National Trust’s International Exhibition at Petworth

The National Trust’s landmark exhibition Prized Possessions has just returned from The Mauritshuis museum in the Hague to Petworth House in Sussex.

The Mauritshuis houses the Royal Cabinet of Paintings which includes many of the finest Dutch Golden Age paintings including Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. Nevertheless long queues formed to see Prized Possessions which speaks of the importance of the works on show in this exhibition.

Prized Possessions builds on the tradition established at Petworth House by house and collections manager Andrew Loukes of re-examining the collections and art of the National Trust. In the 17th and 18th centuries Dutch art informed English taste. It is wonderful to see these works displayed in the context of, arguably, England’s finest country house. Petworth has a fine collection of Dutch masters.

The exhibition reflects the diversity of subjects and styles in Dutch Golden Age art with wonderful religious scenes, landscapes still lifes and portraits. Prized Possessions has been curated by David Taylor and Rupert Goulding. The paintings on show are amongst the most celebrated and prized in the National Trust’s collections. The visitor to Petworth will uniquely also be able to see a selection of Dutch masters generously loaned by Lord Egremont from his private collection.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), Self-Portrait, wearing a Feathered Bonnet, c.1635, oil, signed and dated © National Trust

As you enter the exhibition gallery you are met by Rembrandt van Rijn’s remarkable ‘Self-Portrait, wearing a Feathered Bonnet.’ There is such life to the portrait. It displays the psychological insight and unsurpassed technique which underpins Rembrandt’s reputation as an artist. Here we see Rembrandt’s confidence at the height of his wealth and fame.

The portrait is typical of the popular tronie genre where the sitter is depicted in costume playing some sort of role. Rembrandt’s costume with its velvet bonnet decorated with ostrich feathers, the gorget armour and aristocratic hair lends the painting a timeless quality. His pose and the dramatic use of light seems to unite sitter and viewer.

The portrait is signed and dated 1635, the year that the artist and his wife Saskia moved to the fashionable Nieuwe Doelenstraat in Amsterdam.

Until recently the portrait was attributed to one of Rembrandt’s pupils, Govaert Flinck. However, recent scientific and historical research has established the painting as one of a large group of some forty autograph self-portraits by Rembrandt.

Simon Pietersz Verelst (1644-1721), Prince Rupert of the Rhine c.1680-82, oil © National Trust.

The portrait of Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619-1682) by Simon Pietersz Verelst is of contrasting style. The painting forms part of Petworth’s permanent collection and depicts Prince Rupert in middle age after the restoration of his cousin Charles II. He wears the robes of the Order of the Garter. Verelst employs light and colour beautifully to emphasise the opulence and power expressed in his attire.

The exhibition is a cabinet of exquisite paintings and the context of Petworth House and its exhibition rooms allows us to re-examine these prized possessions and their influence on English Country House taste with fresh eyes.

I am delighted that Toovey’s are once again supporting Petworth House’s exhibition program.

Prized Possessions is a jewel like exhibition and a must see. The show is sure to be a sell out so book early. For more information on the exhibition, to book tickets and for opening times visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/petworth.

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.

 

Turner and the Great Age of Watercolour at Petworth

JMW Turner ‘A First Rate Taking in Stores’, c.1818 © The Higgins, Bedford/National Trust
JMW Turner ‘A First Rate Taking in Stores’, c.1818 © The Higgins, Bedford/National Trust

‘Turner & the Age of British Watercolour’ has just opened at Petworth House and runs until 12th March 2017. The exhibition celebrates the British pre-eminence in the medium of watercolour painting in the mid-18th and early 19th century. The work is predominately drawn from the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford, and includes a breadth of artists and paintings of extraordinary quality.

Curated by Andrew Loukes of the National Trust, the exhibition illustrates the development of the British watercolour tradition century and its role in establishing our national and patriotic identity.

The story is told with JMW Turner at its centre. Although Turner painted numerous watercolours at Petworth his great patron and friend, The 3rd Earl of Egremont, did not acquire any. This jewel-like show brings watercolours to Petworth House which speak into the ravishing house collection.

The exhibition makes apparent how British watercolour painting moved from recording the topographical to a romantic, personal impression of a particular place. Many argue that the poetic landscape of the romantic imagination is born out of Constable and Turner’s work.

It was Dr Thomas Munro, the chief physician at the Bethlem (Bedlam) Royal Hospital, who identified the genius of the artist John Robert Cozens. Cozens was admitted to the asylum suffering a nervous breakdown. Munro bought the collection of his work and would share it with a generation of British artists. There are watercolours by both men on display in the exhibition.

Turner was exposed to John Robert Cozens’ landscapes whilst working at Munro’s informal academy with his friend and contemporary, Thomas Girtin, in 1795. Turner would later acknowledge the importance of Cozen’s works on his own development as an artist.

JMW Turner would famously break free from the confines of convention and tradition recording impressions of the elemental in nature.

Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall, Yorkshire, was a man with a patriotic disposition and an important patron to Turner. His son, Hawksworth Fawkes, watched Turner as he painted ‘A First Rate Taking in Stores’ and would write ‘He began by pouring wet paint onto the paper until it was saturated, he tore, he scratched, he scrabbled at it in a kind of frenzy and the whole thing was chaos – but gradually and as if by magic the lovely ship, with all its exquisite minutia came into being’. As you observe this watercolour in the exhibition it reveals depth and detail which contrasts with the scale, atmosphere and movement which Turner’s technique creates.

Thomas Girtin ‘Jedburgh from the River’, c.1798-99 © National Trust
Thomas Girtin ‘Jedburgh from the River’, c.1798-99 © National Trust

The exhibition also looks at the topographical recording of landscapes and buildings which would come to define a sense of British identity. Thomas Girtin’s topographical study ‘Jedburgh Abbey from the River’ combines a delicacy of topographical recording with broad washes of strong colour which are typical of his later more spacious, romantic works. Turner held Girtin’s work in the highest regard.

Francis Towne ‘The Colosseum from the Caelian Hills’, c.1799 © National Trust
Francis Towne ‘The Colosseum from the Caelian Hills’, c.1799 © National Trust

The exhibition also seeks to explain the influence of recording the Grand Tour on British watercolour painting. Artists like Francis Towne, who was a contemporary of John Robert Cozens, were employed in the late 18th century to record the scenes of the Grand Tour as they travelled with their patrons. I love the delicacy of Towne’s watercolour ‘The Colosseum from the Caelian Hills’. It is based on studies in his sketchbooks from his European travels in the 1780s.

‘Turner and the Age of British Watercolour’ is a visually beautiful show which will delight you. The exhibition runs at Petworth House in West Sussex until the 12th March 2017. Entry is by pre-booked timed tickets which can be purchased online at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/petworth or by telephoning 0844 249 1895. 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.