Wednesday, September 20, 2017

321. The 2017 Alphabet: O

O is for On.

On Hellespont, guilty of true love's blood,
In view and opposite two cities stood,
Seaborderes, disjoined by Neptune's might;
The one Abydos, the other Sestos hight.

Christopher Marlowe and George Chapman, Hero and Leander,
decorated by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon (1894)
In June 1894, the Bodley Head in London published an edition of Christopher Marlowe's and George Chapman's poem Hero and Leander. The book contained 7 wood-engravings, a border, and seven decorated initials.

Only four initials needed to be drawn, as one could be used four times: 'B' (page 26), 'C' (opposite page 5), 'N' (pages 41, 59, 75, 97), and 'O' (page 5). The letters 'B', 'N', and 'O' belonged to one family (29x29 mm), the 'C' is much smaller (13x20 mm), and somewhat different in design. These were not used in any other book by Ricketts and Shannon. There were two prospectuses for Hero and Leander, and the earliest of these contained an initial 'I' that had been used before, and would not occur in the book.

Christopher Marlowe and George Chapman, Hero and Leander,
decorated by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon (1894)
The initials depict leaves and stems of laurel, one of Ricketts's favorite design elements; he used it for several borders. The larger ones have a peculiar propellor pattern, especially the 'N' and 'O'.

Charles Ricketts, initials 'B', 'N', and 'O' (1894)
The 'O' is the first one to appear in the book, and the small black leaves are not very different from those in the smaller initial 'C'. However, the larger, white leaves form a centrifugal pattern, suggesting rotation, referring to whirling waters, the waves that will form the graves of Leander and Hero in this version of the poem.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

320. The 2017 Alphabet: N

N is for Noli me tangere.

And graven with diamonds in letters plain,
There is written her fair neck, round about;
Noli me tangere; for CAESAR's I am,
And wild for to hold though I seem tame.

Thomas Wyatt, sonnet decorated by Charles Ricketts (1892)
The initial 'N' appears in the 13th line of the sonnet by Thomas Wyatt, spelled Wyat by Ricketts in his rendering of the text for The Magazine of Art of September 1892. His calligraphy of the poem accompanied a large illustration, showing Anne Boleyn in The Tower of London before her execution.

Thomas Wyatt, sonnet decorated by Charles Ricketts (1892)
The sonnet is said to have been written by Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) for Anne Boleyn (1501?-1536). The phrase 'Noli ne tangere', meaning, Don't touch me, being a biblical reference, can also be read in association with King Henry VIII, whose deer one was not allowed to hunt. Wyatt compares his beloved to a hind, because although one can love the deer, the deer will not be aware of one's love for it. Best to give up.

The important message - don't touch the lady - appears only in the last lines of the poem, but Ricketts added the phrase to the initial at the beginning of the poem.

Thomas Wyatt, sonnet decorated by Charles Ricketts (1892)
Charles Ricketts, initial 'W' for a sonnet by Thomas Wyatt (1892)

The initial 'W' (13x12 mm) at the beginning of the sonnet illustrates the 'deer' (line 6). The initial 'N' is smaller (8x7 mm), and contains the illustration of a poppy.

The original drawing is in the collection of the William Andrew Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles, a gift of the Ricketts collector Albert Sperison (1908-1999). 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

319. Celebrating the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection

On 17 and 18 March this year, a conference at the University of Delaware celebrated the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection in Newark. Alas, I couldn't attend the conference at the time. However, the talks have been recorded. Here is a link to the university's repository. The importance of the Mark Samuel Lasner collection is immense. I had the pleasure of visiting the library some years ago, see my 2013 blog No. 82.

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891): cover design by Charles Ricketts
One of the talks at the conference was given by Joseph Bristow, professor of English at UCLA. His talk focussed on Wilde's fairy tales from the first book editions in the 1880s and 1890s until about 30 years after the death of the author in 1900.

Here is a link to his presentation: 'Oscar Wilde, the Fairy Tale, and the Illustrated Book, 1888-1928'.

Listening to the audio presentation, a few comments touched base. The early editions of the fairy tales were, perhaps, intended for an audience of children, but they expressed a sexual undertone and demonstrated an adult 'impression of desire', as Bristow had it. Wilde's works were associated with insubordinate desire during his lifetime, years before he was convicted of 'gross indecency'.

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891): cover design by Charles Ricketts (detail)
Bristow's talk mentioned the 1891 edition of Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates, designed by Ricketts, and illustrated by Ricketts and Charles Shannon. The symbolism of the cover design that was criticized harshly by contemporary critics, was explained by Bristow as a sort of summary of the stories in the book. The peacock, the basket containing pomegranates, and the fountain, are related to themes in the stories. He wasn't the first to point this out, of course.

Oscar Wilde,
A House of Pomegranates(1891): cover design by Charles Ricketts
Bristow went on to argue that the artist was attached to his independence, and didn't merely illustrate the stories. This too, has become commonplace among Wilde and Ricketts commentators.

Interestingly, his main point was about the much discussed title page of A House of Pomegranates. In his view, this page addressed the issue of sexual desire in a way that the author hadn't done himself. However, this was exactly as his art was seen by his contemporaries, as belonging to the French decadent movement.

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891):
title page designed by Charles Ricketts (detail)
Comments from other Wilde and Ricketts critics spring to mind.

The illustration is complicated by the two figures depicted in it. There is a woman at her embroidery, but she is asleep. In 1970, Michael Brooks wrote: 'Ricketts’ Pre-Raphaelite maiden [...] lives only partly in the world of real time and real objects; her thoughts are in some infinitely distant, infinitely more enchanting universe.' The same goes for the other figure, a seated satyr playing the flute. The two don't seem to notice each other.

The embroidered roundels show scenes from Wilde's stories. The one at the top refers to the story of 'The Fisherman and his Soul'. The second roundel is about the story of 'The Young King', while the third one symbolizes the story about 'The Star-Child'. 

A fourth design is pinned to the frame. This one depicts a heart, a rose and thistles. A similar design is printed in the margin of 'The Birthday of the Infanta'.

Bristow focusses on other details. He argues that the togetherness of the faun and the woman suggests love, or, rather, lust. The satyr has her in mind, and her dreams are about the lust he represents, the unheard song of his flute, one might say.

The interpretation is partly based on criticisms after publication, and our modern interpretations of nineteenth-century imagery, but Bristow convinced his audience that contemporary readers would have understood the page's sexual innuendoes, and, as Oscar Wilde had not yet been convicted, they would not have felt threatened. Excited, perhaps, but not disgusted. A few years later, all that changed.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

318. Charles Ricketts and More Adey

Michael Seeney's book More Adey, Oscar Wilde's Forgotten Friend mentions the names of Ricketts and Shannon a few times. The link between these men was Oscar Wilde, or rather, Robert Ross, who acted as Wilde's 'literary executor, and administrator of his estate' (as the 'Note' in the first volume of the collected works in 1908 stated).

Ross and Adey came to Ricketts and Shannon 'to grub' as Ricketts writes in his diary. Ross and Adey often shared an address. Another time, Ricketts, Shannon, and Adey met at a dinner party given by Ross to celebrate Vyvyan Holland's twenty-first birthday. Both of Wilde's sons were present, as were the painter William Richmond, Reginald Turner, William Rothenstein, Coleridge Kennard, Ronald Firbank, and Henry James.  

Seeney compares Ricketts and Shannon's sexual identities with those of Ross and Adey (p. 25), mentions Adey's and Ricketts's beards in comparison to the beard that Ross kept for about a week (p. 45), Adey's black cloak is linked to those of several artists including Ricketts (p. 98), Ricketts's visit to Wilde in prison (a failure), and his and Shannon's subsequent donation towards a fund for Wilde (the large sum of £100) are mentioned, quoting from a letter by Ricketts to Adey (pp. 51-53), Adey's review of stage designs by Ricketts (p. 63) and Ricketts's and Shannon's exhibitions at the Carfax Gallery are mentioned (p. 64, 70). Both Adey and Ricketts published reviews and articles in The Burlington Magazine,  and sometimes Adey found himself in a difficult position between opposing parties, such as those on the post-impressionists (pro: Roger Fry; contra: Ricketts) (p. 83). 
The Beacon, April 1922
Both Adey and Ricketts were asked to collaborate on a new magazine in 1922, The Beacon, edited by E.R. Appleton. Seeney (p. 99) mentions that several friends of Adey contributed to the magazine: 'Selwyn Image, Charles Ricketts and Sturge Moore'.

Image was the only one who actually published an article, a lecture in fact, in The Beacon. It appeared in the March 1924 issue, but it had been written as a speech: 'Church Art. An Address to the Zenith Society'. (The Zenith Society was founded to assist clergy in maintaining the spiritual life of London in 1923 and 1924.)

The Beacon, April 1922
Ricketts can not really be seen as a collaborator to The Beacon. In 1922 he allowed the magazine to reproduce a wood-engraving from The Parables from the Gospels (facing page lvi in the book). It had been published almost twenty years before. Other illustrations by the artists of The Dial in that issue are said to be the work of T. Sturge Moore and Reginald Savage, but the attribution to Savage is incorrect. Both illustrations are by Sturge Moore. These wood-engravings were also done years before - 'Pan Island' dated from 1897, the one called 'Behemoth' was another illustration of Pan, published by Ricketts and Shannon in a portfolio of Sturge Moore's woodcuts in the early 1890s ('Metamorphoses of Pan and other woodcuts').

Allowing a reprint of an old wood engraving was the kind of support that Ricketts often granted initiatives by younger artists and authors.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

317. More Adey, Oscar Wilde's Forgotten Friend

Recently, Oscar Wilde scholar Michael Seeney published an elegantly written and knowledgeable book about one of the most elusive figures of the 1890s: More Adey, Oscar Wilde's Forgotten Friend. Published by The Rivendale Press, the 114 pages include an index, 8 illustrations and 4 colour plates. It may be the 'definitive biography', although for a life of which so little is known or can be said with absolute certainty, the author decided it is best not to mention the word 'biography' at all.

Michael Seeney, More Adey, Oscar Wilde's Forgotten Friend (2017)
In Oscar Wilde's biographies Adey (1858-1942) is only mentioned in passing; he was not one of the notorious figures of the Wilde circles, and led a private life. There are only 'snippets of material', apart from the twenty-four letters to Wilde that have survived (for Wilde's letters to Adey, see The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, 2000). Seeney has collected all of the snippets, and, for the earliest years, added material about the family home, and the friends Adey met at college in Oxford. His whereabouts between 1881 and 1890 are a mystery. Three chapters are devoted to Oscar Wilde ('The Wilde Circle', 'Wilde in Prison', and 'Dieppe and After'). During the early nineties Adey published some translations, using the pen-name William Wilson. His greatest achievement was to sort out financial problems for Oscar Wilde during his imprisonment, and securing funds for Wilde after his release, even though Wilde called him 'the most solemn donkey that ever stepped'.

Michael Seeney, More Adey, Oscar Wilde's Forgotten Friend (2017)
After Wilde's death, Adey was involved in the Carfax Gallery and the Burlington Magazine. His friendship with Robert Ross, and Wilde's son Vyvyan Holland, are the threads that can be followed here. Holland took some photographs of Adey.

Adey's last years - from 1925 to 1942 - were spent in an asylum. Most of the Wilde material in his possession had already left his collection before the contents of his house was sold in 1926.

It is a rather sad story, and we do not get to know Adey intimately - he was an aloof character anyway, - but Seeney has made his life story as entertaining as could be hoped for. You should read it.

For sale at the Rivendale Press, its price being a mere £12,50. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

316. The 2017 Alphabet: M

M is for Muse.

Muse of my native land! loftiest Muse!
O first-born on the mountains! By the hues
Of heaven on the spiritual air begot:
Long didst thou sit alone in northern grot

Initial 'M' designed by Charles Ricketts
Letters have distinct horizontal and vertical features that we can recognize easily. Bars and stems, ascenders and descenders can be identified quickly. 

The initial 'M' was designed by Charles Ricketts (see illustration above), and used only once, in 1898, in the first volume of the Vale Press edition of the poems of John Keats. 

The initial was listed, erroneously, as a 'W', by Maureen Watry in her book about the Vale Press. Mysteriously, an annotation stated that this initial 'W7' occurred as a letter 'M'.

Obviously, it was used as an 'M', because it was designed as an 'M' in the first place.

We can compare the 'M' to a 'W' initial that can be found in the second volume of Keats's poems.

Initial 'W' designed by Charles Ricketts
If we compare the shoulders of the 'M' and 'W', we see that the 'M' doesn't have the pointed shoulders that most of Ricketts's 'W' initials have. They have been topped with a stem, as is the custom.

Initials 'M' and 'W' (details), designed by Charles Ricketts
There was no mistake on Ricketts's part.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

315. A Suffragette Attaque on Painting: Mary Richardson versus Diego Vélazquez

The discussion about the destruction of individual art works raises questions that are never easy to answer. Some works of art are victims of terrorist acts, disappear during wartime bombardments, are attacked by confused people, or by the artist in person, for whatever reason.

On 10 March 1914, suffragette Mary Richardson (1882/3-1961), planted a knife in a painting by the Spanish artist Diego Vélazques (1599-1660). It wasn't personal, it was an intensely motivated political act of violence, while suffragette protests were becoming increasingly frustrated by a failure to achieve equal rights for women. 

Vélazques' painting was known as 'The Toilet of Venus', 'Venus at her Mirror', 'Venus and Cupid', or the 'Rockeby Venus'. Painted between 1647 and 1651, it was considered a treasure  by the National Gallery in London where the attack took place, more than 250 years after its conception.

Diego Vélazquez, 'The Toilet of Venus' (National Gallery, London)
There may have been many reasons for the attack on this particular painting that is considered to be one of the first female nudes in art history, depicting a woman from behind, showing her as an object of lust. The god Amor holds up a mirror reflecting her face.

Later, Mary Richardson was asked for her motives, and she said:

I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history.

A recent radio show broadcast (a rebroadcast in the Netherlands of a Belgian program) discussed the destruction, and the restoration, of the painting.

Should the original painting be restored, or should a damaged painting be kept as is, to show its history, damage included, to bear witness of its changing place in society, and its transient political meaning? Or should the destructive act be ignored, and the painting be allowed its blissful, brilliant original state.

Is a painting like a stone, or is it part of an ongoing debate?

Diego Vélazquez, 'The Toilet of Venus' (National Gallery, London, 1914)
What about Charles Ricketts's stand on this subject? I suppose we can guess that he was against the attack, for art's sake. His diaries are clear on this. 

He doesn't use the name of Mary Richardson, and calls her 'a' suffragette.

News of injury to Rokeby "Venus" by a Suffragette. I do not think we realize yet the new element of danger, which is daily increasing, owing to the spread of education, which leads too often to an exaggerated sense of the importance of the ego. Sabotage, suffragette outrages, all spring from deception following on emancipation. Old Matthew Arnold's question, "Freedom for What?" is the burning question which smoulders under all effort at improvement or change.

He was convinced of 'the imbecility of the act' which he saw as 'a dim stupid wish for retribution', and he didn't support the idea of art being held hostage by revolutionaries.

A work of art was to be seen as something much more elevated than any other element of daily life. Art was Ricketts's religion. To touch a painting was to touch the face of a God.

Still, when his friend Shannon needed nursing, he sold important, treasured paintings to pay the bills.

In Ricketts's time, it was found that the destruction should be undone, and the surface of the painting should be restored, and never again show the traces of the knife.

In August 1914, Ricketts noted that the painting was 'very well restored', and that it was 'looking exceedingly well under a new coat of varnish'.

A coat that was meant to keep its recent history hidden, and that mimicked the original skin of the painting. Nowadays, a restoration would also show where repairs had been necessary.

And the label would mention, apart from the artist's name, the name of the painting's enemy.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

314. The 2017 Alphabet: L

L is for All.

All bought from Pertinax?

Charles Ricketts, initials in Michael Field, The World at Auction (1898) 
In 1898 the Vale Press published a new play by Katherine Bradley (1846-1914) and Edith Cooper (1862-1913), writers collaborating under the name of 'Michael Field'. For this book, The World at Auction, Michael Field wanted to have an image of Pylades on the title page:

Let your title-page be as it is, but opposite to it there must be Pylades. His is the one figure that appears in each play of the Trilogy. So – if you would have us kind to those vengeful doves – by all that is slim & fleet & long & supple, dream that dream of Fortune & the dancer, just as you saw it, dream it into lines, into existence.(*)

Ricketts didn't deliver that image. He opted for masks, Fortuna, and an illustrated initial 'A' that depicted three mythological half human-half goats. Two of these fauns are enjoying the grapes, one has fallen asleep.

The play was the first of their so-called Roman trilogy to be published. According to the historical chronology it would turn out to be the second episode about the decadence of Rome that the Fields likened to the London of their own times.

Ana Parejo Vadillo, who published several essays about these plays (**), remarked that the central question in The World at Auction 'is what happens to art when consumption replaces all forms of social relations and interactions. Or, to put it another way, what happens to beauty in a culture where everything, including the metropolis, is for sale.' The storyline serves two narratives: one focusses on society, the sale of the late emperor's possessions, including the Praetorian Guard that had assassinated him. A certain Pertinax - mentioned in line one - tries to find buyers for this auction. Implied is that the whole state, Rome, is for sale. The second narrative is about art and love. The new owner of the Guard is the merchant Didius Julianus, whose daughter Clara buys the love of Pyladus, a court dancer and pantomime. In the end she wants to control all his movements, forbidding him to play in public, and intending to reproduce 'his dancing figure in marble, motionless statues', as Vadillo states. He refuses. 

The opening page that Ricketts designed for the play is full of classical references. The initial 'A' with the three fauns alludes to Dionysos, and thus to the figure of the Dionysiac artist Pyladus. The longitudinal sections to the left and right contain images of pomegranates, garlands, pylons, an incense burner, a horn of plenty, and a sphinx. A pair of  interlocked rings refer to the two women authors, while the horn of plenty and some other images refer to the story of the play, and to Fortuna, the goddess of fortune and fate.

There are fifteen lines of texts, divided by the initial 'A'. It was designed for this play, and has never been used again by Ricketts. The same goes for the initial 'L' that, printed in red, fills the space next to the large 'A'. 

Charles Ricketts, two initials 'L'
in Michael Field, The World at Auction (1898)
In her book about the Vale Press Maureen Watry listed these initials 'L' as one: L2. This is incorrect. The initial is not printed twice. Ricketts actually designed two similar, but different initials, with curves and dots. The upper one has a dot in the bottom right corner, the lower one has a curve; but in fact, all these small decorations are variations.

Ricketts had them printed in red. Some ornaments, another small initial 'A' (also specially designed for the book), and the introductory text on this page were also printed in red to counterbalance the heavy black wood-engravings.

Ricketts loved to design the Michael Field books, and went to great length to accommodate their wishes, while, at the same time, he succeeded in expressing his artistic freedom as an artist, and a designer. His designs are never decorations, they are comments. 

The four initials on the opening page, the large 'A', the small 'A', and the two different 'L' engravings, were not only especially designed for this play, but their exceptionality was revered, as they were never used again.

(*) Quoted from Michael Field, ‘Works and Days’, BL Add MS 46786, fols. 46v [entry by Edith Cooper], see Ana Parejo Vadillo, '"The hot-house of decadent chronicle": Michael Field, Nietzsche and the Dance of Modern Poetic Drama', in: Woman. A Cultural Review, 26 (2015) 3, pp. 195-220.

(**) See Ana Parejo Vadillo, 'Outmoded Dramas: History and Modernity in Michael Field's Aesthetic Plays', in: Michael Field and Their World. Edited by Margaret D. Stetz and Cheryl A. Wilson. High Wycombe, The Rivendale Press, 2007, pp. 237-249.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

313. The 2017 Alphabet: K

K is for Kinde.

Kinde are her answeres,
But her performance keeps no day;
Breaks time, as dancers
From their own musicke when they stray.

Thomas Campion, Fifty Songs (Vale Press, 1896)
For some initials in the books of the Vale Press, Charles Ricketts made multiple designs, such as 'A', 'I' and 'T'. Up to ten variants of those were drawn. For other letters only one design was done, such as 'Q', 'R' and 'K'. 

Some letters do not occur as initials at all, such as 'X' and 'Z'.

'K' is one of those initials that was used for more than one book, but for which Ricketts didn't reconsider the original design. The initial 'K' appeared in three Vale Press books, the first one being Thomas Campion's Fifty Songs (1896). It is part of an incomplete alphabet of initials decorated with ivy. The alphabet was not completed as Ricketts, of course, never designed initials that he had no use for. There seems to be no relation between the text of Campion's poem and the floral decorations of this initial letter.

The 'K' design was used once in this book, twice in Henry Vaughan's Sacred Poems (1897), and the last appearance of this initial was on the first two text pages of the Vale Press edition of Robert Browning's Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (1899).

Robert Browning, Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (Vale Press, 1899)
In some cases the initial has to compete (as has the blackness of the text lines) with the text on the other side of the paper, and in some cases the richness of the initial seems to be complemented by the intricate design of the border on the preceding page, and its impression into the paper, as is the case on page 6 of Robert Browning's Dramatic Romances and Lyrics.

The book as a unity is a complex phenomenon.