Inspired by the Landscape

Rupert Toovey at Petworth Park
Rupert Toovey at Petworth Park

Inspired by the Horsham Museum & Art Galleries latest exhibition of local landscapes I have been trying to walk off my Christmas indulgence, with my terrier Bonnie in the beauty of the Sussex countryside. And what strikes me is how influential and important human stewardship and industry has been to the appearance and beauty of our landscape.

A great favourite of ours is the circular walk at the top of Chantry Hill at the back of Storrington. From the car park you follow the footpath to the west. The views carry your eye across the undulating hills of the Angmering Park Estate to the sea at Worthing and the Isle of Wight. Leaving the main path and heading North the ground steadily rises until the view opens onto the Sussex Weald. A few hundred yards to the east between Kithurst Hill and Chantry Hill you come upon a late Bronze Age / Iron Age cross dyke. The deep ditch and steep embankment still defines its boundary and affords the most wonderful views with Storrington below. As you walk in this man made earthworks you have a real sense of the ancient and your place in the procession of history. It is farming which has created and preserved the Downland landscape which surrounds it.

At Petworth Park the qualities of the picturesque are alive in Capability Brown’s man made landscape, preserved and maintained by The National Trust.

Bonnie delighted to be on the Bronze Age cross dyke on Chantry Hill

Bonnie and I love to walk through the park and around the lake. The house and park are united in the landscape. Here you come upon a series of constructed, vignette views onto sweeping areas of grass, curving lakes and beautifully conceived woodland clumps of trees. It is as though you are walking in a series paintings.

This aesthetic was born out of the rococo in reaction to the formal straight lines and topiary of the French royal gardens designed by André Le Notre (1613-1700), which had been made popular in England in the late 17th and early 18th centuries by George London (d.1714) and Henry Wise (1653-1738). Together they had created the parterres not only at Petworth but also at Hampton Court Palace, Chatsworth and Longleat.

In early 18th century England there was a political desire, held by both the Whig government and Hanoverian King George I, to distance themselves from the excesses of the French Court at Versailles. This combined with a fascination for ‘unbounded nature’. In this climate Capability Brown’s park landscapes evolved in dialogue with his patrons. Perhaps this is why his idealised landscapes speak into the hearts and imaginations of the English and, in part, define us.

Sussex and her landscape continues to inspire successive generations of artists, writers and composers as she has over the centuries. I look forward to exploring the Sussex landscape and the continuing contribution of its contemporary stewards to the identity and heritage of the county.

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 Heritage and Arts in West Sussex in 2018

From left to right: Toovey’s Director, Nicholas Toovey, artist, Humphrey Ocean., RA, and Jeremy Knight in conversation at the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery

As 2018 draws to a close it provides a moment to reflect on what an exceptional year it has been for Heritage and the Arts in West Sussex and to look forward to 2019.

West Sussex is blessed by its rich history, culture and artistic offering which is made possible by the inspiration, dedication and hard work of a number of key individuals.

The Horsham Museum & Art Gallery’s reputation continues to grow under the leadership of Jeremy Knight whose outstanding contribution to heritage and the arts was marked this year with a High Sheriff’s Award. This growing reputation attracted the attention of the Royal Academy in its 250th anniversary year and the artist Humphrey Ocean., RA. The Horsham District Council’s continued commitment to the Horsham Museum and Art Gallery is deserving of praise.

Sheep handling at The 2018 West Grinstead Agricultural and Ploughing Match Show

The West Grinstead Annual Plough Match and agricultural show celebrates the work of our farmers and their important contribution, through their stewardship of the countryside, to our county’s rural landscape. At the heart of the Society which runs it is its Honorary Secretary Rowan Allan of H. J. Burt. He has spent his life celebrating and professionally supporting the work and life of the countryside.

Parham House and its gardens are amongst the most beautiful in all England. Lady Emma Barnard is the house’s current custodian and celebrated 70 years since her family first opened the house in 1948 to share it with the public. This generous tradition continues today.

The high point of this year’s Shipley Arts Festival for me was the world premiere of the Shipley Psalms at Steyning Parish Church. The inspiration for this commission came out of a conversation between myself, Andrew Bernardi and the composer Malcolm Singer. We were discussing the American composer Leonard Bernstein and his choral work, The Chichester Psalms. This new commission was made possible by the generous patronage of The Shipley Arts Festival and Mr John Snelling.

These artistic, cultural and heritage threads preserve and add to the evolving identity of our county and its rich tapestry of life in town and country.

My brother Nicholas and I are delighted that through Toovey’s we have been able to play a part in bridging these artistic and heritage communities together, adding weight to their vision and work, whilst also offering financial support and professional advice.

These individuals along with so many others are deserving of our thanks. They enrich the quality of our lives whilst contributing enormously to our economy through the visitors and businesses they draw to our county.

I am looking forward to celebrating with you the best artistic, cultural and heritage events our county has to offer in 2019, and wish you all a very happy and peaceful New Year.

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.

A Voyage of Discovery at Horsham Museum

The Maori Poi dancer, Whakarewarewa, published by the New Zealand photographer Thomas Pringle in 1907

Horsham Museum & Art Gallery’s latest exhibition ‘Voyages to the Pacific’ is inspired by the 250th Anniversary of the departure of Captain James Cook’s first voyage to Tahiti in 1768.

The exhibition draws on the museum’s remarkable collection of ethnographic material. The show highlights the interactions and exchanges that have taken place between the peoples of Europe and the Pacific over the last 250 years, including Horsham’s residents whose objects are displayed telling the story.

A collection of Pacific ethnographical objects framed against Horsham’s Causeway

Assistant Curator Rhiannon Jones says “The exhibition shows how the people of Horsham have encountered the people of the South Pacific. These objects were brought back by diplomats, sailors and wealthy people.”

“In the summer of 1768 Captain James Cook set sail from Plymouth for Tahiti hoping to track the transit of Venus. Cook’s techniques in surveying, astronomy and timekeeping were revolutionary, as was his care for his crew and the measures he took to prevent scurvy.”

There was a second charge to Cook to discover the as yet only imagined great southern continent. Cook would sail tantalisingly close, within 75 miles of Antarctica.

Rhiannon explains how this first expedition and Cook’s two subsequent voyages changed European perceptions of world geography leading to trade and colonisation.

The exhibition provides an introduction to the sociocultural anthropology of the peoples of the Pacific through objects and photographs.

My eye is caught by a photograph of the Maori Poi Dancer, Whakarewarewa. It is taken from the book ‘Maori Studies’ published by the New Zealand photographer Thomas Pringle in 1907. The Poi is a traditional Maori dance where weights are swung in rhythmic patterns on the end of tethers.

A rare 19th century Tongan or Samoan Tapa barkcloth panel

On the opposite side of the gallery a series of 19th century Tapa barkcloth panels with striking geometric abstract designs are displayed. These cloths are produced from the inner bark of young shrubs and trees by the process of soaking and beating. They are commonly found across the Pacific and Africa. Barkcloth is still used for clothing, bedding, flooring and ceremonial objects. It is short lived and old examples like this Tongan or Samoan panel are rare.

Rhiannon enthuses about a case filled with ethnographical pieces which include an 18th century pot stand from Papua New Guinea modelled as a head, wooden combs and necklaces, and a small jade totem intended to enhance fertility. I remark that this fascinating array is displayed against the backdrop of Horsham’s famous Causeway which seems to emphasise the town’s connection with the exhibition’s story and objects and she agrees.

Entrance to the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery, The Causeway, Horsham, RH12 1HE, is free with permanent displays and exciting shows. Voyages to the Pacific runs until 26th January 2019. There are plenty of family Christmas activities too. For more information visit www.horshammuseum.org.

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.

RA250 Celebrated at Horsham

The Royal Academy’s Professor of Perspective, Humphrey Ocean., RA, in conversation with Nicholas Toovey and Jeremy Knight

Horsham Museum & Art Gallery’s latest exhibition ‘Watercolour RA250’ explores the relationship of leading Royal Academicians with the medium of watercolour.

The exhibition was opened by Humphrey Ocean., RA, who acknowledged his connection with Sussex having been born at Hardham. He described how he follows in the footsteps of J.M.W Turner as the Royal Academy’s Professor of Perspective and the importance of Turner’s watercolours in the artist’s oeuvre.

The Royal Academy (RA) was founded in 1768 with the approval of George III. Its constitution allowed for painters in oil, sculptors, printmakers and architects to be elected to membership of the RA but not watercolourists. Exhibition Curator Jeremy Knight explained how despite this many leading Royal Academicians over the centuries have been talented watercolourists. ‘Watercolour RA250’ gives a rich insight into these artist’s relationship with the medium of watercolour. Paintings by JMW Turner, Paul Sandby, Humphrey Ocean and many other rarely seen pictures are on show. Works have been borrowed from museums and art galleries across Sussex.

Humphrey Ocean., RA, Portrait of Horsham born artist Mark Alexander © the artist

Humphrey Ocean’s work has exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery. He has been making a series of portraits of visitors to his studio since 2006. He works swiftly employing gouache on large sheets of paper. His sitters are depicted in simple bold forms and colours. These portraits are compelling illustrating the artist’s love of painting, colour and people. Ocean illuminates something unique about each person, their posture and dress, providing an intimate snapshot in time. These qualities are apparent in his striking portrait of the Horsham born artist Mark Alexander.

Two important talks will take place at the Capitol, Horsham to accompany the exhibition. On 11th October at 7pm art historian Tom Wilcox will discuss ‘Watercolour in Britain in the 20th century – mainstream or margin?’, and Greg Smith will look at the work of Thomas Girtin on 18th October at 6.30pm. Tickets are available from the Capitol by visiting www.thecapitolhorsham.com.

It is exciting to see how Horsham Museum & Art Gallery’s growing collection of watercolours is continuing to raise its profile enabling it to borrow additional major works from museums and art galleries.

None of this would be possible without Jeremy Knight and the Horsham District Council’s understanding of the importance of art and heritage to the identity and economy of Horsham and the broader district. Jonathan Chowen, Horsham District Council Cabinet Member for Arts, Heritage & Leisure, and his team are deserving of our thanks for their continued long term support of the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery.

The exhibition is supported by the Royal Academy’s RA250, The Art Fund and Toovey’s Fine Art Auctioneers. ‘Watercolour RA250’ runs until 17 November 2018, at the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery, The Causeway, Horsham, RH12 1HE and admission is free. For more information go visit www.horshammuseum.org.

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.

Jeremy Knight and the Horsham Museum

The iconic Horsham Museum & Art Gallery in the Causeway, Horsham

As The Horsham Museum celebrates its 125th Anniversary Jeremy Knight is marking 30 years as its curator on the 15th August 2018.

This August the Horsham Museum is celebrating its 125th Birthday. It was founded in 1893 by members of the Free Christian Church and the Horsham Museum Society was born. In 1974 Horsham District Council took over responsibility for running the museum.

Jeremy has been the curator at the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery for thirty years. As I meet him I comment on the remarkable coincidence of the timing of these two important anniversaries, he agrees and says “We’re continuing those noble Victorian aspirations of learning, public service and working for the civic good.”

I ask Jeremy what most delights him about his role at the museum, he replies “Listening to people talking about the museum as their museum, it’s then that you know you’ve got it right.”

Curator Jeremy Knight celebrating 30 years at the Horsham Museum

Jeremy Knight is a modern antiquarian; passionate about the use of objects in telling stories from our past. He stands against the current concerning trend of removing objects and labels from our nation’s museum displays. He comments “It’s about story-telling, it always has been, using objects to bring history to life by exploring historical connections and peoples’ relationships.”

Jeremy is a gifted historian. His excellent volumes on the history of Horsham are published by the museum and the profits go to help support its work.

Reflecting on his thirty years at the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery he smiles and says “It has been exciting to professionalise and develop the curatorship of the collections whilst re-inventing the museum.” Jeremy explains how he has edited and managed the collections. His policies in this area have been celebrated by museums and fellow curators. Jeremy comments “If you have collections they enable you to work with and borrow from others.” Jeremy has built relationships with national institutions and collaborated with the Worshipful Company of Loriners, the V&A and the Royal Academy.

Jeremy developed an interest in objects and history at an early age. He explains how his mother encouraged him to collect geological specimens when he was 11 years old. From geology he moved onto the natural world with a Christmas gift of an antique taxidermy red squirrel. And then to books, not just as documents of learning but as aesthetic objects.

In the museum he balances the public’s appetite for art with an ability to display our local social and economic history in creative and unique ways. Under Jeremy Knight’s leadership the Horsham Museum and Art Gallery has become one of the most visited art and heritage attractions in West Sussex.

He is quick to praise his staff and community of volunteers “I work with a small, dedicated and talented staff at the museum. We are supported by over sixty volunteers ranging in age from nineteen to nearly ninety – they work on everything from gardening, to making fittings for exhibitions, cataloguing, researching collections, digital recording and local history, as well as guiding.”

The Horsham District Council’s continued commitment to the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery is deserving of praise.

Jeremy Knight continues to have an enormous influence on the promotion of culture and heritage across the whole Horsham District. His work illustrates the importance of generous, long-term leadership and service, in preserving the history and art of our county and he is richly deserving of our thanks.

Entrance to the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery is free with permanent displays and exciting shows like the current Frankenstein exhibition. For more information visit www.horshammuseum.org.

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.