ runs until the 13th October 2019 at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. It is this summer’s must see exhibition! For more information go to www.pallant.org.uk.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Harold Gilman at Pallant House

Harold Gilman – Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord, c.1913, oil on canvas © Tate London, 2018

The Harold Gilman exhibition currently on show at Pallant House Gallery is visually stunning.

Harold Gilman (1876–1919) has been described as an English Post-Impressionist. His portrayal of life in the early 20th century combines the gritty formality of the Camden Group of artists with the vitality of post impressionism.

Harold Gilman was a founder member of both the Camden Group and the Fitzroy Street Group. He enrolled at the Hastings School of Art in 1896 and in 1897 moved to the Slade School of Fine Art in London where he received a traditional training.

Gilman was influenced by the artists Walter Sickert and later Spencer Gore and Lucien Pissarro, all of whom had connections with and worked in Sussex. Gilman’s paint became more textural, a little more broken and opaque in texture. By 1912 he was being grouped with the Post Impressionists.

In 1912 and 1913 Gilman visited Sweden and Norway where he experimented with vivid colours often employing a patchwork of flat, simplified areas of paint as can be seen in his depiction of the Canal Bridge at Flekkefjord painted in 1913. Gilman’s work was never slavish to the current vogue – he took only what was necessary to his own needs. Even during his periods of experimentation Gilman would often work in a traditional way from drawings squared-up for transfer with colour notes. It was this practice which allowed him to present a complex subject like the scene at Flekkefjord in a painterly and coherent way with beautifully articulated compositions.

Harold Gilman – Interior with Mrs Mounter, c.1916/17, oil on canvas © Ashmolean Museum

Amongst the most famous of Harold Gilman’s pictures are those he painted in his lodgings at 47 Maple Street, Camden Town, London between 1914 and 1917. There is often an underlying discipline to the depiction of these interior scenes which lends them an internal dissonance contradicting the richness of his tone and palette. He revels in the mix of patterns, colours and objects – symbols of his middle-class upbringing. They are at once joyful and forlorn.

His paintings of women, whether nude or clothed, of whatever age or class, reveal a rare tenderness which is apparent in Interior with Mrs Mounter. Mrs Mounter was his housekeeper. Her apron, headscarf, the cloth covering the washstand in the background and her pose create a scene which seems ill at ease with itself. Gilman expresses the physical and social separation between Britain’s classes in the early 20th century as society changed. This was especially poignant for women and the issues of suffrage.

In 1919 at the age of just 43 Gilman fell victim to the flu epidemic and died. This exceptional exhibition gives a wonderful insight into the heights that this extraordinary and very British artist reached in the last years of his life. You must treat yourselves and go.

Harold Gilman – Beyond Camden runs until the 9th June 2019. The exhibition can be seen at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. For more information go to www.pallant.org.uk.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Conflicting Views of War

Visiting Professor and Curator Gill Clarke with William Crozier’s ‘Bourlon Wood’
Visiting Professor and Curator Gill Clarke with William Crozier’s ‘Bourlon Wood’

Marking the centenary of the ending of the First World War ‘Conflicting Views: Pacifist Artists’ at the Chichester University’s Bishop Otter Gallery explores the stories of artists who were conscientious objectors or pacifists through their art.

The exhibition has been curated by Dr Gill Clarke. Gill Clarke has a rare gift for narrative. A deep understanding of her subject is always distilled in a remarkably coherent and accessible way. These qualities are apparent in this latest show.

As we view the exhibition together Gill explains “The exhibition marks the centenary of the ending of the First World War. It explores the ways artists who were conscientious objectors and pacifists responded to war and conflict.”

Conscription was introduced for the first time in 1916 and again at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

Each painting seeks to illustrate how individual artists experienced and interpreted war, and the ethical, religious and political grounds which informed their views and decisions to refuse to undertake compulsory military service.

Some of the artists included in the show were absolutist Conscientious Objectors and were imprisoned. Others accepted an alternative form of service.

Ernest Proctor’s watercolour ‘SSA at HQ Loading Up, 1917’
Ernest Proctor’s watercolour ‘SSA at HQ Loading Up, 1917’

Gill Clarke says “As a Quaker and therefore a pacifist Ernest Procter accepted an alternative form of service with the Quaker Friends Ambulance Unit.” A number of works have been leant to the show by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain. Amongst these is Ernest Proctors beautifully painted watercolour ‘SSA (Section Sanitaire Anglaise) at HQ Loading Up, 1917’. The Friends Ambulance Service would operate under the Red Cross. Here we see the unit loading up their motorised ambulance convoy in the light of the snow covered landscape.

Amongst the most powerful images in the exhibition are a series of works by the Scottish-Irish artist William Crozier. His imagination was haunted by the images of the Holocaust which he saw as a teenager on the Pathé newsreels as the concentration camps were liberated by Allied forces during the Second World War.

The enormity of this horror informed Crozier’s pacifist stance when in 1953 he declined to serve in Korea through National Service.

Gill says “Drawing on photographs from World War I, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz ‘Bourlon Wood’ portrays the blood-stained, ravaged landscape in Northern France. In the darkness at the foot of ridge lies a skeletal soldier wearing a tin hat. It is so much more than a comment on the horrors of war, it captures the metaphysical idea of death – the skull beneath the skin…”

The work in this timely and challenging exhibition demonstrated the role of artists as moral witnesses providing a series of intimate and highly personal accounts of their experience of war.

‘Conflicting Views: Pacifist Artists’ runs at Chichester University until 7th October 2018 and entry is free.

For more information about the exhibition, associated events and opening times go to www.chi.ac.uk/about-us/art-venues/otter-gallery/current-exhibitions.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.