Wednesday, July 26, 2017

313. The 2017 Alphabet: K

K is for Kinde.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The book as a unity is a complex phenomenon.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

312. Ricketts on Art UK

So far, videos about Charles Ricketts or Charles Shannon on YouTube are minor and insignificant. However, some websites contain excellent material. One of those is Art UK, a website devoted to art works in British collections.


On ArtUK 27 paintings by Ricketts have been illustrated. The images and short descriptions also refer their current location in one of the British museums. 

ArtUK: works by Charles Ricketts
The collection is still relatively small, but the images are outstanding, can be used for non-commercial purposes, and as variant paintings are also included some comparisons can easily be made. In Ricketts's case, for example, we have two versions of his painting of Don Juan in the graveyard. One version (from the Government Art Collection, London) is called 'Don Juan and the Equestrian Statue', the other version (now at the National Galleries of Scotland) is called 'Don Juan and the Commander'.

Charles Ricketts, 'Don Juan and the Equestrian Statue' (Government Art Collection)
and Charles Ricketts, 'Don Juan and the Commander' (National Galleries of Scotland)
[Images from: ArtUK]
Charles Shannon's work is represented by 59 works.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

311. Ricketts on YouTube

On YouTube, illustrations of the work of Charles Ricketts have been collected as stills in short videos. Nothing spectacular, usually low res pictures taken from internet, lacking logical order, and published without comment or context. (See blog posts No. 151 and No. 188).

Another example of a YouTube film of which the intention is unclear was published almost a year ago.

On 14 August 2016 Hyman Cipolla published this film, called simply 'Charles Ricketts'. The accompanying guitar music has been used for other videos by the same maker.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

310. The 2017 Alphabet: J

J is for James.

James John Garth Wilkinson, born so early as January 1812, still lives; and still his tall strong frame wears a memory of the robustness of his long youth. The most of his life abnormally active, the harvest of it is little "sensational."

'Garth Wilkinson.' (The Dial, III, 1893, page 21)

The initial 'J' was designed for inclusion in the third number of Shannon's and Ricketts's magazine The Dial that appeared in October 1893. It adorned an article by the poet John Gray. Wilkinson (1812-1899), being a translator of Swedenborg and a student of William Blake, believed in automatic dictation, a form of poetry that was felt to be inspired by religion, or as Gray wrote himself: 'writing from "Influx" [...] is either a religion or a madness'.

The wood engraved block was used as the letter 'J' only once. (*) 

The initial was used again though, several years later, on the first text page of The Poems of John Keats, volume I (1898).

The Poems of John Keats, volume I (The Vale Press, 1898)
Here the initial 'J' is used for the second line of Keats' most famous long poem, 'Endymion':

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never 
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweat dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

Usually, Ricketts only designed one initial for a poem, but his admiration for Keats induced him to use three differently styled initials for the first two text lines of 'Endymion': an oversized open capital 'A' that was connected to a small open 'T' within four dark leaves, followed by the 'I' for 'Its'.

However, this 'I' was not a new design. Instead, the older design for the 'J' was used, although it was now set upside down, so that it would look less like a 'J' and more like an 'I'.

The letter can easily be identified as the earlier 'J' by the three berries in the upper left corner, they should occur in the lower right corner.

The Poems of John Keats, volume I (The Vale Press, 1898)
It must have been a mistake to insert this electrotyped initial letter, probably the fault of the typesetter at Ballantyne's where a hand press was set apart for the Vale Press, and were these initials were stored. It is an easy mistake to make, as there were many 'I' designs - the 'A', 'I' and 'T' are the initials of which Ricketts designed up to ten variants - and as the 'I's and 'J's were similar in design, a 'J' held upside down may easily have been taken for an 'I'. 

If Ricketts had noticed this while proofreading, would he have cared?

(*) Note: In her bibliography, Maureen Watry, erroneously states that the same initial was also used in the subsequent number of The Dial.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

309. The 2017 Alphabet: I

I is for In.

In a dim corner of my room for longer than my fancy thinks
A beautiful and silent sphinx has watched me through the shifting gloom.

Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (1894)
Oscar Wilde's poem The Sphinx was decorated by Charles Ricketts with drawings and initials; he also designed the binding. (See here for some earlier blogs about this book). 

Most initials are weird art nouveau designs, all were printed in green, but the first one was more in line with the letters that Ricketts would draw for his Vale Press books. Although The Sphinx was not published by the Vale Press, but by Elkin Mathews and John Lane at the Sign of the Bodley Head (the deluxe edition also mentioned the American publisher Copeland & Day), the book was printed on Vale Press paper bearing the watermark of Unbleached Arnold and the VP pressmark.

The initial was used one more time, more than a year after the publication of The Sphinx in June 1894. This time, printed in black, it opened a story by Walter Delaplaine Scull (1863-1915) in the fourth number of The Dial that was ready for publication in December 1895. Scull was an acquaintance of F. Seymour Haden, who was the brother-in-law of James McNeill Whistler. He was a non-practicing barrister, who used his inheritance to live independently, as a writer and an artist. In 1896 he published The Garden of the Matchboxes and Other Stories, and then moved from London to Crowborough in East Sussex. He also used the pen name Lewis Lusk.

Charles Ricketts, initial 'I' in an unopened copy of The Dial (Number 4, 1896)
(In her bibliography, Maureen Watry stated that the initial 'I' appeared for the first time in The Dial, probably because she excluded The Sphinx from her research.)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

308. An Invitation for a Preview Party

On 8 October 1979, Lord Clark of Saltwood opened the exhibition 'All for Art: the Ricketts and Shannon Collection' at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. An invitation was issued by the Committee of the Friends of the museum who organised a Preview Party. Tickets were available at £1,50.

Invitation, Preview Party, 'All for Art' (1979)
The invitation was hand set and printed by Patricia Jaffé (born Milne-Henderson), the wife of the director of the museum, Michael Jaffé. She was an art historian like him, a wood engraver, and a writer about wood engraving. Her publications include Women Engravers and The Drawings of George Romney. She collected books on coins and antiquities, a collection that was sold in 2016 (her collector's story can be read on the Sotheby's website). During Jaffé's time at the Fitzwilliam, the family lived in Grove Lodge above the Museum offices. Patricia set up a printing press in the museum. This is what she wrote about the press (November 2003) (see: Fitzwilliam Museum News, Number 22, Winter 2003/2004).

When, in 1973, Michael came to the Fitzwilliam as Director, he allowed me to bring a printing press, an 1873 miniature Albion. To this the Friends of the Fitzwilliam added, in the summer of 1975, a Crown Folio Arab treadle platten once belonging to the Printing House of Stanbrook Abbey in Worcestershire whose nuns had produced so much for Sydney Cockerell, the most celebrated former Director of the Museum. With these presses I produced posters, fliers and announcements – things for which the Museum had no funds. I struggled. The task was almost impossible, and everything looked sadly amateur or even crude.

I found a copy of the 1979 invitation in a copy of the exhibition catalogue. Of course, I already have two copies of that catalogue (one a hard cover, the other a paperback), but now I realised that I had always owned the international edition of the bound edition, because this copy is slightly different. The dust wrapper mentions the price in pounds, while the international edition doesn't mention a price. That edition was destined for the overseas market; the Cambridge University Press had offices in New York and Melbourne as well as in London at the time (as the title page mentions).

All for Art (1979): paperback, British and international edition

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

307. The 2017 Alphabet: H

H is for His.

His clothes were black, & also bare;
As one forlorn was he;
Upon his head always he ware
A wreath of willow tree.

Charles Ricketts, calligraphy for Atalanta (January 1891)
The small initial 'H' (4x4 mm) decorates the sixth verse of the ballad of Harpalus that was first published in the sixteenth century, and occurred in Reliques of Ancient English Poetry collected by Thomas Percy in 1885.

Charles Ricketts, illustrated ballad in Atalanta (January 1891)
This version of the ballad was published in the January 1891 issue of Atalanta, a magazine for young women and girls. Ricketts was asked to illustrate the ballad. The text in Atalanta was fragmentary: only six verses with two drawings appeared in this issue, the February issue contained two more drawings and another six verses. However, the original ballad went on for 26 verses; more than half of which were lacking in the Atalanta version, based, most probably, on a decision by the editor, L.T. Meade.

Contents in Atalanta (January 1891: detail)
Apart from the four larger drawings (two of which were full-page illustrations), Ricketts also produced a handwritten text of the ballad, including a long title: 'Of the Doleful Death, and Dirge, of Harpalus, and of Phillida's Love Bestowed on Corin, Who Loved Her Not'. The calligraphy is very close to what Ricketts would demonstrate, later that year, on the title page of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, including the decorations of flowers. There is no other printed text on the pages. The whole contribution is in Ricketts's hand, except for one added typographical intrusion on the second page of the first part: '(To be continued.)' The phrase is set in the same type as normally used for the many serial stories in the magazine.

The second part doesn't have small initials, the first part has two of them. The 'H' for the sixth verse is adorned with six small flowers, the initial 'B' for the second one mimics a more traditional rectangular decorated initial.

The drawings were reproduced (as process drawings) by the Art Reproduction Company, and signed with their mark 'AR Co'. 

Ricketts's own monogram or name doesn't occur in or beneath the drawings, but his name is mentioned on the contents page, a page that in most copies will have disappeared, as it sits among the advertisement pages at the front of the issue.

A relatively rare survival of an original issue shows that the magazine aimed at a readership of girls and women between 15 and 25. 

Contents page of Atalanta (January 1891)
The magazine also collected endowments for an 'Atalanta Cot' at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Rhyl, and supported other good causes. Prize competitions kept the relation with the readers alive. A Shakespeare doll competition was won by the 20 year old Beatrix M. Dunning for 'an elaborate and picturesque Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury ("Henry V.")'. There were other competitions for essays, pictures and music.

Front cover, Atalanta (January 1891)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

306. The 2017 Alphabet: G

G is for Give.

Give me Chloe to my wife, for I can play finely on a Pipe, I can cut the Vines and I can plant them.

Charles Ricketts, initial G in Daphnis and Chloe (1893)

Daphnis is the speaker of these words, after he has found money, and he can afford to marry his love Chloe. Of course, the story being a love story, this doesn't happen right away as new complications arise. 

The initial G occurs for the first time in this edition of the book that was adorned with 101 initials and 37 wood-engravings (6 of those forming 3 sets of 2) and a publisher's device. There are only 12 out of 107 pages without decorations (including only one spread of two pages!). There are three pages with a maximum of 3 initials (page 55, 62, 74). 

Ricketts and Shannon who collaborated on this book did not feel the need to avoid repetition of certain initials, and the same initial T for instance may occur on two opposite pages, or even on the same page. Meanwhile, the unity of design was challenged, and monotony prevented, by the combination of several alphabets of initials. The stock of those initials was growing. Some were used for The Dial, others would be used again in later publications of the Vale Press.

Daphnis and Chloe (1893)
The initial G only appears on page 71 of this book, and would not be used again until 1903 when The Kingis Quair was published by the Vale Press. The production of these initials was quite time-consuming. They had to be drawn in black ink, adding corrections in white and black again before they could be photographed and reproduced on a woodblock that would then be engraved by Ricketts. After that they were electrotyped, before they could be used in a book. One initial could take as much as a day.

The initial G was one of an incomplete series of initials, this one displaying the fruit of the pomegranate. There are similar initials, showing the same type of winding branches that are tied together, but without the pomegranate.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

305. The 2017 Alphabet: F

F is for From.

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beautie's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heire might beare his memory:

Charles Ricketts, initial F (published 1899)
One of the larger initials that Ricketts designed for the Vale Press books was published in 1899. The 'F' for the first line of Shakespeare's Sonnets measures 75x48 mm, and is placed at the beginning of line 3 to 18. The initial takes up so much space, that the first four lines of the sonnet have been dispersed over eighteen text lines on this page that has room for only five lines of the first sonnet, the other nine lines appearing on the next page.

That was due, not only to the initial of course, but also to the border, and an extra outer border that take up much space as well. This is a remarkably black, profusely decorated, almost neo Gothic page in a book that, apart from two small decorative borders on page 6 and 133, is only sparsely decorated. There is the occasional paragraph mark on the title, section title, the explicit, and the colophon pages, and a publisher's device of a burin occurs on the verso of the colophon page. There are two paragraph marks on the spine of the binding. Otherwise, this is an example of typographie pure.

The text on page 5 (the first text page with the initial F) has been assigned an area of c. 60 cm² which is less than 20% of the page, while for the decoration an area of around 196 cm² had been reserved, which amounts to 66%, or two-thirds of the page.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

304. The Earliest Review of The Dial No 1?

As a curator in a national library I see how much research profits from digitization projects on a national scale, as long as the data are in open access. The British Library gives access to hundreds of newspaper pages, and it is worthwhile to repeatedly conduct searches in the online files.

Take a question such as: what was the earliest review of Ricketts's and Shannon's magazine The Dial that was published in August 1889?

Most researchers can't spend months on end leafing through old newspapers, even if allowed to do so by the wary librarians who see the pages crumble when touched. In the past, scholars took their refuge to references in later publications. The announcement of the second issue of The Dial, for example, lists seven quotes under the caption 'Some Press Cuttings', some positive, some negative.

Announcement of The Dial, No. 2 (1892)
In studies about The Dial, these quotes find their way, and serious scholars have, on the basis of the announcement, found the original reviews, and their dates of publication. The earliest one, I have seen quoted, appeared in The Pall Mall Gazette of 24 August 1889. The copy of the first issue of The Dial in the British Library collection has a slightly earlier date-stamp: 21 August.

It now turns out, that an earlier review was published on the basis of an 'advance copy'. This review was published in The Glasgow Herald of 17 August 1889.

It is a hesitantly positive review: 

One must go back to “The Germ”, with its band of ardent young Pre-Raphaelites, to parallel a venture so unique and individual as “The Dial,” of which an advance copy lies before me. This sumptuously produced quarto emanates from The Vale, Chelsea, heretofore the residence of Mr Whistler, where its co-editors, Charles H. Shannon and C.S. Ricketts, now reside. It is a periodical quarto in size, and illustrated with lavish outlay, with designs in colours and black and white. The editors’ “apology” explains the position adopted by its projectors, who say, “The sole aim of this magazine is to gain sympathy with its views. [...]. 

The reviewer then quotes in full the 'Apology' that Ricketts and Shannon had printed on the last page.

'Apology' by the editors, The Dial (1889)

The review then continues to say:

The whole of the designs and texts are the work of the editors, with two other contributors, and are singularly novel in idea and conception. While obviously influenced by such different masters as Rossetti, Millais (in early black and white work), Willette and Puvis de Chavannes, there is a distinct quality unlike these, or, indeed, any other decorative artist, throughout the work. The influence of the latest French mood in letters and art is as evident as that of the early Italians and their followers. Among the many full-page plates that adorn the first number, one in colours and gold illustrating “The Great Worm and a very beautifully wrought “Circe,” both by C.H. Shannon – may be specially noticed.

A small mistake: the colour illustration for “The Great Worm” was by Ricketts.

The articles include a delightful rhapsody on Puvis de Chavanni [sic], another on the Goncourts, and a series of “Sensations.” This feature is probably without parallel in any kindred enterprise. The cost of the magazine is 7s 6d.

This doesn't change the actual date of publication, but from it, we may assume that the number must have been for sale around 17 August.

Ricketts and Shannon didn't quote from this review; they may have missed it, although they personally must have send the advance copy to the newspaper.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

303. The 2017 Alphabet: E

E is for Empress.

Empress, you bade me leave my orbèd temple,
And leave my Vestals. Sudden the command.

Initial E in Michael Field, Julia Domna (1903)
For Michael Field's play Julia Domna, published by the Vale Press in 1903, Charles Ricketts designed a border for the beginning of the text. The text itself begins with the name of the first speaker, Varonilla, who addresses Julia Domna, the empress. The initial E on this page was not a new design; the initial had been used since 1896, but there is a difference.

Initial E in The Poems of Sir John Suckling (1896)
Originally, the initials appeared in a black field that gave the letter a square format, and acted as its own border. For the Michael Field play, Ricketts decided to draw a separate black lined border around the initial. This isolates the initial from the text lines (more so than originally), and it underlines the overall construction of the page that consists of two longitudinal illustrated black borders on each side with four horizontal fields in the middle. It also isolates the black fields from each other, so that they stand out on their own, and don't fuse into one large black block.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

302. A Painting by the Father of Ricketts

After many blogs about the mother of Charles Ricketts, there is some news about his father. Not much though. A painting came up for auction in Birmingham. Fellows Auctioneers had it for sale in their auction of 9 May.

Charles Robert Ricketts, 'Stormy coastal scene' (undated)
The painting has seen better days. It is in quite a rough state. The auctioneer describes it as follows:

A stormy coastal scene, with French steam tug approaching a French fishing boat, both flying the tricouleur, oil on canvas laid down onto plyboard, signed to a piece of driftwood lower left, 23 x 34, (58.5cm x 86cm), in flower- and shell-decorated giltwood and gesso frame. Has been cleaned - some layers of paint lost. Evidence of some creasing/cracking to canvas which has been mitigated by laying onto plyboard in recent years

Not particularly a must-have, but the seascape is exactly the kind of work that Ricketts's father excelled in: stormy waves and ships in distress. 

His signature is on a piece of driftwood, as if another vessel recently had not survived in similar circumstances, predicting a rough ending for the ship in the centre of the picture, notwithstanding a close-by steam boat coming to the rescue.

Signature by Charles Robert Ricketts
Initially, the estimate was low (£0 - £200), but, the auction approaching, it was raised to:  £200 - £300.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

301. The 2017 Alphabet: D

D is for Dost.

Dost see how unregarded now

That piece of beauty passes?

Initial D in The Poems of Sir John Suckling (1896)
The early Vale Press books contained numerous decorated initials, often one on each page. There was some variety in the initials within one book. The 1896 edition of The Poems of Sir John Suckling, for example, counted 77 initials on 117 pages. However, there were six larger variants (for the letters A, I, O, S, T, and W), while there were also two variants for the small initial A.

In the distribution of the larger and smaller variants, a scheme was not strictly adhered to, not even regarding the length of the lines, allowing for the space to be filled with either a smaller or a larger variant. The use of two similar small initials A seems to be at random, or may have been an error, or indeed a conscious choice.  

Even so, in some cases surely the variation was based on typographical issues, and did not have to do with matters of aesthetics.

Sonnet I on page xiv opens with the small initial D. On the opposite page Sonnet II opens with a large initial O. The opening lines of the first sonnet occupy one line each. In the second sonnet the lines had to be broken up three times, which is shown by an indentation. Ricketts did not use the smaller initial on that page, because, even if he had, he would have had to break off most of the lines. These are not Shakespearean sonnets with lines of equal length. Some of the lines of the second sonnet are longer than those of the first sonnet. The white spaces after the line breaks would have been too large if the smaller initial had been used. These have been avoided by the use of the larger initial of 40 mm width - the smaller initial would have taken 27 mm.

Initial O in The Poems of Sir John Suckling (1896)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

300. The Baptismal Record of Cornelia

To celebrate the three hundredth contribution for 'Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon', J.G. Paul Delaney wrote a guest blog about Ricketts's mother. A sequel to our series of discoveries: the real biography of Cornelia, the place of her grave in Genoa, and now the baptismal record.

Recently, the discovery of the tombstone of Ricketts’s mother in a neglected part of the Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa tied up a loose end at the end of her life.  Now, we can tie up a loose end at the beginning of her life. We have found the baptismal record in Rome of Cornelia Marsuzi de Aguirre (note 1).

Baptismal Record of Cornelia Marsuzi de Aguirre, Ricketts's mother

Cornelia was baptized in the Church of Santa Maria in Campitelli, which is located not far from the famous Campidoglio, then the centre of the papal Roman administration, where her father and grandfather worked. Santa Maria in Campitelli is a splendid Baroque church. Here, all the children in her family were christened.

Santa Maria in Campitelli
The following is a transcription of the baptismal entry in the original Latin with its abbreviations (see note 2):

Anno Domini 1824 Dio 4 Martii Ego subscriptus baptizavi pueram, natam die tertia huijus hora 8 ex legitimis conjugibus Rom. Illmo. D. Adv. Aloysio Marsuzi filio B. M. Adv. Jacobi, et Illma D. Candida Stambrini de Aguirre filia Illmi Adv. Scipionij, eique nomina imposui Cornelia, Fausta, Felix, Pia, Adeodata, Magd.a cum cognam.e nobilis familiae de Aguirre. Patrinus fuit Illmus Octavius Dionigi, filius B.M. Adv. Parochiae S. Maria in Via,  Matrina (scored out) Obstetrix vero Maria Leopardi, Parochiae S Laurentius ?ad Montij. J Ma Crescini Paroch:

Translated into English with the names put into Italian, it reads:

In the year 1824 on the 4th of March, I undersigned baptized a girl born on the third of the same month at 8 o’clock from the legitimate marriage of Illustrious Roman Lord Advocate Luigi Marsuzi, son of Advocate Giacomo, of blessed memory, and Illustrious Lady Candida Stambrini de Aguirre, daughter of Illustrious Advocate Scipio, and the names given were Cornelia, Fausta, Felix, Pia, Adeodata, Maddalena, with the surname of the noble family of de Aguirre. The Godfather was Illustrious Ottavio Dionigi, son of Advocate Domenico, of blessed memory, of the parish of Santa Maria in Via, Godmother (scored out). Midwife, Maria Leopardi, of the parish of San Lorenzo ai Monti. Giuseppe Maria Crescini, parish priest. 

The use of the title ‘Illustrious’ indicated a member of the nobility, and the word ‘Roman’ is also used as if it were a title. As only one godparent was really necessary, the fact that Cornelia had no godmother is not unusual. Indeed, eight of her siblings had only one godparent.

Cornelia was the last of fourteen children (note 3). From the birth of the sixth child, the same two names occur  among the multiple names given to most of the following children. The name ‘Felix’, which means ‘happy’, had been given to six of her siblings, both male and female, while the name ‘Adeodata’, which means ‘given to God’, or its masculine form ‘Adeodatus’, had been given to seven of her siblings. Giving these names had evidently become a pious practice in naming the later members of the family.

By the time that Cornelia Marsuzi de Aguirre was married in Paris at the Church of Sainte-Madeleine (known as ‘La Madeleine’) on 30 May 1844, she had dropped several of these names. Her marriage record gives her names in French as ‘Cornélie Pie Adéodat Marie’ and her parents are also named in French as Louis Marsuzi and Candide Stambrini.

This later version explains why Ricketts told the Fields that his mother’s names were: ‘Hélène Cornélie Pia Diodata’ (note 4). ‘Hèléne’ was an alias, but the others correspond closely to those of Cornelia Marsuzi de Aguirre. 

1. I would like to thank Andrea Presutto, whose valuable advice led to the discovery of the baptism.
2. Archivio Storico Vicariato di Roma, Santa Maria in Campitelli, Battesimi 1824, p 219.
3. One had died at birth without being named in 1808.
4. British Library, Add Ms 46792, fol 69v.

Of the moving biography of Charles Ricketts's mysterious mother a few copies are still available. Please order your copy here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

299. Don Juan in Edinburgh

One of Ricketts's favourite characters was Don Juan. Several paintings depicting this figure from the Mozart opera are in existence, one of those being on display at the Scottish National Gallery.

Charles Ricketts, 'Don Juan and the Commander'  (c. 1905)
[Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art]
The painting, 'Don Juan and the Commander', dates from about 1905, and is a small oil on canvas, measuring about 43 to 33 cm. It was 'presented by the Very Rev. Canon J. Gray 1934', that is, left to the museum after his death.

The museum's description is somewhat confused, as it states:

'This painting shows Don Juan, the legendary libertine, as he is about to kill the Commander who was protecting his daughter from Don Juan’s advances. The towering statue references the climax of the story when Don Juan is told he will be punished. He takes the statue’s outstretched hand and finds himself in an unbreakable grip. The statue then drags Don Juan to Hell.'

But these are three different scenes from the story: (1) Don Juan kills the Commendatore, (2) Don Juan finds himself on the graveyard where (after the death of the Commendatore) a statue in his honour has been erected, and (3) the last scene of the opera in which the Statue of the Commendatore comes to visit Don Juan for dinner, after which he will be dragged to hell. 

The painting depicts the scene in the graveyard. Don Juan's servant Leporello reads the name of the Commendatore on the pedestal, after which Don Juan will invite the statue to come to dinner in his house.

The museum owns several other works by Ricketts: three costume designs, a lithograph, and two wood-engravings. Shannon's work is represented by four lithographs.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

298. A Charles Shannon Painting: Sold

Blog reader Daniel Sheppard alerted me to an unknown painting by Charles Shannon that was offered for sale by Liss Llewellyn Fine Art in London. The portrait of a woman had sold already when he contacted me.

Charles Shannon, 'Woman at a Table'

The oil on canvas painting measures 762 x 508 mm, and is framed. Its provenance is given as: 'The Fine Art Society; The Fortunoff collection [HF 28]'.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

297. An Echo From Willowwood

Last December, the Ohio University Press, published a book of essays about 'Victorian and neo-Victorian graphic texts', Drawing on the Victorians.

Drawing on the Victorians (2017) (cover)
Edited by Anna Maria Jones and Rebecca N. Mitchell, Drawing on the Victorians, was labelled 'a pioneering work in illustration studies' and 'a necessary starting point for future work in the field' by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra.

The book contains an essay by Linda K. Hughes, professor of English at Texas University, 'Prefiguring Future Pasts' (pp. 207-236), in which one of Ricketts's drawings is discussed.

Her chapter is about Victorian illustrated poems, which she sees as 'poetic-graphic texts' that show an inseparability of word and image. These 'poetic-graphic texts often appear on a single page and rarely exceed five pages'. Thousands of this type of illustrations were published during the second half of the nineteenth century, and of a significant number of them the subject was domesticity and medievalism.

Ricketts's drawing for Christina Rossetti's poem 'An Echo from Willowwood' is said 'to mark the birth of neo-Victorianism as we know it' (p. 226) and to mark 'a turning point in Victorian neo-medievalism, from a prehistory to the inception of neo-Victorianism' (p. 228).

Charles Ricketts, illustration for Christina Rossetti, 'An Echo from Willowwood'
(The Magazine of Art, August 1890)
The term neo-Victorianism is chosen because Rossetti refers to the work of her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and it is usually seen as a late form of Pre-Raphaelitism.

It is worthwhile quoting Linda K. Hughes' comment in full:

For this hybrid text explicitly quotes and replays in a different register the visual and verbal works of D.G. Rossetti. The text is doubly belated, since its title announces and after-sound or echo, while the poet's last name identifies the surviving sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whose line forms the sonnet's epigraph and a legend on the visual border between Ricketts's two images ("O ye, all ye that walk in willowwood"). In the "Willowwood" sonnets, also first published in a periodical, a bereaved lover sits beside a spring with Love personified; and as Love strums a lute and sweeps the water with his wing, the face of the lost beloved rises to the surface, the lover's lips meeting hers in a long kiss that lasts only so long as Love sings. In the sister's "Echo," the woman is no longer a ghostly phantom rising to the water's surface but an equal sharer of gazing, longing, and loss: "Two gazed into a pool, he gazed and she... | Each eyed the other's aspect, she and he. | Each felt one hungering heart leap up and sink" (lines I, 5-6). Everywhere true to the tone, theme, and formal choices of the "Willowwood"  sonnets, the "Echo[ing]" text also revises the former in making the woman an active agent and participant, a decidedly modern note in 1890.

Ricketts's design also looks back to, yet revises, his precursor's art. The upper half of the diptych is clearly indebted to D.G. Rossetti, as Lorraine Kooistra notes, in its "crowded" visual scene, neo-medieval trappings, and frame that pays homage to D.G. Rossetti's own visual designs for books. The shells on the bereaved man's cape also recall decorative devices on the frames of Rossetti's paintings, while the empty boat perhaps alludes to his Moxon illustration for "The Lady of Shalott," in which Lancelot leans over the dead woman and her boat. In contrast, Ricketts's image in the lower half of the diptych, beautifully attuned to the swirling water that joins the lover's faces in Christina Rossetti's text, shifts to an art nouveau style while also graphically marking (as Kooistra notes) the sonnet's division between octave and sestet. In paying such homage to D.G. Rossetti and his verbal-visual idioms, then sweeping away from them in both text and design, thus marking the temporal distance of this 1890 work from them, the poetic-graphic text "An Echo from Willowwood" establishes the very groundwork of later neo-Victorianism: adapting Victorianism to circulate modernity and difference.'

Although other commentators have dwelled on the two styles of drawing that Ricketts expressed in this illustration (the lower half of which came up for sale in 1996), Hughes stresses the self-conscious imagery that Ricketts displays. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

296. Charles Shannon's Earliest Published Illustration

The January 1886 issue of The Magazine of Art published an early drawing by Charles Shannon to illustrate 'The Art of Sketching' by R.A.M. Stevenson, possibly his earliest publication. [See last week's blog about the earliest Ricketts drawing that was published to illustrate the same article.] 

The printed version of what originally was a sketch measures 137x93 mm. It had been turned into a wood-engraving by the art department of the magazine. Erroneously, Shannon's name was mentioned as 'Walter Shannon'.

Charles Shannon, 'By the Seaside' (1885, published 1886)

The caption reads:

By the Seaside.

(From the Prize Sketch, "Figure," by Walter Shannon. Lambeth Sketching Club, 1885.)

Stevenson's criticism is detailed, but on the whole friendly:

Mr. Shannon's, more distinctly seen as a whole than Mr. Ricketts’s, has greater unity of impression, and, with less padding, contains fewer weak spots. He has devised rather an ungainly line of distant hills, unnecessarily black and unnecessarily high; it would not have been amiss, too, for some of the wreck to come against the sky. One might add that, for the sake of a certain grouping, he has made the action of the figures carrying the body somewhat capricious and unnatural. It would, however, be wrong to attach much importance to all this in a sketch; such points can be remedied by thought and study in a picture without departing from the general sense of the rough draught. 

The contents of The Magazine of Art was reviewed by other magazines that also copied the wrong name of Walter Shannon, an example being the Royal Cornwall Gazette in January 1886. 

The same newspaper would, several months later, publish a devastating review of a water colour on the same subject. 

What had happened? Supported by the kind review by Stevenson and by the illustration in The Magazine of Art, Shannon had decided to execute the same subject in watercolour, and, with Reginald Savage (1862-1937), made a little group of drawings of saints. These were selected for display by the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in London in the Summer of 1886. 

Shannon's new version of 'By the Seaside' was one of a large number of works relating to Cornwall: 'Altogether, there are close upon fifty Cornish subjects in the present collection.' The Royal Cornwall Gazette published an article about these works that was 'Written expressly for the "Royal Cornwell Gazette"', as the newspaper reported proudly, by William Gilbert.

Thus, Shannon's small Cornish coast scene came under scrutiny of the Cornish critic.

Exhibited as number 498, Shannon's work was listed as 'Saint Olaf Burying Waifs on the Coast of Cornwall'.

The Royal Cornwall Gazette didn't like it.

Of all weird, harrowing, impossible conceptions of a Cornish coast scene this surely is the most unaccountable. Sky black as night; howling winds; maddened waves, breaking without reflux; wrecked ship, date of build about 1860; (!) monks bearing naked corpse; the good saint "nimbused" before canonization, wearing gorgeously worked cope, grey hair and beard streaming in the bitter blast - performs his pious duty under conditions most unlikely possible to be conceived. And, too, surely Olaf was a Northumbrian saint. If my hagiology be wrong, there are many readers of the Royal Cornwall Gazette who will quickly set me right. In perfect contrast to such a lugubrious, distorted, imaginative subject is the charmingly fresh crisp, spring-like representation entitled "Cottage Steps" (177), by Mr. A. Quinten.

Lugubrious, nakedness, too modern a ship, too early a nimbus...

And this newspaper wasn't the only one to dislike Shannon's works. Apart from No 498, Shannon also exhibited another painting of a saint, 'Saint Isidore and the Angel' (No. 623). The Era called this work 'quaint' (24 April 1886), The Graphic thought Shannon's and Savage's drawings 'thoroughly unconventional' (24 April 1886), and by The Glasgow Herald (16 April 1886) Shannon's painting of Isidore was singled out for abuse: 

If any visitor wishes to see how far astray an attempt at imaginative art may lead a weak draughtsman, let him seek out number 623, "Saint Isidore and the Angel," by C.H. Shannon, and let him wonder at the judgment of a committee that would allow such a grotesque imbecility to hang upon the Institute walls. This ill-drawn daub is a perfect caricature of modern French notions of art.

In the same exhibition, Ricketts showed '"Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi." Byzantium, 668' (No. 201). The critics ignored it.

Notwithstanding the harsh criticisms, Shannon send in his Isidore painting again, and, that Fall, it was on display at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool (see Cheshire Observer, 18 September 1886).