Wednesday, August 10, 2022

575. A Summer Anthology (4): The Heat is Noble

Ricketts and Shannon visited Venice at least three times, beginning in 1899, then in 1903 and in 1908; on the latter occasion staying at the House of Desdemona on the Grand Canal owned by their friends Edmund and Mary Davis, and more commonly known as the Palazzo Contarini Fasan. 

Paolo Salviati, photo of Palazzo Contarini Fasan, c. 1891-1894[detail]
Boston Public Library: William Vaughn Tupper Scrapbook Collection]

It would not be their busiest holiday; there was plenty of idling and lazing around, as a letter to Michael Field indicates.

Charles Ricketts to Michael Field, 20-21 May 1908

[British Library Add MS 58089, ff 93-5]

Dear Poet

[...] We passed through a northern Italy empty of field flowers but agre[e]able with tall green corn and grapes of white Accassia [sic], this is splendid this year and saturates the Lido where we go to bask in steady after lunch boredom every day. The heat is noble and the air superb. I like the Palazzo immensely and we shall stay on here after the departure of our hosts, – that is if Shannon is still of the same mind. We shall lunch at the Guadri [sic] and dine among the trees at the Lido, which is a vulgar place.
We went for a wonderful night trip in the Gondola round a Ghostly island to St Giorgio, the sky was dominated by a perfectly flagrant Hesperus or Venus. I forget which but some unabashed star three times its normal size; the water like velvet became alive with diamond insects (some sea fire fly) while the air vibrated with the noise of countless grasshoppers, metal[l]ic & persistant [sic] like the sound of a bronze Sistrum echoing from some garden. At night the summer lightening [sic] threads a great wall of which hangs over the city for a while, then the place melts into wonderful deeps of rich gloom and varied lights, while the falling stars shoot out about the dome of the Salute which becomes at night a palace of frosted silver locked till an angel shall arrive. Our balcony faces the Salute and I spend a great part of the night there.
Our vast bedroom overlooks the charming well like garden, with a Syringa clambers [sic] against our window & a tree of the enclosed (this is new to me): remains a huge larch and a real well for the encouragement of mosquito[e]s. On the ceiling of our room a late pupil of Tiepolo has painted Fame driving Time away from a lady holding a book of poetry or accounts. It seems the upper flat is covered with Longhi-esque frescoes, the interior having been entirely rehandled in the 18th Century. Duse stayed here and her presence has succeeded in scaring away what remained of the ghost of Desdemona.
We are leading a bestial life. I have not once been inside St Marco & nearly fell asleep in the Accademia, which has been entirely rehandled since our time. Venice is crowded & rents enormous, which is not interesting.
The Painter
A tiny scorpion was found this morning and drowned in a tumbler of old Venetian glass.

Indeed, the actress Eleonora Duse stayed at the Palazzo, in 1893, long before Edmund Davis bought the property: "She thought that she had found the perfect refuge in Venice when she rented an apartment in the Palazzo di Desdemona adjacent to the Grand Hotel on the Grand Canal but it proved to be uninhabitable", and a friend offered her "an apartment on the top floor of his own residence, the Palazzo Barbaro, situated between San Vio and the Catecumini [...]. This was to be Duse's refuge for the next three years." She left this suite of rooms on the top floor" in July 1897. (Giovanni Pontiero, Eleonora Duse. In Life and Art, 1986, p. 107; William Weaver, Duse. A Biography, 1984, p. 108). 

Thanks are due to John Aplin for providing the text of this letter.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

574. A Summer Anthology (3): The Torrid Heat

On August 9, 1911, a heat record was set in the United Kingdom: a temperature of 36.7 degrees Celsius was recorded for the first time in history. The previous letter in this summer series (Purgatorial London) was set during the same heat wave, but focused on domestic scenes. In this letter, the world beyond is brought in.

Louis Béroud, 'Mona Lisa au Louvre' (1911)
[Wikimedia Commons]

The letter is addressed to Mary Davis, artist and wife of Edmund Davis who had commissioned the building of Lansdowne House for a number of artists including Ricketts and Shannon. It was from this flat that Ricketts wrote the letter to Davis, who was apparently traveling and thus provided with Ricketts's version of some news.

A lot had happened. 

On July 20, the newspapers reported that Herbert Trench had resigned as director at Haymarket Theatre. There were many strikes that year, including those of railroad staff, which brought transports to a standstill, caused shortages in stores, which caused prices to rise, and drove housekeepers to despair - like Ethel, the loyal servant of Ricketts & Shannon (who continued to work for them until 1923). On 18 August, the House of Lords was forced to pass a new Parliament Act to curb its power. On 21 August, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre; on 26 August, reports circulated that the director of the Louvre, Théophile Homolle would be fired, as, indeed, he was, two days later.

Charles Ricketts to Mary Davis, [Late August-Early September 1911]

[British Library Add MS 88957/8, f23]

Dear Mrs Davis
Every day I have intended writing to you, we were both charmed to hear that you have liked what you have seen and enjoyed your change for the open road and broader skies. We are stuffed up in London with our noses glued to our canvases, and the torrid heat you have read about in red hot articles in the newspapers drying up the paint as it should be dried. You have heard lurid accounts of the fall of the house of Lords, of strikes & revolutions and about Herbert Trench being sacked from the Haymarket. London underwent these convulsions with its habitual stodgy aspect. Ross turned pale in the Gallery of the House of Lords when the ballot began; the spectators were deeply moved, the lords behaved as usual, they passed into an historic past like policemen returning to the bosoms of their several families. The strikes affected Ethel, who wanted to lay in a hoard of potatoes – this was suggested by the imaginative greengrocer boy, it was brought home to us when our sacred Rossetti drawings became marooned in the Station at Manchester, but all this is ancient history now, it will seem much more interesting to historians. One single fact brought home the sense of siege and suspense, the flower shops became quite empty, like the florists at the seaside, and for three weeks the drawing room was without flowers.
I was insensible and unable to focus the loss of the Mona Lisa. Shannon rushed into my bedroom with a white face, just as I was washing my teeth, and produced no impression, I thought it a hoax like the rumour that the Rembrandt Mill was painted by Lord Lansdowne [the Marquess of Lansdowne once owned the painting]; even today I cant imagine Paris without it; it is an age since we stayed there, it seems almost a part of a past which is growing ever more distant. I am glad they have sacked the director. I feel a general mas[s]acre of all Museum officials might do good [...].
Yours sincerely
C Ricketts

Shannon had to go to some meeting at the R A, at the door he was asked his business and name.


            Your name Sir?


            O, I am Mr Shannon!


            Oh no Sir, you are not Mr Shannon

Within the Royal Academy the name Shannon had long been synonymous with that of the painter Sir James Jesuba Shannon (1862-1923) who had been invited to become an 'associate' in 1897 and had become a full member in 1909. Shannon had become an associate (ARA) in 1909, and had to wait until 1920 to add RA to his name.

Thanks are due to John Aplin for providing the text of this letter.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

573. A Summer Anthology (2): Purgatorial London

The summer of 1911 was hot. Edith Cooper and her aunt and lover Katharine Bradley - their nom de plume was Michael Field - had fled London and were staying in a cottage near Armitage near Hawkesyard Priory, before spending three weeks in Malvern. They enjoyed the attention not only of the prior, but also of the Dominican novices, especially Brother Bruno and Brother Bertrand. In their diary they noted the constant heat, while 'the cedars are loaded with aroma'. Brother Bertrand swam the lake to bring them 'a glorious armful of yellow waterlilies' (see 'The Diaries of Michael Field', August, 1911, at the online edition at Dartmouth College). In one of his letters, Ricketts responds to the company of young men surrounding Michael Field.

Charles Shannon, portrait of Edith Cooper, 1900-1910,
black and red chalk drawing, touched with white on brown paper
[Birmingham Museums: 1914P246]

Charles Ricketts to Michael Field, 14 August 1911

[British Library Add MS 58089, ff 172-3]

My Dear Poet
I wish for your sake the hot wind would cease, even I who am half Salamander have found London almost purgatorial. I hope among the hills it is cooler. I hope the visit of your new young friends was a success, and that the number was the same on their return. I suppose labels were fastened to their necks like the children in school treats to save counting. Shannon grew troublesome and rebel[l]ious the other day with a large desire for a tame Squirrel; the fault was partly mine, as I had been enraptured by a cage of them in the Brompton Road, and my description was the cause of his desire. He left me in the street purchased a squirrel and a lordly cage and became enamoured with a Mongoose. The squirrel (name Carrots) is now in the house, it is so tame, affectionate and so passionately attached to humanity that it has to be covered with a cloth to quiet the nerves. It is very young and greedy, with huge claws, it tests every thing with its mouth, which is its intellect[;] for the first day it found it difficult not to eat our fingers and ears, the face he recognizes as a personality, our bodies are mere landscape stuff, the human hand is merged in its conception of things with nuts, pieces of apple and eatables generally the fingers are viewed as stalks, not quite eatable after all. It accompanies its exercises in its treadmill and about our clothes with little suffering cries of pleasure and is removed with difficulty from our coats and trousers. When you return you must be introduced to Carrots who probably by then will be a married person and settle down in a larger cage. [...] The proposal is on foot to turn Shannon[']s balcony into a menagerie. [...]

Thanks are due to John Aplin for providing the text of this letter.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

572. A Summer Anthology (1): In Need of a Long Holiday

Heat waves and holiday traffic jams - it's time for an anthology of Charles Ricketts's letters with references to heat, summer and holidays. 

This first letter in the short series was written to artist Thomas Lowinsky (1892-1947), who had attended the Slade School of Art in London before the Great War, and at the time of this letter was serving in the Army of Occupation, stationed in Cologne, before being demobilised in April 1919. The date is uncertain, but the letter probably dates from January 1919. Here are some excerpts from this letter, including a fantasy of a tropical destination.

Eric Gill, portrait of Thomas Lowinsky,
'Thomas Esmond Lowinsky',
wood engraving, 1924
[National Portrait Gallery: NPG D5127]

Charles Ricketts to Thomas Lowinsky, January 1919[?]

[From a typed transcription, British Library, BL Add MS 61718, ff 208-11]

Since the Armistice letters seem to take longer [to arrive] and not to reach their destination [at all]. [...]

I don't know how Cologne stands in the new movement of quite excellent recent German architecture of a neo-classical type, or if any can be seen there; the description of what you have seen suggests the neo-Klinger work of sixteen or more years ago, before quite new elements had arrived – some of them post-impressionistic – which I don't dislike. German work is always over forcible, just as ours is too vague. Even the early masters, Holbein excepted, had this fault. With modern haste and bad taste this overforcefulness is distressing, it hurts the music of Richard Strauss, some of which I like immensely. Apropos of music, the more Russian music I hear more I like it, it is marvellous in its pace, response to sincere and varied emotion and original use of means without German overemphasis or the dryness of the new Frenchmen. I hope you go to concerts and operas; these before the war were first rate in Cologne. The theatre has a stupendous stage over 130 feet deep and a rising and sinking floor for rapid changes. But possibly military etiquette prevents your going – does it? [...]

Poor Philpot is ill. He had a sort of nervous breakdown, his eyes went wrong. He is now in Bath; like all of us he needs sun and a long holiday. I think we ought all to retire to a nice island like Haiti, where the women wear flowers in their hair and have no moral sense, and where we could wear no clothes or bright clothes, canary yellow trousers with pea green spots or else have sun flowers painted on larger portions of our person and coral beads where privacy is desired. I was once shown the photo of a Sicilian boy with a rose petal stuck up 
–  well, that might be chosen for very hot weather. Davis would of course have to wear thick bathing things covered with camouflage triangles, spots and stripes in the worst modern colouring. We are threatened with coloured clothes; imagine its effect on the city – emerald green spats and flesh coloured or apricot coloured waistcoats and magenta ties. Perhaps it would feel nice and you will see me yet in cobalt or dove colour.
C Ricketts

In August 1903, Ricketts visited Berlin and Dresden. Given his comments about the theatre in Cologne, he must also have visited that city on his way to Berlin or on his way back.
The painter Glyn Philpot (1884-1937) was also a protégé of Ricketts and Shannon.
Ricketts's reference to a photo of a Sicilian boy is remarkable: among homosexuals, nude photos by, for example, Wilhelm von Gloeden were circulating. Lowinsky, himself not a homosexual, probably knew about Ricketts's inclination.
Davis was the name of Sir Edmund Davis (1861-1939), a mining financier and art collector.
The colourful outfit Ricketts describes here is in stark contrast to how Max Beerbohm sketched his daily clothing style (see blog 571).
Thanks are due to John Aplin for providing the text of this letter.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

571. Two Portraits of Charles Ricketts by Max Beerbohm

In 1928 Robes of Thespis: Costume Designs by Modern Artists, a book on modern costumes for plays, revues, operas and ballet, was published. It included seven costume drawings by Charles Ricketts (only one of which was in colour) for 'The Merchant of Venice', 'King Lear', 'The Winter's Tale', and Yeats' 'King's Threshold'. Ricketts was no longer a 'modern artist' in 1928; the hefty book focused on a younger generation. More interesting than the commentary on his costumes is the illustrated introduction by Max Beerbohm.

Beerbohm had lived in Rapallo since 1910, but, he was briefly back in London in 1925. From a taxi, he saw Ricketts and Shannon walking in the street, apparently on their way to the opera:

[...] though I waved my hand wildly to them they did not see me. An any rate, Shannon did not. Ricketts may have, perhaps, and just ignored me. For I was not wearing a top-hat. And Ricketts was.

It was an opera hat - 'a thing that opens with a loud plop and closes with a quiet snap'. Beerbohm remembers the days in the 1890s when he himself always wore a top hat - and Ricketts and Shannon did not. And now that nobody wore top hats anymore, Ricketts did.

I wonder, does Ricketts wear that collapsible crown of his only when he dines out? Or does he, when he comes home, close it with a quiet snap and place it under his pillow, ready for the first thing in the morning? Some painters wear hats when they are working, to shade their eyes. Does Ricketts at his easel wear his gibus?

The answer is no. Rickets painted bare-headedly.

Beerbohm then turns to the use of colour in clothing and laments the fact that since 1830, men's fashion has turned into the tyranny of black and white. Only on stage did the colours shine, at least since 1900, when Gordon Craig and Ricketts designed costumes. Still, the stage designers themselves, walk around in black and white. Beerbohm made a drawing to show it: William Nicholson, Albert Rutherston, Edward Gordon Craig, R. Boyd Morrison and Charles Ricketts - only the last three are shown below. 

Max Beerbohm, 'Here are Five Friends of Mine'
(from Robes of Thespis, 1928)
© Copyright of the Estate of Max Beerbohm

Ricketts, with his reddish beard, stands on the right in a characteristic pose: gesticulating and talking. The others are silent. Beerbohm remarks on this portrait:

I have given Ricketts the small sombrero that I had always associated with him. When one does a drawing, what is one glimpse as against the vision of a lifetime?

Beerbohm understands young people's desire for colour and fantasy and believes that stage designers should set a good example.

I appeal to the designers of theatrical costumes. Doubtless they have hoped that the orgies of colour and fantasy with which they grace the theatres would have a marked effect on the streets, instead of merely making the streets' effect duller than ever by contrast. I suggest to these eminent friends of mine that they should design costumes not merely for actors and actresses, but also for citizens. [...] Let them go around setting the example. This is a splendid idea. I am too excited to write about it. I will do another drawing.

Max Beerbohm, 'Why Not Rather Thus?'
(from Robes of Thespis, 1928)
© Copyright of the Estate of Max Beerbohm

I just clothed them hurriedly in anything bright that occurred to me. Only once did I pause. I was about to give Ricketts an opera hat of many colours. But this would have been to carry fantasy too far; and I curbed my foolish pencil.

Ricketts now looks like a courtier from the Renaissance, his preferred period, with colourful rings on his fingers, a straight high feather on his cap, a green tunic and tights in blue and white. He also carries a sword.

It is fortunate that Ricketts did not carry a sword in real life.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

570. Shannon's Drawings for Hero and Leander

For the 1894 edition of Hero and Leander by Christopher Marlowe, completed by George Chapman, Charles Shannon produced one wood-engraving; Ricketts created another six. The preliminary studies are in the collection of the British Museum. 

Charles Shannon, 'Hermes Disdains the Amorous Destinies' (woodcut, proof)
British Library, London: 1938,0728.9
[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

Why Shannon limited himself to this one image is unclear. Of Ricketts's wood-engravings two have four figures and four show only two figures. Shannon's image depicts five figures. To the right: Hermes/Mercury. In the middle: the three Fates, or Moirae (called Destinies in the poem), who are charged with the destinies of living beings, all holding a string: Clotho (the spinner), Lachesis (the drawer of lots) and Atropos (the cutter of the life-thread). On the left is a male figure bearing Mercury's torch.

Shannon made extensive preliminary studies of which at least two have survived. One shows Hermes or Mercury - in the poem, the Greek and Roman names are used interchangeably, even on one page.

Charles Shannon, Sketch of Mercury/Hermes for Hero & Leander (red chalk drawing)
British Library, London: 1938,1008.31
[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

As in the wood-engraving, Mercury raises his hands above his head, wears a short tunic, and holds his caduceus, albeit more obliquely than in the final print. His hat is not included. His winged foot is only sketchily indicated. The tunic has an opening from neck to navel (in the wood-engraving it is a high closing garment.

Charles Shannon, Sketch of one of the Fates for Hero & Leander (red chalk drawing)
British Library, London: 1938,1008.30
[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

The other sketch depicts the middle figure facing Mercury with outstretched arms. The handwriting on both drawings is by Ricketts, who later in life arranged many drawings in albums.

Charles Shannon, 'Hermes Disdains the Amorous Destinies'
(original drawing)
[from the collection of Vincent Barlow]

After his preparatory sketches were finished, Shannon could make his final drawing for the wood block. This drawing is in Vincent Barlow's collection and has previously been featured in his guest blog about a portfolio of photographs of Shannon's paintings (blog No. 89).

Ricketts then, most probably, prepared this drawing for the wood-engraving. This is a full-size drawing on tracing paper, so that it could be transferred to the wood block by tracing, in mirror image. It is a pen and ink drawing, with white bodycolour.

Charles Ricketts or Charles Shannon, Preparatory drawing for 'Hermes Disdains the Amorous Destinies'
British Library, London: 1946,0209.89
[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

The wood blocks for Hero and Leander are part of the collection of the British museum, but are not yet available digitally.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

569. Ricketts's Review of the Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450-1900

From 4 January to 9 March 1929, the 'Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450-1900' was on view at Burlington House, home to the Royal Academy of Arts. Only recently I found out that Ricketts published a review of the exhibition  the article is missing in my 2015 list A Bibliography of Charles Ricketts. It was an extensive exhibition. The catalogue lists 921 numbered objects (the last of which consists of 43 separate items).

Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450-1900 (1929: second edition)

The review appeared in The Observer of 13 January 1929, less than ten days after the opening. I found it through a remarkable re-print in La Gazette de Hollande, 1 February 1929. This Dutch newspaper, since its foundation by O. van Beresteyn in 1911, published news about the Netherlands. The paper was published for an international audience in French, but, after 1913, also contained an 'English Section'. Here follows the text as it was printed in The Observer. (The illustrations are added by me.)

The Dutch Pictures at Burlington House. An Artist's Impressions.

The Editor has asked me to give my impressions of an artist before the miracles of his craft to be seen at the Exhibition of Dutch art at the Academy. In so doing the editor is a sentimentalist, since, a little more than a year ago, when in America, I was assured by one of our dealer Maecenases that "you painters never know anything about old pictures." I will not discuss the sources of Dutch painting, and will accept the common view that is arrives and dies within the seventeenth century. In the space of some seventy-six years the artists of Holland created one of the most homogeneous averages known to painting, gave an image of their time which no other school has equalled, and achieved a technical excellence which, of its kind, has never been surpassed. In achieving this they observe great limitations in aim and in effort. They are painters of one race, almost of one family, and, with the exception of Rembrandt, they have remained unconcerned with anything more than the rendering of things seen. There are Dutch pictures where the illusion is of reality itself, focussed and harmonised as if in the surface of a mirror; this is the case with Ter Borch and Vermeer. Outside the paintings of Rembrandt Dutch art is untouched by passion, imagination, and religious thought. This tranquil and accomplished school blossomed after a tragic struggle for religious and racial freedom, and one wonders if that struggle had not exhausted those deeper passions which find expression in the art and literature of a nation. Of these there is no trace till we come to the gigantic effort of Rembrandt, who is unique in his time and country, and, for that matter, in the world of Art itself.


If I have stressed  the temperate and placid outlook of most of these artists, allowing for a little more in the finer landscapes of Ruysdael and perhaps Van Goyen, the technical science of these men remains amazing in its directness and precision. The pigment in Ter Borch's pictures has the fused texture and luminosity of a pearl; he dips his brushes, not in varnish or paint, but in some living substance, nacre, or the air itself. With Vermeer the very light has become an integral part of his pigment, and for directness and economy of means Frans Hals is foremost in the history of painting. A few earth colours, the direct handling of a scene-painter, and, behold, a vivid masterpiece of characterisation: a living face rises before us, stamped with its age, temper, cast and habit in life. My one complaint against the management of this well-hung exhibition is that his many canvases have not been grouped into a single room to show his development from a literal and explicit rendering of fact, which characterises his early manner, to such masterpieces of expression and representation as No. 356.[1]
To the average lover of pictures Frans Hals remains the painter of the "Laughing Cavalier" and of the nobler portrait groups at Haarlem, with a dim impression that in his old age the artists attempted something different. It is when Hals refrains from swaggering that he becomes a great master; it is when the cold clarity of his colour turns to grey and his perfect draughtsmanship takes on a more emotional aspect that he touches us most. No. 356 fulfils these conditions﹣we have here more than mere forceful representation; this has become tempered by gravity in mood and a more sensitive vision of life.
Rembrandt fills the big room No. 3. Let us look carefully, and a little wistfully. Most of these masterpieces are here for the last time. They will never be seen together again, save, perhaps, in America, which already holds more than one-third of the master's noblest canvases. What elements in his temper and practice link Rembrandt to the art of his country? Hardly anything, save in his earliest works, where he is influenced by Hercules Seghers and Honthorst in his slightly theatrical rendering of things half imagined, half seen. It is in the rapidly increasing torrent of his practice and, later still, under the stress of sorrow and debt, or yet later, when oppressed by the sordid difficulties of a tragic life, that his art stretched out into the realms of spiritual adventure, that he gains an inward and expressive force which has never been surpassed.
The "Oriental" (No. 169), the "Toilet" (No. 130), the "Man with a Hawk" (No. 98), and the "Lady with a Fan" (No. 99) show the brilliant climax of his early manner.[2] 

Rembrandt van Rijn and (mainly) workshop,
'Portrait of a Woman with a Fan', 1643

In these pictures he has already accomplished enough to secure him the premier place among the painters of his nation: romance, the gift of fascination are here present, but the fused golds and ambers of his pigments will melt later into some rarer substance, the craftsmanship become touched with magic and mystery, the sense of form become simpler and nobler, and we have seen such works as No. 124, No. 128, No. 111, and, better still, such masterpieces of narrative painting as the "Adoration of the Magi" (No. 91).[3] It is as a subject painter that Rembrandt remains unapproachable, and in his etchings and countless drawings his gift for narrative finds a directness and variety which more than rivals his painting.

Lent by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon

What Ricketts did not disclose was that two of Rembrandt's drawings in the exhibition came from the collection of Ricketts and Shannon. They were displayed in the Large South Room. A drawing in pen, brown ink and brown wash, 'The Agony in the Garden', was acquired by the artists during the sale of the Lord Leighton collection (listed as no. 586). The second loan was 'Christ at Emmaus', also a drawing in pen, brown ink and wash (No. 589). [In 1929 the brown ink was labelled 'bistre'.]

Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450-1900 (1929: second edition),
p. 228, No. 589: 'Christ as Emmaus'

These two drawings, and one other from their collection, were bequeathed by Ricketts and Shannon to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

No. 356: Frans Hals, 'Portrait of a Lady'. Lent by M. van Gelder. C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. London, 1910, Volume III, p. 113, No. 394.
Rembrandt van Rijn, No. 169:  'An Oriental with a White Turban'. Lent by the Duke of Devonshire. Now called: 'A Man in Oriental Costume', see online at Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth; No. 130, 'The Toilet'. Lent by Sir Edmund Davis. Stolen from Chilham Castle in 1938, and subsequently destroyed; No. 98: 'The Man with a Hawk'. Lent by the Duke of Westminster. Now in the private collection of the Duke of Westminster; No. 99: 'The Lady with a Fan'. Lent by the Duke of Westminster. Now in the private collection of the Duke of Westminster.
Rembrandt van Rijn, No. 124 'Presumed Portrait of Aert de Gelder'. Lent by Otto Gutekunst. Now in the collection of Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis (Missouri) [see website RKD]; No. 128, 'Portrait of Catharina Hooghsaet (1607-after 1657). Lent by Lord Penrhyn. Now in a private collection, see Wikipedia for an image]; No. 91: 'The Adoration of the Magi'. Lent by H.M. the King. From Buckingham Palace. Now dismissed as a work by Rembrandt [see Royal Collection Trust]

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

568. André Gide's Copy of An Ideal Husband

When Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband was published, deluxe copies were sent at the author's request to a small group of friends, including Robert Ross, Alfred Lord Douglas, Reginald Turner, and Charles Shannon. The latter had designed the binding.

Ordinary copies were sent to twenty acquaintances, including quite a few French friends such as Félix Fénéon, Ernest La Jeunesse, and André Gide.

Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband (1899):
autograph dedication to André Gide

Many of these will have been signed with a dedication by Wilde. The dedication in Gide's copy reads:

my friend 
André Gide : 
of friendship : 

A date or place name is missing.

The copy is part of the currently auctioned collection of Pierre Bergé, it is lot 1634 in
The Pierre Bergé Library, Part 6 (Paris, Pierre Bergé & Associés, 6 July 2022). The estimate is  €6,000 - €8,000.

Wilde was important to Gide: he changed his life. Gide was 22 when they met in 1891. In 1895 they met again in Algeria and Wilde introduced him to homosexuality, or as the auction catalogue discretely says: 'thanks to Wilde, who played the role of matchmaker, Gide was able to become what he was'.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

567. A Portfolio of Woodcuts by T. Sturge Moore (Continued)

Some years ago, Vincent Barlow wrote about an early Vale Press portfolio of woodcuts by T.S. Moore that was so rare that some even thought that, even though it was announced, it had never been published. I mentioned his article in blog 183. A Portfolio of Woodcuts by T. Sturge Moore.

T.S.Moore, 'Childhood' (from: A Portfolio of Woodcuts.
Metamorphoses of Pan and other woodcuts, 1895)
[Image: British Museum, London: 1909,0528.1-10]
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

Barlow had traced a single copy of an edition of twelve, containing ten woodcuts in green, red, and grey. He observed: 'On the inner side of the upper cover is attached a sheet of unbleached Arnold hand-made paper giving the title and a list of engravings and stating that 12 portfolios have been published at 4 guineas net.' 

His article was published in 2014, but since then several catalogue entries and images have surfaced online and it has emerged that the British Museum also possesses a copy [read the description on the museum's website]. Apparently, it had previously been described in an untraceable, impossible-to-find way, but it is now clear that it was added to the museum's collection as early as 1909 thanks to a gift from its creator, Thomas Sturge Moore.

The sheet of paper in this copy is apparently not glued down, so the reverse side is not invisible. It contains an additional text:

Portfolios can be obtained from C.H. Shannon, 31 Beaufort Street, Chelsea; or from E.J. van Wisselingh, The Dutch Gallery, 14 Brook St., Hanover Square; or from Durand Ruel, 16, Rue Lafitte, Paris.

It is reassuring to know that at least two copies have been preserved - but where would the other ten be hiding?

T.S.Moore, 'Pan a Cloud' (from: A Portfolio of Woodcuts.
Metamorphoses of Pan and other woodcuts, 1895)
[Image: British Museum, London: 1909,0528.1-10]
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

566. Charles Shannon's Portrait of Ronald Firbank

One of my favourite writers, Ronald Firbank (1886-1926), who died before he turned forty, was the subject of portraits by a number of famous modern artists in the early twentieth century. One of the first, if not the first, was Charles Shannon who made a pastel of him in 1909. 

It was first published on the dust jacket of Firbank's last novel, which appeared posthumously due to delays in publication. Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli appeared in June 1926 - the year of publication was corrected in ink on the dust jacket.

Charles Shannon, pastel portrait of Ronald Firbank (1909),
published on the dust jacket of Ronald Firbank,
Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli (1926)

This undated portrait is signed with the initials 'CS'. The current whereabouts of the original portrait are unknown.

No letters or accounts of the meeting between artist and sitter have survived, and we must make do with second or third-hand testimony.

Oscar Wilde's son, Vyvyan Holland, came of age in November 1907 and Robert Ross organised a dinner -party for him. Among the twelve guests were Ronald Firbank, Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. It was probably the first time Shannon and Firbank had met; the former came from the artistic circles around Ross, the latter from Holland's Cambridge student life.(1)

Firbank was, as Miriam Benkovitz wrote, 'very much concerned with his appearance', and in an attempt to preserve his youth, he had his portrait captured by a series of artists while he was not yet too old.(2) The author Jocelyn Brooke observed:

It is a curious fact that the numerous extant portraits of Firbank bear almost no resemblance to each other, seeming indeed, to depict a series of entirely disparate persons. During his life he was drawn or painted by Charles Shannon, Augustus John, Wyndham Lewis, Alvara Guevara and probably (for he was fond of sitting for his portrait) by other artists as well; yet it remains extraordinarily difficult to form an exact mental picture of his features. 

Even the three portraits Augustus John did of Firbank might just as well have been portraits of three different people: they look like a businessman, or a witty theatre-goer, or an intimate, somewhat sad friend. Shannon's portrait is that of a cautious and gentle observer.

Brooke continues:

His profile was delicately formed and angular, with a finely-arched nose, a full-lipped mouth and a rather weak chin; his eyes were greyish-blue tending to blue, his hair dark and inclined to to be tousled, his complexion fresh, with a rosy tint about the lips and cheekbones which perhaps owed more to Art than to Nature.(3)

Firbank was tall, slender, 'inclined to droop', and in society he behaved extremely shy. Augustus John remembered:

[...] he sent his taxi-man in to prepare the way, himself sitting in the taxi with averted face, the very picture of exquisite confusion. [...] When the strain of confronting me became unbearable, he would seek refuge in the lavatory, there to wash his hands. This manoeuvre occurred several times at each sitting.(4)

Did Firbank present himself in the same way to Shannon's studio in 1909 - if it was indeed 1909? Did he behave in the same awkward manner, or was he less nervous in the company of the quiet and silent painter?

Ifan Kyrle Fletcher reported that Firbank 'entertained very exquisitely' in his room that was 'decorated with masses of white flowers':

Often, on these occasions, Firbank talked little, but, if he had recently been to London, he would be full of news of pictures by Shannon and Ricketts, concerts of the music of Granados and Debussy, new French books and plays.(5)

It is not known whether Firbank acquired paintings, drawings or lithographs by Shannon or Ricketts. What is known is that, after his portrait was drawn, he sent Shannon copies of his books, at least of Vainglory (1915) and Inclinations (1916).

Because another illustration was not available for his last book, he illustrated the dust jacket with Shannon's then fifteen-year-old portrait, and for the frontispiece he selected one of the old portraits by Augustus John. In her biography, Benkovitz commented: 'Death haunted neither portrait; in them Firbank had his youth again.'(6)

Around 1929, a fellow Firbank student, A.C. Landsberg, recalled Shannon's portrait:

I have lately returned from Paris where I looked for a photograph I had of a portrait-drawing in pastels of Firbank, done towards the end of his time at Cambridge by Charles Shannon. Possibly Charles Ricketts may have a copy of it - (he also knew him, by the way).(7)

Shannon's portrait of Firbank probably belonged to the author, but where it has gone is a mystery.

Vyvyan Holland, Son of Oscar Wilde. London, Rupert Hart-Davis, 1954, pp. 188-189.
Miriam Benkovitz, Ronald Firbank. A Biography. New York: Alfred A, Knopf, 1969, pp. 112-113. 
Jocelyn Brooke, Ronald Firbank. London, Arthur Barker Ltd., 1951, p. 34.
Quoted by Osbert Sitwell in Ifan Kyrle Fletcher, Ronald Firbank. A Memoir. London, Duckworth, 1930, p. 132.
Ifan Kyrle Fletcher, Ronald Firbank. A Memoir. London, Duckworth, 1930, pp. 30-31. 
Benkovitz (see note 2), p. 275.
'A.C. Landsberg', in Ronald Firbank. Memoirs and Critiques, ed. by Mervyn Horder. London, Duckworth, 1977, p. 93.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

565. Ricketts & Shannon at the Technical School of Art (2)

The previous blog with new data on the schooling of the artists of The Vale (written by Anna Gruetzner Robins) prompted John Aplin to delve into the archives once again. An uncredited memoir from the collection of the Senate House in London was probably written by Arthur Hugh Fisher (1867-1945), who remembered the days at the Lambeth School of Art:

The school occupied two buildings at half a mile distance from each other. One was in a narrow alley off Upper Kennington Lane and there were held classes for drawing from casts of the antique and classes for study of perspective. At the other, in Kennington Park Road, were the life classes and the modelling school. Among the students at that time were [Sturge] Moore's great friends Charles Ricketts and C.H. Shannon and those admitted to their intimacy, Reginald Savage and [A.J.] Finberg.
[Senate House, MS 978/1/10/2-5]

F.H. Townsend, cartoon dated [1]891, Pick-me-up, 11 July 1891

The memoir mentions twenty-six students by name, and  refers to a cartoon by another artist:

In the comic weekly "Pick-me-up" appeared a drawing by F.W. Townsend of a scene at the Life Class in which the figures were portraits of his fellow-students. In the absence of the expected model a passing tramp has been fetched in from the street. [...] In his drawing Moore is clearly recognisable - He has his coat off and wears only one instead of a pair of braces to hold up his trousers. Ricketts is waving his hands in characteristic gesture and a number of the other students are equally well-portrayed.

Published on July 11, 1891, the cartoon was apparently not made in the 1880s when the artists were attending art school, but perhaps it is based on an old sketch.

Seated on the unfolded easel - also a stool - in the foreground is Thomas Sturge Moore with the palette in his hand. In the background, apparently unaware of the goings-on in the room, Charles Ricketts is busy trying to convince a fellow student of his views. 

F.H. Townsend,
cartoon dated [1]891,
Pick-me-up, 11 July 1891:

It's a nice early portrait of Ricketts whose appearance in those years seems well captured.

[Thanks are due to John Aplin for supplying the image and a transcription of the memoir.]

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

564. Ricketts & Shannon at the Technical School of Art (1)

This week's guest blog is written by art historian Anna Gruetzner Robins, Emeritus Professor at the University of Reading, who published about Walter Sickert and James McNeill Whistler, and now prepares a book about the early years of the Vale coterie.

Charles Ricketts, Reginald Savage, Charles Shannon, and Thomas Sturge Moore at the South London Technical School of Art

by Anna Gruetzner Robins

Charles Ricketts, Charles Shannon, Reginald Savage, and Thomas Sturge Moore all attended the South London Technical Art School. Previously, it has been assumed that all four were students on the Wood Engraving course. Ricketts and Shannon and also Savage certainly did enrol on the three year course, however, none of them with the possible exception of Shannon completed the course, and there is no record of Sturge Moore ever having enrolled. The School Records in the London Metropolitan Archives show that their period of study at South London, as I will refer to it, to have taken quite a different path.[1]

City and Guilds London Institute

South London Technical Art School

The School was established in 1878 when the City and Guilds of London Institute earmarked the Lambeth School of Art for expansion with the aim of introducing a national system of technical education.[2] It took over the original site on Millar’s Lane, off Upper Kennington Lane, and, between 1879 and 1881, acquired the leases of two houses at 122 and 124 Kennington Park Road where it 'erected on the gardens behind, spacious and excellently lighted class and work rooms, in buildings measuring 70x22 feet, and one story high, at a cost of about £700' for the teaching of the Modelling and Wood Engraving courses.[3]

By 1881 plans were made to build a similar studio in the garden of 124 Kennington Park Road. The aim of the School was to teach the 'application of Art for industrial purposes'.[4] Initially, it offered four courses including Modelling, Design, Wood Engraving and a Life Class (Drawing and Painting). Charles Roberts, who was said to be 'a skilled artist' and 'a very able teacher,'[5] and the proprietor of a commercial engraving premises in Lonsdale Chambers, 27 Chancery Lane was in charge of the Wood Engraving course. It was taught on weekdays from 10 till 4, and from 6-8 on Tuesday and Friday but Roberts was only present during the evening sessions.

The rest of the time, students worked under the supervision of an assistant teacher or senior student; practicing the techniques of 'line cutting, tinting, fac-simile cutting, finished work in ornament, landscape, figure, and drawing on wood,'[6] all of which were part of the training for their future trade of making accurate wood engravings of a painting, drawing or photographs for reproduction in the commercial press. On the first Tuesday evening of each month, students made a drawing on wood preferably from an original design, but this was their only opportunity for creative expression.

Prospective students were warned that wood engraving 'requires much practice, and a long apprenticeship is essential'. Students were required to have Second Grade certificate from the Science and Art Department at South Kensington but study for it could be concurrent with their enrolment at South London. The annual tuition fee was £4 4s a year,[7] payable half-yearly in advance, and the rule was that 'no one can be admitted as a student for a shorter period than a year; and those who are admitted are expected to attend regularly, and to apply themselves steadily to the work.'

Charles Shannon

Shannon enrolled on the Wood Engraving course in February 1882 when the School receipts show that he paid 2 pounds 2 shillings in February 1882, and 1 pound 10 shillings for the Wood Engraving course in December 1882. I cannot find any evidence to show that he paid any further fees. It is probable that he won one of the four scholarships 'which are awarded after the first year's practice, and which may be renewed in the following year on proof of industry and progress and on the recommendation of Mr. Roberts.' The wood engraving students were there to learn a trade, and those who applied themselves 'steadily to the work' could expect to be offered a two year apprenticeship with Roberts where they worked 'for modest payment'. [8]

Both Ricketts and Shannon were 'apprenticed to Mr. Roberts, the wo0d-engraver on such apprenticeship'.[9] These were normally given on the successful completion of the three year course but in exceptional cases a student was invited to take one up after two years. Shannon did not work long, if at all, at Roberts's Chancery Lane premises because by 1885 he was teaching at Croydon School of Art. Indeed the 1888 South London Technical Art School Report described him as an 'Art Master at Croydon' who 'gave up wood engraving for pen and ink illustrating and painting.'

Charles Ricketts

It is believed that Ricketts enrolled at the School on the 16th of October 1882 (his birthday) but the records show that in fact he enrolled on the same date the following year, when he paid 1 pound 10 shillings , followed by 1 pound and 10 shillings in July 1884 for the Wood Engraving. [10] However, there is no record of Ricketts making any further payment for the Wood Engraving course. He may have taken up his apprenticeship when he assisted Roberts with the engraving of Cassell's History of England before completing the course, [11] or he may may have won a scholarship.

By January 1885, when he described himself on the School enrolment form, as an 'Art Student' rather than a 'Wood Engraver' and again in March, and October that year, and January 1886 and 1888, Ricketts paid between 15 shillings and two pounds for the Life Class. This must have been the Special Life Class that the School Director John Sparkes established when the demand for wood engraved illustrations dwindled; they were replaced by black and white drawings that could be easily be reproduced by photomechanical means or 'process' printing. In 1892, Sparkes could report that 'the Special Life Class fully bears out my assumption of its usefulness. The value of the classes as a training institution for black and white work and general illustration is becoming still more publicly recognized. There is no doubt that it will become the school of illustration of the future.' Initially in 1884-1885, the course was taught between 10 and 1 on Saturday but later it moved to a new time of 10 to 1 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Reginald Savage

Reginald Savage first enrolled at South London in December 1882 when he paid various amounts of between 2 shillings and 6 pence and 5 shillings, and again in February, May, June, July, October, November 1883, and October 1884 for the Life Drawing part of the Modelling Course. Between November 1883 and November 1884, he also enrolled on the Wood Engraving course.

Thomas Sturge Moore

Finally the records show that Thomas Sturge Moore was first taught by Shannon at Croydon School of Art, but was persuaded by him to transfer to the South London when he met Ricketts for the first time. Between February 1887 and October 1890, Sturge Moore was in the Special Life Drawing Class until March 1891 when he enrolled on the Modelling course until December 1891 when he was Second Place in the yearly competition for Modelling from Life.[12]

The Valistes

The School Records are not complete, and a record of attendance was not kept so students did not necessarily pay the requisite amount of tuition or indeed pay it on time if at all but they do provide a much fuller picture of the Valistes (as they called themselves)[13] period of study at the South London Technical School of Art.



For a listing of these records see the South London Technical Archive, London Metropolitan Archive,, accessed 20/01/2022; hereafter South London, LMA.


South London, LMA, Technical Education Report of the Executive Committee to the General Committee of certain of the livery companies of London Proposals of the Executive Committee January 1879. And Resolutions of the council and Board of Governors Thereon, February and March 1879, South London, LMA, 21834/1.


South London,LMA, 21834/1 1877-1880.


South London, LMA, 21834/1 1877-1880.


City and Guilds Metropolitan Archive, 21834/2, 3.


Prospectus for the South London Technical Art School, Session 1881-2. There were no changes to the course syllabus during the period of time that Ricketts, Savage and Shannon were enrolled. 


The fee subsequently was reduced to £3. See the school prospectus for the academic year of 1882-83.


South London, LMA, M21834/5.


Thomas Sturge Moore, in Cecil Lewis, ed., Charles Ricketts. Self Portrait, Taken from the Letters & Journals of Charles Ricketts, R.A., Collected and Compiled by T. Sturge Moore, London, 1939, 14. 


J.G.P. Delaney, Charles Ricketts A Biography, Oxford, 1990, 28 states that Ricketts and Shannon met on Ricketts birthday when he enrolled in the School. However, Sturge Moore remembered that they met 'around 1883'. Thomas Sturge Papers, 60/2/1.


Thomas Sturge Moore, 'Notes for a lecture on Ricketts' , Thomas Sturge Moore Papers, Senate House, University of London, 60/2/1.


Thomas Sturge Moore Papers, Senate House, University of London, MS 978/5/2/8 includes a certificate for winning Second Place in the yearly 'Modelling from Life' competition, states that he studied modelling between March 1889 and December 1891.


Letter from John Gray to Félix Fénéon, 16 April 1891, cf. Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon, 94: A French Correspondence.