Lost Portrait of Benjamin West Rediscovered

Andrew Robertson’s 1803 portrait of Benjamin West

This week I am in the company of Toovey’s picture specialist and researcher Tim Williams. Tim has just discovered an important portrait of the notable artist Benjamin West (1738-1820) which had been lost for more than 100 years. West’s efforts led to the establishment of the Royal Academy in London and he would become the institution’s second president. The work is a miniature watercolour by Andrew Robertson (1777-1845), one of the pre-eminent portrait miniaturists of the 19th century, and is due to auctioned at Toovey’s on Wednesday 18th March 2020.

Tim Williams explains “Robertson was born in Scotland in 1777 and had studied under Alexander Nasmyth and Henry Raeburn before leaving Scotland for London in 1801 to seek fame and fortune. In a letter to his father in July 1801 Robertson wrote, ‘I shall make London my residence…I may not only make my fortune, but acquire fame in the world.’

Not long after his arrival in London, Robertson made the acquaintance of Benjamin West. West saw that the ambitious Scotsman had great talent, and became something of a mentor and advocate to the young artist, agreeing to sit for a portrait himself.

Robertson began West’s portrait in 1802. West would sit for Robertson on a Sunday morning. In total the portrait took 15 sittings over many months. Robertson wrote to the wealthy London businessman John Julius Angerstein in August, ‘…without any other introduction to Mr. West, he should so far approve of my poor pencil as to think it not beneath him to sit to me, and to sacrifice a very considerable portion of his precious time, for that purpose. I have painted his portrait in the same style as I copied Govartius…’. The composition was strongly influenced by Anthony van Dyck’s portrait of Cornelis van der Geest. At the time it was known as ‘Govartius’ and Angerstein, who owned it, had given Robertson access to copy the picture earlier in 1802.”

Toovey’s picture specialist Tim Williams with Andrew Robertson’s rediscovered portrait of Benjamin West

Tim continues “Once completed Robertson sent his miniature portrait of West for exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1803 where it received much acclaim from visitors and established artists. Robertson wrote to his friend John Ewen, ‘…Mr. West told me himself that I have no idea how it [his portrait] is talked of, and approved, both by artists and others.’ More excitingly for Robertson it was seen by George III. In a letter of 1803, Robertson elaborates. ‘Yesterday the King visited the Exhibition… After the King went into the room where my pictures are, I heard him take notice of them… I heard the King say, ‘Roberts?-aye, Robertson’ …‘Scotchman?’ and a little after-‘beginner’ – this was all I could hear. However, it was enough to afford me no small degree of satisfaction.’

Buoyed by this success, and now in demand, Robertson had a copy of his miniature of Benjamin West engraved in mezzotint by George Dawe in 1804. These mezzotint copies allowed the work to be disseminated widely and enabled people to own a version – particularly since the original was in Benjamin West’s personal collection.”

I ask Tim how the portrait came to be lost and he replies “By 1899 the miniature was recorded being in the possession of Charles Montague Richard Cleeve, agent to the Bayham Abbey estate near Lamberhurst in Kent, and subsequently found its way into the collection of the current vendor’s grandfather by 1960. Regrettably, and often the case with unsigned works, the artist’s name and importance of this work had been forgotten.”

Tim Williams is still inviting entries for Toovey’s next sale of fine paintings which will be held on Wednesday 18th March 2020, and can be contacted by telephoning 01903 891955 or at auctions@tooveys.com.

Maggi Hambling and Max Wall

Maggi Hambling., CBE, ‘Max Sitting (no.9)’, oil, signed and dated 1982

An important portrait by the leading British artist Maggi Hambling, from her famous Max Wall series of portraits, is to be auctioned at Toovey’s on Wednesday 19th June 2019.

Maggi Hambling was the artist in residence at the National Gallery in London during 1980 and 1981 as her work grew in confidence and power. It was during this time that she went to see Max Wall at the Garrick Theatre for the first time.

Max Wall’s public life as a clown and entertainer was in contrast to his often unhappy and disrupted private life.

In the summer of 1981 Max Wall played Vladimir in Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ to much acclaim in the Royal Exchange production at the Round House. Hambling went to see him in the role on four or five occasions and began to work out a series of pictures based on his performance. As Max sat for her Maggi’s portraits of him became more intimate and insightful. Although they corresponded between October 1981 and Easter 1982 they remained apart.

In his absence, Hambling completed three of her most impressive paintings in the series. Among these is the picture illustrated, ‘Max Sitting (no.9)’. The painting is an act of recapitulation. Hambling gives expression to a painting of dreams, recalling a dream where a white owl bursts through a pane of glass in an isolated, lonely house. Max sits dreaming, his cigarette smoke hangs in the air as he waits on his muse represented by the owl’s arrival. The challenges of his life are signified by the cat’s shadow as the floor veers off in a nightmarish way. Her use of colour to create mood and atmosphere and the rendering of his features acts as though the portrait is a mirror into his soul. It gives voice to her concern for the individual human predicament.

Hambling would recall “At Easter 1982, Max reappeared and posed for drawings. After painting so long from my internal image of him, it was a traumatic experience to have him in front of me again, and to work from life.” Max thought it was marvellous that he should inspire Hambling in this way.

This powerful portrait would be reproduced on the cover of the exhibition catalogue for ‘Max Wall Pictures by Maggi Hambling’ at London’s National Portrait Gallery in 1983.

It was a measure of Hambling’s status as an artist when, in 1986, ‘Max Sitting (no.9)’ was hung alongside her fellow London Group artists, including Frank Auerbach, Peter Blake, Lucian Freud, David Hockney and Ron B. Kitaj at Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery in the ‘Artist and Model’ exhibition.

This important work will be auctioned at Toovey’s as part of their sale of fine paintings on Wednesday 19th June 2019 with a presale estimate of £10,000-£15,000. For more information telephone Nicholas Toovey on 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.

From Town and City to the Country

‘The Tug’ by Sussex artist, Vanessa Bell
‘The Tug’ by Sussex artist, Vanessa Bell

In the late 19th and 20th centuries many of Britain’s leading artists were inspired to leave London and our towns and cities, for the country. For some it was to escape the effects of the industrial revolution and for others the wars. There was a desire to articulate the ancient hope of the English expressed in and through their landscape. A hope bound up with a romanticized view of a rural idyll, lost or under threat.

It was Virginia Woolf’s love for Duncan Grant and her sister, Vanessa Bell, which brought her to Sussex during the First World War. Vanessa was living with her lover, the artist Duncan Grant, and his friend David Garnett, at Wissett Lodge in Suffolk when her sister, the author, Virginia Woolf, wrote to her in the May of 1916. She extolled the virtues and potential of Charleston house near Firle in East Sussex. To avoid being called up to fight and the prospect of gaol as conscientious objectors, Duncan Grant and David Garnett needed to be essentially employed on the land. Virginia Woolf was by this time living at Asheham some four miles from Charleston and, having suffered a breakdown, sought Vanessa’s company. In her letters Virginia explained that not only did the house need a tenant but that the neighbouring farmer was short of ‘hands’ to work on the land.

Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant would gather an extraordinary array of artists, writers and intellectuals to Charleston. Amongst them was the great economist Maynard Keynes, the authors Lytton Strachey and T. S. Elliot, the artist and critic Roger Fry and, amongst many others, Vanessa’s husband Clive Bell.

In London Vanessa Bell had married the art critic Clive Bell and was one of the leading members of what would become known as the Bloomsbury Group. She worked in the Omega Workshops with Roger Fry and collaborated with Duncan Grant in numerous decorative projects and artistic commissions.

As well as covering the walls and furniture at Charleston with painted decoration they portrayed those who visited and the countryside around them. The delightful oil by Vanessa Bell titled ‘The Tug’ depicts a scene reminiscent of Newhaven harbour which is across the Sussex Downs from Charleston. The light is golden and luminous. Her handling of paint is broad and filled with life and movement in the manner of the French Post-Impressionists. There is freedom and joy in the moored boat’s hopeful depiction.

Walter Langley’s oil painting, ‘A Quiet Time’
Walter Langley’s oil painting, ‘A Quiet Time’

In contrast to Vanessa Bell’s bright palette is Walter Langley’s depiction of a working class woman at rest. Titled ‘A Quiet Time’ it reflects Langley’s empathy with the persistent hardship faced by the poor in 19th century Britain. Muted earth hues are employed in the stillness of this sensitive, delicate portrait. The economy of detail is typical of his portrayals of the working people of Newlyn in Cornwall. Walter Langley belonged to a group of artists from Birmingham who journeyed to Newlyn in Cornwall to escape the hardships caused by the Industrial Revolution in our cities. Their pursuit of realism was influenced by the French Barbizon painters. There is a romantic articulation of the nobility in working people.

If Sussex and her Downs touch your heart the need to live in their folds never leaves you. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant would continue to live at Charleston throughout their lives. 2016 marks a century since the Bloomsbury Group artists, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, arrived in Sussex to make their home at Charleston. I look forward to returning to Charleston and their array of events to celebrate this important anniversary. For more information go to www.charleston.org.uk/whats-on.

Vanessa Bell’s and Walter Langley’s paintings are already consigned for sale in Toovey’s select Fine Art Sale on Wednesday 23rd March 2016, each with an estimate of £8,000-12,000.

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.

Victorian Watercolours

‘Genoa’ painted by Charles Rowbotham
‘Genoa’ painted by Charles Rowbotham

Leading English watercolourists from the 18th and 19th Century have seen a revival in prices over recent years. Demand for watercolours by artists like Paul Sandby, Thomas Girtin and John Sell Cotman have followed the trend set by J.M.W. Turner and John Constable.

In comparison prices for Victorian artists following in the English watercolour tradition remain accessible providing a rare opportunity for collectors to acquire work of exceptional quality.

Watercolours possess a spontaneity and vitality created by the medium. The best Victorian artists applied layered washes without forfeiting the luminous transparency. Colours merge delicately with one another creating a sense of movement and life in the image.

Take for example Charles Edmund Rowbotham (1858-1921) who lived for a time at Steyning and Brighton. His watercolour, ‘Near Bramber, Sussex’, was shown at the Royal Society of Artists. He followed in the artistic tradition of his father and grandfather beginning his career by painting figures in his father’s landscapes. Charles Rowbotham married in 1884. He went on a series of sketching tours with his wife in the French Riviera, Switzerland, and Italy. It was during this period that he produced his best work which included watercolours like the scene titled ‘Genoa’ shown here. His penchant for blue with white heightening is apparent in this small jewel like picture.

‘Catalina, Lake Maggiore' by Myles Birket Foster
‘Catalina, Lake Maggiore' by Myles Birket Foster

Over the county border in Witley near Godalming, Surrey, the artist Myles Birket Foster (1825-1899) had built a house which was decorated and furnished in the Arts and Crafts taste influenced by his friends Edward Burne Jones and William Morris. Many of the paintings in his home were by Burne Jones, whilst the furnishings came from Morris and Co. Birket Foster painted romanticised views of the English countryside particularly in Surrey. Before coming to Surrey he had toured widely including Italy. The watercolour, ‘Catalina, Lake Maggiore’, shown here shows the delicacy and detail of Birket Foster’s work.

Helen Allingham’s watercolour, ‘Still Life Study of Flowers in a Vase’
Helen Allingham’s watercolour, ‘Still Life Study of Flowers in a Vase’

Helen Allingham (1848-1926), another Surrey artist, painted the beautiful still life. As a watercolourist she became famous for her depictions of figures, gardens and cottages in an articulation of the rural idyll. Still life studies were often painted by women artists at this date, though not commonly by Allingham. There is a vitality in her depiction of the vase and flowers which appears contemporary to our eyes.

Values at auction for pictures like these range from high hundreds into the low thousands. All these pictures have recently been sold in Toovey’s select paintings auctions at their Washington salerooms. If you are considering the sale of your pictures, or are keen to collect, contact Toovey’s Fine Art specialist, Nicholas Toovey, for advice by telephoning 01903 891955 or email auctions@tooveys.com.

The Collection of the Late Baroness Herries of Terregles

Angmering Park House, home to the Late Baroness Herries of Terregles
Angmering Park House, home to the Late Baroness Herries of Terregles

Toovey’s Fine Art Auctioneers are offering the principal contents of Angmering Park House, the home of the Late Baroness Herries of Terregles, as a single-owner collection at their Washington salerooms on Monday 7th December 2015.

Baroness Herries of Terregles (1938-2014) was the 14th holder of the barony. She inherited the title from her late father, the 16th Duke of Norfolk and 13th Lord Herries of Terregles, upon his death in 1975. Born Anne Elizabeth Fitzalan-Howard, she was the eldest of four daughters and grew up at Arundel Castle, the Norfolk’s family seat in West Sussex.

Lady Anne shared her family’s love of horses from a young age and would become a well-known racehorse trainer and the second wife of Colin Cowdrey, later Lord Cowdrey of Tonbridge, one of England’s most celebrated cricketers.

In 1970 she moved to her paternal grandmother’s home, Everingham, in East Yorkshire. There she became Master of the Middleton Hounds. In 1979 she returned to Sussex, making her home at Angmering Park House on the Angmering Park Estate, close to her childhood roots at Arundel. Horse-racing was in Lady Anne’s blood and she set about training racehorses with notable success.

Lady Anne’s life was always rooted in the countryside and most especially in the folds of the Sussex Downs. Her home, too, reflected the best of traditional English country house taste.

Alfred Bennett – ‘Arundel Castle and the Arun Valley’, late 19th Century oil on canvas
Alfred Bennett – ‘Arundel Castle and the Arun Valley’, oil on canvas

The delightful oil painting by Alfred Bennett (1861-1923) is one of the lots entered from the collection. It captures a familiar view of Lady Anne’s childhood home, Arundel Castle, and is expected to realise £800-1200.

A set of four George II cast silver Rococo candlesticks by Alexander Johnston
A set of four George II cast silver Rococo candlesticks by Alexander Johnston

Amongst the silver is a beautiful set of four George II candlesticks by the London maker Alexander Johnston. They date from 1751 and 1752. The Rococo taste is reflected in their decoration with foliate nozzles, shell moulded sconces, waisted baluster stems and leaf scroll bases. They are estimated at £3000-5000.

A Regency rosewood writing table attributed to Gillows of Lancaster
A Regency rosewood writing table attributed to Gillows of Lancaster

The Regency rosewood and gilt metal mounted writing table has been attributed to the famous cabinet makers Gillows of Lancaster. The familiar anthemion key escutcheon and six-point star handles are to be found on other examples of Gillows furniture. It carries a pre-sale auction estimate of £1500-2500. It is one of several pieces of furniture which have been attributed to Gillows of Lancaster in this sale.

I have always held a fond admiration for Lady Anne and her family. They have made such a remarkable and generous contribution to our community in Sussex. It has been my privilege to accompany them over many years through their charitable activities and, like so many others, I have valued their friendship and support. I am, therefore, delighted that Toovey’s are offering the principal contents of Angmering Park House at our salerooms at Spring Gardens, Washington, West Sussex, RH20 3BS. The sale provides an extraordinary insight into the life of a remarkable family.

Viewing for the sale of the Collection of the Late Baroness Herries of Terregles, and Toovey’s series of other Christmas auctions, begins this Saturday morning, 28th November 2015. For more details and to preview the auction go to www.tooveys.com or telephone 01903 891955. I look forward to seeing you there!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 25th November 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.