Spring Unites Sussex & The Channel Islands

Postcard titled 'Weighbridge during Potato Season, Jersey'
Postcard titled 'Weighbridge during Potato Season, Jersey'

As March draws to a close it marks the procession towards the end of the great reflective Christian season of Lent. The name Lent probably has Anglo-Saxon origins coming from a word meaning ‘spring’, which refers to lengthening days. Recently we have been blessed with some beautiful bright days punctuating the grey skies.

Colin De La Haye in the granite potato sheds at Bel Val Farm, Jersey
Colin De La Haye in the granite potato sheds at Bel Val Farm, Jersey

Last Sunday I found myself in the company of my cousins, Colin and Paulette De La Haye. They farm Jersey Royal potatoes on land bought by Paulette’s family in the late 19th century. Bel Val Farm sits confidently in its landscape in the North East of the Island of Jersey. For them this is not work, it is a way of life filled with dedication and love.

Our conversation moves, as it usually does, from the world of fine art auctioneering to the important business of this year’s potato season. One of my great delights of the year are the first Jersey Royal potatoes. There is something hopeful in their arrival. Their flavour, texture and colour, for me, marks them as the finest potatoes in the world, especially when they come from Bel Val Farm!

I comment on the chill in the wind and note that the covers are back on the early crop. Colin has the most extraordinary connection with the land. He observes and understands the language of the seasons and nature in a remarkable way. He says “We’re expecting the largest tide of the year tonight, it’s a full moon and the tide comes with the moon. If you are going to get a frost it will be with the Easter moon. Frost comes with the tide this time of year.”

Jersey Royals have been a major export for the Island for more than a century. The postcard illustrated here was sold in a Toovey’s specialist Paper Collectables auction. It depicts the bustle at the harbour during the potato season in the early 20th century. At this time there were hundreds of small farms and growers. Today there are just twenty growers. The Jersey Royal is one of the few truly seasonal crops. Its season lasts just a few months. Each year approximately 30,000 tonnes of Jersey Royals are exported to the UK, worth some £29 million pounds. The value of this crop comes from its unique flavour and that it is one of the earliest new potatoes of the season.

Being early to the market is important to a successful season as there is a premium to the price. Colin explains that each potato seed is individually stood up by hand in some 20,000 boxes over the winter months. They are stored in their potato sheds, some of which are built of granite and overlook the bay. With the eyes facing up it gives the seed an advantage once planted. The earliest Jersey Royals traditionally came from the steep sloping fields known as côtil which catch the sun and guard against the frost. Colin and Paulette’s côtil are so steep that they have to be ploughed with an ancient horse plough attached to a winch at the top of the slope. Vraic, gathered seaweed, is still put on some of the crop to improve the condition of the soil and the flavour.

Colin’s organisation, care and stewardship of the land always impresses me. He and his team will plough, plant, prepare and cover a field in a single day. But there is always the unknown in farming and in particular the weather. I ask Colin how this season is looking, he replies optimistically, as he always does “We haven’t had any frost since the 8th and 9th of January so that’s been ok.” He pauses and smiles wryly and continues “We’ll see what tonight brings. We need a bit of sun now to warm them up.”

Colin’s Jersey accent reminds me that whilst Jersey is part of the British Isles its rich history and traditions mark this proud Island people’s independence.

Always optimistic, attentive to the seasons and tides Colin is rooted in his landscape. Paulette and Colin’s hard work, stewardship and generosity is always inspiring and is to be admired.

Lent affords us time to reflect, a punctuation mark in our busy lives, a time to be reminded of things that we might, for a moment, have forgotten and to rediscover the familiar anew. So look out for the first of the seasons Jersey Royals they may well be from Bel Val Farm!

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

Twenty Years of Fine Art at Toovey’s

Rupert Toovey with gavel in hand ©Toby Phillips/Toovey's
Rupert Toovey with gavel in hand

I started Toovey’s Fine Art Auctioneers twenty years ago this month, with a dedicated team of people who remain passionate about the company and the work we do. We opened on a stormy Valentine’s night in 1995 and were delighted when more than 700 guests braved wind and rain to support us and celebrate this new venture. I set out to create a family firm where people are valued, both clients and staff – a regional auction house providing a centre of expertise for the valuation and sale of art and antiques, with leading specialists and international marketing. Today, the salerooms are on the A24 at Washington, in sight of Chanctonbury Ring and the Sussex Downs, though we travel across London and the South East of England advising clients on their possessions, and our website attracts hundreds of thousands of potential clients from around the world.

Reflecting on the last twenty years, it is the passionate collectors who stand out. These individuals often collect in the pursuit of knowledge. They are continually refining and adding to their depth of understanding of a particular field or period, while training their eye to the subtle details which set apart exceptional objects. In an age which increasingly confuses information with knowledge and understanding, this is an exciting and refreshing group of people to accompany.

'La Cullure des Tulipes’, oil on canvas by George Hitchcock, 1889
'La Cullure des Tulipes’, oil on canvas by George Hitchcock, 1889

The De La Rue Collection from Rusper gave Toovey’s its first truly world-class results in 1998. The remarkable collection came from the famous De La Rue family, who printed money and stamps for the British Empire. It had lain undisturbed for some seventy years. Among the wonderful paintings, furniture and objects was this late 19th century oil on canvas of a young woman gathering tulips in a garden by the American artist George Hitchcock (1850-1913). Although the canvas was holed and in a poor state, it broke all records for the artist at the time when it sold to an American buyer. His agent flew in on Concorde especially for the sale and, against stiff competition from a telephone bidder in London, bought it for £345,000. The news of the sale was reported in the New York Times.

The Little Thakeham House Sale
The Little Thakeham House Sale

Many of the most memorable collections speak of the particular collectors. Take, for example, our Little Thakeham House Sale in 2000. I wrote in the catalogue introduction that the contents of Little Thakeham were in keeping with the stylistic quality of this important Edwin Lutyens house. They reflected the passion which this Arts and Crafts period building inspired in Tim and Pauline Ractliff, who had preserved and celebrated the property for many years. The auction was packed, with people parking in the orchard. On the lawn the marquee filled with bidders and a bank of telephones. Pre-sale estimates were quickly overtaken as prices soared and the gavel fell.

Toovey’s has remained the first choice for the sale of single-owner collections in Sussex. In 2006 our sale of The Bolney Lodge Collection saw buyers spend well over a million pounds on furniture and works of art from the estate of the late Judge Coles QC.

Single-owner sales often reflect a very personal and particular insight into the lives of the individual collector. Take the sale of The Library Collection of The Late W. Leslie Weller MBE, DL, FSA, which Toovey’s held in December last year. The books, pictures and effects reflected a man whose lively mind was directed towards his love of Sussex, its history, countryside and people. A generous and encouraging man, he worked tirelessly for the auctioneering profession and art world, as well as numerous charities. His friendship, support and advice I valued highly throughout my career.

The W. Leslie Weller Library Sale
The W. Leslie Weller Library Sale

Provenance and the human story behind individual objects or collections add a frisson which, though unpredictable, always has an important and positive effect on the prices achieved for them at auction. This has been reflected at Toovey’s sales again and again over the years.

I remain a passionate advocate for art, heritage and culture, sponsoring Pallant House Gallery, Shipley Arts Festival and the wonderful Horsham Museum and Art Gallery, amongst many others, through Toovey’s. Our company continues to invest in the Sussex community which I love, supporting numerous charities and groups with talks and fund-raising.

Twenty years on, I am proud that Toovey’s has fulfilled my hopes and aspirations. It remains a family firm employing a team of specialists and it now has a long-established reputation for expertise in valuing, marketing and auctioning art and antiques. None of this would have been possible, though, without the generous support and encouragement of the collectors, our clients, friends and supporters. Thank you all for the first twenty years!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 4th February 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Frank Brangwyn at Christ’s Hospital School, Horsham

The interior of Christ’s Hospital School’s chapel with Frank Brangwyn’s panels
The interior of Christ’s Hospital School’s chapel with Frank Brangwyn’s panels

Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956) was an important and influential artist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He bought a house in South Street, Ditchling called The Jointure in 1918. It was to remain his Sussex country home. He and his wife, Lucy, divided their time between London and Sussex.

In Ditchling he was reacquainted with the artist Eric Gill who had moved there in 1907. Together with a group of fellow artists Gill founded the Roman Catholic Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic at Ditchling. Thanks to their work this Sussex village had become a centre for the Arts and Crafts movement. Whilst Brangwyn was sympathetic to the cause of the craftsman artist he strongly disagreed with many of the views and practices promoted by some members of the Guild.

As a child Frank Brangwyn displayed a precocious artistic talent. His father, William, ran a thriving ecclesiastical atelier in Bruges whose output was predominately sold through his Baker Street shop in London. Brangwyn was introduced to William Morris by the renowned designer and architect Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo. In 1882, at the age of fifteen, Brangwyn began to work in the Morris workshops. He brought some of the necessary skills from having worked with his father. The young artist showed a particular gift for transferring Morris’s designs onto squared up canvases, skills necessary for the manufacture of tapestries and woodblocks for wallpapers.

‘St Wilfred First Bishop of Selsey Teaching the South Saxon’s A.D. 687’
‘St Wilfred First Bishop of Selsey Teaching the South Saxon’s A.D. 687’

Brangwyn had begun work on the panels in the chapel at Christ’s Hospital School in 1912 though they were not completed until 1923. Christ’s Hospital School was re-sited from the City of London to its current location near Horsham between 1893and 1902. The architect Sir Aston Webb, with his partner Ingress Bell, designed the Tudor-Gothic revival buildings which are still central to the school’s character today. Sir Aston Webb had supported Frank Brangwyn putting him forward for large scale projects over many years. Webb was able to secure Brangwyn the commission to paint the school’s chapel. The subjects were devised by the headmaster, the Revd. Dr A. W. Upcott. The scheme follows a procession from the earliest stories of the Church to the conversion of Britain and the mission of the Church of England.

‘St Augustine at Ebbsfleet “Turn O Lord Thy Wrath From This People” ’
‘St Augustine at Ebbsfleet “Turn O Lord Thy Wrath From This People”’

The panels are painted in tempera which gives them their luminous quality. They follow in a long tradition of wall painting in Sussex which stretches back to Saxon times. I am therefore particularly struck by the panel depicting St Wilfrid (c.633-709) who converted the South Saxons to Christianity when he came to Selsey from Northumbria and Ripon. Here he is depicted standing teaching as the Saxon’s draw in their nets. It is said that the South Saxons fished only for eels and that it was St Wilfred who taught them how to catch fish. Their first catch numbered three hundred and the amazed people turned to God. As they were baptized the rain began to fall ending three years of drought and despair. In thanks King Ethelwalh gave Wilfred eighty-seven hides of land at Selsey. St Wilfrid built a monastery and Cathedral on the Selsey peninsular which was lost when a new Cathedral was built by the Normans at Chichester. The panels show the influence of the Renaissance. Brangwyn, had visited Assisi and Venice soon after his marriage to Lucy in 1896. But these decorative paintings also show the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement, the Post-Impressionists and the strong, rich use of colour promoted by artist like Henri Matisse. The panels are united by the titled friezes with their rich blue grounds.

‘St Ambrose Training the Choir in His Church in Milan A.D. 687’
‘St Ambrose Training the Choir in His Church in Milan A.D. 687’

The panels are important not just as fine examples of Brangwyn’s work, but because they form part of a common narrative amongst modern British artists at the time who sought to reaffirm what it is to be British and to redeem our nation from the experience of the first industrialized world war. The panels are honest about the costs of standing up for righteousness with illustrations of Christian martyrs, many associated with Britain. But they are also hopeful in their vibrant Mediterranean palette, clearly depicting the triumph of good over evil.

Brangwyn articulated the view that work should be done meaningfully, to the highest standards, with humility and for the love of God rather than for gain or self-promotion. These aspirations still resonate with the school today. Christ’s Hospital is in many ways unique, offering an independent education of the highest calibre to children with academic potential, from all walks of life. It is a child’s ability and potential to benefit from a Christ’s Hospital education that determines their selection not their ability to pay. The Christian character of the Foundation and School has remained a constant in the life of Christ’s Hospital for over four and a half centuries. Christian values sustain the whole of Christ’s Hospital’s life, instilling care for the individual and tolerance whilst supplying a moral framework for the delivery of every aspect of education.

These values are at the heart of our nation and we should be grateful to all who make aspirational education and opportunity accessible to the broadest cohort of students from diverse social backgrounds. For more than a century Christ’s Hospital has added to the richness of the Horsham District by its example, outreach and patronage of the arts. It is rightly celebrated. Christ’s Hospital is a working school dedicated to preparing young people to flourish and contribute to our society. However, you can enjoy the remarkable Frank Brangwyn’s and some of the school’s artistic, architectural and historical treasures by joining one of the Verrio tours. Tours are available on Thursdays strictly by prior arrangement. For further information and to book a tour contact Lucia Brown on 01403 247407.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 3rd December 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Sussex History, Heritage and Culture and the Local Community

My cousin Colin De La Haye digging the early Jersey Royals with his Polish team
Rupert's cousin Colin De La Haye digging the early Jersey Royals with his Polish team

“Our Sussex history, heritage and culture are vital to the health and prosperity of our local community”

Our culture and heritage is vital because it provide us with a common narrative, a shared story. It gifts us with a sense of identity. It builds and makes strong and healthy communities.

Visiting my family in the Channel Islands I have been reminded how important my knowledge of Jersey history is to me. Limited as it is, it allows me to celebrate the island’s past and present and to belong.

Common narratives bind communities together. The story is on-going. It changes and evolves as people come and go. Jersey has long embraced migrant labour from across Britain, from Madeira and now from Poland especially in the finance industry and farming. Many of these peoples have returned home, many have stayed and made a life there.

Rupert Toovey and Frank Falle in conversation by Archirondel’s Jersey Round Tower
Rupert Toovey and Frank Falle in conversation by Archirondel’s Jersey Round Tower

My father-in-law, Frank Falle, is a passionate and well regarded Jersey historian. As we walk along a favourite beach in the October sunshine he reminds me that Jersey has often found herself under attack. The Vikings invaded and settled there under the leadership of Hasting. Some historians believe that he gave his name to the town of Hastings in Sussex. In the 18th century French invaders were defeated by Major Peirson whose death during the battle in the centre of St Helier was recorded in the oil painting by John Singleton Copley. The Jersey Round Towers, like the one at Archirondel, are forts which were designed to defend the island and are found around Jersey. In the Second World War the German’s invaded, occupied and fortified the Island.

For many years Frank has run courses on Jersey history and has built a community of historians. I ask him how many of them are from old Jersey families like his. He responds enthusiastically saying “Most of the people on my courses are people who have come to live in Jersey in recent times. They’re proud of Jersey’s history and the place where they have made their lives”. We go down to The Jersey Museum to see the ‘Jersey Hoard’ where we find Reg Mead who discovered this ancient hoard of coins with his colleague Richard Miles. Reg is a man gifted with humble enthusiasm. It is quickly apparent that he has a deep sense of service and responsibility to the Island he has called home since he moved to Jersey in 1976. “I came to the Island to teach having worked as a satellite systems electronics engineer” he explains. Reg is the past President of the Jersey Detecting Society. I ask Reg what drove him forward over all the years he has been a metal detecting enthusiast. He responds “It’s nothing to do with the money. This discovery represents thirty years of hard work often in the pouring rain! The coins were very deeply buried. We had to use a metal detector used to discover Hurricanes, Spitfires and deep finds” Reg’s skill with electronics and his love of history have been important to the success of this find. The reward for their dedication will be shared with the land owner, though the farmer’s name and the field are being kept a secret. But for now Reg is working with a team of archaeologists to preserve, identify and record the hoard using the latest three dimensional mapping technology. Reg explains “Once the hoard has been broken down into its component parts we will be able to show where each coin was located in the mass.” It is Europe’s largest discovered hoard of Celtic coins numbering some 70,000 examples.

Reg Mead with the ‘Jersey Hoard’ at the States funded Jersey Museum
Reg Mead with the ‘Jersey Hoard’ at the States funded Jersey Museum

Reg Mead and Richard Miles have written themselves into Jersey’s history and added to the richness of its future story. The work on the hoard is on full public view at the Jersey Museum. The Jersey Museum is funded by the Island’s government. The States of Jersey understand the importance of history, heritage and culture to the local community in terms of its identity and also the enormous, positive economic impact it has on their economy and employment.

Our Sussex history, heritage and culture are equally vital to the identity, health and prosperity of our local community. History, heritage and culture is a major contributor to our local economy and will continue to provide us all with a common narrative. Like me in Jersey it will allow those who move to West Sussex to belong and add to the richness of our evolving local identity. Our community and quality of life is something which should never be taken for granted. If we are to preserve our county’s distinctive identity and quality of life it is important that our local politicians continue to understand, value and support our museums and art galleries. It is work that only government can do and they are deserving of our thanks for their support and continuing investment.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 12th November 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Famous Picasso Painting Returns to Sussex

Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman (Femme en pleurs), 26th October 1937, oil on canvas, Tate. Accepted by H.M. Government in lieu of tax with additional payment (Grant-in-Aid) made with the assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Friends of Tate Gallery, 1987, © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2014

A remarkable exhibition opens this weekend at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. At its centre is one of Pablo Picasso’s most remarkable pictures: ‘Weeping Woman’. The painting was originally owned by the famous writer, artist and patron Roland Penrose, who made his home at Farley Farm House, near Chiddingly in East Sussex.

The exhibition, titled ‘Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War’, is the first to focus on the artistic response of British visual artists to this conflict and the common voice and influence they found in continental artists like Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro.

Roland Penrose helped to bring Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ to Britain. Its powerful depiction of the destruction caused by the German bombing of the defenceless town of the same name had a profound impact on the public and artists when it was shown in Britain in 1938 and 1939. Roland Penrose bought ‘Weeping Woman’ from Picasso. Painted by the artist in 1937, it is an iconic work which contains an innate and powerful response to the horror of the Spanish Civil War. ‘Weeping Woman’ was exhibited alongside ‘Guernica’ in Britain.

Quentin Bell, May Day Procession with Banner, 14 July 1937, oil on canvas, The Farringdon Collection Trust, © Anne Olivier Bell

The Spanish Civil War was described by Stephen Spender as ‘the poets’ war’. It was recorded by writers like George Orwell in ‘Homage to Catalonia’ and Ernest Hemmingway in ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’. Hemmingway described the Spanish Civil War as ‘the dress rehearsal for the inevitable European war’. Simon Martin, exhibition curator and Pallant House Gallery Artistic Director, comments: “This was a civil war with an international dimension.” The British government signed a non-intervention treaty and was officially neutral. For many British artists and writers, however, the civil war went beyond an internal conflict between the democratically elected Republicans and General Franco’s Nationalist rebels. For them and many others in Britain, the civil war represented the wider battle against Fascism. “Many artists were concerned about the appeasement,” Simon explains. In scenes reminiscent of Quentin Bell’s painting ‘May Day Procession with Banner, 14 July 1937’, artists like Roland Penrose, F.E. McWilliam and Julian Trevelyan marched in the 1938 London May Day Procession to protest at our government’s policy of appeasement. They wore masks, made by McWilliam, caricaturing the Prime Minster, Neville Chamberlain. Simon Martin notes: “You will find one of the masks in the exhibition. There is an obvious and very palpable fear expressed in these artists’ works, a fear that the rise of Fascism in Germany, Italy and Spain would lead to something which would much more directly involve Britain.”

F.E. McWilliam, Spanish Head, 1938-9, Hopton Wood stone, The Sherwin Collection, © Estate of F.E. McWilliam

Against the backdrop of these internationally turbulent times, the artists’ response is personal and charged with emotion. I ask Simon about this quality. He pauses for a moment and replies, “It is rare to work on an exhibition in which so much of the work is about deeply held matters of politics and conscience. Their response provides a deeply moving articulation of this story of human tragedy, refugees, political prisoners and victims of bombing.” These themes are powerfully reflected in this exhibition.

The show reveals to the viewer the effect of Picasso’s imagery on British artists. Take, for example, the surrealist Hopton Wood stone sculpture ‘Spanish Head’ by F.E. McWilliam. Here the mouth and eye of a head are distorted, reflecting the destructive power of this war. Henry Moore’s ‘Spanish Prisoner’, again influenced by Picasso, is equally disturbing in its depiction of human suffering.

‘Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War’ contains not only paintings, prints and sculptures, but also banners, photographs and ephemera, which bring to life the role of British artists in this civil war in a foreign land. It marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939.

The timing of this exhibition’s opening is particularly poignant as the nation pauses this weekend, on Remembrance Sunday, to remember those who have fought and given their lives for our country and freedom.

‘Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War’ runs from 8th November 2014 to 15th February 2015 at Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester, PO19 1TJ. For more information go to www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 5th November 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.