I do like to be beside the Seaside…

Arthur H. Buckland - 'Brighton from Hove', oil on board
Arthur H. Buckland - 'Brighton from Hove', oil on board

I really do like to be beside the seaside! The shingle beaches of the Sussex coast have delighted me since I was a small child. If ever life seems a bit hectic I only have to head to the seaside. Within a short while the whoosh and clatter of the waves breaking upon the pebbles and the salty wind stills me.

The famous seaside music hall song ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’ was written in 1907 by John A. Glover-Kind and made famous by the singer Mark Sheridan. In those same years, before the First World War, artistic activity in Britain was largely London based, though this did not prevent artists from venturing outside the city to paint.

The New English Art Club was started in 1886 to provide an exhibiting body for painters sympathetic to the artistic innovations emerging from France. By 1888 the Club had become factional. Amongst their subjects they painted the English seaside with a broken touch and increasingly brilliant colours influenced by French Impressionism. Alongside the art schools and galleries there were a number of circles which promoted work of a ‘modern’ nature. Amongst these were the Fitzroy Group and the related, but more famous, Camden Town Group. These two societies would eventually become known as the London Group. In the winter of 1913 and early 1914 they held an exhibition which was titled ‘English Post-Impressionists, Cubists and Others’.

Many followed in the footsteps of Post Impressionists like Lucien Pissarro, Anthony Devas, and Edward Le Bas in celebrating the coast of Sussex and her Downs. Their depictions of the Sussex landscape are not wholly representational, rather they allow us to see beyond our immediate perception of the world around us. As we glimpse the hidden rhythms and beauty in creation we come to understand something of our place in it.

Others, too, found a communion with the Sussex Landscape. Take for example the delightful oil shown above by the painter and illustrator, Arthur Herbert Buckland (1870–1927). In this summer scene people promenade and sit on the beach at Hove beneath their parasols. Brighton and her piers shimmer distantly in the heat and light. The handling of paint heightens the viewer’s sense of light and movement leaving room for the scene to come alive in our imaginations.

Henry Bishop - View of a Promenade and Beach at Deal in Kent, oil on canvas
Henry Bishop - View of a Promenade and Beach at Deal in Kent, oil on canvas

The oil on canvas by the artist Henry Bishop (1868-1939) is thought to depict the promenade and beach at Deal in Kent. Here once again the artist depicts that particular summer light which presents a paler palette to the eye. This is an early morning scene. A few cars are parked and figures walk past a row of bathing huts upon the beach. The air is still cool with the promise of a warm summer’s day ahead.

Joseph Henderson - 'Ayrshire Coast', oil on canvas
Joseph Henderson - 'Ayrshire Coast', oil on canvas

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries artists across the country painted Britain’s wonderful coastline and not just in the South-East. The Scottish artist Joseph Henderson (1832–1908) painted portraits, marine pictures, genre and coastal scenes. The cool light of his oil on canvas ‘Ayshire Coast’ is reflected in the blue of the sea. The two figures on the beach, together with the sail on the horizon once again draws us into the landscape and narrative of the scene.

In these paintings we see the continuing renaissance of the British Romantic Tradition, often articulated with a fresh voice. Prices at auction for oils by these artists range from middle hundreds to tens of thousands of pounds.

As I sit writing this the weather forecasters are predicting a heat wave this week! Perhaps these paintings will inspire you to revisit the Sussex coast. I hope that the whoosh and clatter of the waves breaking upon the pebbles and the salty breeze will bless you as they do me.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 1st July 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

“This Was Their Finest Hour” – Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Churchill

70 years ago, on the 7th May 1945, the Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany’s armed forces. What had been fought for were the ideals of liberty, freedom, justice and fairness. But we had also fought for our national identity, bound up with the narrative of our island history and the English Romantic tradition.

Whenever the English find themselves under threat, they turn to their monarchy, their church and their landscape; our nation’s identity is bound together by these timeless threads. As 1944 drew to a close Winston Churchill said “A love for tradition has never weakened a nation, indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril.”

Victory in Europe, VE Day, was celebrated on the 8th May 1945 with a public holiday. There was a sense of relief and exhilaration at the end of six years of war. Stepping stones of defeat and been turned to triumph. The hard fight to free Europe restored, preserved and changed our nation’s ideals and identity.

Photographs taken by Captain B. St. C. Tony Rutherford
Black and white photographs taken by Captain B. St. C. Tony Rutherford, group photographer of the 53rd Welsh Division, from late June in Normandy to Hamburg May 1945

In response to the attack by British Bomber Command on Lubeck in March 1942 Hitler ordered bombing raids on old historic English cities, noted as important places to visit in the Baedeker travel guides of the period. They became known as the Baedeker bombing raids. Targets often included our Cathedral cities like Canterbury, York and Exeter. In so doing the Nazis sought to strike at the very identity of our nation, the quintessentially English. Remarkably the Cathedrals of Canterbury, York and Exeter survived. The tragic loss of life and homes failed to diminish morale.

A view of the ancient Cathedral city of Chichester
A view of the ancient Cathedral city of Chichester

Although bombed on three occasions Chichester remained relatively unscathed and it is for this reason that it gives us such a wonderful and complete picture of an ancient English Cathedral city.

Suffragette movement via blog.tooveys.com
A photographic postcard depicting the suffragettes Mary Gawthorpe and Miss Pankhurst speaking to a crowd in the Market Place, Uppingham, Rutland, posted in 1907

At the heart of our modern freedom is our democratic right to vote. The Reform Acts, from 1832 onwards, had successively extended democratic voting rights to broader sections of British society. Women’s suffrage became a national movement in 1872. It was the efforts of suffragettes like Mary Gawthorpe and Emily Pankhurst which brought limited rights for women to vote in 1918. But it was not until the Conservative government passed the 1928 ‘Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act’ that all women over the age of 21 were given the vote. Women’s working roles during the war had been vital to Britain’s success. Women’s votes and equal rights would shape the future of British society.

Victory in 1945, and political victories before and since, have shaped our nation, upholding and defending our ideals of liberty, freedom, justice and fairness.

It is perhaps fitting, then, that our Parliamentary elections should fall on such an auspicious day as the 7th May 2015.

Late in the war the House of Commons was bombed. Reflecting on its rebuilding, in October 1944, Winston Churchill said “We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.” Our freedoms have been hard won and costly to defend. Rights come with responsibility. Our universal right to vote and shape our nation through the House of Commons is a vital responsibility.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 6th April 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Wedgwood – The Most Important English Potteries

A set of six Wedgwood blue printed plates
A set of six Wedgwood blue printed plates, circa 1820

I was delighted when the news broke last week that the internationally important ‘Wedgwood Collection’, housed at the Wedgwood Museum in Stoke, had been saved for the nation at a cost of £15.75 million. The final £2.74 million was raised through the Art Fund by public appeal in just a month.

A Wedgwood creamware pierced oval dish
A Wedgwood creamware pierced oval dish, late 18th century

The Wedgwood Collection, one of the most important industrial archives in the world, has been saved, thanks to the generosity of thousands of individuals, businesses and a number of grant-making foundations.

A Wedgwood black basalt combined bough-pot and pastille burner, 19th century
Detail of a Wedgwood black basalt combined bough-pot and pastille burner, 19th century

The seeds of the collection were sown by Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95), who in 1774 expressed an aspiration to preserve examples of the objects created by the Wedgwood pottery which bears his name. Josiah Wedgwood’s inventiveness combined his artistic taste and scientific knowledge with a gift for administration and business acumen. He took the manufacture of ceramics to extraordinary heights. These qualities have led many art historians to claim that he was the most distinguished English potter of his age. His reputation was certainly international. Amongst his patrons were the British Royal Family, Catherine the Great of Russia, the Queen of France and the King of Naples.

His early appreciation of Neo-Classicism and his eye for young artists with real ability, like John Flaxman and George Stubbs, enabled him to produce ceramics which fitted with this style and decoration. There was an industrial, modern efficiency in the way that he organised his factory and by 1782 he was employing the use of steam power.

The simple, elegant patterns of Wedgwood’s cream-coloured earthenware appealed to buyers with a taste for Neo-Classicism. In honour of the factory’s patron, Queen Charlotte, these wares became known as Queen’s Ware. These creamwares were painted, like the late 18th century pierced oval dish illustrated, delicately enamelled with groups of shells and seaweed, or transfer-decorated, like the plates seen here, generously decorated with passion flowers, geranium and iris within borders of convolvulus.

A pair of Wedgwood two colour jasperware cups and saucers
A pair of Wedgwood two colour jasperware cups and saucers, late 18th century
A Wedgwood pale blue jasper dip 'Pegasus' vase and cover
A Wedgwood pale blue jasper dip 'Pegasus' vase and cover, circa 1871, decorated after George Flaxman’s The Apotheosis of Homer

The Wedgwood pottery became famous for its vitreous stonewares. The first of these was the red stoneware examples known as ‘rosso antico’. By 1769 the black basalt wares were in production, like the early 19th century black basalt combined bough pot and pastille burner shown here. In this detail you will note the Neo-Classical decorative motif of the band of anthemion sprays. Anthemion is, of course, honeysuckle in the modern vernacular, such a romantic flower. From 1774 Jasper Ware, the most famous of these vitreous wares, was being made. These pieces, with their exquisite forms and white, classical relief decorations against blue, green, lavender or yellow grounds, delight in their bold restraint. The beautiful proportions and forms were often copied from ancient Greek examples of vases, which were defined as Etruscan at that time. Indeed, the Wedgwood factory’s name, Etruria, was taken from this term. The pair of Wedgwood two-colour jasperware cups and saucers date from the late 18th century. The Wedgwood pale blue jasper dip ‘Pegasus’ vase and cover is later, dating from around 1871. It is ornamented in white with The Apotheosis of Homer, after the artist Flaxman. The square pale blue jasper base is decorated with classical maidens, each canted corner relief decorated with winged mythical beasts.

Leading factories such as Meissen, Sèvres and Vienna were amongst Wedgwood’s imitators.

Today examples like those illustrated can be bought at auction for between £50 and £2000, whilst the rarest and finest examples realise vastly higher sums.

Josiah Wedgwood was a man of liberal and humanitarian views, a supporter of the American Revolution and an advocate for the abolition of slavery.

The ‘Wedgwood Collection’ preserves this unique record of British history and global commerce in one place. It contains over 80,000 works of art, ceramics, manuscripts and letters, pattern books and photographs covering the 250-year history of Wedgwood. The Collection will soon be gifted to the V&A and remain on display at the Wedgwood Museum.

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, said: ‘This amazing show of public support for the Wedgwood Collection has made this the fastest fundraising campaign in the Art Fund’s 111-year history. It demonstrates nothing less than a national passion for Wedgwood – its history, its quality, its brand, its continuity…’

The ‘Wedgwood Collection’ represents Wedgwood’s extraordinary legacy and position in British industrial and art history.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 15th October 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.