Important Eric Gill Carvings to be Auctioned in Sussex

Woodbarton
Woodbarton

An important group of seven carvings from the studio of the famous Ditchling-based artist Eric Gill A.R.A. (1882-1940) are to be auctioned at Toovey’s on Friday 13th September as part of their specialist sale of Arts & Crafts Furniture and Works of Art, commencing at 2.30pm.

I first came across this extraordinary collection of carvings from the workshop of the famous Ditchling-based artist Eric Gill at Woodbarton back in 2016. The house, built in 1920 in the heart of Ditchling Common, East Sussex, was designed by Gill for his associate, the poet and artist Desmond Chute (1895-1962). Chute only lived at Woodbarton for a few years before leaving for Rapallo in Italy, where he would be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1927. The house, though, continued to provide a home to artists associated with the Ditchling arts and crafts community of the Guild of St. Joseph and St. Dominic until very recently. It seems likely that the carvings at Woodbarton were not drawn from the Ditchling workshop’s commercial output.

Eric Gill was born in Steyning, West Sussex. In his formative years, he lived in both Brighton and Chichester. In 1900, he moved to London to train as an architect with the firm W.D. Caröe. He became ever more disaffected with this path, however, and took evening classes in stonemasonry at the Westminster Technical Institute and calligraphy at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. By 1903, Eric Gill had given up his architectural training to become a calligrapher, letter-cutter and monumental mason.

A carved and painted stone holy water stoup by Eric Gill

In 1907, Gill found himself drawn back to Ditchling. After the First World War, he founded the Roman Catholic Guild of St. Joseph and St. Dominic with Desmond Chute and the printer, writer and poet Hilary Pepler (1878-1951). This group of artists lived in community with their wives, children, associates and apprentices, upholding the principles of the medieval artisan artist.

Gill’s assistants at the Ditchling workshop included Joseph Cribb, John Skelton, Desmond Chute and a number of other apprentices. In ‘Eric Gill, The Inscriptions’ David Peace includes a preface by Eric’s brother, Evan Gill, written in 1964. Evan explains that it is not possible, or desirable, to attempt a segregation of work by Eric Gill and his assistants. In support of this Evan quotes Desmond Chute: ‘Everything made there was wholly inspired and entirely due to him [Eric Gill]. This does not necessarily mean that all works came wholly from his hand … he made ample use of the collaboration of fellow stone cutters, esteeming this a mutual benefit. Nor did he hesitate to set his name to work thus produced – metaphorically in most cases, for he did not hold with signed work.’ Many of the works ascribed to Eric Gill, like the pieces here, will have been wholly, or in part, workshop pieces. Thanks to their workshop, this Sussex village became a centre for the Arts and Crafts movement.

Eric Gill brought his artistic and architectural skills to bear when he designed Woodbarton. The carved and painted stone stoup was set into the hallway’s wall. It would have contained holy water for members of the Guild and visitors to bless themselves. It will be offered with a pre-sale estimate of £6,000-8,000 (plus BP*).

Carved Hopton Wood limestone devotional panel, “Considerate lilia agri…’, by Eric Gill

Amongst the finest of the carvings in this collection is the stone panel carved with meditative inscriptions, which was set into a bedroom wall in the house. This beautifully conceived devotional panel, carved in Hopton Wood limestone, is incised in Latin and English ‘Considerate lilia agri – Consider the lilies of the field’, which relates to a passage in St. Matthew’s Gospel.

In the sitting room, the fireplace was framed by a stone carving with a central cross. The stone was originally carved for the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral, as a frieze for one of Gill’s Stations of the Cross. It was broken in transit, so Gill used it as part of the chimneypiece at Woodbarton. It is estimated at £6,000-£10,000 (plus BP*).

Despite the controversy surrounding Gill’s personal life, these exceptional carvings, now removed from Woodbarton, form part of an important story in the history of both the Arts and Crafts movement and Modern British art in Sussex.

I would like to thank Jenny KilBride Roberts MBE DL and others for their generous input in cataloguing the carvings.

BP* – Buyer’s Premium 29.4% including VAT @ 20% (24.5% plus VAT) of the hammer price

The Arts and Crafts Chair inspired by Sussex

A pair of late 19th Century ebonized Ash Sussex armchairs by Morris & Co, with turned spindle backs above rush seats, on turned legs
A pair of late 19th Century ebonized Ash Sussex armchairs by Morris & Co, with turned spindle backs above rush seats, on turned legs

Sussex has many links to the Arts & Crafts Movement including the famous Sussex chair.

The Arts and Crafts Movement was named after the Arts and Crafts Exhibition of 1882 but its origins date back to the mid-1850s and are commonly attributed to the architect, Philip Webb, the writer, John Ruskin, and William Morris who famously said “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

The movement was deeply informed by the romantic socialism of John Ruskin and William Morris. John Ruskin’s writings inspired the principles of the movement. In response to the often harsh realities of 19th century industrialised work, he advocated a return to an age of ‘free’ craftsmen. The movement stood for traditional craftsmanship and simple forms.

William Rowsell with a Liberty & Co Arts and Crafts earthenware vase

As I admire a set of Sussex chairs Toovey’s Arts and Crafts specialist, William Rowsell, explains “These chairs were named after a country chair found in Sussex. Philip Webb designed this model for Morris & Co but other firms like Liberty & Co and Heals also produced their own versions.” I comment on how they bear such a similarity to late 18th and early 19th century chairs in the English vernacular tradition and William agrees.

William tells me “William Morris and his wife Jane had Sussex chairs in their first home, Red House in Bexley Heath in the 1860s, and at their later London home, Kelmscott House in Hammersmith.”

Toovey’s next specialist Arts and Crafts auction will be held on Friday 7th September and a set of eight Art and Crafts Sussex chairs have already been entered. As I sit in one of the armchairs it holds me perfectly. The influential writer and designer, Robert Edis was right when he described these chairs as ‘excellent, comfortable and artistic’. They appealed to artists too like the Pre-Raphaelite, Edward Burne-Jones who had Sussex armchairs in his studio.

William Rowsell describes how Morris & Co introduced the Sussex range in about 1864 “The armchairs and single chairs reflected the restrained design. On the strength of their success they introduced corner chairs, children’s chairs and settles. People loved the fact that they were made from English stained Ash.”

In the 1912 Liberty catalogue a single armchair was priced at 9s 9d (49p) but today it would realise hundreds of pounds, testament to the design’s enduring appeal.

William Rowsell is passionate about his subject and is often found in the company of collectors offering advice to buyers and sellers. Entries for Toovey’s next specialist auction of Arts and Crafts Furniture and Works of Art are still being accepted. William can be contacted by telephoning 01903 891955.

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.

Growing Demand for Arts & Crafts and 20th Century Design

A rosewood and brown patinated metal armchair, circa 1965, designed by Jens Quistgaard
A rosewood and brown patinated metal armchair, circa 1965, designed by Jens Quistgaard

For many years now the conversation around antiques has centred on the fall in value of ‘brown’ furniture and there is no doubt that traditional British antique furniture represents exceptional value. But this story has overshadowed the many areas of collecting which have continued to attract the attention of growing numbers of collectors and where prices are rising. Amongst these are the fields of Arts & Crafts and 20th Century Design. They cover not only furniture and fine art but also silver, metalwork, ceramics, glass, clocks and objets.

Collectors delight in being connected with the craftsmen and women through the pieces that they made or designed. The quality, clean lines, architectural forms and colours of Arts & Crafts and designer furniture and works of art speaks to our contemporary tastes.

Take for example the three pieces illustrated which are already entered for Toovey’s specialist auction of Arts & Crafts, Studio Pottery and 20th Century Design on Friday 8th September 2017.

The rosewood and brown patinated metal armchair, upholstered in suede, was designed by Jens Quistgaard around 1965. It has an extraordinary pivoting backrest and was manufactured by Richard Nissen in Denmark. Its design is sculptural and amazingly comfortable.

A Liberty Tudric Arts & Crafts timepiece designed by Archibald Knox
A Liberty Tudric Arts & Crafts timepiece designed by Archibald Knox

The Liberty Tudric clock was designed by Archibald Knox. Amongst the leading exponents of the Arts and Crafts taste was Liberty & Co. Its founder, Arthur Lazenby, built the Liberty brand by employing some of the country’s leading designers though he insisted that they work anonymously. Amongst these designers was Archibald Knox who joined Liberty & Co in 1899. Knox was the creative force behind Liberty’s Celtic Cymric and Tudric designs worked in silver and pewter.

A late Victorian Arts & Crafts tea caddy by Keswick School of Industrial Art
A late Victorian Arts & Crafts tea caddy by Keswick School of Industrial Art

The Arts and Crafts silver casket dates from 1890 and is perhaps the earliest known example of silverwork by the Keswick School of Industrial Art and therefore one of the earliest examples of Arts and Crafts silver. It is intricately repoussé decorated with birds, urns and leaf scrolls. The Keswick School of Industrial Art was founded in 1884 to alleviate unemployment by the Revd. Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley and his wife Edith. It began as an evening class in woodwork and repoussé metalwork at the Crosthwaite Parish Rooms in Keswick, Cumbria. Within ten years the numbers of men attending the classes had reached more than one hundred and a new school was built.

These objects carry estimates ranging from the high hundreds into the low thousands reflecting the strength of these collectors’ markets. Further entries for the auction are still being accepted.

Toovey’s specialists William Rowsell and Glen Charman are always delighted to meet with fellow connoisseurs of Arts and Crafts and 20th Century Design and can be contacted by telephoning 01903 891955.

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.

 

Sussex and the Arts and Crafts Movement

A Shapland & Petter oak and copper mounted wardrobe
A Shapland & Petter oak and copper mounted wardrobe

The Arts and Crafts Movement was named after the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, founded in England in 1882. However, the origins of the movement date to the mid-1850s and are commonly attributed to William Morris and his friends, the architect, Philip Webb, and the writer, John Ruskin.

The movement was deeply informed by the romantic socialism of John Ruskin and William Morris. John Ruskin’s writings inspired the principles of the movement. He observed and gave voice to the dehumanising qualities of industrialised work, and the effects it had on workers and society. As an alternative he advocated a return to an age of ‘free’ craftsmen. The movement stood for traditional craftsmanship and simple forms, often embellished with interpretations of romantic, naturalistic and medieval decoration, including the Gothic.

A Liberty & Co Tudric timepiece, designed by Archibald Knox
A Liberty & Co Tudric timepiece, designed by Archibald Knox

The influential Arts and Crafts designer and writer, C.R. Ashbee, wrote that ‘the proper place for the Arts and Crafts is in the country’. There were significant Arts & Crafts communities across the country. In Sussex the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, based at Ditchling gave expression to this. In the early 20th century it represented an experiment of artists living and working together in community under the leadership of its founders: Eric Gill, Hilary Pepler and Desmond Chute.

William Morris named one of his most famous designs the Sussex chair, whilst Phillip Webb designed Standen, near East Grinstead, one of this country’s outstanding Art and Crafts homes. The architect Edwin Lutyens was also active in Sussex at Little Thakeham, Great Dixter in the gardens and elsewhere.

Music and drama played a significant part in the movement. For example the composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, gathered many of his most famous tunes from the fields around Horsham whilst John Ireland lived and worked at Shipley. They both shared the Arts and Crafts’ love of the countryside and folk traditions.

The Little Thakeham House Sale in 2000 established Toovey’s reputation amongst specialist collectors’ in the field of Arts and Crafts. The exceptional contents of Little Thakeham were in keeping with the stylistic quality of this important Edwin Lutyens house.

Building on this reputation Toovey’s will be holding a specialist auction of Arts and Crafts Furniture and Works of Art on Tuesday 8th September 2015. Entries for the sale are still being invited.

Among the leading exponents of the Arts and Crafts taste was Liberty & Co. The designer, Archibald Knox, joined Liberty & Co in 1899. Knox was the creative force behind Liberty’s Celtic Cymric and Tudric designs which were made in silver and pewter. The Arts and Crafts’ qualities of traditional craftsmanship and simple form are given expression in the Liberty & Co Tudric pewter clock, illustrated here, with its band of stylized leaves and enamelled cabochon numerals. Its domestic scale is also particularly pleasing being just twenty centimetres high. It carries a presale estimate of £1000-£1500.

A Ramsden & Carr silver caddy spoon
A Ramsden & Carr silver caddy spoon

Also entered for the auction is this jewel like caddy spoon dating from 1907. Estimated at £700-£1000, it is born out of the partnership of two exceptional designers and silversmiths, Omar Ramsden and Alwyn Charles Ellison Carr. Together they built a team of gifted craftsmen. The Celtic terminal and turquoise cabochon show the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Phillip Webb advocated a ‘truth to the materials’ and the oak wardrobe by Shapland & Petter with its restrained, stylized foliate copper panels has a clarity of line and proportion which speaks to this aspiration. It is expected to sell for between £1500 and £2000.

The deadline for entries for Toovey’s specialist auction of Arts and Crafts Furniture and Works of Art, to be held on Tuesday 8th September 2015, is fast approaching. If you are considering the sale of Arts and Crafts furniture and objects Toovey’s specialist, William Rowsell, will be delighted to offer free presale valuations and advice. Telephone Toovey’s on 01903 891955 to arrange an appointment.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 22nd July 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Arts and Crafts for Today’s Home at Toovey’s

Toovey’s Arts and Crafts Specialist, William Rowsell
Toovey’s Arts and Crafts Specialist, William Rowsell

In celebration of the Arts and Crafts Movement Toovey’s will be holding a specialist auction of Arts and Crafts Furniture & Works of Art on Tuesday 8th September 2015.

The Great Exhibition of 1851, housed in Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace at Hyde Park, celebrated industry, manufacturing and industrial design. In reaction to the industrial age the Arts and Crafts Movement sought to improve standards of decorative design and revive handicrafts. It stood against the automatic processes involved in mass-production and its social impact. Inspired by the writings of Augustus Pugin, John Ruskin and William Morris, Arts and Crafts design was often based upon a re-interpretation of the Medieval, sometimes incorporating the Celtic with a very English interpretation of the Art Nouveau.

A mid-19th century Gothic Revival walnut chair designed by Pugin
A mid-19th century Gothic Revival walnut chair designed by Pugin

The specialist in charge of this Arts and Crafts sale is William Rowsell. I am excited to discover a walnut chair designed by Pugin already consigned for the auction. William says “Pugin worked as an architect and designer. He was a passionate advocate of the Gothic Revival style which he famously applied to the House of Commons. You can see the influence of the Gothic in the stretchers and mouldings of this chair.” In the 1830s and 1840s Pugin published books on furniture decoration as well as architecture. William continues “Most of Pugin’s furniture was made for the houses which he designed.” This remarkable chair carries an estimate of £300-500.

A Liberty & Co Tudric pewter mantel timepiece, designed by Archibald Knox, estimate £2000-3000
A Liberty & Co Tudric pewter mantel timepiece, designed by Archibald Knox, estimate £2000-3000

My eye is taken by a Liberty & Co Tudric mantel timepiece. Liberty was owned and run by Sir Arthur Lasenby, a leading figure in the English Art Nouveau movement. In 1903 a new type of pewter emerged which Liberty called Tudric. It contained a high proportion of silver in the alloy. Tudric objects were made by the firm William Hair Haseler in Birmingham. William Rowsell smiles enthusiastically as he says “These Tudric designs re-interpret the Celtic style incorporating the Art Nouveau as well. The use of blue and turquoise enamel cabochons, like on the dial of this clock, is outstanding.” Tudric pieces of this quality are prized by collectors and William explains that this is reflected in the presale estimate of £2000-3000.

A pair of Leeds Fireclay Company Lefco ware jardinières
A pair of Leeds Fireclay Company Lefco ware jardinières

Also entered for auction are the pair of early 20th century Leeds Fireclay Company Lefco ware stoneware jardinières which would grace any garden with their Art Nouveau naturalistic decoration. They carry an estimate of £600-900.

To my eye the English Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts Movement combines beauty and purpose. It was considered progressive in its own time but the influences of the simple pre-industrial cottage can be noted.

The simplicity of an Arts and Crafts interior entered into, and influenced, the spirit of much 20th century design. Nevertheless these interiors were comfortable and gathering. The clean architectural lines of Arts and Crafts furniture and works of art were complimented by the use of rich colours in the fabrics, enamels, glazed ceramics, silver and glass. The quality of design speaks to our contemporary tastes.

Entries for Toovey’s specialist auction of Arts and Crafts Furniture and Works of Art on Tuesday 8th September 2015 are currently being invited. William Rowsell will be delighted to offer free advice on your Arts and Crafts furniture and objects whether you are considering selling or buying. Telephone Toovey’s on 01903 891955 to arrange an appointment.

Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 3rd June 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.