Wednesday, January 23, 2019

391. Ricketts on Venetian Printing and The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

Recently, an unknown review by Charles Ricketts emerged from the sea of digitised magazines. It was published in a magazine that published articles on politics, religion, and art, including poems by such authors as James Joyce: The Speaker, The Liberal Review. I haven't seen a reference to Ricketts's article in The Speaker before - and in my bibliography of Ricketts's publications, this article is not listed.




The article seems quite important to republish it as it addresses a book that was an example for the Vale Press edition of Daphnis and Chloe, a pre-Vale Press book that was received in 1893 as an important testimony of the modern movement in book arts. Ricketts's review of the Methuen facsimile edition of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili was published in The Speaker of 25 February 1905.

There were no illustrations (I have added some for this blog).


The Hypneromachia Poliphili and Its Character



The Facsimile of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. London: Methuen. £3. 3s. net.

The publishers are to be congratulated on this facsimile of the Hypnerotomachia. The printing is good, the reproduction, on the whole, is excellent. It counts as a notable effort to make accessible the most harmonious volume ever printed, for the Hypnerotomachia is the flower of the Italian presses. In this work the several composing elements - the build, decoration, and the dainty illustration - each touches what is very like perfection; and they are so combined that the result is unsurpassed.


Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Methuen, 1904)
Other noble volumes of the Renaissance - Dürers Life of the Virgin or Holbein's exquisite Dance of Death, for instance - though harmonious enough and unequalled in their way, achieve a different order of success; they interest one as a gallery of pictures by a great master. In the Hypnerotomachia the effect is different; it has the beauty we might admire in a delicate piece of architecture. The books illustrated by Dürer or by Holbein express the genius of a man. The Hypnerotomachia is less intense in its appeal; it is typical of a phase of artistic thought, typical of an enchanted period, and if it was popular in its time as a sort of repository of neo-classical invention, it appeals to us for a different reason - for the expression not of a fashion but a mood which may never occur again. It is local, Italian; it belongs to a charmed moment in the youth of our civilisation.

The author, Francesco Colonna, in his cell in the convent of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, is responsible for the publication of a work which, in its aspect, is all Spring.


Canaletto, Campo santi Giovanni e Paolo a Venezia col monumento a Bartolomeo Colleoni (painting, c. 1740)
I have compared this book to a dainty piece of architecture. That is not all, it suggests also a garden dotted with fragments and relics of an enchanted past. Its effect is really that of some little palace of art standing in its own grounds. Is Francesco Colonna responsible for this? He wished merely for an accompaniment to his half-pedantic, half-childish idyll, and we have forgotten him for the dainty setting. In temper his narrative belonged to that portion of the Renaissance which has become obsolete, which remains essentially mediaeval, despite its neo-classicism - for two of the tiresome fairy godmothers at the birth of the Renaissance, "Pedantry" and "Allegory," had combined to make the work; but two others came to bring their gifts, the fairy "Harmony" and the fairy "Charm."

If the illustrations and decorations of the Hypnerotomachia are typical of a period, are they typical of Venice? I think not. In Venetian art we are unprepared for the temper they reveal. The kind of half-childish patheism which characterises them is singular; yet, if we find evidence of a similar vein of thought in the work of the Florentine craftsman and artisan, we shall not recognise this spirit in the books and booklets issued by the Florentine presses. Florence, the home of the Renaissance, the city of the humanists, lags in the value and importance of her output in the history of printing. Venice, benefiting by her cosmopolitanism, takes the lead in all matters concerning the build and making of books; she owes to her powers of absorption her two greatest designers of type, a  German and a Frenchman. We must not be surprised if her greatest triumph in book illustration comes to us with an unexpected quality and something foreign in invention and temper.


Nicolas Jenson
The dominant influences in contemporary Venetian art were unsuited to the inventive qualities required in the illustrator; the Vivarini are laggards in an icebound pictorial convention. Till late in life John Bellini hardly stoops to romance and the idyll. The illustrations in the Hypnerotomachia are in a mood which was not as yet Venetian. The book is printed in 1499 ate the expense of Leonardo Crasso, a Veronese, and the aim of the work focusses forus an effort at classical reconstruction which might have been contemplated in Florence, Padua, or Verona; it even reflects that more playful and pagan mood of the early Renaissance, and Venice had remained a laggard in all the ideals of the movement. If the Hypnerotomachia is typical of Italy, Venice for centuries has been too budy and too cosmopolitan to remember that she was Italian; she was foreign in temper to the intellectual fervour and the fervent refinement which characterised Florence, remaining rich but provincial; in most things she has been a borrower, for Venetian architecture had caught its local colour from the East, het painting accepts recruits even from the North; belated and conservative, she is the laste centre to become influenced by the Renaissance. She takes her revenge, however, in the sudden output of her splendid presses, in her sudden later development in the art of painting. Twenty years are sufficient; and if Venice is the last to be touched by the spirit of the Renaissance, she is the last centre in which it loves to linger on and on, in a prolonged aftermath of art. The Hypnerotomachia is therefore the first obvious sign that the Renaissance is at home in Venice; it is the most typical Italian book which expresses its spirit. It is in Venice also that we will find the last volume  which is stamped by artistic merit: its is the Cento Favole Morali written and illustrated by Verdizotti under the lingering influence of Titian.


Verdizotti, Cento Favole Morali (1570)
[photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York]
For one reason or another Venice became the home of printing; her printers find and establish the standard of excellence in all the arts which go to make a book. We owe the shaping of the definite Roman type we still use to Giovanni Spira and to Jenson; we owe to Aldus the Italic type and the invention of the small "intimate" editions wherein the art of printing leaves the desk and lectern to follow us into our homes, and The Dream of Polifilus, published by him, remains the standard or "canon" for a book beautoful in type, decoration, and picture, and in the coordination of each part to each by an indwelling element of harmony.


Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499)
Who was the maker of the charming illustrations and designs? The question is still unanswered. Our knowledge of Venetian art enables us to dismiss Bellini, or, indeed, anyone absolutely under his influence. Dr. Lippmann's suggestion that the author was Barbari must also be abandoned (the style or mannerisms of this artist are too well known). I incline to think that we must seek outside Venice for the spirit and the hand to which we owe these cuts - that several others designs related to them which appear in the Venetian presses about 1493 are by the same hand. The border to the Lucianus published  by Bevilaqua; the frontispiece to the Terence of 1497 by Simon da Leure, above all the pictures in the famous border of the Herodotus of 1494, and the rather uncouth designs in the Fasciculus Medicinae of 1493 (allowance being made in this case for the scale of these last cuts) present common characteristics: note the treatment of the architecture, the facial types of of the men, and the ornamental details - all these present a set of conventions which would haunt one of those later provincial imitators of Mantegna's prints, little masters like Mocetto or, better still, that imitator  of Mantegna's "Bacchanals"and "Triumphs" who passes under the name of the Master of the Rosebery Sketch-book, and who was some craftsman probably from Verona. I had imagined that Mocetto's windows in SS. Giovanni e Paolo might furnish a clue. It was from that place probably that the author of the Hypnerotomachia supervised the publication of his book. I admit that these woodcuts are in pure outline and not shaded diagonally, like the known work of the two minor artists I have mentioned; but the convention and limitations of the Venetian block-cutter have supervened between the drawings and the prints. I am disinclined towards Mocetto as their author. I am, in fact, disinclined to any name, but not to my ascription of a foreign origin to some of the better and more classical Venetian woodcuts, probably those in the Hypnerotomachia; I think we are nearer the temper in which these illustrations were done when we quite forget the schools of Vivarini or of Bellini - in fact, all the pietistic work which was then current in Venetian painting, and think of some cross-current from Verona touching Venice.
                                                                                             CHARLES RICKETTS

Herodotus, Historiae (Venice, 1494)
[image: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library,
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut]

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

390. The 2019 Alphabet: W

W is for Why?

Why are you tarrying? Get hence! I weary of your sullen ways,
I weary of your steadfast gaze, your somnolent magnificence.

Charles Ricketts, initial 'W' in Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (1894)

These lines of poetry are taken from Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx (1894) that figured in this series of letters before, when I wrote about the initial 'I' at the beginning of the poem. For the opening pages of the book Charles Ricketts designed an elaborate frontispiece that also served as the title page - an uncommon combination placed on the left hand page - using an earlier designed initial 'I' for the first line of the poem. This initial displayed the same kind of branches and leaves as the frontispiece drawing 'Melancholia' showed around the figures of 'Melancholia' and the sphinx.

Ricketts could have used the same kind of initials for other pages in the book. However, for these lines of poetry Ricketts designed an untraditional, art nouveau-like set of initials: A, G, H, L, O, T, W. Four were used once only, while 'A' and 'O' appeared twice. The initial 'W' figured four times in the book, introducing the words 'Who', 'With', Why' and 'What'.  



Much is made of the colour of these initials, that were not printed in the same red-brown as the illustrations, but in green, as was the initial 'I' at the beginning of the poem, but why would Ricketts have designed these other initials? Their shapes are extraordinary.


Charles Ricketts, initials for Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (1894)
Some of the details are snake-like, see for example the initial 'G', while the diagonal stem of the 'A' is unusual, and the 'O' has an unorthodox stem-like addition. The 'L' and T' are comparatively normal for modern types. The 'W' is the most extreme deviation from the normal letter 'W', a letter that was often designed by Ricketts for Vale Press initials.

There is no documentary evidence for my thesis (or for any other), but I believe that Ricketts tried to give these initials the same kind of eclectic historical feel as the illustrations that display a mix of Italian Renaissance landscapes, Minoan architecture, and Japanese compositions. Perhaps he endeavoured to create a Minoan alphabet of his own device.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

389. Vale Press Collectors: N.J. Beversen

An important exhibition in the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp in 1904 presented an overview of modern book art in Europe and America, including works by, among others, Flemish, Dutch, French, German, American, Scandinavian, Italian, and Swiss publishers. Many were on loan from the publishing houses, others, especially private press books, came from private collections in Belgium and The Netherlands. 

Vale Press books were displayed prominently, and they were on loan from Edward B. Koster (The Hague), N.J. Beversen (Zwolle), and J. Visser (Rotterdam).


N.J. Beversen (1927)
As a classicist, Nicolaas Johannes Beversen followed a career in higher education at schools in Gorcum, Arnhem, Zwolle and, finally, Leiden; in the last two places, he was appointed as head master of a grammar school. In 1927, he retired, and subsequently sold some of his books and art works. He died in 1932 (he was born in 1860).

The Beversen collection was somewhat of a riddle, as I had found several auction catalogues containing books and art works from his collection, but the Vale Press books were lacking. 

In April 1933, the main part of his library was auctioned in The Hague by Van Stockum's Antiquariaat. There were almost 900 lots ranging from history and topography to languages and special editions. Among the 'Presses spéciales' [private presses] were publications of the Beaumont Press, the Nonesuch Press, The Riverside Press, and Dutch private presses. Classical works were sold by Burgersdijk & Niermans in Leiden (May 1933).

Later, in April 1936, another part of his collection was sold by Van Stockum's Antiquariaat. However, the auction catalogue doesn't distinguish the several provenances of books, although the section 'Publications de luxe' contains books with dedications or letters to Beversen, such as Fr. Porché's book on Paul Valéry et la poésie pure (lot 1895). The private press section contains some Nonesuch Press titles, and among these we find Ricketts's recollections of Oscar Wilde (published 1932).
Catalogue de livres ancines et modernes (Van Stockum's Antiquariaat April 1936)
Recently, in a pile of discarded auction catalogues, I came across a catalogue that explained the absence of Vale Press books from Dutch catalogues. This part of Beversen's collection was offered for sale by Sotheby and Co. on Friday 29 July 1927. 

Catalogue containing the Beversen collection (Sotheby & Co., 1927)
Was Beversen an exception, selling his books in London? - for a Dutch collector this seems quite a step. Exceptional too, was that he sold large parts of his collection during his lifetime. Usually, such collections came on the market after the demise of the collector. However, Beversen had been exceptional as a collector from the start, collecting private press books around 1900 - when Dutch collectors were not keen to buy contemporary book art. 

The 1904 Antwerp exhibition displayed Beversen's versatility as a collector; books from his library were shown in sections concerning France, Germany, Italy, and Great Britain.

The Beversen section in the Sotheby catalogue (1927)
The N.J. Beversen section in Sotheby's catalogue for 28-29 July 1927 consisted of lots 304 through 379, containing 243 volumes with literary books by Conrad, Dickens, Keats, Gissing, and others. There were vellum copies of Essex House Press books, and selections of books published by the Beaumont Press, Nonesuch Press, Doves Press - no books from the Kelmscott Press featured in the catalogue.


There was a fair deal of Vale Press books, including an incomplete set of the Vale Shakespeare - Beversen got hold of 32 volumes of this set of 39 Shakespeare editions. He possessed copies of Hero and Leander, the English and the Latin versions of Apuleius, and the Vale Press editions of Keats, Shelley, and Constable. Ricketts's pamphlets on the art of printing (one co-written by Lucien Pissarro) formed part of his collection, as well as the translation of Maurice de Guérin's The Centaur, The Bacchante - of which a mere 150 copies were printed. 

But Beversen's collection was an incomplete one; his VP Shakespeare collection lacked seven volumes, and he didn't acquire copies of many other Vale Press books, and the same goes for the other books designed by Ricketts (such as Wilde's The Sphinx), or books from other private presses, such as the Doves Press, of which only seven books were listed in the catalogue.

At the time, he was probably the only Dutch book collector who not only acquired his books from the other side of the Channel, but also brought them back to the British Isles. One wonders where they have gone since - and it seems impossible to trace them; as far as I know, they bear no bookplate.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

388. Mario Praz and Ricketts's Fall of Icarus

Mario Praz, best known for his book The Romantic Agony, also wrote a work on his life, his collection and his apartment in Palazzo Ricci in Rome: La Casa della Vita (1958), translated into English by Angus Davidson as The House of Life (1964). 

Palazzo Ricci (19th Century)
In this memoir, Praz mentions Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon, briefly, after remembering a London address: 9 Lansdowne Road:

Nearby was the house of Antonio Cappico where I lived for a month or more in 1923, together with Camillo Pellezzi and Giulio Confalonieri, and where I knew the sweetness of waking up on a spring morning to the song of birds outside the black-velvet-curtained windows.

These are names that need an explanation. Giulio Confalonieri and Praz were of the same age, both were born in 1896. Confalonieri was a musician, a piano teacher, performer, and composer. Camillo Pellezzi was also born in 1896. From 1920 onwards, he was the assistant of professor Antonio Cippico (1877-1935). (See an earlier blog on Cippico.) Cippico and Pellezzi were active members of the fascist movement, teaching the Italian language, and furthering the cause of Fascism. Pellezzi was especially active as a fascist propaganda minister. He is mentioned once only in Praz' memoirs (in the paragraph quoted above). Luckily, fascism was not to everyone's taste.

Mario Praz was not involved in politics, and not only didn't indulge in fascism, after his return to Rome in 1934, he was friends with anti-fascist people like Ian Greenless (1913-1988) who confronted anti-British propaganda in Fascist Italy. (See the essay about 'Fascism Abroad' by Tamara Colacicco.)

Praz was thirty years younger than Ricketts, and apparently he never met the artist, although in his memoirs he writes the following:

Cippico, who lived at 27 Lansdowne Road, possessed a picture by Ricketts, The Fall of Icarus: in it there was a red lighthouse against a blue background of sea and sky which remained in my memory for a long time: when I read Freud, I recalled it and pondered over its phallic significance. The house in which Ricketts and Shannon lived was close by.

The figure of Icarus wore a pendant on the breast; after the painting had been finished, Ricketts gave the original pendant to Michael Field. It was 'a thrush-egg turquoise set in gold with two pearls and an amethyst'.

I have never seen an image of this painting, and would like to have one.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

387. Children of the Hour

H. Henry & Company in London were the publishers of The Pageant, a luxury year book that was edited by Charles Shannon and Gleeson White, while the covers were designed by Charles Ricketts, endpapers were drawn by Selwyn Image, and many other artists' and authors' names adorned the large and regular advertisements that invited sales. After two volumes, the series was discontinued.

However, Henry & Co were adamant to succeed, and had many other projects going on. One of them was a magazine called The Children of the Hour, subtitled A Paper for the Few. A prospectus was issued on 15 December 1896, and two copies have survived in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library.


The Pall Mall Gazette, 11 December 1896


The magazine never reached an audience; there were, perhaps, too few people who wanted it.

The list of contributors is long and represents almost everyone from the 1890s - except, of course, Oscar Wilde, and Aubrey Beardsley. The others were said to become contributors, such as Max Beerbohm, Charles Condor, Ernest Dowson, John Gray, Herbert Horne, Selwyn Image, Lionel Johnson, Richard Le Gallienne, Maurice Maeterlinck, G.B. Shaw - even Thomas Hardy had promised to write something for the new magazine.

The list also includes Charles Ricketts and Gleeson White - the name of the art editor of The Pageant, Charles Shannon, doesn't figure in the prospectus.

The Pall Mall Gazette published an interview with the editor who assured that the subscription wouldn't be cheap, and the magazine would 'revive the art of the light essay'.

In the Daily News (14 December 1896), the editor remained vague about the date of publication of the new paper, there might be two or three issues a week. Apparently, the first issue never appeared, although advertisements quoted from the Globe: 'It is extremely small, it is written with the utmost care, and it is less concerned with affairs than with culture'. Sounds like a spoof.

The British Library also owns a copy of the prospectus.

In April 1897 advertisements still announced a first issue, stating that a 'Preliminary Number' would be sent on request (The Pall Mall Gazette, 3 April 1897). The real magazine never materialised.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

386. The 2018 Alphabet: V

V is for v.

v.

The Passionate Pilgrim (Vale Press, 1896, page v)
One of the enigmas of Vale Press books is the page number on page v of The Passionate Pilgrim. The book contains poems by Shakespeare accompanied by songs from his plays.

There is a roman numeral 'v' inserted within a decorative half border in the lower left hand corner of the first text page.


The Passionate Pilgrim (Vale Press, 1896, page xxxvi)
All of the pages in this edition have roman numerals set in Vale Press type, but not page v. The letter 'v' on this page is smaller than the others, probably because the opening in the plate for the decoration didn't allow for a larger type, although the difference is small.

As the book was printed on a specially reserved Albion hand press at the Ballantyne Press in London, the compositor could easily have loaned a small size 'v' from one of his colleagues in the compositor's room of the large printing firm. For the other books, he had at his disposal Vale Press type that came in only one size, a 13 point letter. The Vale Type specimen doesn't contain numerals (see Watry's bibliography, page 38), nor do the other two typefaces that were designed by Ricketts, the Avon Fount (11 point) and the King's Fount.

However, numerals were used for the page numbers in several books, such as the two-volume edition of  The Rowley Poems of Thomas Chatterton (1898).


The Rowley Poems of Thomas Chatterton (Vale Press, 1898)
These numerals have not been identified yet, nor has the small letter 'v' on page v of the VP Shakespeare edition that was issued years before Ricketts decided to design his second and smaller typeface, the Avon Fount.

Frequently, when called for, Ricketts designed new decorations and initials for his books, but numerals and page numbers were, apparently, not that important to him, and were not seen as part of the design that he wanted to control. That's another enigma: why didn't he design numerals?

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

385. The 2018 Alphabet: U

U is for Unless.

Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow.

Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Savile's Crime & Other Stories (1891)
This sentence is the opening line of the last story in Oscar Wilde's Lord Arthur Savile's Crime & Other Stories (1891). The cover and spine designs are by Charles Ricketts, who, especially for this book produced a variant on the publisher's mark for James R. Osgood, McIlvaine and Co, as he did for all the new works that he designed for this firm during the early 1890s.

The book was printed by R. & R. Clark in Edinburgh, but it displayed all the asymmetrical and whimsical typographical features of a book printed at the Ballantyne Press where James McNeill Whistler had influenced page design for several years and where Ricketts had his magazine The Dial printed, emulating Whistler's idiosyncrasies and adding his own.

Ricketts might have been responsible for the illustrated initials that appear on the first page of each story: an 'I' (page 3) accompanied by a pair of wings, an 'O' with an acorn and two leaves of what appear to be lathyrus (page 77), a 'W' adorned with two violets (page 91), and finally a 'U' illustrating two small oak leaves (page 157).

No contract for the book has survived, Wilde's letters do not mention the initials, we can't be sure whose design they are. However, I have never seen them in any other book; the style is unlike that of other Clark books, we have seen Ricketts draw more designs for a book than he was commissioned (certainly in the case of Wilde's books - for this book he not only drew the publisher's mark but also a smaller variant one), and the initials are subtle, diverse, and seem to symbolize the story they precede. On the other hand, the letters themselves are not like the art nouveau creations Ricketts displayed on the cover of, for example, Wilde's Poems, although the various positions of the two illustrated elements around the initials are harmonious, yet sophisticated and funny.







Initials in Lord Arthur Savile's Crime & Other Stories (1891)
Although the designer of these initials remains unknown, I have always thought that Ricketts might have been their inventor.

The book was produced to reach a larger audience, and was lowly priced at 2s, and Guy and Small (in Oscar Wilde's Profession, 2000, page 232) argue that this was the reason for the lack of illustrations. This might indicate also that the initials were stock initials used for magazines and such, but, again, they look too subtle and new for that and were not used for Wilde's stories when they first appeared in periodicals. As new illustrations were deemed to be expensive, Ricketts might have stepped in to help solve the space problem, that is: the book needed more pages, and the stories were subdivided into chapters, additional title pages were included with subtitles for each of the stories. The initials might have been introduced at that phase of the editorial process. 

Anyway, they are there now for us to enjoy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

384. Moving House

Moving house for the first time since I started this blog, seems a good occasion to quote Paul Delaney on Ricketts and Shannon's relocation to Townshend House in 1922 - hoping he, and my readers, will allow me this lazy blog. 

In 1922, Shannon's career as a lithographer and painter was stagnating, while Ricketts's work as a theatre designer was admired by writers, designers, audiences, and critics alike. 

Shannon, as a result of his feeling of stagnation, latched on to the idea of moving house as a change and 'a sort of renewal of life grown into a monotony of habits'. Ricketts, as usual, took the opposite view, dreading the effort and uncertainty and confessing 'to moments of acute depression and fear of the future which is not good for anyone'. He was, he claimed, 'of a cat-like disposition, deeply attached to places, which I generally like better than people'. However, a move was necessary. Their twenty-one-year-old lease for the Lansdowne House flat was running out and Davis [the owner] had decided to sell the building.


Lansdowne House (Wikimedia Commons)
Faced with the probability of a considerable rise in rent, they decided to buy a place of their own where they and their collections would be secure for the rest of their lives, and even Ricketts looked forward 'to the excitement of recasting and remoulding our "ambience" and the satisfaction of actual ownership to put an end to a deep indwelling sense of regret'. It was not easy to find a house to accommodate them, their two studios, and their large collection, at a price they could afford: 'Palaces are cheap, not so the smaller houses', they discovered, though the sort of smaller house they were seeking would seem more like a palace today. A month was spent house-hunting, and interviewing property agents and lawyers, before 'the possible and desirable place' was found. This required an outlay which intimidated Shannon, and they rushed to see their lawyer over mortgage and cash questions with the fear that it might be snapped up by someone else.
[J.G. Paul Delaney, Charles Ricketts. A Biography. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990, pp. 331-332.]

On May 1923 they found themselves in their new home, Townshend House, a large Edwardian villa (since demolished) near Regents Park. Not a thing in the new house worked, not a window, tap, lock, stove, or geyser, Ricketts claimed, though they had been paid for weeks and months before; the painters had bolted before finishing the job, leaving their paint pots behind - Ricketts was clearly over-reacting as usual. As soon as the stove in the dining-room was working, they made that their headquarters, as the weather was wet and wintry.
[Ibid, p. 333.] 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

383. A Simple Story by Charles Shannon

The first number of The Dial contained one story by Charles Shannon - I don't think he ever again tried to write a literary contribution for a magazine, or a book, and that the only genres he explored were diaries and letters. 

The story was called 'A Simple Story', and the first word of the text was embedded in an illustration: 'Batilda': 'Batilda had risen earlier than usual, for this was the long-expected day when the Holy Father Hilarion would stop and bless her hearth.' (See my blog about the initials in The Dial, No. 1: blogpost 381: The 2018 Alphabet: T.) Charles Ricketts made the drawing and signed it in the upper left hand corner. 

The story is about a visit of the bishop, the Holy Father Hilarion, to an island. One remembers that some of Shannon's earliest drawings were of saints. Hilarion came to the island for work: 'There were two couples to marry and their little children to baptise; three quarrels to arbitrate, and much kindliness to teach'. The Saturday Review (14 September 1889) said it was 'gracefully written'. The Athenaeum (23 November 1889) judged otherwise: 'There are touches - we were going to write splashes - of intense local colour in the terribly confused and confusing narrative Mr. C.H. Shannon calls "A Simple Story," but all there is to tell might have been given in ten lines.' In 2009, David Peters Corbett saw 'A Simple Story' as an example of 'an intense registration of experience that either is exotic or is allowed to be banal or abject in order to reveal or evoke unspecified but resonant meanings and emotions located beneath the surface of events'. In his 1977 thesis, Richard Harold Quinn remarked that the story witnessed Shannon's interest in colour and light, quoting many examples, such as a polished wreath, a red cross, but also a pale blue sky, a green sea turning silver towards noon, and a violet horizon.

Charles Ricketts, 'Batilda' (The Dial, 1889)
The illustration of an interior house shows features mentioned by Shannon in his story. There is a 'wreath of polished ivy leaves', but other elements such like 'a cross painted in red above the hearth' are lacking. However, a lamp said to be placed at the foot of the cross is present in a niche. 

There are small birds on the roof top, garlic is hanging from the door post, a bundle of sticks lies next to the house. Inside, Batilda sits in front of the hearth, anxiously drying her tears. In the room are three other people, probably her girls, Matilda and Basine. In their midst is probably their younger brother Felix in the bath tub before he runs out to see if the bishop has arrived already - the washing scene is not in the story.

This was a reproduced drawing by Ricketts, and the original drawing is in the private collection of Vincent Barlow, who kindly procured an image of it, which is reproduced below.


Charles Ricketts, 'Batilda', original drawing (collection of Vincent Barlow)
In wood engravings, Ricketts frequently forgot to reverse his initials; in this case there was no need to pay attention to mirror effects. Obviously, the lettering of the word 'Batilda' is rather clumsy, and awkward. Some of the letters look like they should have resembled printed letters, such as the 'A' and 'T'. But the large letter 'B' doesn't seem to belong to the same family, and the splitting of one name over three lines is unusual. However, in print, the earliest Vale Press books displayed a similar - debatable - arrangement of letters and words over several lines. 

The original drawing looks like a finished sketch for the slightly reworked definitive drawing which may not have survived, some details have been touched upon later. Look at the birds!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

382. The 2018 Alphabet: T (Always)

T is for Ton.

Ton will be celebrating his birthday on 22 November.

Initial 'T' in Daphnis and Chloe, illustrated by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon (1893)
Ton Leenhouts will be eighty-four this Thursday. In a way, he is the instigator of this blog, as he put me on the path of Ricketts and Shannon way back in the early eighties. His collection started in the mid 1970s, before major exhibitions and publications drew attention to these artists.

It all started with a poster that has since disappeared. In about 1977, Ton bought it in a Verkerke shop that specialized in modern reproductions, most of which were published by this Amsterdam firm. This poster was of an imitation brown packing paper with a blown-up image from a Ricketts woodcut for Hero and Leander (1894) printed in gold and blue. It was one of a series concerned with Aubrey Beardsley and art nouveau. In London these posters were advertised by Gallery Five and presented as wall panels in the late sixties or early seventies. For many years Ton's poster must have decorated his office at the Netherlands Dance Theatre in The Hague where he was director of publicity and public relations, but when I met him it had vanished.

Initial 'T in Daphnis and Chloe, illustrated by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon (1893)
Shortly afterwards Ton started a collection of Ricketts's books. In November 1977 he procured his first Vale Press book, T.S. Moore's Danaë, which incidentally was the last book published by this private press (followed later by a bibliography). Ton must have thought this book a nice acquisition for his collection of 19th- and 20th-century illustrated books. Over the years he bought quite a few Vale Press books, mostly illustrated with wood engravings by Ricketts. One of the earlier purchases was a copy of Daphnis and Chloe (February 1978) with pencilled notes by T.S. Moore; other acquisitions included Beyond the Threshold (May 1978) and the two volume Vale Press edition of Chatterton's Rowley Poems (July 1978). Subsequently Wilde's A House of Pomegranates (July 1978), Ricketts's Recollections of Oscar Wilde (August 1978) and a proof copy of Symonds's In the Key of Blue and Other Prose Essays (October 1978) were added to the collection. 

One day Ton read a short notice in a Dutch newspaper about an exhibition in London. He rushed over to Orleans House Gallery at Twickenham and arrived just in time to see the show before it was taken down that same afternoon, the 20th of May 1979. This of course was the important exhibition mounted by Stephen Calloway and Paul Delaney, who thereby changed the appreciation of the work of Ricketts and Shannon. 

Correspondence with the curators of the exhibition (also the authors of several books on Ricketts and Shannon) helped to direct Ton on his collector's path. Catalogues by dealers such as Robin Greer in London, Blackwell in Oxford, Horodisch of Erasmus in Amsterdam, Warrack & Perkins (who offered a wealth of rare Ricketts materials until the untimely death of Geoffrey Perkins) and the London based dealer Eric Stevens (who sadly died recently) helped to inform him of possible acquisitions for his growing collection. Parcels arrived, sometimes more than two months after ordering a book. Many times catalogues were received in The Hague days after the most desirable books had already been sold in London. Still, new catalogues arrived in the post the following morning.


Exciting years. Fond memories. 

Many happy returns, Ton!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

381. The 2018 Alphabet: T

T is for The.

The sound rolls through the reddening air, the muffled thum! the dumb! of a monotonous drum.


Initial 'T' (The Dial, 1889)
There is a small series of illustrated initials designed by Charles Ricketts that is often overseen. They appeared in the first issue of Vale coterie's magazine The Dial. There were eight literary and critical contributions of which the design was not uniform. 

One opened with a headpiece similar to those designed by Ricketts for the popular magazines:
Ricketts's story 'A Glimpse of Heaven'.

There were two contributions that started with the first word of the text incorporated in an illustration:
Charles Shannons's story 'A Simple Story: the illustration contains the name 'Batilda', which is the first word of the story.
An essay by John Gray about 'Les Goncourt': the illustration contains the first word of the text: 'Never'

There was one contribution that opened with a headpiece with an initial:
John Gray's story 'The Great Worm': initial V.

There is one contribution that opens with an illustration that has its own title, independent of the contents:
Reginald Savage's art notes: 'Notes'. The illustration is titled 'Spes'.

There were three contributions - one essay and two stories that started with an illustrated initial.

The initial 'T' (see above) opens Ricketts's story and play 'The Cup of Happiness'.


Initial 'P' (The Dial, 1889)
The first contribution in the issue opens with a similar illustrated initial 'P' for the essay about the French painter Puvis de Chavannes.


Initial 'L' (The Dial, 1889)
The last piece in The Dial is Ricketts's (anonymously published) story: 'Sensations'. There is one illustrated initial L.

These initials deserve a more elaborate study.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

380. Ricketts at the Turn of the Century

The current exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland is called 'At the Turn of the Century'. The introductory texts suggest that the museum has taken the opportunity to show works from the collection that seem not to be related to each other in any way except for the time of their creation: 'Art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was both forward and backward looking. Some artists developed aspects of impressionist and post-impressionist painting, and moved further in the direction of abstraction; other artists, turned towards spiritual values and created symbols of a purer world; other artists continued with traditional artistic practices.' - That includes almost everything.


Charles Ricketts, 'Don Juan and the Commander' (National Galleries of Scotland)
Ricketts's painting in the exhibition is one of his evocations of the Don Juan story, in which Don Juan invites the statue of the commander (whom he had killed earlier) to his dinner table. 'Don Juan and the Commander' was presented to the gallery by Ricketts's friend John Gray. (See my earlier remarks about the description of the painting in blog 299: 'Don Juan in Edinburgh'.)

On display are paintings by Edouard Vuillard, William Nicholson, Walter Sickert, Mabel Pryde, and other artists, and there is no hurry, as the exhibition can be seen until 28 February 2020. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

379. Designers & Jewellery: Fitzwilliam Museum Exhibition

The Fitzwilliam Museum exhibition 'Designers & Jewellery 1850-1940: Jewellery and Metalwork from The Fitzwilliam Museum' is on view until 11 November. (The show opened in July).


Charles Ricketts, pendant with miniature of Edith Cooper (1901)
The catalogue (same title), written by Helen Ritchie, devotes an entire chapter to the jewellery designed by Charles Ricketts (pp. 99-115), with excellent photographs by Amy Jugg. It is the first time that our publication about Ricketts's mother (Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother, 2016) is quoted in the first lines of a serious essay about Ricketts: 

Charles de Sousy Ricketts (1866-1931) was born in Switzerland to a retired English naval officer and his Italian wife, Cornelia Marsuzi de Aguirre.

The catalogue reproduces sketches alongside new photographs of the jewellery: a brooch, pendants, a painted fan, and a ring, designed by Ricketts in a short time span for a small inner circle of his friends: Michael Field and Maria Sturge Moore. Ricketts kept a drawer full of gemstones, and he arranged selections of them on a piece of paper before sketching a new jewel in pen and water colour. 

Although Ricketts employed Giuliano, a famous firm in London, for all his jewellery, he 'often spotted errors in them over time, and was not always completely satisfied with the goldsmith's work' (as Richie states). That, and Giuliano's invoices, brought his short career as a jewellery designer to an end.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

378. Scholarly Attention for Charles Ricketts (4)

Since 2000, the number of articles about Oscar Wilde or Michael Field that mention Charles Ricketts and his designs for their books has increased. Apart from that, Ricketts himself has become a major subject for research, although these publications are usually not written for a large audience.


Everything for Art and Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother

Book and Theatre Design 

Since 2000, more scholars have emerged with publications about Ricketts's book design, especially in the United States. Nicholas Frankel (1962) published his Oscar Wilde's Decorated Books in 2000 (The University of Michigan Press), followed by his Masking the Text: Essays on Literature & Mediation in the 1890s in 2009 (The Rivendale Press). David Peters Corbett published 'Symbolism in British "Little magazines". The Dial (1889-[189]7), The Pageant (1896-7), and The Dome (1897-1900)' in: The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines (2009). I published several articles on Ricketts, for example on his influence as a book designer on the Dutch debate on modern book illustration in the 1890s (in the Dutch yearbook for book history, 2000), on the printing of A House of Pomegranates (a sequel to this was published by Paul Nash), in The Private Library (2005, and 2007 for the Nash article), and in 2006 The Book Collector contained my article about Rickett's designs for Osgood: 'The Revival of a Publisher's Device. Charles Ricketts and Osgood, McIlvaine & Co.'

In 2004 Oak Knoll Press published Maureen Watry's bibliography of the Vale Press. Vincent Barlow contributed an essay on Ricketts and Shannon as publisher of a formerly untraced edition of Sturge Moore's woodcuts to Studies in Illustration (2014), and I privately published a bibliography of the articles and books written by Ricketts (2015).

A younger generation approached the work of Ricketts with fresh insights. One of them is Jeremiah Mercurio who took as a subject 'Charles Ricketts' illustrations for Oscar Wilde's Poems in prose. An unrealized project' (published online, 2010). Petra Clark is another young scholar who researches Ricketts's illustrations. In 2013 she published an article on 'Bitextuality, Sexuality, and the Male Aesthete in The Dial: "Not Through an Orthodox Channel"' (English Literature in Transition, 1890-1930, 2013), which was followed in 2015 by ‘“Cleverly Drawn”. Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and the Art of the Woman’s World’ (Journal of Victorian Culture, 2015).

An older generation still played its part. In 2007, Carl Woodring (1919-2009) published an article in Wordsworth Circle: 'Centaurs Unnaturally Fabulous'. It discussed centaurs as a motif in Rickett's paintings and book illustrations. Woodring was 87 at the time.

The other major concern of Ricketts, the theatre, was not forgotten. Scholars such as Margaret Mitchell, Lindsay Catherine Thomas, and Judith P. Shoaf published essays on the stage designs for performances by and for soldiers in France, Ricketts's Shakespeare productions, and the dolls he made for Mabel Beardsley.

Exhibitions were mounted on several occasions. An online exhibition was published in conjunction with the publication of Watry's bibliography (At the Sign of the Dial: Charles Ricketts and the Vale Press 1896-1903, Liverpool University Library). Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery showed Decadence and design. Ricketts, Shannon and their circle in 2007, while Ricketts and Shannon. A Creative Partnership was on display in 2009 at the National Portrait Gallery. Museum Meermanno in The Hague commemorated the 150th anniversary of Ricketts's birth with a show called Charles Ricketts. Between Jesus and Oscar Wilde (2016).

The last decade, some new initiatives and themes came to the fore. A new edition of some of Ricketts's main texts was published by The Rivendale Press in 2014: Everything for Art: Selected Writings, edited by Nicholas Frankel. Paul Delaney and Corine Verney solved the riddle of his mother's identity in Charles Rickett's Mysterious Mother (2016), and this blog on Ricketts and Shannon started in July 2011.



Art Collectors

Ricketts and Shannon as art collectors was the subject of some earlier studies, but since 2007 three more articles haven taken up this issue: Jane Munro wrote about them as collectors of drawings (in L’artiste collectionneur de dessin. II (2007), Caroline Elam published 'Piero di Cosimo and Centaurophilia in Edwardian London' in The Burlington Magazine (2009), filling several pages about them as art advisers and collectors with quotes from their diaries and letters, while Christina Rozeik looked at the fate of the collection they bequeathed to the Fitzwilliam Museum: '"A Maddening Temptation". The Ricketts and Shannon collection of Greek and Roman antiquities' (Journal of the History of Collections, 2012).

A new angle was found by Frederick D. King, who looked at The Pageant and its role in changing concepts of art history: Revising Art History in The Pageant (presentation at the North American Victorian Studies Association's supernumerary conference in Florence,  2017). 


Queer Domesticities

Homosexuality

Homosexuality has become a major theme. David Peters Corbett published his article 'Homosociality and Visual Knowledge in the Circle of Charles Ricketts' in Visual Culture in Britain (2007), and two other writers connected this topic with that of interior design: John Potvin wrote 'The Aesthetics of Community: Queer Interiors and the Desire for Intimacy' for the monograph Rethinking the Interior c. 1867-1896. Aestheticism and Arts and Crafts (2010), and Matt Cook devoted a chapter to Ricketts and Shannon in his book Queer Domesticities. Homosexuality and Home Life in Twentieth-Century London (2014). This chapter, 'Domestic Passions: Unpacking the Homes of Charles Shannon and Charles Ricketts' was previously published in the Journal of British Studies (2012).

What will the future bring?