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.

Virginia Woolf’s writings are an inspiration

Dame Laura Knight, The Dark Pool (1908–1918), Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle © Reproduced with permission of The Estate of Dame Laura Knight DBE, RA, 2018. All Rights Reserved

This summer’s must see exhibition in Sussex has just opened at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. It is titled ‘Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings’.

Inspired by the writing of Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), it explores women’s suffrage and the metaphors of landscape, the room and still lives; bringing together more than eighty works by leading Modern British and Contemporary women artists. The exhibition is born out of a partnership between Tate St Ives, Pallant House Gallery and The Fitzwilliam.

This visually stunning, light-filled show is beautifully curated and hung. The domestic scale of many of the paintings and objects are brought to life at Pallant House as the narrative of the exhibition cleverly unfolds in a series of rooms.
Although this is not a biographical exhibition it illustrates how Virginia Woolf constantly drew on her relationships and experiences in her writing to articulate a sense of self and place.

In her early childhood she spent every summer at Talland House in St Ives. She would recall how formative these early recollections were in A Sketch of the Past: ‘…lying half-asleep, half awake, in bed in the nursery of St Ives…hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, and sending a splash of water over the beach; and then breaking, one, two, one, two, behind a yellow blind.’ Laura Knight’s oil painting, The Dark Pool similarly captures a fascination with the sea as a young woman stands on the rocks beside a shore looking reflectively into the pool’s depths, free in her thoughts. For Woolf the Landscape would often become a metaphor for a new freedom and power for women. In contrast through the metaphor of the room she would express the ambiguity in a place of potential autonomy and liberation which also symbolised societal restraint over women at the time.

Vanessa Bell, View of the Pond at Charleston, East Sussex, c.1919, oil on canvas, Museums Sheffield © Estate of Vanessa Bell / Henrietta Garnett

Vanessa Bell’s outward facing, liberated oil of the Pond at Charleston in Sussex is filled with light, movement and hope. It combines the landscape, room and still life.

Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell were sisters and throughout their lives they inspired and influenced each other’s work. They gathered around them a circle of influential Modern British women artists, many of whom are represented in the show.

Sussex, like Cornwall, played a significant part in Woolf’s life and work. Indeed Vanessa Bell only moved to Charleston in 1916 on her sister’s recommendation. The house would become a meeting place for the Bloomsbury Group.

In 1919 Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard bought Monk’s House in the village of Rodmell in East Sussex where she would live until her suicide in 1941. This 17th century cottage allowed her to write in the tranquillity of the Sussex Downs near to her elder sister Vanessa Bell who was extremely important to Woolf’s sense of her own self and wellbeing. Woolf loved to discuss art with her sister. This desire to learn was both personal and intellectual. It brought her closer to her sister and artistic friends who included Dora Carrington, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry and the author Vita Sackville-West.

I am delighted that Toovey’s, together with De’Longhi and Irwin Mitchell, are amongst the headline sponsors and supporters of this exceptional exhibition. ‘Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings’ runs at the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester throughout the summer until 16th September 2018.

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.

David Bomberg at Pallant House

David Bomberg, Ju - Jitsu, circa 1913, Tate © Tate, London 2017
David Bomberg, Ju – Jitsu, circa 1913, Tate © Tate, London 2017

Pallant House Gallery’s latest exhibition, Introducing Bomberg: A Master of British Art, provides the first large scale reassessment of this neglected British artist’s work in more than a decade. It considers the overarching influence of David Bomberg’s Jewish identity on his painting as he journeyed from radical abstraction to expressive, painterly realism.

The exhibition is the inspiration of Ben Uri Gallery curators, Sarah MacDougall and Rachel Dickson. It brings together work from the collections of Pallant House Gallery, The Ben Uri Gallery, Tate and others.

The show has a strong chronological narrative which places Bomberg’s paintings firmly in the context of his life and the times in which he lived.

David Bomberg was born in Birmingham in 1890. His parents were Polish-Jewish immigrants. He spent his formative years in London’s East End. There he worked alongside his fellow Jewish ‘Whitechapel artists’, Mark Gertler, Jacob Kramer, Clare Winsten and the poet-painter Isaac Rosenberg.

Bomberg studied at evening classes under the Camden Town Group leader, Walter Sickert, before attending the Slade. He was considered an innovative artist.

Bomberg was connected with the European artistic avant-garde. In 1914, together with the sculptor Jacob Epstein, he curated a Jewish section at the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s exhibition ‘Twentieth Century Art: A Review of the Modern Movement’. The abstract, Ju-Jitsu, illustrates the influence of European artists work and brilliantly captures Bomberg’s own fractured experience of life as the son of Polish immigrants.

David Bomberg, Ghetto Theatre, 1920, Ben Uri Collection © Ben Uri Gallery and Museum
David Bomberg, Ghetto Theatre, 1920, Ben Uri Collection © Ben Uri Gallery and Museum

Although Bomberg always distanced himself from them the influence of the English Vorticist movement can be seen in Ghetto Theatre. The vorticist’s cubist fragmentation of reality, with its hard edged imagery derived from the machine and urban environment, is apparent in the lines of seated figures and the austere theatre architecture. The painting also reflects the mood of the artist after his experiences in the trenches of the First World War.

In 1923 Bomberg travelled to Jerusalem where he painted topographically. Working en plein air he painted a series of realist landscapes including Jerusalem city.

David Bomberg, Ronda Bridge, 1935, Pallant House Gallery © The Estate of David Bomberg
David Bomberg, Ronda Bridge, 1935, Pallant House Gallery © The Estate of David Bomberg

In 1929 he visited Spain and would return in 1934/1935. These visits inspired a new vigour in his work. His oil Ronda Bridge depicts the gorge and crossing. It is dramatically portrayed, alive with movement. The heat and light of the scene is conveyed in his bold, expressive brushwork and use of colour. This phase of his work was curtailed by the tragic onset of the Spanish Civil War.

In the 1930s and 1940s Bomberg painted a series of searching self-portraits. These and a number of studies of his friends display an extraordinary intensity. The show concludes with Bomberg’s moving Last Self-Portrait from 1956, the year before he died.

The exhibition provides a strong and insightful narrative to accompany Bomberg’s visually striking work. That it redresses our understanding of this important British – Jewish artist, whose work was often overlooked during his own lifetime, is to be commended. Introducing Bomberg: A Master of British Art runs until 4th February 2018. For more information visit www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557.

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.

John Minton Retrospective

Illustration from Time was Away: A Notebook in Corsica, by John Minton and Alan Ross, published by John Lehmann Ltd, 1947, pen and ink on paper © Royal College of Art
Illustration from Time was Away: A Notebook in Corsica, by John Minton and Alan Ross, published by John Lehmann Ltd, 1947, pen and ink on paper © Royal College of Art

A retrospective of the British Neo-Romantic artist, John Minton, has recently opened at the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester to mark the centenary of the artist’s birth.

The exhibition has been curated by Pallant House Gallery Director, Simon Martin, and art historian and author, Frances Spalding. It highlights how John Minton’s art is inseparably bound up with his life. The work holds in tension what Simon Martin describes as ‘an atmosphere of poetic melancholy [and]…an exuberant joie-de-vivre’. Minton was at once an extrovert at ease in the company of his contemporaries but also suffered from periods of introspective self-doubt. Minton’s sensitivity, self-doubt and introspection are poignantly captured in the portrait of him by his friend Lucien Freud. Freud’s portrait is one of the highlights of the show.

John Minton was part of a group of British Neo-Romantic artists. He is perhaps best remembered as the illustrator of Elizabeth David’s revolutionary cookery books on French and Mediterranean cuisine. Minton gave post-war austerity Britain a glimpse of the foreign and exotic through his illustrations and paintings. Take for example the beautifully conceived illustration for Alan Ross’ Corsican travel memoir, Time Was Away. It depicts a contemplative male figure seated on a quay. The artist draws the viewer’s eye beyond the introspective youth to the boats and town beyond. These vignettes are united within the composition by the bold use of light and colour.

John Minton, Jamaican Village, 1951, oil on canvas, private collection, photograph © 2016 Christie's Images Limited/ Bridgeman Images © Royal College of Art
John Minton, Jamaican Village, 1951, oil on canvas, private collection, photograph © 2016 Christie’s Images Limited/ Bridgeman Images © Royal College of Art

Jamaican Village has not been seen since it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1951. The heat of the Jamaican night is richly articulated in the artist’s use of colour. John Minton explained that in this painting he sought to give a sense of disquiet in response to something unknown and impending. This large decorative canvas is certainly atmospheric but lacks this sense of foreboding. There is however a stillness and poignancy to the silent figures caught up in their own thoughts as they stand framed by the moonlight and electric lights.

John Minton, Portrait of David Tindle as a Boy, 1952, oil on canvas, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985) © Royal College of Art
John Minton, Portrait of David Tindle as a Boy, 1952, oil on canvas, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985) © Royal College of Art

The beauty, strength and vulnerability in John Minton’s portraits reflects something of the artist’s character and life. In a period when homosexuality was not accepted by British society Minton’s sexuality, at times, left him conflicted. This tension is reflected in many of his paintings and especially his portraits. His study of the artist David Tindle illustrates this and is filled with poetic melancholy and emotional intensity. Minton would tragically commit suicide in 1957 at the age of just thirty-nine, the same year as the Wolfenden Report was published recommending the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

John Minton’s work displays an emotional intensity born out of the contradicting stresses between his often vivid social life and his introspection and self-doubt. I am delighted that Toovey’s and De’Longhi are amongst the headline sponsors of this timely exhibition. John Minton: A Centenary runs at the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester throughout the summer until 1st October 2017.

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.

Horsham’s Art Gallery Attracts National Attention

Christian Mitchell, Nicholas Toovey, Rosa Sepple., PRI, Robin Hazelwood., PPRI, and Jeremy Knight at the opening of the RI: Now 17 watercolour exhibition

The Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, Now 17 summer exhibition is currently on show at The Horsham Museum & Art Gallery. The Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours (RI) rarely holds exhibitions outside London and this show highlights the growing reputation of Horsham’s exceptional regional art gallery.

The exhibition was opened by the President of the Royal Institute, Rosa Sepple, and the Chairman of Horsham District Council, Christian Mitchell, in front of a large audience.

The RI can trace its origins back to 1807 when it was first formed as the New Society of Painters in Watercolours. Early exhibitors included the luminaries William Blake and Paul Sandby. The Society closed in 1812 but was resurrected by the artist Joseph Powell in 1831. The Society acquired its Royal status by order of Queen Victoria in 1883. For much of its existence its home was opposite the Royal Academy in Piccadilly but in 1971, together with a number of other leading societies of artists, it moved to the Mall Galleries as part of the Federation of British artists. Her Majesty the Queen is the RI’s patron.

Since Horsham’s art gallery was opened in 2010, to compliment the museum’s already outstanding program, visitor numbers have doubled making the Horsham Museum and Art Gallery one of the most visited arts and heritage destinations in the whole of Sussex.

Responding to this demand the museum changed its collecting policy. It now collect’s not only Sussex related art, but also watercolours by leading exponents of the medium. A watercolour collection of national significance is being built with financial support from The Friends of Horsham Museum, collectors, businesses, trusts and institutions. I am delighted that Toovey’s have already donated a number of watercolours by key British artists and are sponsoring the exceptional RI: Now 17 show. This exceptional selling exhibition includes watercolours by some twenty leading RI artists including works by the current President.

Charles Bone’s watercolour, Sussex Downs

The beauty of the Sussex Downs never fails to excite me. The watercolour, ‘Sussex Downs’, by RI past President Charles Bone, captures the shifting grey-green hues of the late spring and early summer. His broad but delicate brushwork gives us a sense of the fast changing play of light and weather on this ancient landscape. Charles Bone is understandably celebrated for his ability to record landscapes and architecture.

Lillias August’s Hanging by a Thread watercolour being painted in her studio

Lillias August’s watercolour ‘Hanging by a Thread’, in contrast, conveys a stillness which appears out of time. The three-dimensional quality of the light bulbs depicted is emphasised by the economy of her palette and the building up of painstaking layers of wash. ‘Hanging by a Thread’ seen here in her studio allows us to glimpse something of the artist’s working method.

These are just two of the delights in the RI: Now 17 exhibition which gives the backdrop for a number of summer events celebrating watercolour paintings and artists at the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery.

Highlights include a talk by Art Historian, Nicola Moorby, on Turner’s watercolour technique on the 8th June 2017, and Nick Toovey of Toovey’s Auctioneers will once again be holding a fundraising valuation event for paintings, prints, books, postcards and other paper collectables on Saturday 10th June 2017, 10am to 1pm at the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery.

This current show, RI: Now 17, is proof of Horsham Museum & Art Gallery’s growing national reputation. Curator, Jeremy Knight, is once again deserving of our thanks.

The RI: Now 17 exhibition runs until 15th July 2017 at Horsham Museum & Art Gallery, The Causeway, Horsham, RH12 1HE and entrance is free. For more information visit www.horshammuseum.org or telephone 01403 254959.

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.