Hans Feibusch: The Unseen Drawings

Hans Feibusch - Study for a Mural (Diana and Actaeon), Pallant House Gallery, (Feibusch Studio, Gift of the Artist, 1997) © By Permission of The Werthwhile Foundation
Hans Feibusch – Study for a Mural (Diana and Actaeon), Pallant House Gallery, (Feibusch Studio, Gift of the Artist, 1997) © By Permission of The Werthwhile Foundation

An exhibition of drawings and mural studies by the German émigré artist Hans Feibusch (1898-1998) is currently on show at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester.

Feibusch represents a classical, figurative tradition in 20th century art which has sometimes been overlooked in favour of abstraction and other modern artistic expressions. He also has an important place in the tumultuous history of the 20th century and the revival in church patronage of art in the Modern British Period.

The Pallant House Gallery was gifted the entire contents of Feibusch’s North London Studio which included hundreds of drawings, sketchbooks and sculpture in 1997.

Hans Feibusch arrived in England in 1933 from Nazi Germany to escape persecution as a Jew. He had become an established painter in Germany, being awarded the German Grand State Prize for Painters in 1930 by the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin. His talent was soon recognized in England and he exhibited regularly, often with the London Group, to which he was elected in 1934. The London Group included many of Britain’s leading artists.

Hans Feibusch - Baptism of Christ, c. 1951, Chichester Cathedral, © 2012 Rupert Toovey
Hans Feibusch – Baptism of Christ, c. 1951, Chichester Cathedral, © 2012 Rupert Toovey

Kenneth Clark, later Lord Clark, was very influential as director of the National Gallery in London during the war. He introduced Feibusch to George Bell, the then Bishop of Chichester. This resulted in a number of commissions across the diocese. One of Feibusch’s most important works is ‘The ‘Baptism of Christ’ painted in 1951 which can be seen in the baptistery of Chichester Cathedral alongside John Skelton’s font sculpted out of Cornish polyphant stone and bronze in 1982/83. The maquette for the font now holds the paschal candle which represents humanity’s salvation through the passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It can be seen on the wall beside Feibusch’s painting. It is interesting to note that Skelton was a pupil of his Uncle, Eric Gill. Representations of the Baptism of Christ are surprisingly uncommon but there are notable similarities between Feibusch’s depiction and Piero della Francesca’s Renaissance version painted in the 1450s which is now in the National Gallery, London.

Whilst the murals deserve to be celebrated it is Feibusch’s sketches and drawings which, for me, reveal his true talent.

Hans Feibusch - Seated Woman, c. 1949, Pallant House Gallery (Feibusch Studio, Gift of the Artist, 1997) © By Permission of The Werthwhile Foundation
Hans Feibusch – Seated Woman, c. 1949, Pallant House Gallery (Feibusch Studio, Gift of the Artist, 1997) © By Permission of The Werthwhile Foundation

Feibusch’s study in charcoal and crayon of a seated woman owes much to the French Classicism of the 18th century.

The study for a mural in pastel depicts the Roman goddess of the hunt, Diana. As she bathes she is attended by nymphs who are shocked when the young hunter Actaeon comes upon them in the forest. The tension in the composition and figures’ faces hints at the tragedy which is to unfold. Actaeon will be transformed into a deer only to be hunted and killed by his own hounds.

Hans Feibusch’s figures are convincing, almost sculptural, with a quality of mass and light. His composition and draftsmanship gifts them with a grace and nobility. They represent the work of a gifted artist whose life is inexorably bound up with the extraordinary history and events of his time.

Entrance to Chichester Cathedral is free providing the perfect place to pause, reflect and pray amongst its remarkable collection of art.

‘Hans Feibusch: The Unseen Drawings’ runs until the 5th March 2017 and thanks to the generosity of sponsors, DeLonghi, admission to the exhibition is free. And if you go this weekend you will have a last chance to see ‘Idealism & Uncertainty: Classicism in Modern British Art’ which closes on 19th February 2017. Both exhibitions are at Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester, PO19 1TJ. 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.

Classicism in Modern British Art

Henry Moore, Reclining Figure, 1945 © Henry Moore Foundation
Henry Moore, Reclining Figure, 1945 © Henry Moore Foundation

‘Idealism & Uncertainty Classicism in Modern British Art’ at the Pallant House Gallery is this season’s must see exhibition. Simon Martin, the gallery’s Artistic Director and Curator of this show, has once again demonstrated his remarkable insight into this period of British artistic endeavour.

The exhibition is the first to explore how Modern British artists referenced the past as they developed a distinctive form of modern art. It is a particular characteristic of the British that as we embrace the future and celebrate the modern we always have one eye on the past. Our art, like our nation’s history, reflects procession as well as revolution. The work on display reflects the experience of war and the social concerns which defined Britain in the 20th century.

Meredith Frampton, Portrait of Marguerite Kelsey © Tate
Meredith Frampton, Portrait of Marguerite Kelsey © Tate

Against the backdrop of the political uncertainties of the 1930s, classicism in Britain became a style associated with progressive traditionalists. This influence is reflected in the work of artists like Meredith Frampton who sought clarity and precision in her portraits.

After the experience of the Great War artists like Wyndham Lewis and Frederick Etchells developed a more rounded form of figurative art in contrast to their earlier Vorticist and Cubist work.

Ben Nicholson, Heads, 1933, image courtesy of Tate © Angela Verren Taunt
Ben Nicholson, Heads, 1933, image courtesy of Tate © Angela Verren Taunt

Whilst figurative artists like Paul Nash experimented with Surrealism their art was still broadly figurative, executed with a purity of line.

This search for purity of line and simplicity, Simon Martin argues, is also expressed in the work of abstract artists associated with groups like Unit One. Ben Nicholson’s exquisite study of his lover, the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, depicted in silhouette communicates an extraordinary tenderness through its paired down qualities of line and tone. Here Hepworth’s head gazes into the eyes of a man, presumably Nicholson, who is depicted as a Roman Emperor or god. The couple had holidayed in St Rémy de Provence at Easter in 1933 and it is likely that the nearby Roman ruins of Glanum influenced the work.

Henry Moore’s figures also express a concern with, what Simon Martin describes as, ‘classicising form’ which can be seen in the recumbent figure from 1945.

The strength of the narrative of this show is exceptional. The works are confidently placed in the context of their time and the procession of classicism in art history, re-interpreted by Modern British artists. Simon Martin is to be congratulated.

I am excited that Toovey’s Fine Art Auctioneers are sponsoring this ‘must see show’. ‘Idealism & Uncertainty: Classicism in Modern British Art’ at Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester, PO19 1TJ, runs until 19th February 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.

Christopher Wood – a Sophisticated Primitive

Christopher Wood, ‘China Dogs in a St Ives Window, Pallant House Gallery
Christopher Wood, ‘China Dogs in a St Ives Window, Pallant House Gallery

A major exhibition on the artist Christopher Wood (1901-1930) has just opened at Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery. Curated by Katy Norris, it explores the complex life and importance of this ‘sophisticated primitive’.

Katy Norris has delivered an exemplary exhibition which highlights the influence of continental artists on Wood and his pivotal position in the Modern British Art Movement as he navigated a path between the representational art of the Victorian and Edwardian periods and the new abstraction of the 1930s.

The exhibition charts the chapters of this talented artist’s all too short life.

Christopher Wood, ‘Self-Portrait, 1927’, Kettles Yard, University of Cambridge
Christopher Wood, ‘Self-Portrait, 1927’, Kettles Yard, University of Cambridge

The twenty year old Christopher Wood arrived in Paris in 1921 where he met Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and others. He was also influenced by the Post-Impressionists including Vincent Van Gogh and Henri Rousseau. He wrote to his mother in 1922 explaining how these artists endeavoured to interpret their subjects as though ‘through the eyes of the smallest child who sees nothing except that which would strike them as being the most important.’ Seeking this essential view of the word lends an intensity to his work.

Christopher Wood’s first trip to Cornwall in 1926 affirmed the artist in him. It was during this visit that he painted one of his most iconic and finest pictures titled ‘China Dogs in a St Ives Window’. This playful painting brings together the naïve style which Wood had developed in Paris and a playful lyricism which imparts his sense of new-found freedom.

The quintessentially English scene is inspired by Victorian Staffordshire ceramic dogs. The Spaniels are framed by the chair and window. The composition leads our eye to the steamer and lighthouse in this primitive, artistic interpretation of St Ives harbour.

Christopher Wood depicts himself in a harlequin-patterned jumper in his 1927 Self – Portrait. There is an introspective intensity of emotion apparent in his face as we observe him. It is as though we are looking out of the canvas upon which he stands to paint. The influence of the untrained, candid representations of Post-Impressionist, Henri Rousseau can be seen here.

In the summer of 1928 Christopher Wood returned to St Ives with the artist Ben Nicholson. Whilst there he discovered the work of the self-taught painter and former fisherman, Alfred Wallis. Wood took on Wallis’ iconography depicting the Atlantic fishing industry and coast. Wood’s brushwork appears intuitive and spontaneous.

Christopher Wood, ‘Harbour in the Hills, University of Essex
Christopher Wood, ‘Harbour in the Hills, University of Essex

Wallis’ influence is particularly apparent in ‘Harbour in the Hills’. Painted in 1928, the sea is depicted as swirling bands of light greys and charcoals which contrast with the intensity of the green hills.

In his youth in Paris Christopher Wood had become addicted to opium. By now his life oscillated between his intense social life and solitary periods of painting.

Christopher Wood, ‘Dancing Sailors’, Leicester Arts and Museums Service
Christopher Wood, ‘Dancing Sailors’, Leicester Arts and Museums Service

In the summer of 1930 Christopher Wood painted his final series of some forty pictures at Treboul in Brittany over a period of six weeks. They depict an idealised view of these Breton seafarers, their customs and spirituality. This is captured in ‘Dancing Sailors’. Wood’s addiction lends a pulsating intensity to the painting.

Shortly after completing these works Christopher Wood tragically took his own life when he jumped in front of a train at Salisbury station.

Katy Norris’ superb monograph ‘Christopher Wood’ provides an insightful companion to this outstanding exhibition and is on sale at the Pallant House Gallery Bookshop.

At its heart the exhibition explores Christopher Wood’s pervading interest in Primitivism in the context of his life. It examines the international and domestic influences on his work, and how his faux-naïve style would contribute to the journey towards more progressive forms of modernism in art in 1930s Britain.

‘Christopher Wood: Sophisticated Primitive’ runs until 2nd October 2016 and brings together often rarely seen works – what a summer holiday treat!

For more information on current exhibitions, events and opening times go to 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.

Celebrating the Bishop Otter Art Collection

Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979), Autumn Stream, undated, oil on canvas, © Jonathan Clark Fine Art, representatives of the artist’s estate, Courtesy Bishop Otter Trust, University of Chichester
Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979), Autumn Stream, undated, oil on canvas, © Jonathan Clark Fine Art, representatives of the artist’s estate, Courtesy Bishop Otter Trust, University of Chichester

This week I am in the company of Gill Clarke, author, Guest Curator and Visiting Professor at the University of Chichester’s Otter Gallery. The exhibition, ‘The Bishop Otter Art Collection: A Celebration’, is located at both the University of Chichester and at Pallant House Gallery.

It celebrates the vision of Sheila McCririck (1916-2001), whose foresight created a remarkable collection of 20th century British Art. She was supported in this purpose by the Bishop Otter College Principal Betty Murray (1909-1998).

Visiting Professor and Guest Curator Gill Clarke in the Otter Gallery
Visiting Professor and Guest Curator Gill Clarke in the Otter Gallery

Gill Clark explains the philosophy behind the collection “Both women believed in the civilising influence of art and the educative value of its ability to challenge. To achieve this works had to be on open display, in accessible places. They were unconcerned about spiralling values and they were irritated by the constraints of insurance and security.”

The economic austerity of the post Second World War period provided the backdrop to artistic activity and educational thought. The integration of the arts and education became part of the rebuilding of Britain and was central to the purpose of the collection at Bishop Otter.

I have long been a supporter of Chichester University’s Bishop Otter Collection of Modern British Art and remark how I have always been impressed by its coherence, breadth and quality. Gill responds “Sheila McCririck’s choices were not arbitrary. Judgement always had to take precedence over taste – she never lost sight of the fact that she was buying for an institution. Her unerring eye, together with a professional and academic approach, is at the heart of this collection”

There can be no doubt that these women were making bold aesthetic choices which showed remarkable foresight. All the works represented in the exhibition are from the collection. They include artists like Henry Moore, Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, Walter Sickert and Ivon Hitchens, alongside leading post war abstract painters such as Peter Lanyon, William Scott, Paul Feiler, William Scott, Patrick Heron, William Gear, Terry Frost and Sandra Blow.

The first painting to enter the collection was Ivon Hitchens’ ‘Autumn Stream’. Ivon Hitchens always sought to capture the essence of an object or scene. This landscape has a musical quality in its sense of rhythm, tone and movement. Indeed he famously said ‘My paintings are painted to be listened to.’ Hitchens had moved to West Sussex in 1940 after the bombing of his Hampstead home. Writing to Betty Murray in January 1951 he said ‘if there is any outcry about the picture – then let me have it back. But… I hope it will meet with general approval and be a worthy send off for your scheme.’

Henry Moore (1898-1986), Figure on Square Steps, c.1957, bronze, Courtesy Bishop Otter Trust, University of Chichester
Henry Moore (1898-1986), Figure on Square Steps, c.1957, bronze, Courtesy Bishop Otter Trust, University of Chichester

Henry Moore was also an early supporter of the College Collection and its premise that teachers should be exposed to leading examples of modern art. Initially he lent a bronze, ‘Seated Figure’, which was purchased by the college. When it was stolen Henry Moore generously sold them ‘Figure on Square Steps’, seen here, at a very favourable price.

Paul Feiler (1918-2013), Boats and Sea, c.1952-3, oil on canvas ©The Artist’s Estate, Courtesy Bishop Otter Trust, University of Chichester
Paul Feiler (1918-2013), Boats and Sea, c.1952-3, oil on canvas ©The Artist’s Estate, Courtesy Bishop Otter Trust, University of Chichester

These and other stunning works can be seen at the University’s Otter Gallery.

The display at Pallant House Gallery allows the visitor to see paintings from the collection in the domestic setting of the old house. This gives some sense of how they must have appeared to students back in the 1960s. Amongst these is Paul Feiler’s jewel – like abstract titled ‘Boats and Sea’. Its heavy blocks of colours is characteristic of his work at this date.

‘What treasures we lived with’ and ‘Amazing to have wandered past this art whilst a student’ are just some of the comments from students of the time giving voice to the quality of this collection.

Gill Clarke concludes “It’s a wonderful collection and it has been a great privilege to work with it. What a legacy Sheila McCririck and Betty Murray have left for the University and broader community.’

‘The Bishop Otter Art Collection: A Celebration’ runs until 9th October 2016 at the University of Chichester Otter Gallery and Pallant House Gallery. Gill Clarke has published an insightful accompanying book about the collection and its formation which is on sale at both venues. For more information and opening times go to www.pallant.org.uk and www.chi.ac.uk/current-exhibitions/bishop-otter-collection-celebration.

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.

Lost Works by Evelyn Dunbar

Evelyn Dunbar, Men Stooking and Girls Learning to Stook, 1940, oil on canvas, private collection © The Artist's Estate / Christopher Campbell-Howes
Evelyn Dunbar, Men Stooking and Girls Learning to Stook, 1940, oil on canvas, private collection © The Artist's Estate / Christopher Campbell-Howes

The current exhibition, ‘Evelyn Dunbar: The Lost Works’, at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, includes many previously unseen pictures by this lesser known artist. Many of these paintings and drawings had lain forgotten in an attic in Kent until their rediscovery in 2013.

Evelyn Dunbar’s recurrent themes of the repeating rhythms of nature, the seasons and the year seem particularly poignant as we once again reflect on the coming of a New Year.

Evelyn Dunbar, An English Calendar, 1938, oil on canvas, Archives Imperial College London © The Artist's Estate / Christopher Campbell-Howes
Evelyn Dunbar, An English Calendar, 1938, oil on canvas, Archives Imperial College London © The Artist's Estate / Christopher Campbell-Howes

These themes are reflected in ‘An English Calendar’ painted in 1938. Here we also observe the artist’s passion for horticulture. Dunbar’s figurative study ‘February’ is filled with allegory. It is as though this figure has been disturbed. Her startled face is illuminated as she lifts a cloche and the first shoots of spring issue from her hat against the cold grey of a February sky. It displays something of the graphic qualities present in the artist’s illustrations.

Evelyn Dunbar, February, 1937-38, Oil on canvas, © The Artist's Estate, courtesy of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art
Evelyn Dunbar, February, 1937-38, Oil on canvas, © The Artist's Estate, courtesy of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art

The exhibition is being held in the early 18th century house which forms part of the gallery. The influences of the 1930s British art scene on Evelyn Dunbar’s work is immediately apparent. There is something of the attitude of Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and others in her pictures which connects her work to the Neo-Romantic movement of the time. Nevertheless there is much to delight in the familiar.

Amongst the strongest images in this exhibition are her depictions of the home front painted whilst she was working as a war artist. Dunbar was appointed as an Official War Artist in April 1940.

Sir Kenneth Clark provided the inspiration to set up the ambitious Recording Britain scheme which he saw as an extension of the Official War Artist Scheme. Artists, like Dunbar, were employed on the home front to create topographical views of the British landscape, architecture and people. These things were being threatened by bombing and possible Nazi invasion and were rightly considered to be important to the British nation and her identity.

Evelyn Dunbar, Milking Practice with Artificial Udders, 1940, oil on canvas, © The Artist's Estate, courtesy of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art
Evelyn Dunbar, Milking Practice with Artificial Udders, 1940, oil on canvas, © The Artist's Estate, courtesy of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art

There is a poetry and rhythm in Evelyn Dunbar’s paintings from 1940 of ‘Men Stooking and Girls Learning to Stook’ and ‘Milking Practice with Artificial Udders’. These stylized depictions display Dunbar’s empathy with her subjects and love of the English landscape. Her palette and the texture inherent in her handling of paint adds a vitality to her work.

This charming exhibition runs until 14th February 2016 at the Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester, PO19 1TJ. For more information about ‘Evelyn Dunbar: The Lost Works’ and the gallery’s current exhibition program go to www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557.

I wish you all a peaceful and happy new year filled with blessing.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 30th December 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.