Art and Lanscape Shaped by Farming

Frank Wootton’s oil on canvas ‘Chanctonbury Ring, Sussex, MkII’

The South Downs have for centuries been shaped by farming. Today the ancient chalk grasslands are once again returning to the steep downland slopes. In the valleys and open fields mixed farming ensures that the fertility of the soil is improved and maintained by the under planting of cereal crops with rich clovers and grass grazed by sheep and cattle. Some of the most balanced and sustainable farming practice in the country is to be found between the South Downs and Horsham.

The oil painting titled ‘Chanctonbury Ring, Sussex’ by the Sussex artist Frank Wooton. OBE (1911-1998) depicts a rural idyll with farmstead and grazing cattle beneath the Sussex Downs. It remains one of my favourite paintings to be sold at Toovey’s in recent years and realised £2400. The tone and palette lend this familiar scene a wonderful luminance. It is this quality of landscape which speaks into the very identity of our nation.

Frank Wootton studied at The Eastbourne College of Art under Eric Ravilious and Arthur Reeves-Fowkes. Whilst his landscapes and equestrian scenes are celebrated Wootton is perhaps most famous for his aeronautical paintings. Wootton would serve as a war artist to the RAF and even before this appointment he was painting the Battle of Britain at Biggin Hill.

In the late 19th and 20th centuries many of Britain’s leading artists were inspired to leave London, our towns and cities for the country. For some it was to escape the effects of the industrial revolution and for others the wars.

And here’s the thing, that sense of the rural idyll remains alive in popular culture and the public’s imagination. In contrast those living in our increasingly urbanised society have become more and more removed from the reality of country life and farming which is why the work of the West Grinstead & District Ploughing Match & Agricultural Society has never been more important. It brings the farming community together, promoting best practice and educating the public. The overwhelming majority of the farmers here in Sussex work constantly to achieve a balance between maintaining the fertility of the land, producing food in a sustainable way for the nation with close attention to the preservation of nature.

Our farmer’s continue to steward the landscapes which have inspired artists and musicians over the centuries and never more so than in Sussex in the 20th century. In our hearts and minds the countryside with its generous communities connected with the seasons and the abundance of the land have provided hope against the back drop and grind of urbanisation and industrialization.
I think this is why landscape paintings continue to speak to us so strongly and remain in such demand.

Toovey’s Director and specialist, Nicholas Toovey, is preparing his next curated auction of fine art which will be held on 4th December 2019 and entries are still being invited. Nicholas is always delighted to share his passion for paintings with others and offer advice. He can be contacted 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.

Angmering Park Estate

Angmering Park Estate from the Downs behind Storrington

The view as you look towards the sea from the Downs at the back of Storrington is remarkable. It is this quality of landscape which speaks into the very identity of our nation.

This land is stewarded by the forward looking Angmering Park Estate team who have just received two awards from the West Grinstead & District Ploughing Match & Agricultural Society for “2019 Best Farm over 500 Acres”, and “2019 Best Farm for Conservation”.

I have enormous respect for the work of Nigel Draffan, the Savills Resident Managing Agent, who has managed the estate for many years.
I ask Nigel about his views on the current debates about farming. He says “Since the war farmers have been encouraged by the government to increase yields which have almost doubled since the 1970s and this has led to a perception that food will always be plentiful with little discussion of the carbon footprint of importing food to this country.”

Nigel Draffan on the Angmering Park Estate with Dominic Gardner

Nigel explains that at Angmering Park they are working constantly to achieve a balance between maintaining the fertility of the land and producing food with close attention to the preservation of nature. He says “We have become increasingly sophisticated in analysing the environment in our fields and in the nature corridors of woodland and hedgerows which we are continuing to create.”

This becomes immediately apparent when we drive up into the estate where we meet with the farm manager Dominic Gardner. Nigel says “With the aid of GPS we can analyse where there are natural deficiencies in the soil or other problems in a part of the field. Rather than applying a blanket application of nitrogen phosphates and potash, or herbicides and pesticides to the whole estate we can be much more targeted only spraying the areas within fields that need it.” Dominic adds “We use satellite navigation which we plug into the tractor’s computer. It’s only a matter of time before the computer will be able to turn just a few nozzles on for just five yards. The spraying will become even more topical which is so important for insect life, birds and nature to flourish.”

At Angmering Park Dominic has combined minimum tillage methods with areas specifically put aside to increase worms and their activity. A rotation of grazing sheep preserves and enhances the fertility of the soil. There are positive economic consequences as well as environmental ones to reducing the use of agro-chemicals to where they are really needed as they are very expensive.
As we drive back Nigel explains “We produce food for the nation on the productive land but as you go up the higher slopes we leave it to grass, grazing sheep amongst a patchwork of forestry. And if you can’t farm it sustainably and commercially give it to nature.” Both Nigel and Dominic are keen to stress the importance of being profitable and operating from a strong base as it enables the levels of investment necessary for long-term balanced stewardship producing food whilst working with and being attentive to nature.
Central to the maintenance of the natural landscape are the resources provided by seasonal ethical shooting.

They have reversed the decline in natural flora and fauna with the return of rare species like Turtle Doves and native fritillaries whilst remaining profitable and productive.

I ask Nigel what word he would like to be used to describe the future of farming in the UK and he replies “Balance. If you look at a farm map of the UK we should be farming in a balanced and sustainable way all grade 1, 2 and the best of 3 land – and there is an argument that poor [grade] 3 or 4 land could revert to wilding.”
There is a diversity of approach at Angmering Park which balances our need for food production with the needs of the land and nature. Their long-term stewardship deserves our thanks.

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 Sustainable Farming at Applesham Farm

Hugh and Christopher Passmore at Applesham Farm with Rowan Allan
Hugh and Christopher Passmore at Applesham Farm with Rowan Allan

This week I am visiting Christopher, Hugh and Sara Passmore in my role as President of the West Grinstead & District Ploughing & Agricultural Society with the society’s Hon. Secretary Rowan Allan.

As we leave H. J. Burt, Rowan’s offices in Steyning, for their farm he describes how the Passmore’s and their team have been practising sustainable farming at Applesham long before it became fashionable.

We arrive at Applesham Farm amongst the flint and tile workshops and are met by Christopher and Hugh. They point out how these units have gained new life and are being occupied by craftspeople in a similar way to the estate workers who used them when they were first built.

Hugh’s wife, Sara, joins us as we gather in their farmhouse kitchen. Christopher explains how his Grandfather came to Applesham in 1901 as a tenant of the Petworth and Leconfield Estate. He says “My Grandfather subsequently bought the farm. Before he came it had been empty for 18 months. We still farm 850 acres of that land today.”

The importance of continuity and long-term stewardship quickly becomes apparent. But while there is a willingness to embrace the best of traditional farming practice their approach is very modern analysing each season and allowing the facts to inform their decisions.

Changes at Applesham Farm are processional rather than revolutionary as Hugh and Christopher apply science and their deep experience and understanding of their land to their farming.

Hugh Passmore and his herd of Limousin cattle
Hugh Passmore and his herd of Limousin cattle

Today the farm combines arable with sheep and beef which is key to Hugh and Christopher’s approach. Hugh explains “We employ a traditional seven year crop rotation with the last cereal crop undersown with grass and clovers. We graze sheep and cattle on the new grass leys once the cereal crop has been harvested. The fresh grass and clover is highly nutritious, bringing fat lambs on from ten weeks.”

Hugh highlights how the sheep and cattle replenish the soil with natural manure saying “We have thin chalk soils so we must feed it constantly”. This natural approach blesses the soil with a high organic matter content.
Hugh regularly walks the cereal crops, keeping spraying to a minimum. Christopher says “We don’t use any insecticide in the summer because we would take out a lot of the beneficial predatory insects which feed on the problem insects, they are the natural pest controllers.”

As we drive out onto the farm we come across the Limousin cattle with their bull, grazing alongside the Lleyn and Texel cross sheep.

The farm sits in a bowl and the steep escarpments are nutrient poor but species rich. Hugh and Christopher maintain it as chalk grassland, occasionally grazing it to maintain the wild-flowers. There are an abundance of butterflies, birds and insects once common to our land and some 140 species of plants.
The farm has won awards for Best Farm and Conservation across the South East and Christopher was awarded an OBE for services to nature, conservation and agriculture.

Their balanced approach has created a productive, profitable farm working in balance with nature. Applesham Farm is rightly celebrated and will be hosting the West Grinstead & District & Agricultural Society annual ploughing match on Saturday 21st September 2019. Save the date!

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.

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.

Autumn in Sussex

José Weiss’ oil painting of the River Arun and Amberley chalk pits at dusk
José Weiss’ oil painting of the River Arun and Amberley chalk pits at dusk

As autumn approaches we look to the changes in the season, perhaps a last and precious glimpse of summer before the leaves fall. The morning dew has been lying heavily on the fields and the geese call to each other in their V-shaped formations as they fly on their winter migration. I am always excited by the fruits of the hedgerows, especially the blackberries and elderberries. In orchards across Sussex apples and quince are gathered and there is a sharper quality to the breeze on an incoming tide.

There is a wonderful sense of journeying and returning in the seasons of year – a time to reflect. T.S. Elliott had strong associations with Sussex. Writing from a perspective of Christian faith he observed the seasons in his poem ‘Little Gidding’:

Oliver Clare’s Still Life of Quince, Grapes and Berries, in Naturalistic Setting
Oliver Clare’s Still Life of Quince, Grapes and Berries, in Naturalistic Setting

‘We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.’

The Downs are beginning to change from their warmer summer hues to the cooler greens so beautifully depicted in José Weiss’ oil painting of Amberley chalk pits, viewed from the river Arun at dusk. José Weiss was born in Paris in 1859. He holidayed and painted at Amberley where he met Agnes Ratton. They were married and made their home at Houghton. Weiss would become famous for his Sussex views, particularly from along the river Arun.

The abundance of the autumn hedgerow has inspired successive generations of artists.

The painter Oliver Clare’s technique even captures dewdrops on the texture of the fruit. The naturalistic setting gives this jewel like still life context, connecting it with nature.

A pair of Royal Worcester bone china two handled urns and covers, painted by M. Morris, after 1950 with still life studies of fruit
A pair of Royal Worcester bone china two handled urns and covers, painted by M. Morris, after 1950 with still life studies of fruit

The translucence of the glaze adds life to ceramic artist M. Morris’ still life painted on the pair of Royal Worcester bone china urns and covers. Here peaches accompany the blackberries of the hedgerows.

The seasons continue to inspire us as they did writers and artists in the early and mid – 20th century. We delight in the joy of gathering blackberries and apples for a pie. Walks along ancient lanes and footpaths in the Weald, on the Downs and by the sea connect us with the Sussex landscape.

This delight is reflected in collectors’ interest to acquire art and objects which speak into our experience of this marvellous country. Prices for pieces of this quality range from hundreds of pounds into the low thousands at auction.

Whether you are foraging for art or the blessings of the approaching autumn season allow yourself time to reflect in the landscape.

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.