“Rupert’s got his bow-tie on it’ll be alright now!”

Rupert Toovey with trademark bowtie on appointment in the downland village of Amberley, West Sussex amongst the hollyhocks, lavender and rambling roses bordering an abundant English country garden

My week has taken me from Amberley at the foot of the Sussex Downs to the villages and hamlets above Lewes, to Ferring, Shoreham Beach, Horsham and even Kensington – invited to value and share extraordinary collections with families and collectors. Each reflected the stories of their custodians, layered across generations and speaking of their lives and passions in that beautiful, eclectic English Country and Town House way.

Last week, for the first time since the Covid-19 outbreak I donned my bowtie. I breezed into Toovey’s between appointments to find my friend and colleague William Rowsell valuing some beautiful Persian rugs. As he greeted me he remarked to our clients “Oh Rupert’s got his bow tie on it’ll all be alright now!” I have to own that I felt rather pleased. As you know I have a weakness for navy blue bowties with white spots – they’re joyful things. I have just managed to acquire three new ones – well Boris has asked us to shop for the nation – and I can now quarantine each of them for 72 hours as part of my health and safety policy for visiting people.

It’s funny how quickly we adapt to a new routine. As I arrive at people’s homes I ring the door bell and then, feeling rather like a naughty schoolboy, I run 2 metres back from the door turning to greet them. Well it’s important to see a smile and exchange a greeting safely before putting on a face mask and gloves.

Once inside we perform a Covid dance as we seek to honour one another with social distancing and old fashioned good manners. We move around enjoying each other’s company and the treasures, the windows flung open to the breeze in the stunning early summer weather we’ve been enjoying. The blue skies and scudding clouds send my heart racing every day. Is it my imagination or are our skies bluer and more beautiful without the air pollution?

Amberley with its abundant cottage gardens filled with Hollyhocks, English Hidcote lavender and scented rambling roses provides a hope filled view as we move gently out of lockdown.

Our towns, villages and countryside have never looked more beautiful and even the bustling, leafy grandeur of Kensington has been slowed by Covid.

I am delighted to report that we have successfully reopened Toovey’s auction rooms to the public. Providing valuations and viewing for sales by appointment has proven really popular whilst keeping people safe, as has our home visit valuation service.

By the time you read this our first post Covid-19 auction of Chinese and Asian Ceramics and Works of Art, with an online catalogue, will have taken place. It has attracted strong interest from around the UK and the world. I’ll let you know how we get on!

Unfurling from the Furlough

Rupert Toovey, Director of Toovey’s, in our Spring Gardens auction rooms at Washington, West Sussex

It is with a sense of anticipation and excitement that I am preparing to reopen Toovey’s auction rooms to the public. The ‘R’ number willing, we will open on Monday 15th June.

Toovey’s closed temporarily on 23rd March to support government policy and our NHS. We feel that it has been vital for Toovey’s and so many others to close and to do our bit to help to defeat COVID-19 as a way of protecting and supporting our community here in Sussex.

I was glad to be able to safely furlough most of my team, but I was unprepared for how emotional it would be to lock the doors to the salerooms that week. It has been financially costly too, but safety has always been our first priority and never more important than in these unprecedented times.

There has been much to tend to during this period and I have been overwhelmed by the generous and encouraging notes from our clients and friends.

The government’s most recent online advice to businesses and the NHS pages on COVID-19 have provided a framework which has shaped our thinking and allowed us to prepare risk assessments and a common sense Health and Safety response to keep staff and visitors safe when we reopen.

We’ve created new reception and valuations spaces for the public bringing their treasured possessions to Toovey’s for auction. We’ve ordered direction signs, queuing and viewing point mats to ensure social distancing. The numbers of people viewing our sales at any one time will be limited with timed slots available by appointment. Listen to me being excited by Health and Safety but it’s at its best when it’s practical and empowering!

I strongly believe that in the post COVID-19 world there will be a real need for the continued rise of liberal capitalism; firms which are informed by servant leadership, a sense of care and responsibility to the teams and communities which they serve and which support them. Where firms balance this approach with generous and good stewardship of their resources it is my experience that companies flourish because of these values and not in spite of them.

Many nations are ahead of us in the fight against this dreadful disease. We are receiving enquiries from China and across the world as well as the United Kingdom from collectors and specialist dealers really keen to buy objects at our auctions. In concert with the contemporary blessings of the online world, and especially tooveys.com, I think there is much cause for hope and optimism whether people are buying or selling.

Punctuation Marks in our Busy Lives

Fred Hall – ‘Morning on the Downs’, oil on board, signed recto, titled verso, 32cm x 39.5cm

Like so many of us I am in the first few days of adapting to working from home separated from the people and busy cycle of my working life.

Toovey’s auction rooms are temporarily closed in line with government policy and the team safely furloughed. I have been overwhelmed by the number of hope filled notes and emails received from clients and friends, each expressing a spirit of generosity and good wishes. And I am embracing digital technology and images to enable virtual visits and valuations – at least for now.

As I adjust, temporarily, to this new rhythm of life I am aware of the blessings of family, self-discipline and time.

The rhythm of walking in the landscape stills me but I am aware that I need to be mindful of how I do this exercise if I am to honour those working in the NHS and do my bit to beat Coronavirus COVID-19.

In more normal times I love to walk on the Downs at the back of Storrington. This thought reminds me of a beautiful landscape by Fred Hall (1860-1948) titled ‘Morning on the Downs’ which we sold at Toovey’s for £1600. The painting captures a cool, spring light as the sheep graze on ancient chalk grassland filled with wild flowers. In the distance we glimpse the sea. It’s a scene we still recognize today.

Born at Stillington in Yorkshire, Fred Hall was a Newlyn artist whose realist paintings were later characterised by the lighter touch and impressionist treatment of his landscapes which you see here. Fred Hall left Newlyn in 1897 and married Agnes Dod. A year later they moved to Dorking in Surrey and the artist took a studio in West Kensington.

In an age of social media there is sometimes a temptation to look at, or worry about, what has passed whilst our eye is firmly set on the next thing. But it seems to me that the most beautiful things in life are often to be found in the here and now. The 17th century Jesuit Priest Jean Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) described it as the Sacrament of the Present Moment. If we dare to shut out the white noise of our lives and seek to be truly present, to still ourselves and be attentive, these blessings reveal themselves.

Whilst I am missing that walk on the Downs we are so lucky that the streets and lanes of our towns, villages and the adjoining countryside in West Sussex are filled with blossom and spring flowers to lift our spirits.

For me the rhythm of prayer, walking and music brings me stillness and silence and allows me to be truly present. Whilst there will be challenges for us all I hope that, like me, you will be able to find punctuation marks in your lives to reflect on the blessings in each day.