Wednesday, October 21, 2020

482. A Birthday Gift from Charles Shannon & A Further Present (2)

This blog is a continuation of last week's contribution, and, again written by John Aplin.

Charles Ricketts, binding for Gordon Bottomley's
Poems of Thirty Years (1925)

A Further Present

Quite aside from generating the unexpected and much treasured birthday gift, 1924 also brought together the materials for an important retrospective collection of Bottomley’s poetry, a medium which by this time he had largely abandoned in favour of plays. It also saw a culminating moment in his relationship with both Ricketts and Shannon, for Poems of Thirty Years was the last of his books for which Ricketts designed a cover, whilst also including as a frontispiece a drawing by Shannon of the author specially undertaken in August 1924. 

Although intended for publication in 1924, the book was delayed until the beginning of 1925 because of the time taken by Emery Walker to prepare the photographic reproduction of Shannon's drawing. As Bottomley told his friends, Robert and Elisabeth Trevelyan (to whom he dedicated the volume), 'The book has been held up and has missed the Christmas market because nice old Emery Walker has been taking his dear delightful time over engraving Shannon's portrait (which was, however, worth waiting for); so the book cannot be out until the end of the Winter, and I half killed myself over the proofs for nothing' (12 December 1924, British Library Add MS 88957/1/90).

Charles Shannon, portrait of Gordon Bottomley (drawing),
frontispiece in Gordon Bottomley, Poems of Thirty Years (1925)

It is characteristic of Bottomley's close friendship with the two artists that both refused payment for their work (as Ricketts had similarly made a gift of the covers for each of the three previous volumes he had designed for him). Nonetheless, Shannon had at first been reluctant to undertake the job, simply because he had lost confidence in his portrait skills. But having finally agreed to make an attempt before he and Ricketts set out for a trip to Italy, resulting in Bottomley hurrying down for an overnight stay in London to sit for him, Shannon concluded that the experiment had paid off.

Sep. 11 1924.

My dear Bottomley,
Thanks for your kind letter. I wont hear of your paying anything for the drawing. I enjoyed doing it and it was excellent practice for me. It means that I shall take up portrait drawings again now that I have broken the Ice. The net result it that I have had an excellent model with nothing to pay. […] Excuse this hasty note written late at night & feeling very sleepy. Remember me very kindly to your wife. I hope she will like the drawing. Even if she doesn't I will forgive her.
Yrs always | Charles Shannon 
(Shannon to Bottomley, 11 September 1924. British Library Add MS 88957/1/82.)

Two days later Shannon reinforced his pleasure in having undertaken the challenge. 

The drawing is finished mounted & framed. I will send it up by the good Nicholls tomorrow to Constables. […] I think perhaps the lines I have added to the mount might be too heavy for the reproduction so I will leave it to the photographer to do the best he can. It would also mean further reduction to get properly into your page & this might be a disadvantage. I do hope it will be successful. The pink paper ought not to matter. The collotype maker will require the drawing for reference then the firm can despatch it to you. The whole affair has been a great pleasure to me & made me realize I can still do drawings from the head even after years.
(Shannon to Bottomley, 13 September 1924. British Library Add MS 88957/1/82.)

That he had seriously doubted his own competence is once again reinforced when he wrote to Emily Bottomley three months later, shortly before the book was finally about to be published. 

It was most kind of you to send me that very appreciative letter regarding your husband's portrait. I am very glad indeed that you both like it. It makes me feel quite young again for I really doubted my ability to do a decent drawing again after all these years. 
(Shannon to Emily Bottomley, 14 December 1924, British Library Add MS 88957/1/82.)

And yet, perhaps his own initial reservations were not entirely misplaced, because a number of Bottomley's friends had some reservations about Shannon's representation, and wondered whether he had quite captured the personality of the man whom they knew. One of Bottomley's more recent acquaintances, Walford Graham Robertson, admired the drawing 'as a Shannon but it isn't my you. […] That is, in a way, rather nice, because perhaps my you is my private property. Shannon's you gives me a general impression of nose. In my you the eyes have it – and the brow, & the way that the nose joins on between the eyes.' (12 January 1925, British Library Add MS 88957/1/77.) 

William Rothenstein, portrait of Gordon Bottomley,
published in William Rothenstein, Twenty-Four Portraits. Second Series (1923)

Lady Alix Egerton had similar reservations: 'Has the hand of Shannon lost its cunning, or his eye that he should so cut off the back of your head, to match his own. Can he be pleased with it himself? Are you? Is E[mily]?' (12 February 1925, British Library Add MS 88957/1/43). And J.A. Fuller-Maitland, the former music critic of The Times observed that 'I love your dear face as Shannon sees it, though the eyes are not nearly good enough' (22 February 1925, British Library Add MS 88957/1/49). However, Bottomley himself was entirely satisfied, or at least claimed that he was. 'I don’t agree with you about the portrait' (he wrote to Joan Fletcher, the wife of his oldest friend, Ben Fletcher, head of the Birmingham School of Art), 'for there seems a sensitive veracity about it to us which was probably a more fundamental thing to go for than the picturesqueness which your dear friendly innocent heart desired' (17 February 1925, Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle).

It would not be the first time, nor the last, that Bottomley's overwhelming admiration for both Ricketts and Shannon occasionally distorted the objectivity and clear judgment which he usually brought to bear on new work, whether by artists or his fellow writers. But in the case of his two idols he would become hyper-sensitive to criticisms about their work – perhaps more so than he ever was to judgments about his own – a sign, no doubt, of an admiration close to hero-worship.

The last word can be left to Shannon himself, who wrote in thanks for a copy of the published book, in his own way as happy as Bottomley himself that the three friends could be united in a single work.


March 26 1925

My dear Bottomley,
I think I should have behaved better if I had not been so busy trying to finish a picture of Bacchus but now that I have put it on one side as impossible to complete in time I feel quite happy. I like your book of poems very much indeed & enjoyed reading over again old favourites. Ricketts will have written to you fully on the subject and he speaks with authority on these matters as he does on all others relating to the Arts. It makes a splendid book & I am very pleased to be associated with it indirectly. Any poet might be proud of it for a life's work but I also know that you have a lot more besides of the same quality ready to follow on. Ricketts' binding I think one of the best he has done and I believe he thinks so too. […] 
(British Library Add MS 88957/1/82.)

Extracts from correspondence are used with thanks to Scirard Lancelyn Green, literary executor for Gordon Bottomley, and to Leone Sturge-Moore and Charmian O’Neil, joint literary executors for Charles Shannon.
                                                                                                        John Aplin

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

481. A Birthday Gift from Charles Shannon & A Further Present (1)

This blog about a birthday present from Charles Shannon to Gordon Bottomley contains unpublished letters from both of them, and is contributed to 'Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon' by John Aplin (see also his earlier blogs no. 450 and No. 476).

A Birthday Gift from Charles Shannon

Gordon Bottomley (1874-1948), the Yorkshire-born poet who led attempts to revive English poetic drama in the first half of the twentieth century, considered that one of the greatest privileges of his life was to gain the friendship of both Charles Shannon and Charles Ricketts. He was familiar with their work well before they first met, partly through reproductions in magazines and periodicals, and also through The Pageant and The Dial, back numbers of which he hunted down and bought when he could afford them. 

Their auspicious first meeting occurred in June 1904, when Bottomley's always delicate health held up sufficiently for him to spend several weeks on a visit to London. His third collection of poetry, The Gate of Smaragdus (1904) had recently appeared. It was one of the last books taken on by Ernest Oldmeadow's ill-fated Unicorn Press, which ran into financial difficulties, whereupon Bottomley persuaded Elkin Mathews to act as his publisher, their bookplate being added to copies to supersede the printed 'at the sign of the Unicorn' title page.

Gordon Bottomley, The Gate of Smaragdus (1904)

Gordon Bottomley, The Gate of Smaragdus (1904)

Bottomley had inscribed and sent a copy of The Gate of Smaragdus to Ricketts and Shannon (two of his poems being inspired by Shannon's 'The White Watch' lithograph), as he would recall in an unpublished autobiographical chronology which he wrote towards the end of his life.

I had sent out sundry copies for my own personal reasons, and the first of these was to Ricketts, as in confession of a debt, and his friend Shannon on account of several of the poems being in celebration of one of his designs. Perhaps the actual inscription was to Shannon; but a repercussion to Ricketts was hoped for equally. An invitation to visit them followed, and the chief significance to me of that Spring in London lay in an afternoon and another evening spent in their treasure-house in the top flat of a tall block of studios opposite the side entrance to Holland Park Tube Station. Those who frequented it most called it the Palace. For nearly twenty years it was the first place to which my thoughts turned whenever there was any question of London – and my feet whenever I arrived in London: and there I found more understanding talk and wisdom about the study and practice of the arts than anywhere else throughout my life.
On that June afternoon [in 1907] a short, delicately made man answered the door-bell. I asked for Shannon: he replied 'I am sorry he is out – and I am about to join him: can I tell him your name?' When I gave it he flashed on me a look of kindly amusement and said 'Do come in. Your book interested us. I'm Ricketts.' For an hour and a half I listened to more brilliant talk than I had ever heard before, talk about poets, painters, music. He said suddenly 'Look at the time: I must go, Shannon will be annoyed. You must come again. You should be more in London, now you can do it: you have been too much alone. Let me go down with you.'
Friday was their evening for friends: when I attended on the Friday of a few weeks later I was quickly followed by Yeats and Florence Farr, the actress who was helping him in his experiments with the speaking of verse. Presently we discovered that all of us had been present that afternoon at what we supposed was to be the only performance of Maeterlinck's 'Pelléas et Melisande' by Sarah Bernhardt and Mrs Patrick Campbell – I standing in the pit, Yeats and his friend in the gallery, the others elsewhere. The occasion was memorable, but out of all the eager talk about it I can only remember Yeats saying 'An old woman has had to play Pelléas before I knew what a child he was.' The old woman was a revelation to me: that was the only time I ever heard her, and I still feel she was supreme over all I have known in the theatre: the golden voice was that of youth while she was Pelléas; her diction was better than music; her movements were more than beautiful, they were beauty itself.
[British Library Add MS 88957/3/1.]

For Bottomley, this was a transformative encounter, resulting in a correspondence which endured until Ricketts's death in 1931, by which time, of course, Shannon had already sustained the incapacitating injury which ended all opportunities for further letter-writing.

Over the years, Bottomley and his wife Emily would accumulate a discriminating art collection, in which works by the two men featured strongly. After their deaths, with the exception of just one or two paintings, the entire collection was presented to Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle. One of Shannon's paintings came to Bottomley by chance, as a surprise gift from the artist himself. In 1924, Bottomley reached the age of 50, and happened to receive a letter from Shannon on his birthday, 20 February, Shannon being unaware of the significance of the date. With the letter came a copy of the recently printed volume by Eric B. George, Charles Shannon (London: Ernest Benn, 1924), a volume in the
Contemporary British Artists series, which included thirty-five illustrations as well as a short introductory essay on Shannon's work. Bottomley was delighted not only with the book, but by its chance arrival on his birthday.

22nd. February 1924.

My dear Shannon,
You did not know you were sending me a present on my fiftieth birthday, did you? But you were, and there wasn't anything on that day that made me as happy as your book did: I had been disliking the idea of being fifty, and not finding any compensatory advantages in it, and it was so comforting and happyfying to forget all about it in this new and satisfying-as-ever purview of your work – and in the recollection of all the passion and ardour and vivid enhancement of life that you had stirred in me by these emanations of you in the thirty years that have gone since I put boyhood behind me.

I was happy too in the thought that you who have done them all are my friend and that you care about my play [Gruach] and have praised it. And it is splendid to have such an array of your fine things all in one cover: I cursed at intervals throughout the day because my adored Music Room, and the touchingly beautiful portrait of old Mrs. Dowdall aren't there – but I couldn't curse too much, for I was so grateful to find the Black Shirt and the Inverness Coat, which I had long wanted to have; and also the Golden Age, the Education of Bacchus, the Winter Night, the lovely lovely Vintage (which I didn’t know as a picture), the Incoming Tide, the Pursuit (which I brought away in my eyes from my last visit to you) and the drawings.

I am dejected you didn't write my name in the book: but I can ask you to do it when I come, can't I?

I like the man's eulogy: he says some of the right things. But he doesn't put in enough facts about the splendours and treasures you have made. […]
Your grateful and affectionate Gordon Bottomley.
[British Library Add MS 88957/1/82.]

The triggered from Shannon a gesture of exceptional generosity.

March 17. 1924

My dear Bottomley
I was very much touched by your cry from the heart concerning the absence of the 'Music Room' or 'The Three Sisters' [this is the picture's alternative title] whichever you wish. I do hope when it arrives it will not disappoint you. It is now well on its way as a fiftieth birthday present. I know you will care for it and get it a piece of glass. I removed the glass as I thought it too dangerous for travelling. It has been out of view for years & it will greatly like to be cherished & taken into favour again. All pictures love admiration. It acts better than any varnish. It may look dark at first but so does twilight till you get accustomed to it & twilight is the subject of it.

With kindest regards & fifty more returns of the day, which I am sure you will see if you desire it. […]
Believe me
Yrs always
Charles Shannon. 

Ricketts has about finished St Joan. I hope it may last long enough for you to see. I think his part will be very good, perhaps he hasn't told you he is doing the Shaw play for London.
[British Library Add MS 88957/1/82]

Charles Shannon, 'The Music Room' (1904)
[Collection Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle]

Of course, Bottomley was overwhelmed by the gift, but certainly not at a loss for words.

22nd. March 1924.

My dear Shannon,
Your card and your superb generosity left me wordless: such delight of astonishment cannot come to anyone often in a life-time, nor such a noble sympathy in a gift. I have always cherished the "Music Room" in my heart and been faithful to it; but I thought some millionaire had it long ago and it was lost to me for ever, and I am so grateful to the millionaires for not taking it and to you for keeping it out of their sight.

You know I love it and shall always cherish it and care for it: and you know I thank you with my whole being and with all the power I have for caring for beauty and the works of beauty. You have reconciled me to being fifty, which I had been finding unbearable. And Thank You also for wishing me fifty more birthdays: I should like to have them […] I should like to be 1742, for when I reached 1664 my plays would really begin to be pretty good. Up to now words do not serve me well enough: and to-day they will not serve me at all, when I want to tell you how proud I am that you have thought of me in this way, and how much more it means to me than public recognition and success to be so counted among your friends. I can only say I am grateful.
I had been hoping to tell you of the picture's safe arrival in this letter; but Carnforth is a tiresome place, and the railway people here are dilatory. It may come through during the week-end; but if you don't hear from me as to its turning up in a day or two, I shall beg you to send me particulars of how it was sent so that I can stir somebody at Carnforth. But I will not worry you or myself immediately, for if you despatched it by goods train it will not arrive quickly.

Your card brought so many things to my mind – the day we first saw it at Van Wisselingh's with the "Sea-Nymph" and Ricketts'[s] "Tobit" and "Vineyard" and a Legros woodland; and my hopelessness as I asked Van Wisselingh how much it was, and my greater hopelessness when he told me.

And then a day next year, and one of the first times of my going to the Palace. You were out with a bicycle, and when I arrived I found Ricketts with Hugh Lane and his sister. During tea Hugh Lane said "When is Shannon going to paint another picture as fine as The Bath of Venus?" Now I had never heard of Hugh Lane before, and didn't know who he was or that he had organised the exhibition of Irish Art at the Guildhall that Spring: so I jumped in with both feet and said in a rush and with nice youthful excitement "O, but he has! It is called 'The Music Room', and it is an exquisite masterpiece and quite as fine as the other one: it is at The Guildhall just now, but stupidly hung so that its delicacy can’t be properly seen; but you ought to go and see it." Then Hugh Lane talked of something else until tea was over; and then Ricketts took us to see the Tanagras in the satinwood cabinet, after which Hugh Lane and his sister went away. And then you came in, and Ricketts said "Lane has been saying foolish things about you; but Bottomley put him right and spoke very properly about the infamous way he has hung 'The Music Room' at the Guildhall."

And among my dismay I began to take comfort in the idea that perhaps my feet weren't in it after all.

So the dear picture always was a little mine in my heart and the nature of things, wasn't it?

P.S. I met Lane again a day or two afterward at The Guildhall: but he did not remember me.

I am so happy you approve of glass on pictures; for I am always uncomfortable for their surfaces to be bare. We will see to it at once when the picture arrives.

And we agree enthusiastically that pictures love admiration. It does help them to look their best, and they mellow under it.

I can't tell whether to be glad or not that Ricketts is doing Shaw's play or not. On the whole I think I'm happy about it, for I wanted to see a medieval play done by Ricketts; but I am jealous too. One of my griefs always is that I have never seen any of Ricketts'[s] stage-work – and it is for me as much as for anybody in the world: but I WILL see "St. Joan" unless I am paralysed. Believe me your affectionate and grateful
Gordon Bottomley.
[British Library Add MS 88957/1/82.]

A few days later, he was able to announce the safe arrival of the painting.

The Sheiling Silverdale nr. Carnforth.
27th. March 1924.

O My Dear Shannon,
It is quite true. All you wrote to me really has happened, in spite of the initial improbability of anybody in this world having such good fortune as mine. I rejoice to tell you that It has arrived safely: It came yesterday afternoon, and I prowled round and round It until I fell into bed quite spent.

It is just as heavenly fair as it always was: It felt a little disconsolate at the indignities of the journey, but a change passed through it soon after it was disentangled from the packing case, and it had not been long in the dark wainscoted warm room before it began to revive visibly. It was glowing and looking content and at home before bed-time, and I really believe It is going to be happy and even radiant here. I believe It will feel still more comfortable and entirely at ease as soon as It gets Its glass.

The first impression of twenty one years ago has always remained with me – strengthened perhaps by the photograph and half-tones – of something silvery grey. But here among brown wood It looks warm and rich and luscious and fundamentally made of colour – as if the years had mellowed and ripened It. And always it goes straight to my heart as it did at first, and I don't think anything is ever going to make me happier than the still almost incredible delight of living with it and having it with me as long as I am conscious of this world and its loveliness.

We shall want you to see it here someday.

Believe me your affectionate and grateful
[British Library Add MS 88957/1/82.]

Gordon and Emily Bottomley took an intense on-going pleasure in the many art works carefully chosen and hung in their Silverdale house, which visitors rightly regarded as their simple shrine to beauty. The special circumstances of acquisition relating to each work contributed to the almost tangible sense of wholesome contentment which came from being in the presence of beautiful things. One of the last things Bottomley undertook before his death in 1948 was a hand-written descriptive catalogue of the works hanging on the walls of the The Sheiling (now at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle), and the page devoted to 'The Music Room', which hung in his drawing room, gives an important account of the painting’s provenance, Bottomley’s first encounter with it, and evidence of his remarkably accurate visual memory.

Gordon Bottomley,
'An Account of Paintings and some other works of art, at The Sheiling, Silverdale, Carnforth,
in the possession of Emily and Gordon Bottomley: as at the New Year, 1947'
[Collection Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle]

Gift of the Artist
The Music Room.
Oil-painting: C.H. Shannon R.A. (1902-3.)

Van Wisselingh’s Gallery: 1903. (Brook Street: Hanover Square.)
The final, definitive version of this subject.

This was the first picture I set eyes on, the first morning I was ever in London (aet. 29.). It hung in the centre of the main wall of the far room. In the centre was Whistler's half-length portrait of a school-girl holding a violin. On the right, balancing in size and tone C.H. Shannon's The Fisherman and The Mermaid (which went into the Pickford Waller collection.)

The present picture was afterward so much exhibited on the Continent that the frame was worn out, and the picture laid aside. Shannon knew of my early admiration of the picture, and presented it to me on my fiftieth birthday. G.B.

He afterward painted a small replica in oils, in full colour, about the size of our pastel, to be given to Mrs. Patrick Campbell when she was sitting to him for her round portrait, standing by a piano. When Shannon told me this, he added "But she misbehaved"…

On the previous page of this catalogue, Bottomley provides a description of 'our pastel', another version of 'The Music Room', which also came from Shannon.

The Music Room.
C.H. Shannon R.A: Pastel.

The First treatment in colour of the lithograph design called The Sisters: and evidently the basis of the large and important oil version of this subject on this wall also. Note: the mouse in the lithograph disappears in both the later designs.

                                                                                            John Aplin

[To be continued.]

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

480. Inspired by Dürer?

Last week's blog about An Emblem for Borgia discussed the image Ricketts designed for Michael Field's play Borgia (1905). What I did not touch upon was the iconographic inspiration for this emblem. Not that we know any details about direct examples for this image. The peculiar symbol of Fortuna as a winged wheel rolling downhill, only slightly held back by a hand, allows comparison with woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer.

Charles Ricketts, emblem for Borgia (1905)

Ricketts's drawing from 1905 consists of four elements: a sphere, a wing, a hand and a slope. Of all the famous depictions of the instability of destiny, those of Dürer are perhaps best suited to be juxtaposed with those of Ricketts.

Albrecht Dürer, 'Nemesis' (1501-1502)
[Metropolitan Museum, New York]

'Nemesis' is a good starting point for comparison. It shows the female figure of Fortuna above a landscape. Two elements from Rickets's drawing are the outspread wings attached to her back, and the sphere under her feet. This print, known as 'The Great Fortune', has a predecessor, which is called 'Fortuna (The Little Fortune)' and dates from 1495-1496. 

Albrecht Dürer, 'Fortuna' (1495-1496): detail
[Metropolitan Museum, New York]

A detail of this shows the sphere with both feet balancing on top of it. The way in which one foot is draped over the sphere is reminiscent of the hand on Ricketts's drawing. The shadow (on the left side of the sphere) suggests movement, although drawn in a completely different way than in Ricketts's drawing.

Albrecht Dürer, 'The Wheel of Fortune' (detail),
in Sebastian Brant, Das Narrenschiff (1494)

An example of a hand drawn by Dürer can be found in his illustration of the wheel of fortune in Sebastian Brant's Das Narrenschiff (1494). I would not suggest that Ricketts relied on his memories of Dürer's prints for this 1905 emblem, but the eclectic artist clearly worked in a long tradition for which he held the highest regard.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

479. An Emblem for Borgia

In May 1905, A.H. Bullen anonymously published a play by Michael Field (pen name of Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper): Borgia. A Period Play. Some plays after that were also published anonymously with the indication: 'by the author of Borgia'.

[Michael Field], Borgia (1905)

Emma Donoghue gave an account of the genesis of the publication in her book We Are Michael Field (1998): 

Back in 1899 he [Charles Ricketts] had urged the Michaels to write a play about the Italian Renaissance, with all those "characters with rich honey & wicked old wine in them". Once, chatting about the Borgias, Ricketts acted out his fantasy of Pope Alexander as an aesthete, fondling a chestful of pearls. This bit of nonsense became a key image in the Michaels' next play, Borgia. This steamy, tangled play has a huge cast list of forty-two speaking parts as well as extras, and suffers from a fracturing of the reader's attention and sympathies. Ricketts was disappointed by this play [...] Supportive despite his reservations about the play, Ricketts now came up with a great idea. The Michaels should shed their awful reputation by self-publishing Borgia anonymously. Ricketts provided the artwork, and sent Tommy Sturge Moore as the intermediary to ask a new publisher - A.H. Bullen - to set his name to it. This simple trick on the critics worked brilliantly. It is ironic that Borgia, though one of their worst plays, was the first for many years to get reviews, and a few good ones among them.

The book was printed at Ballantyne, Hanson & Co in London, probably under the direction of Ricketts and/or Sturge Moore - the publisher didn't have much to do; he was supplied with two hundred finished copies, provided with a yellow paper cover, ready for sale. Bullen agreed to include the book in his lists of publications; the authors were charged for the cost of newspaper advertisements.

Ricketts's "art work" was limited to one small emblem. Although this has been identified occasionally as a woodcut, it is a drawing reproduced in line-block.

Charles Ricketts, emblem for Borgia (1905)

Subject of the drama is Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503) and his family, especially his son Cesare and his daughter Lucrezia, who, according to Marion Thain in her analysis of the play, form 'a kind of unholy trinity of their own' (see Michael Field. Poetry, Aestheticism and the Fin de Siècle, 2007). The play comprises suggestions of incest. Ricketts's original image of the pope 'fondling a chest of pearls' created the central icon for the play, an icon, as Thain states 'which signifies the riches and tears that motivate this treacherous world'.

Is it possible that Ricketts's emblem also refers a pearl? Probably not, although the emblem may have started as an image of a pearl. However, the circle is too large for that, considering the attached wing, the hand on top of it, and the sloping ground underneath. This seems to be an image of the wheel of fortune, rolling down a hill with increasing speed, only slowed by the hand.  The dramatic action of the small emblem is typical of Ricketts. The built-in contradiction - the wing speeding up and the hand holding back the movement - is also characteristic of Ricketts. Despite the possibility of a delay, the emblem suggests a certain downfall.

Charles Ricketts, drawings in ink and pencil for Borgia (1905)
British Museum, LondonCreative Commons License,
with permission of the executors of the Charles Ricketts estate,
Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmain O'Neil

The sketch in pencil (bottom) was worked out in ink (top) and Ricketts indicated that it had to be reduced in size (photographically) for the line block. The printers sent a proof on 28 April 1905.

Charles Ricketts, drawings in ink and pencil for Borgia (1905)
British Museum, LondonCreative Commons License,
with permission of the executors of the Charles Ricketts estate, 
Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmain O'Neil

The play was finished in January 1905, and the production went very quickly. The authors corrected and revised the proofs on 23 April, the agreement for 'Publication on Commission' was dated ‘May 15th 1905', and on 25 May the first copies arrived 'at breakfast'.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

478. Coffee Conversation: Ricketts's "Parable of the Vineyard"

Today, from eleven o'clock in the morning, a "Coffee Conversation" about a painting by Ricketts in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin can be seen on Youtube. It is part of a series of informative videos. 

Announcement Online Coffee Conversation,
Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, 23 September 2020

Curator Yseult O'Driscoll will talk about Ricketts's painting 'The Parable of the Vineyard'. There are several parables with this subject and the title of the painting is confusing. Actually, it is 'The Parable of the Tenants', or 'The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen' as it is called in the Vale Press edition The Parables from the Gospels. For the book, Ricketts made ten wood-engravings, one depicting the same dramatic moment as the painting. 

Charles Ricketts, 'The Parable of the Vineyard'
[Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin]

The parable (Matthew, 21: 33-42) tells the story of a landowner who, after planting a vineyard, rented it out to farmers, and left the region. To collect his fruit, he sent servants to the vineyard, who were beaten or killed by the tenant farmers. Finally, he sent his son, expecting them to respect him. But they killed the son. 

The Parables from the Gospels (1903) [page xxiv and facing plate]

From today, Yseult O'Driscoll's talk will be on view on YouTube.

[See also an earlier blog about Hugh Lane: 93 Did not sleep last night.]

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

477. A Binding Design for Ricketts's Beyond The Threshold (1929)

In 1929 the Curwen Press printed Charles Ricketts's dialogues of the dead Beyond the Threshold, a publication of The First Edition Club initiated by A.J.A. Symons. Ricketts wrote the text, made five ink drawings for the illustrations and designed the bookbinding of which the front and back are identical. This way, only one brass plate had to be made for the binding (and a smaller one for the spine), which saved a considerable amount of money. From a letter from Ricketts to Symons (now in a private collection), we know that Ricketts initially forgot to charge for this plate which he remembered after finding the receipt of ₤7.

Charles Ricketts, Beyond the Threshold (1929): front cover of binding

The original sketch for the binding decoration was donated to the British Museum by Riette Sturge Moore in 1962.

Charles Ricketts, sketch for binding decoration of Beyond the Threshold (1929).
British Museum, London. Creative Commons License,
with permission of the executors of the Charles Ricketts estate, Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmain O'Neil

The binding shows some familiar elements often found in Ricketts's designs, such as the dotted circles, dots, small and large acorns, and half circles. 

Charles Ricketts, Beyond the Threshold (1929):
details from cover

In addition, this binding shows hearts, arrows, and two different printer's flowers.

Charles Ricketts, sketch for binding decoration of Beyond the Threshold (1929).
British Museum, LondonCreative Commons License,
with permission of the executors of the Charles Ricketts estate, Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmain O'Neil

The design could be reproduced photographically, and then a brass plate was manufactured from which the design could be printed in gold on the red full morocco binding (goat skin). The sketch shows that Ricketts carefully finished his design. To the left is a correction with chinese white for the lines of the second border. In the reproduction only the lines remained visible.

Charles Ricketts, Beyond the Threshold (1929): detail of front cover

One hundred and fifty copies were printed, and Ricketts sent dedication copies to his friends W.B. Yeats, T. Sturge Moore, Bruce Winston, R.N. Roland Holst, C.F. French, Marcus Behmer, A.J.A. Symons, Cecil Lewis, T.E. Shaw, Glyn Philpot, and, probably, others.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

476. Gordon Bottomley’s King Lear’s Wife

This week's blog is a contribution by John Aplin, editor Gordon Bottomley and Thomas Sturge Moore: The Complete Correspondence, 1906-1948 [online at Intelex Past Masters]. His edition of the letters from Ricketts and Shannon is in preparation. This blog contains letters from Ricketts, Shannon and others about Gordon Bottomley's play: King Lear's Wife.

King Lear’s Wife And Some Related Correspondence

Gordon Bottomley’s poetic drama, King Lear’s Wife, completed in 1914, remains the work for which he is best known. The reconstruction of a freely-imagined earlier episode in the life of Shakespeare’s tragic hero, this single-act play premiered in September 1915 in a production mounted by John Drinkwater at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, which had opened in 1913. Designed to the exacting requirements of Barry Jackson by a local Birmingham architect, Samuel Cooke, this new building was regarded by Bottomley as an ideal performance space, describing it enthusiastically to fellow poet, Robert Calverley Trevelyan, as ‘the most beautiful & the most wonderfully equipped theatre in England. The auditorium has a rising amphitheatre. The decoration everywhere is brown wood with white inlay, & the lighting arrangements miraculous’ (note 1).

Charles Ricketts, sketch, 'King Lear's Wife'
(from: Gordon Bottomley, A Stage for Poetry, 1948)

Georgian Poetry publication


Edward Marsh would give King Lear’s Wife prime position in his anthology Georgian Poetry, 1913-1915, published by The Poetry Bookshop, the successor volume to his hugely successful Georgian Poetry, 1911-1912. The book appeared only at the end of 1915, after the Birmingham performances, the War having delayed its appearance by a year. Bottomley had arranged with Marsh for up to fifty additional copies of the pre-published sheets of his play to be generated ‘while the type is up and then sewn into pamphlets for possible use as acting parts and prompt copies’ (note 2). He retained a few of these for his own use, providing them with a hand-made cover to his own design. At least one of these copies has survived, inscribed to his aunt Sarah Gordon (‘to Aunt Sarah’), and is now at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. Bottomley also sent a copy to the play’s dedicatee, Thomas Sturge Moore, much to Moore’s delight. 


I could hardly believe my eyes when I opened your parcel last night and beheld the gleaming book. I took it to bed with me and have read and reread the opening flatteries. […] The design is very charming and I congratulate you on your first raid into plastic art. 

(note 3)

Photograph of The Sheiling, Silverdale
[in a dedication copy of King Lear's Wife and Other Plays, 1920]

Controversial song


The Birmingham production of the play did not pass without controversy. It related to Bottomley’s closing lines, when one of the two old women preparing the corpse of the dead Queen sings what came to be known as the song of the louse, after which the curtain falls.


The louse made off unhappy and wet;—

Ahumm, Ahumm, Ahee –

He’s looking for us, the little pet;

So haste, for her chin’s to tie up yet,

And let us be gone with what we can get—

Her ring for thee, her gown for Bet,

Her pocket turned out for me.


Until 1968, English stage performances were licensed by the Lord Chamberlain, an officer within the Royal Household who could censor plays at will. His office took exception to these lines and the context in which they were performed, presumably regarding them as undignified and offensive. Much to Bottomley’s anger, the lines had to be dropped and the actress simply hummed the melody to which the words would have been sung.

The opportunity for a first London production of the play came on 19 May 1916, when Viola Tree, the daughter of the actor-manager, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, organised a single matinée performance at His Majesty’s Theatre in aid of war charities, when it was seen together with short plays by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson (Hoops) and Rupert Brooke (Lithuania), Brooke having died a year earlier. John Drinkwater again undertook the production, but it was not a very satisfactory occasion, partly to inadequate rehearsal and casting. Viola Tree insisted on playing the role of Goneril, and her mother, Lady Tree, was the Queen. Gordon and Emily Bottomley attended, and Emily would tell their friend Ben Fletcher, head of the Leicester School of Art, that ‘you saw a better thing at Birmingham than you would have done at His Majesties [sic], as far as “King Lear” went. The only thing is Rupert Brooke’s play was fairly well done & very interesting – with Ricketts designs for dresses &c which made Gordon quite jealous’ (note 4). 

Gordon Bottomley, King Lear's Wife and Other Plays (1920)
[Binding designed by Charles Ricketts: deluxe edition] 

Ricketts’s advice


Nonetheless, Ricketts had a direct influence on changes which Bottomley made for this performance, resulting from the intervention by the Lord Chancellor regarding ‘the louse song’. When Bottomley sent the special copy of King Lear’s Wife to Ricketts and Shannon, probably early in 1916, Ricketts was the first to respond, with a recommendation which Bottomley was to follow.



[dated by Bottomley27 Jan 1916

My dear Bottomley

This is just a few hurried lines to say how greatly I am impressed by King Lear’s Wife. It is fresh and full of surprise, with plenty of stuff of a finer order, though freshness, vividness, novelty of a kind count enormously where success or even & idiotic interference of the censor, yet, I am not sure that the character of the song does not underline the scene too much, which is quite forceful and weird [sic] enough without the extra cynical touch. The song in itself is too professional, too much for effect. I am not sure that something quite unrelated to the situation would not give added strangeness. […]

(note 5).

It was wise advice, as Bottomley readily acknowledged a few days later.


The Sheiling | Silverdale. | near Carnforth.

January 30th. 1916.

My dear Ricketts


I see you are perfectly right about the song, and you are the first person to say just that about it. I am so sure you are right that if I can think of the right snatches I shall substitute them. When I began the play I did about the first fifty lines and then was         interrupted by the idea of the song, which amused me so much that I did it straightway; then when, long after, I came to finish the play I just dropped each stanza into its socket without thinking quite enough of its relationship to the new material, and without realising that the song rather repeated the situation when it should have varied it. I see now that the old ladies seem to have    chosen it rather too consciously for the occasion from their repertoire.

I heard it performed at the dress-rehearsal at Birmingham, before the censor intervened; the words were scarcely intelligible, and such a fine shivery little tune had been found for them that it put things rather right, so that one only heard a malevolent uncouth gabble which sounded delicious.

(n0te 6)

In fact, Bottomley would not write new words only for the closing scene; he also substituted new texts for the play’s two other songs, all of which he sent for Ricketts’s approval, and these were inserted for the single matinée performance at His Majesty’s Theatre. Much to Bottomley’s pleasure, music was specially composed by a friend of Edward Marsh, the young Ivor Novello. Interestingly, however, when republished in the collection King Lear’s Wife and Other Plays (1920), for which Ricketts designed the cover, Bottomley retained his original texts, perhaps as much in defiance of the censor as for artistic reasons.

Gordon Bottomley, King Lear's Wife and Other Plays (1920)
[Binding designed by Charles Ricketts: regular edition]

Shannon reads King Lear’s Wife


If Bottomley benefited from Ricketts’s wise assessment as to what might work most effectively on the stage, we should not overlook Charles Shannon’s responses after his own first reading of the play, sent a few weeks after Ricketts’s more detailed assessment. Shannon too considered its effect in performance, but focussed more on the challenge of securing a performer adequate for the challenging part of Goneril, which in May 1916 would be played by Viola Tree (and not very satisfactorily, as it turned out). He believed it needed the skills of an actress like Lillah McCarthy, at this time married to Harley Granville-Barker (they divorced in 1918), but that it might be beyond even her capabilities. 


[dated by Bottomley16 Feb. 1916.


My dear Bottomley

I only read your wonderful ‘King Lear’s Wife’ last night having been busy since its arrival ploughing through Arnold Bennett’s ‘These Twain’. I cannot stop in the middle of any work I have determined to read out of sheer obstinacy. I liked your play immensely. I think Lear’s “The filth is suitably dead. You are my true daughter” quite worthy of Shakespeare himself. I shall look forward to seeing it played but I doubt if there are the people to do it. I imagine Goneril a great stumbling block the rest if frankly done should act itself. It is so refreshing to see real action in a play. The washers are superb in fact they all are.

Forgive this scrawl | & with kind regards to you both

Yrs sincerely | Charles Shannon 

I can only see Mrs Barker doing Goneril & she might overdo it

(note 7).


Emily Bottomley was as delighted as her husband by this response from Shannon, and was astute in recognising its rarity value. ‘We were so pleased this morning to get a letter from Charles Shannon. Now Shannon is a person who never does write a letter to anyone – he makes Ricketts do all the writing – hardly anything can provoke him to take up the pen, but by his own free will & unsolicited he has written to say he has been reading Mrs Lear & how much he likes it' (note 8).

                                                                                                John Aplin



Extracts from correspondence are used with thanks to Scirard Lancelyn Green, literary executor for Gordon Bottomley, and to Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmian O’Neil, joint literary executors for Thomas Sturge Moore, Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon.



1. Bottomley to Trevelyan, 8 October 1915, collection British Library: BL Add MS 188957/1/87.

2. Bottomley to Marsh, 2 August 1915, Berg Collection, New York Public Library.

3. Sturge Moore to Bottomley, 18 March 1916, collection British Library: Add MS 88957/1/67.

4. Emily Bottomley to Fletcher, 23 May 1916, collection Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle.

5. Collection British Library: BL Add MS 88957/1/75.

6. Collection British Library: BL Add MS 58091.

7. Collection British Library: BL Add MS 88957/1/82.

8. Emily Bottomley to Joan Fletcher, about 17 February 1916, collection Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

475. John Baillie, Ricketts and Shannon

Gallery owner John Baillie - see blog 274 The Adventure of The Venture (1903-1904) - was the publisher of the deluxe magazine The Venture and for the second issue he himself acted as editor. This is evident from James Joyce's letters. Joyce had no contact with any other parties involved. After the first volume was published in November 1903, several authors and artists contacted Baillie - they wrote to him as a gallery owner and as a publisher. So they did not write to the editors of The Venture (Housman or Maugham).

The Venture 1903 and The Venture 1905
(published 1903-1904)

James Hamilton Hay and Gordon Bottomley

In February 1904, the artist James Hamilton Hay (1874-1916) visited Baillie in his gallery. He thought him 'a very sympathetic youngish man': 'he is an Artist and very kind'. Hay wrote these words in a letter to the author Gordon Bottomley (dated 3 February 1904). Bottomley had contacted Baillie in his capacity as publisher, Hay spoke to him as an organiser of an exhibition in his Liverpool studio hoping for potential loans of works of art from Baillie. Baillie promised 'a case full of good things', including works by Reginald Savage, James McNeill Whistler, Charles Ricketts, Charles Shannon, Laurence Housman, William Rothenstein, James Guthrie, and others. Whether Baillie ultimately lent the works of Ricketts and Shannon is unclear. Hay himself paid the artists a visit shortly afterwards, and they may have sent him the necessary works of art themselves. Bottomley saw the show in April, and recorded that there were works by Balmer, Shannon ('heaps of Shannon lithographs'), Muirhead Bone, Augustus John, and others (letter to Joan Fletcher, 6 April 1904).

Invitation to an exhibition in The Gallery of John Baillie, c.1902-1905

Hay had written in February: 'I was at Baillie's yesterday & strange to say we came to speak of you. Baillie seemed very pleased with a letter you had sent him.' Baillie and Hay discussed Bottomley's forthcoming book The Gates of Smaragdus illustrated by Clinton BalmerBoth Bottomley and Balmer would contribute to the second number of The Venture later that year. On the same date, 3 February 1904, Bottomley wrote to his future wife Emily Burton (they married a year later) that Baillie 'invited me into the next Venture'. Yet again, 'the pay depends on the success of the number (this one has not paid)'. Bottomley suggested to Baillie to publish or exhibit works by his friend Hay and Balmer. Works by Hay were included in Baillie's shows, and in the Summer of 1910, Hay got his own show at the gallery.

In April, Bottomley decided to send an 'essay' to The Venture, later calling it 'the things'. In the end, The Venture published 'Old Songs', a series of four prose poems based on the stories of Fair Rosamund (medieval ballads and chronicles), Paolo and Francesca (Dante), Faust (Goethe), and Juliet and Romeo (Shakespeare). At first Bottomley noticed that Baillie apparently admired him very much: he 'is as deferential to me as if I were buried in Poets' Corner' (letter to Ben Fletcher, 16 March 1904). After their first meeting he characterised him somewhat less sympathetically as 'a footman': 'Baillie has the aspect and manners of a footman who would like to have a soul above his position but doesn't know how'. (Letter to Emily Burton, 16 May 1904). In June, Baillie wrote about the Balmer illustrations for the new Venture. In October, Bottomley sent a poem to Baillie, but it was too late for inclusion in the second Venture. In November a prospectus was published, and on 22 November The Venture 1905 was published.

Frank Brangwyn, 'The Citadel', in The Venture 1905

Publisher and Booking Office

This annual was not Baillie's only publication. In December 1904, concurrently with The Venture 1905, he published The Dream Garden. A Children's Annual. After its first issue, the title was discontinued. Apparently, Baillie believed he could serve an adult audience as well as children. The Speaker announced both in 'Books of the Week' (17 December 1904), but only related the contents of The Venture. The critic praised the 'pictures, which are admirably reproduced'. However, Frank Brangwyn's woodcut in two colours was executed far better than, for example, Ricketts's painting 'Centaur Idyl' for which a rather coarse grid was used, and as a result the image is rather vague and muddy. In 2007, Carl Woodring wrote that this painting had been exhibited in 1902 as 'Nessus and Dejanira', and that 'all in the art world of London would have recognized the models for Nessus and stolen bride as Ricketts and Shannon' ('Centaurs Unnaturally Fabulous', in Wordsworth Circle, January 2007). Woodring could study the painting closely, as he owned it (it is now part of his collection at Rice University).

John Baillie was first and foremost a gallery owner who was always looking for other avenues. In 1902, he acted as a booking office for a performance of Laurence Housman play 'Bethlehem' in the Great Hall of the University of London. Tickets were for sale at Baillie's gallery, 'no money being taken at the doors' of the university.

Exhibition of Ricketts and Shannon

Searching for material about John Baillie, I surprisingly came across of an unknown exhibition in his gallery with works by Ricketts and Shannon. A catalogue seems not to have been preserved (the series in the V&A National Art Library does not contain one).

A review appeared in The Daily Mirror on 14 December 1903: 'In the Art World. Three Remarkable Picture Shows and a New Annual'.

After discussing an exhibition at Warwick House, the reviewer devoted four paragraphs to John Baillie's gallery and The Venture.

There are two more exhibitions of works of art which can be warmly recommended to those interested in original artistic endeavours: C.J. Collings's water-colour drawings at the Dowdeswell Galleries, and a triple show of woodcuts by C.S. Ricketts, lithographs  by C.H. Shannon, and fans by Mrs. L. Murray Robertson, at The Gallery, 1, Prince's-terrace, Hereford-road, W.

The little gallery in Bayswater, though far from the exhibition centre, is rapidly acquiring an excellent reputation for the quality of the works shown, the commonplace being strictly banished from its walls.

The review continues to describe Robertson's fans. Which of Ricketts's woodcuts and Shannon's lithographs were on show is a mystery, but we assume that these were a selection of earlier shows.

Acknowledgement: Thanks are due to John Aplin for transcriptions of the letters from Hay and Bottomley that are held by the British Library.