The Bank Holiday at Borde Hill

The vibrant Mid-Summer Border at Borde Hill Garden
The vibrant Mid-Summer Border at Borde Hill Garden

This week I am returning to Borde Hill Garden near Haywards Heath to enjoy the vibrant summer borders and the 20th Anniversary Sculpture Exhibition. I am met by Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke whose great grandfather purchased the house in 1893 and created the now Grade II* listed gardens and important plant collections.

Andrewjohn says “Borde Hill has always been an experimental garden to try new plants. The first of these were brought back by plant hunters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

This spirit of adventure is alive and well under the stewardship of Andrewjohn and his wife Eleni. This is apparent in the Round Dell garden. Its contemporary design has at its centre a thin, tapering path defined by low concrete walls which leads you through the rich foliage and planting. Amongst these are a number of exciting new specimens found by contemporary plan hunters, including varieties of Schefflera, and unusual evergreens like Daphniphyllum macropodum.

I love the strong summer colours at Borde Hill. The Mid-Summer Border, just off the South lawn, delights with its vibrant coloured perennials, grasses and shrubs.
The garden reveals itself as a series of rooms. The sculptures compliment the planting and vistas allowing us to see the garden in new ways.

Devon based artist Zoe Singleton’s sculpture ‘The Turning Tide’ carved from Kilkenny Fossil Stone at Borde Hill
Devon based artist Zoe Singleton’s sculpture ‘The Turning Tide’ carved from Kilkenny Fossil Stone at Borde Hill

My eye is taken by a sculpture by the Devon based artist, Zoe Singleton who works predominately in stone natural to the British Isles. It is titled ‘The Turning Tide’ and is carved from Kilkenny Fossil Stone. It sits dramatically on its Larch plinth against the backdrop of Borde Hill’s 200 acres of parkland and woodland. The rhythm and movement of the shoal of fish seems to be echoed in the landscape.

Writing about her work Zoe has said ‘My work is frequently described as “poetic and lyrical”, garden sculpture being inspired by my love of gardening as well as the dramatic coastline of the South West and the rugged geology of Dartmoor which has a continued presence in my work.’ Her words resonate with Borde Hill Garden.

The lives of Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke are bound to this place and the garden in a very personal way. Their forward looking stewardship ensures that the past is valued and preserved but that the garden is constantly evolving and changing in a very contemporary way.

Why not enjoy the art and this beautiful garden in the company of family and friends this coming August Bank Holiday weekend. There is plenty for children to enjoy including an adventure playground. The 20th Anniversary Sculpture Exhibition runs until the 30th September. For more information on opening times and forthcoming events go to www.bordehill.co.uk or telephone 01444 450326.

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.

William Blake: Sussex and the New Jerusalem

William Blake, ‘Blake’s Cottage at Felpham’, plate 36 from Milton a Poem, etching and watercolour © The British Museum, London
William Blake, ‘Blake’s Cottage at Felpham’, plate 36 from Milton a Poem, etching and watercolour © The British Museum, London

This week I am revisiting the exceptional William Blake in Sussex exhibition at Petworth House. Many visitors will be surprised to find that many of Blake’s most famous jewel like works are intimate in scale contrasting with their often epic themes.

Amongst these is the preface to Blake’s ‘Milton a Poet’ which was inspired by his time at Felpham and begun here in Sussex. The preface, titled ‘And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time’, measures just 9 x 7 inches and is better known to us today as ‘Jerusalem’. It embodies a creative freedom which responds to the pastoral, natural beauty of rural England whose spirit was awakened in Blake in Sussex.

William Blake, ‘Preface, plate 2 from Milton a Poem’, etching and watercolour © The British Museum, London
William Blake, ‘Preface, plate 2 from Milton a Poem’, etching and watercolour © The British Museum, London

At the heart of the poem is a questioning of the myth that Jesus Christ briefly visited these Isles with his Uncle Joseph of Arimathea, a tin dealer, making the new Jerusalem, heaven on earth, here in Britain.

The poem builds on that wonderful passage from the Bible in chapter 21 of the Book of Revelations where Creation is perfected and renewed as heaven and earth are united:

‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“Behold, the dwelling of God is with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them, he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”’

Blake must have had this passage in his mind when he wrote to Thomas Butts shortly after his arrival in Sussex: ‘the sweet air and the voices of the winds, trees and birds and the odours of our happy ground makes [Felpham] a dwelling for immortals.’ Blake’s language articulates an earthly paradise contrasting with his lifelong experience of the environs of London.

A little over 100 years later in response to the huge casualties of the Battle of the Somme and declining morale Robert Bridges, the Poet Laureate, edited a patriotic anthology of poems titled ‘The Spirit of Man’. Amongst these was the then little known poem by William Blake titled ‘And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time’ better known to us today as ‘Jerusalem’.

In 1916 Bridges invited Hubert Parry to set William Blake’s poem ‘Jerusalem’ to music and the hymn became a national anthem. Jerusalem’s success inculcated redemption, renewal and hope into our national psyche.

‘Milton a Poet’ has an image titled ‘Blake’s Cottage at Felpham’. It depicts Blake visited by the figure of ‘Inspiration’ in the garden of his cottage. The narrative forms part of a very personal mythology of his own creation. Felpham continued to inform the pastoral qualities of his Arcadian figures depicted under a ‘tranquil moon’ and ‘setting sun’ in his later work.

I am delighted that Toovey’s are headline sponsors of this important show which so beautifully connects William Blake’s art and life to Sussex. This is an exceptional exhibition and The National Trust’s Andrew Loukes, Curator of William Blake in Sussex, is deserving of our thanks.

The exhibition runs at Petworth House in West Sussex until the 25th March 2018. Entry is by pre-booked timed tickets which can be purchased online at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/petworth. Discounted tickets are available to National Trust Members.

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.

William Blake in Sussex at Petworth House is a Triumph

Curator Andrew Loukes with Rupert Toovey representing exhibition sponsors, Toovey’s at the opening
Curator Andrew Loukes with Rupert Toovey representing exhibition sponsors, Toovey’s at the opening

The exhibition ‘William Blake in Sussex’ at Petworth House is a triumph!

The show opened to the public last weekend to universal acclaim and is set to be one of 2018’s must see exhibitions.

The central threads of William Blake’s art and writing are beautifully woven together with the formative time that this revolutionary artist spent in Sussex. The clarity of vision of the exhibition’s curator, Andrew Loukes, has blessed us with an unusually rich and coherent narrative.

The works of art on display are visually stunning and include some of the most important in Blake’s oeuvre. They have been borrowed not only from Petworth House’s own collection but also from the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Tate and the National Trust’s Arlington Court, Devon.

In an age when our nation is in danger of losing her diverse regional identities with homogenised housing and High Streets it is exciting to see the National Trust daring to put on an exhibition of national importance which speaks of, and is displayed in, the context of William Blake’s story here in Sussex.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries Petworth House held an important place in the British artistic scene thanks to the 3rd Earl of Egremont’s patronage and its extraordinary collections which drew artists including Turner from across the country.

William Blake’s ‘The Characters in Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, circa 1825 © Petworth House, National Trust
William Blake’s ‘The Characters in Spenser’s Faerie Queene’, circa 1825 © Petworth House, National Trust

The exhibition reminds us of his patronage through Blake’s watercolour ‘The Characters in Spenser’s Faerie Queene’. The epic Elizabethan poem The Faerie Queene, upon which Blake’s drawing is based, was written against the backdrop of the Reformation by Edmund Spenser. Spenser employed a series of allegorical devices and characters to articulate the chivalric virtues of Holiness, Temperance, Chastity, Friendship, Justice, and Courtesy. Blake painted the scene in 1825. It was bought by the 3rd Earl from the artist’s widow, Catherine Boucher, for eight guineas, a sum which would have been enough to sustain her for the rest of her days. Catherine wrote to him in 1829 instructing him as to its care, saying ‘Mr Blake had a great dislike to his pictures falling into the hands of the picture cleaners.’

Blake illustrates a number of the characters from Spenser’s epic poem. At the front of the processional scene is the Red Cross Knight seated on his horse and carrying the emblem of St George, the patron saint of England, a red cross upon his shield. Beside him seated on an ass is his travelling companion, Una, who represents the true protestant church. The scene is played out beneath the tableau of the sky. The sun is flanked by the moon and a figure representing Justice among the stars. The spired Gothic Cathedral in the sky to the left contrasts with the depiction of the Tower of Babel on the right.

There is so much more to say about this extraordinary exhibition and Blake’s time in Sussex that I look forward to revisiting it with you.

Petworth House could not be a more appropriate place for this fine exhibition providing a reminder of William Blake’s artistic talent, faith and strong moral vision.

The richness and layers of this exhibition will repay each and every visit. I am delighted that Toovey’s are headline sponsors of this exceptional show which understandably is attracting national interest.

The exhibition runs at Petworth House in West Sussex until the 25th March 2018. Entry is by pre-booked timed tickets which can be purchased online at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/petworth. Discounted tickets are available to National Trust Members.

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.

William Blake at Petworth

Exhibition curator Andrew Loukes with William Blake’s ‘John Milton’, c. 1800-03
Exhibition curator Andrew Loukes with William Blake’s ‘John Milton’, c. 1800-03

One of 2018’s most anticipated exhibitions, William Blake in Sussex: Vision of Albion, opens at Petworth House, West Sussex this weekend. I was fortunate enough to call in last week as the show was being hung under the exceptional eye of the National Trust’s Exhibition Manager at Petworth and the exhibition’s curator, Andrew Loukes and I can confirm that this is going to be an exceptional show.

In recent years the importance of Sussex as a centre for art and artists from the 18th to the 20th century has been affirmed by numerous exhibitions in London but I am delighted that William Blake in Sussex is being held in its correct context.

It is rare for an important country house like Petworth to have William Blakes in its collection and on display. It was Elizabeth Ilive, the 3rd Earl of Egremont, George Wyndham’s mistress and then wife, who commissioned Blake to paint ‘A Vision of the Last Judgement’ in 1808. The image sanctifies family life. Mothers and Fathers ascend to heaven with their children and infants, as Christ sits in Majesty. In contrast, on the opposite side of the composition the wicked descend into hell.

William Blake ‘A Vision of the Last Judgement’, c. 1808 © Petworth House, National Trust

Blake described the iconography: “the Just, in humiliation and in exultation, rise through the air with their children and families…among them is a figure crowned with stars, and the moon beneath her feet, with six infants around her.” In his accompanying essay Andrew Loukes argues that whilst Blake describes the figure in this passage as representing the Christian Church it is possible that the woman is actually Elizabeth accompanied by her six surviving children and that the artist who faces her and appears to be drawing her is reminiscent of Blake’s own imagined self-image.

The imagery must have resonated with Elizabeth who from the age of sixteen had born nine children, three of whom died in infancy. George Wyndham’s philandering would bring to a close their long-awaited and all too brief marriage.

This exhibition promises to bring together the threads of William Blake’s faith, political radicalism and the influences of his patrons, Sussex and the pastoral on his life and work.

Petworth House could not be a more appropriate place for this fine exhibition providing a reminder of William Blake’s artistic talent, faith and strong moral vision.

The exhibition runs at Petworth House in West Sussex from 13th February until the 25th March 2018. Entry is by pre-booked timed tickets which can be purchased online at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/petworth. Discounted tickets are available to National Trust Members.

I can’t wait to see the exhibition and I’m booking my tickets as I write.

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.