Art and Antiques Discovered and Sold in the Heart of Sussex

Juan Manuel Blanes’s Gaucho on Horseback in a Uruguayan Prairie Landscape, oil on canvas, circa 1875-1878

As the New Year and auction season begins I have been reflecting on some of the remarkable art and collections I discovered and sold at Toovey’s here in the heart of Sussex in 2023.

It was the late W Leslie Weller, MBE, DL, who first pioneered a regional centre of specialism and auctioneering with Sotheby’s in Sussex. He was a great inspiration, patron and encouragement to me over the years. I was honoured to sell his renowned Sussex library and collection as a single-owner auction. Sotheby’s auction house in Sussex closed more than twenty years ago. But Leslie was pleased that his vision of a regional auction house with specialists in the major collecting disciplines, here in the heart of Sussex, was alive and well at Toovey’s. Today we continue to attract local, national and international collectors and dealers to our specialist auctions as he did.

Last year at Toovey’s a major work by Uruguay’s most important painter Juan Manuel Blanes (1830-1901) of a Gaucho broke the world record for his paintings at auction selling for £1.15 million.

Juan Manuel Blanes was renowned for painting grand history paintings and portraits as well as scenes and events that shaped Uruguay’s national identity during the years of conflict that resulted in independence from Spain.

Toovey’s picture specialist Tim Williams’s research revealed the painting’s remarkable provenance and enabled him to promoted the picture to an international audience of collectors resulting in the world record price.

English Country House Taste is layered and eclectic always reflecting the taste and interests of the collector and often a patchwork quilt of stories and interests. It is unpretentious, layered and evolving.

An interior from the Donald Church and Michael Godfrey Collections

The beautiful collections of the artist and interior decorator, Donald Church, and the connoisseur, Michael Godfrey represented the best of English Country House taste and were the subject of a series of specialist sales at Toovey’s. Michael and Donald shared a great friendship.

Donald Church had a remarkable career working with many of the leading interior decorators of the post-war period including the hugely influential John Fowler of Colefax and Fowler.

Michael Godfrey’s collection, too, was informed by exceptional taste and included fine Georgian furniture and Works of Art, 18th century Worcester porcelain, paintings and prints.

The prices reflected the quality of their collections and showed the strength of demand for the finest traditional pieces with good provenance.

I am looking forward to 2024, it looks set to be another exciting year at Toovey’s!

Community and Aspiration at the Heart of Sussex in 2023

Simon Knight and Rupert Toovey at Lancing College Chapel for the launch of the 2023 Sussex Heritage Trust Awards

2023 has been a year marked by both joys and sorrows.

The close of the second great Elizabethan age and the loss of HM Queen Elizabeth II was followed by the joyous coronation of HM King Charles III.

Throughout his life the King has provided the most remarkable model of servant leadership with a deep sense of faith, calling, vocation and stewardship.

King Charles’ vision is aspirational on a societal level with a wholeness to his approach. Heritage, conservation, education, health and well being and social inclusion work in concert with business, the environment and countryside. His approach to vernacular, regional architecture has been to build buildings that build communities.

Here in Sussex these values were given eloquent expression by our county’s people, communities and charities throughout 2023. Amongst these was the work of the Sussex Heritage Trust and the West Grinstead Ploughing Match & Agricultural Society. Both of these organisations seek to promote best practice and aspiration in our built and rural environments. They do this through their awards and prizes whilst providing bursaries and encouraging people, especially the young, to invest in careers in the agriculture industry and endangered heritage crafts and trades.

Rowan Allan at the 2023 West Grinstead Ploughing Match and Agricultural Society Show

Rowan Allan, together with Felicity Elliott, is the Honorary Secretary of The West Grinstead & District Ploughing Match & Agricultural Society. The Society has been holding shows for over 150 years. It seeks to re-connect town and country and show people what farming and the countryside are really about. There is extraordinary stewardship amongst our district’s farming community. Our landscape is part of our nation’s heritage and identity and it is wholly dependent on the life given to it by our farmers.

This year’s Sussex Heritage Trust awards were launched by the now past Chairman of the Trust, Simon Knight, DL, at Lancing College Chapel. The chapel has received numerous awards from the Trust and is open to the public.

The work of the Sussex Heritage Trust’s is important in promoting best practice in our county’s built environment and landscape whilst encouraging and supporting talented young people into careers in conservation, building and horticulture.

I am proud that Toovey’s and so many local businesses continue to invest in and support charities and communities across Sussex.

The hope filled work of people, charities and organisations across Sussex blesses us and they deserve our thanks and support.

I wish you all a hope filled and peaceful New Year!

Wonderful Wiston at Christmas

Treat yourselves to a glass of finest Sussex this Christmas from the Wiston Estate Winery

With Christmas approaching I’m heading for the Wiston Estate Winery and Chalk Restaurant to catch up with Kirsty Goring and do a bit of shopping.

The Goring family have long sought to share their blessings with the community and have stewarded the Wiston Estate since 1743. At the heart of Richard and Kirsty Goring’s vision is their desire to create a rural community where people and nature can work in concert with each other.

Kirsty greets me in the courtyard of the re-purposed barns, which recently won a Sussex Heritage award. I remark on the beauty of the setting. The lines of vines in the vineyard accentuate the hills and folds of the Sussex Downs in a landscape which would have delighted the artist Eric Ravilious. It is the chalk which blesses the vines and gives the Chalk Restaurant its name.

As we sit down in the fabulous Chalk Restaurant Kirsty says “For Richard and I the point of Chalk was for this place to be the welcoming heart of the estate…to create a rural meeting place where people, nature and enterprise can co-exist and flourish.” She explains how people come to enjoy Chalk’s beautiful food and Wiston’s exquisite award winning wines and end up celebrating the nature and countryside around them. Kirsty continues “We know that Sussex has such delicious produce and if you taste it when it’s fresh your tasting it at it’s best. And here at Chalk some of it is produced only metres away.” She describes how their chef, Bradley, is passionate about the best local produce and that even the fish comes from the day boats at Worthing.

Kirsty Goring at the Chalk Restaurant on the Wiston Estate

Kirsty speaks passionately about the importance of relationship, she remarks “It’s about long-term stewardship. We care for this land and we care about the communities that are here.” I comment on how hope-filled it is to see the return of employment to agriculture in new and exciting ways. She replies “Not only the return of employment but the return of community, a rural community. We are often employing forty people in the original vineyards and now across the estate we have eighty-two people on the books – and lots of them are young!”

Don’t let your Christmas be dull – lay in some fine Wiston wines!

And we are so blessed to be able to be together this Christmas so treat yourselves to an outing to Chalk whether that’s breakfast, lunch or dinner. After all shared, joyful memories bind families and friends together. To find out more visit

Art Inspired by the Sussex Landscape at Pallant

Duncan Grant (1866-1934) – Landscape, Sussex, oil on canvas, 1920 © Tate

For more than a thousand years Sussex has drawn artists to her rolling Downland landscape and exciting coastline. Artists such as JMW Turner and John Constable, William Blake and Samuel Palmer were all inspired by, and worked in, Sussex and are represented in this exhibition. The 20th Century saw a revival of this ancient tradition with many of the leading Modern British artists living and working in the county.

Sussex Landscape – Chalk, Wood and Water at Pallant House Gallery eloquently describes Sussex as a creative centre for artists and writers. But at its heart this beautifully narrated five star exhibition examines how the particular qualities of the Sussex landscape have inspired artists across the centuries.

Work by JMW Turner are accompanied by contemporary artists like Pippa Blake, Jeremy Gardiner and Andy Goldsworthy.

And at its heart is a roll-call of many of the leading Modern British artists of the 20th century including William Nicholson, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Eric Ravilious, Ivon Hitchens and Edward Burra. Camden Town, Vorticists, Surrealists and Abstract artists are all represented.

Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) – Detail of the Chalk Paths, watercolour, 1935 © Bridgeman Images

Eric Ravilious’ watercolour from 1935, The Chalk Paths leaves space for us as viewers to enter and occupy the landscape or scene in our imaginations.

The distance of the ancient, undulating chalk paths is emphasised by the barbed wire fence and the play of the breeze is discernable in the grassy hillsides painted in muted tones.

It was Vanessa Bell’s love for Duncan Grant and her sister Virginia Woolf which brought her to Sussex during the First World War. Her sister, the author, Virginia Woolf, wrote to her in the May of 1916 from Rodmell extolling the virtues and potential of Charleston house near Firle in East Sussex.

Duncan Grant’s Landscape, Sussex was painted in oils in 1920 and depicts the pond at Charleston. The curve of the pond’s edge echoes the enfolding Sussex Downland landscape.

Both paintings describe the inspiration and influence of the Sussex landscape on artists across the centuries.

We are a processional nation. We confidently embrace the modern and the new but always with one eye to the past. It is wonderful to see the modern and contemporary united in their narrative with works by JMW Turner and others from the 19th century. The exceptional exhibition catalogue is a must, too, and can be purchased from Pallant House Book Shop or online at Sussex Landscape – Chalk, Wood and Water runs at Pallant House Gallery Chichester until 23rd April 2023

Stewarding the Sussex Landscape

Frank Wootton’s oil on canvas ‘A Passing Storm, Windover Hill, Sussex’ © Toovey’s 2021

The South Downs have for centuries been shaped by farming. The ancient, managed chalk grasslands are still maintained on some of the steep downland slopes. The rich biodiversity of birds, fauna and insects predate on those that eat the crops. 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 in seven year crop rotations to limit disease. Some of the most balanced and sustainable farming practice in the country is to be found in the leas of the South Downs.

The oil painting titled ‘A Passing Storm, Windover Hill, Sussex’ by the Sussex artist Frank Wootton. OBE (1911-1998) depicts a rural idyll with grazing cattle beneath the majesty of the Sussex Downs. It sold at Toovey’s for £2600. You sense the heat in the tone and palette of the scene. The storm casts its shadow, moving quickly across the landscape as the rain falls. It is this quality of landscape which speaks into the very identity of our nation. What the Shipley poet Hilaire Belloc described as ‘The great hills of the South Country, They stand along the sea’.
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.
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 we have become more and more removed from the reality of country life even though the debate around farming in this country is entering into our national conversation.

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.

In a mixed agricultural response to the challenges of climate change it is vital that we seek to restore our soils and feed the nation through mixed agriculture. Local food supply chains, balanced mixed farming, and working with nature must surely have a dramatically reduced carbon footprint over the alternative of importing our food on hugely polluting ships and planes.

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.

Walking with nature and in conversation with those we love is a great blessing. Our countryside, maintained by our farmers, is the perfect place for a day’s holiday-after all Sussex has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. And we must do our best to support our Sussex farmers as we shop.