Wednesday, March 20, 2019

399. Charles Shannon. Cancelled Stone

A lot of Charles Shannon's lithographs are portraits of friends, others depict nude women; there are genres such as landscapes, street scenes, cartoons or interiors that apparently didn't inspire him. Shannon owned a litho press and could print his own lithographs using heavy stones for the process.

Charles Shannon, 'Portrait of the Artist'  (1905) [British Museum]
After the print run was finished, the stones were cancelled. It is extremely rare to find prints of cancelled stones, but the British Museum owns a 'Portrait of the Artist', a lithograph printed in 1905, that has been printed from the cancelled stone.

Charles Shannon, 'Portrait of the Artist'  (1905) [British Museum]
By way of a cross Shannon had cancelled the stone. A print of a cancelled plate may be uncommon, this example is even more poignant. Shannon will have printed the self-portrait himself, which makes this survival from the printing studio extraordinary as well as slightly lugubrious.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

398. Gleeson White's New Ideal Book

Gleeson White (Joseph William Gleeson White, 1851-1898) supported the work of Ricketts in many ways, and managed to squeeze in his name in quite a few essays on art and book art that he published mainly during the 1890s in magazines such as The Studio, The Magazine of Art, The Pageant, and The Decorator and Furnisher.

The Journal of the Society of Arts of 15 February 1895 published a paper that Gleeson White had read to the Society ten days earlier. It mentioned Ricketts and Shannon among the few artists that revived the art of wood-engraving by engraving their own blocks in a time that was 'in full swing of process reproduction'. (See Gleeson White, 'Drawing for Process Reproduction', in: Journal of the Society of Arts, 15 February 1895, p. 277-286).


Gleeson White (photo: Frederick Hollyer)
The essay is interesting for several reasons, it touches on the subject of book design, commercial publishing, and modern printing processes. (A 2013 blog post discussed a bookplate for him, designed by Charles Ricketts.) In 1897, Gleeson White would use the term 'book-builder' for lack of a better word - 'graphic designer' is how we would call a 'book-builder' now.

In 1900 - Gleeson White died in 1898 - the French publisher Vollard published an artist's book with poems by Paul Verlaine and lithographs by Pierre Bonnard: Parallèlement.


Parallèlement (1900) [copy: Princeton University Library]

In this book, illustrations and texts frequently share the same space, with the rose-coloured lithographs intruding into the lines of poetry. This was quite unusual, revolutionary even, and would become a starting point for artists' books in which image and text intertwine, and fuse materially, while artists and writer collaborate on a new concept that merges words and imagery.

However, in 1895 Gleeson White already noticed that this kind of fusion was about to happen, and he didn't approve. He wrote:

It would be hard to think of any artistic topic with ideals more widely separated than, say, the Kelmscott Press edition of Chaucer, with its hand-made paper - archaic ornamentation and antique type, symmetrically disposed on its pages - on the one hand, and the latest French or American edition de luxe, with its shiny paper, its fine woodcuts, or half-tone blocks, and its erratically arranged page, with illustrations splashed here and there, straying into the margin and at times, in pale shades, wandering underneath the type itself. 
('Drawing for Process Reproduction', p. 278).

This is an interesting depart from the common assumption that the intertwining of image  and text took form around the time of Vollard's publication in 1900. Gleeson White, apparently, doesn't like the intertwining of illustration and story, and he was not alone, but he was remarkably early to see it happening in magazines in France and America.

Furthermore, when Gleeson White published this essay in February 1895, William Morris was very much alive (he would die a year later), working on his Kelmscott Press books. Morris, of course, had been the author of a famous essay on 'The Ideal Book'. 


William Morris, 'The Ideal Book' (edition in A. Marta Ferreira, A Book on Books)
Gleeson White argues that the private press book is not the ideal book:

Instead of trying to raise illustration by retracing our steps, and trying to make a system which sufficed for a simple civilisation work under quite new conditions - would it not be better logic to accept machine printing, shiny paper, the process engraver and his works, and by mastering these new conditions - as the artist most assuredly can master any conditions if he set his mind to the effort - to create new ideals, and set up new standards of taste and beauty. [...] To create a new ideal of a perfect book, with its pages illustrated by modern methods, printed by steam-power, and produced at moderate prices; to leave such a standard, that future ages, removed from the strife of tongues to-day, should deem characteristic of the twentieth century, and beautiful because it fulfilled harmoniously the conditions which called it into existence, seems worth trying for - worth many failures by the way.
('Drawing for Process Reproduction', p. 278).

I guess that Ricketts and Shannon had found an intellectual patron in Gleeson White and discussed each and every idea that he published. In fact, while they had in a way followed the path of William Morris, and had published their own magazine The Dial with original wood-engravings and lithographs instead of reproduced drawings and paintings, they were on the verge of issuing another magazine that would make use of the modern processes, The Pageant. Some critics (the Dutch artist Jan Veth among them) would deplore the use of process blocks, and indeed, when Ricketts and Shannon embarked on their most ambitious book art venture, The Vale Press, they retraced their steps, and decided to include wood-engravings in these privately printed books. All this shows that there is not just a straight line, from the publication of The Dial to the establishment of The Vale Press; there were by-ways, diversions, meandering of thoughts. The issues were part of an ongoing debate about the art of printing, book art, and modern printing. For the books of the Vale Press, we are reminded, Ricketts didn't always print from the wood blocks, he used electrotypes. 

The ideal books, according to Gleeson White, needed a book-builder, a term that he would coin in an 1897 essay. In 1895, he wrote:

One mind should be apparent through a book or periodical. If it could be the artist, it would be ideally the best; but a number of artists must needs be employed on a single volume in certain cases, and, as their time is too valuable to be spent on practical details outside their craft, even if one granted their agreement in these matters, there must needs be an actual art-editor - not merely one nominally so-called, but a man fairly conversant with all those questions involved - one who could be trusted to consider every one of the thousand and one items which go to build up a beautiful book. The binding, the end papers, title-page to colophon, arrangement of blocks, every detail small or great - all should be in accordance with one standard of taste.
('Drawing for Process Reproduction', p. 284).

One mind should design the whole book, he argued, and Ricketts adopted this idea when founding The Vale Press, not only designing the type himself, or the watermark, but also ordering the paper, ink, and binding materials, and designing the page layout and the illustrations.

Gleeson White deserves a monograph of his own, although archival material is scarce, and it will be a hell of a job to write a book about his life and his views on art and book design. Anyone?

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

397. The 2019 Alphabet: &

& is for &

& art thou dead, thou much loved youth
& didnt thou dye for mee?
Then farewell home, for ever more
A pilgrim I will be.


Charles Ricketts, 'The Friar of Orders Grey' (1890)
The June 1890 issue of the magazine Atalanta included an illustrated poem for which Charles Ricketts did the handwriting and the illustrations, The Friar of Orders Grey (misspelled on the first page as 'Gray'). The poem was printed on five subsequent pages, and the design of these was varied.


Charles Ricketts, 'The Friar of Orders Grey' (1890)
The opening page was designed as a title-page which gave away that the designs had been done two years before. Ricketts had signed the page with a clover leaf containing his initials, the whole dated '1888'. At the top was a dark opening vignette of the friar near a tree next to a stream meandering towards a bridge in the background. On three sides of this page a border of violets intrudes into the border of the opening vignette.

There is no border on the second page that has a large free standing image and an initial L. The third page has an illustration for which Ricketts drew a two-sided border consisting of a single line. The next page, again, is different: it has two separate drawings, both enclosed in a drawn border of multiple thin lines, and there is an illustration that appears to be a corner decoration with a border on two sides. The last page has no borders. On that page Ricketts has instead drawn an ampersand for an initial, which, of course, is quite unusual.


Charles Ricketts, 'The Friar of Orders Grey' (1890)
The illustration shows a landscape with a church and houses on a hill in the background; in the foreground is the edge of a forest, with a girl, holding a child, near two other children. A lady in long garments is being watched by two rabbits. There are violet decorations to the middle right and to the lower left. The initial contains two compartments, one for the ampersand, and one for a violet. The violet borders on some page look different in style from the other drawings, but the inclusion into the ampersand initial suggests that they were not added at a later stage. The cropping of the line endings of the first stanza on this page also suggests that the illustration had been finished before Ricketts wrote the selection of verses from this long poem.

The six verses on this page are in Ricketts’s script, containing leaf ornaments, a flower, or other decorations below each verse. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

396. Two Deluxe Copies of The Sphinx

On 30 January Forum Auctions in London sold the collection of the late Bruce Beatty, and three weeks later, on 20 February 2019, Christie's in Paris sold the library of Marc Litzler. Both collections could boast of a deluxe copy of Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx, designed and illustrated by Ricketts. Only 25 copies of this large paper edition were made, two of which came on the market in less than a month. 
Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (1894) [deluxe copy Beatty collection]
The description of the Beatty copy mentioned that the tissue guard was present (for the Litzler copy this detail wasn't mentioned), and the Unbleached Arnold (Ruskin) paper was said to be 'very slightly foxed but barely affecting text'. The condition of the paper of the Litzler copy seems similarly affected, the description mentioned 'des rousseurs que l'on rencontre toujours dans les exemplaires du tirage ordinaire', which is true, except of course that the ordinary copies have been printed on paper of a slightly lesser quality (also Arnold, but thinner, and more prone to foxing). The special type of Arnold paper should have been in excellent condition.


Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (1894) [deluxe copy Litzler collection]
The photographs seem to indicate that the Beatty copy, although 'very lightly soiled', looks fresher than the Litzler copy, the vellum of the latter showing some browning, while both copies have retained the original binding ties.

The provenance of the Litzler copy was not described; the Beatty copy has a bookplate by a former collector, Edmund Bulkley. The Beatty copy sold for £17,000 (hammer price; buyer's premium c. £4,250); the Litzler copy sold for €16,250 (including premium): a difference of around €2,000.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

395. Ricketts and Shannon as Old Masters of the Future

About a week ago Brill publishers (Leiden/Boston) published Art Crossing Borders. The Internationalisation of the Art Market in the Age of Nation States, 1750-1914, edited by Jan Dirk Baetens and Dries Lyna. For this compilation 'our' contributor Barbara Pezzini wrote an essay entitled '(Inter)national Art: The London Old Masters Market and Modern British Painting (1900-14)', addressing the themes of national versus international art, and old masters versus modern artists, and in particular how British artists of around 1900 dealt with the European art of the past. 


Art Crossing Borders (2019)
Barbara Pezzini currently is Editor-in-Chief of the journal Visual Resources, working on research projects for the London National Gallery and ArtUk. 

The book Art Crossing Borders is published in open access and all essays are available for free on the Brill website. In her essay Pezzini examines the situation in London at a time when once expensive late Victorian paintings had lost a large deal of their financial value, and in which a new generation of painters sought to associate themselves with either modernism and Italian, Dutch or French paintings from the Renaissance, while all around them a diverse range of artistic endeavours by the likes of academic historical painters, symbolist artists, and impressionistic painters coexisted. 

Pezzini argues that the information networks of artists, critics and dealers were involved in a debate about the historic British school of painting and the relationship of modern art to 'modernity' on the one hand and to art history as a whole on the other. Work by modern artists such as Wilson Steer, William Rothenstein, Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon was, for example, shown at the Carfax gallery alongside Italian, Flemish, French, Dutch old master prints and paintings (Pezzini reproduces an advertisement from The Burlington Magazine, March 1903). Likewise, writers about old masters also wrote about modern artists, and these artists were seen as connoisseurs and experts.

Those writers were invariably active as curators of exhibitions of museums (Charles Holmes for example), others were artists themselves (such as Ricketts), and most of them combined professional roles as scholar/artist and curator/art adviser for dealers. Today's professional integrity was not an issue yet. Most art galleries and shops had turned to old masters as a source of income after the decline in value of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Art critic and museum director Charles Holmes advised collectors to invest in modern artists who would become the old masters of the future (see his work Pictures and Picture Collecting, 1903, second edition 1910).

Ricketts and Shannon belonged to a group of artists, Pezzini argues, that acquired a cosmopolitan view of art; they were trained in Paris or travelled around Europe. They gathered in new societies, and showed their view of French paintings (Charles Conder is an example) or Venetian art (Charles Shannon). Ricketts fused 'Spanish and Italian mannerism' in his painting 'Crucifixion' (c. 1908).


Charles Ricketts, 'Crucifixion' (c.1908) [© Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum]

El Greco, 'Crucifixion' (1604-1614)
Pezzini writes about Ricketts's painting that it 'finds in El Greco's Crucifixion (Toledo, Museo de Santa Cruz) [...], published by Cossío in 1908, its principal reference. Yet the torn drapery, dark sky and dramatic palette give his work a much more sombre atmosphere that hints towards a novel psychological despair and torment.'

The work of these relatively young painters - Ricketts and Shannon were nearing forty - was seen as 'reasonable in price' and 'a very safe investment' according to Holmes. The Burlington Magazine often mentioned modern art in commercial terms, and made comparisons with the art of the old masters, as was the case with Charles Shannon's tondo 'Hermes and the Infant Bacchus' that was likened to a work by Titian, and thus to an extremely valuable painting.

Pezzini asserts that the traditional interpretation of the backward glances towards old masters automatically dismisses these artists as old fashioned, nostalgic, parochial, and anti-modernistic. However, according to Pezzini, another possible reading based on her analyses of 'the intertwining of the art market, scholarship and artistic practice'  indicates that these artists 'aimed to live up to the comparison with the old masters and created a diverse cosmopolitan language'. It was not modernist art, still, it was art that dealt with topical concerns.

The same week that Pezzini's essay was published, another attempt to revalue the work of artists such as Ricketts arrived in the post. It appeared in the book historical review Book History (volume 21 for 2018, published January 2019) and was written by Anna Wager who won the Graduate Student Essay Prize for this essay on 'Photographs, Pens, and Print: William Morris and the Technologies of Typography'. Wager quotes Ricketts's remarks on type and argues that Morris who was in favour of manual processes didn't completely turn away from modern techniques, instead he used them to understand manuscript letters better during the formative processes of his new printing types.

These essays are sure signs of a renewed interest in the period around 1900, invoking alternative ways of looking at the past.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

394. Charles Shannon's Russian Postcard

Recently, an ephemera dealer in Moscow sold a Russian postcard with an image of Charles Shannon's lithograph 'The Incoming Tide' that was published by the artist in 1908/1909.


Charles Shannon, 'The Incoming Tide' (1908/1909) [Russian postcard]
The British Museum describes the original lithograph as follows:

Two nude women on a beach, both seen from behind, one laying on the sand with head raised and the other kneeling with arms upraised and looking out to sea. 1908/9. 
[See for an image the British Museum Collection Online.]

This lithograph can be compared to another one, called 'The Rising Tide', printed around the same time.

The Russian postcard was manufactured almost sixty years later, in 1957. The backside gives ample information, which was translated by my friends the poet Robbert-Jan Henkes and his wife Elena Pereverzeva, both translators from the Russian.

Charles Shannon, 'The Incoming Tide' (1908/1909) [Russian postcard]
The card was published by the Изобразительное искусство, the Fine Art Publishing House in 1957. The title was given as 'High Tide', and the card was printed by the VNIIPPiT, probably the Всесоюзный Научно-Исследовательский Bнститут Полиграфической Промышленности и Типографии, or the Soviet Scientific Research Institute for the Graphic Arts and Typographical Industry.

The price was ten kopecks, and the number of copies printed was an astonishing 35.000.

The original lithograph had been printed  (apart from a few trial proofs) in 36 copies, of which twelve each were printed in green, sanguine and grey. The earliest proofs were printed in 1908, the edition was printed in 1909. The postcard reproduces the version in grey.

Why this interest in British art, and especially Charles Shannon in Russia, and why in 1957? Copies of his original lithographs were sold by dealers abroad, the earliest ones in Germany and the United States, but apparently they travelled all the way to Moscow, and were found appropriate as postcard images.

There might be more of these postcards.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

393. An Extra-Illustrated Sphinx

Private press books, and deluxe editions, have usually been treated well, and heavily annotated copies of Kelmscott Press, and Dove or Vale Press books are quite rare, as are copies with dog ears, public library copies being the exception.

Expensive books are like expensive cars, their owners don't like them to be scratched, touched, or sometimes even looked at.

The Sphinx by Oscar Wilde, designed and illustrated by Charles Ricketts, is one of the untouchables. There are dedication copies, and some copies come with bookplates, but rarely more.

However, Dartmouth College Library owns a copy that was extra-illustrated at some point. Extra-illustrated books were a vogue in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries, often so many illustrations from other sources (portraits, topographical prints) were pasted in, that the book's original binding couldn't cope, and new bindings were commissioned to house the complete collection of the original pages and the additional prints.

The Sphinx had ten reproductions after pen drawings by Ricketts. The Dartmouth copy has an original watercolour on the half title.


Rauner Special Collections Library, Hanover, NH., Rauner Val 826 W64 W6 c.2
Courtesy of Dartmouth College Library
This copy of The Sphinx was donated to Rauner Special Collections Library by Robert Minton (Dartmouth College Class of 1926). Robert Henry Minton (1904-1974) worked as a stockbroker in New York.

The illustration shows palm trees, a temple wall, a sphinx, and an incense burner, drawn in black and coloured in blue. There is a signature to the right hand corner of the watercolour. The artist is Frédéric Bourdin, a French illustrator. Not much is known about Bourdin. Between 1911 and 1921 he illustrated books for several publishers.



Frédéric Bourdin, illustration
for Stendhal, La Chartreuse de Parme (1911)
copy in the Koopman Collection (KB, National Library of the Netherlands)
Other illustrated editions include works by Balzac (1911), Moreau (1919), and Guerrazzi (1921). Extra-illustrations was a side-line for him. He apparently made watercolours for an edition of Octave Mirbeau's Le Journal d'une femme de chambre, and also tried his hand at extra-illustrating, or 'illuminating', English literary works, such as Alfred Tennyson's Maud (1855), and Edwin Arnold's The Light of Asia (1879). These books have different English provenances, suggesting that Bourdin was asked by English dealers to add illustrations in water colour.



Frédéric Bourdin, illustration
for Stendhal, La Chartreuse de Parme (1911)
Almost no record of his life has survived, it seems, and most dictionaries of engravers and artists do not mention him. The 1999 edition of Bénézit (Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs et graveurs de tous les temps et de tous les pays par un groupe d'écrivains spécialistes français et étrangers) mentions three works illustrated by Bourdin, but when and where he was born or died is not known. His work is characterised as follows: 'Son oeuvre conserve un hiératisme intellectuel cher aux synthétistes.' His sober and cerebral work was influenced by the post-impressionists. 

How he came to make an illustration in this copy of The Sphinx is not known.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

392. Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World (addendum)

The latest issue of The Wildean (A Journal of Oscar Wilde Studies) for January 2019 contains some unknown and surprising letters by Oscar Wilde to the British Museum. He wrote one letter and dictated four others in his capacity as editor of The Woman's World between November 1887 and November 1888, and they reveal that during this earliest period of his editorship he contacted a friend in the museum to secure novel illustrations of antiquities. This friend was Cecil Smith. The article, written by Rosario Rovira Guardiola, necessitates an addendum to my earlier series of articles on Ricketts, Wilde and The Woman's World, especially the second blog (see 222. Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World).

Charles Ricketts, 'A Lady of Pompeii', in The Woman's World (October 1888, facing page 536)

Guardiola, an ancient historian and archaeologist at the Department of Greece and Rome at the British Museum, mentions and reproduces an illustration by Ricketts:

In The Woman's World, antiquity would have a predominant role that would help to set it apart from its predecessor, The Lady's World, and even articles on fashion would often include references to antiquity. There would also be articles dedicated to women in particular historical periods such as 'The Pompeian Lady' by Edith Margret, based on the archaeological evidence recovered in the city of Pompeii, as well as articles on specific classical subjects such as 'The Pictures of Sappho' in which Jane E. Harrison discussed the representation of the poet Sappho on Greek vases - a subject on which she was a leading scholar.

The illustration by Ricketts didn't have exactly the same title as the article, but was called 'A Lady of Pompeii', not by Ricketts, but by the art director. The inclusion of this illustration suggests that Wilde's letters had something to do with some objects that Ricketts depicted in his illustration, but that is not the case. The images of artefacts from the British Museum collection were used to illustrate articles on Greek plays, Roman women, the umbrella, and beauty. They were part of Wilde's attempt to change the magazine into a cultured, contemporary and varied periodical, concerned 'not merely with what women wear, but with what they think'.


Charles Ricketts, 'A Lady of Pompeii', in The Woman's World (October 1888, facing page 536) [detail]
Earlier, I contended that Wilde only occasionally tried to secure illustrations, as he was the literary editor of the magazine, not the art editor. The letters about the antiquities from the British Museum show that for some subjects he would do more than only suggest possibilities to the authors of the articles, and contact his acquaintance at the BM to ensure engaging illustrations, because, as Guardiola states, 'Wilde liked to illustrate objects that were not widely known, perhaps to emphasise the modernity of The Woman's World'.



Charles Ricketts, 'A Lady of Pompeii', in The Woman's World(October 1888, facing page 536) [details]
Ricketts is known to have drawn a honeycomb after an original in the natural history museum, and his early drawings display his knowledge of what was on display at the London museums at the time. His Pompeian woman is surrounded by objects that would have attracted visitors, such as a home altar and a tripod with figures of a sphinx and a goat's leg. But Ricketts didn't need to consult a friend at the museum (when young, he probably didn't have one), or bring a letter of recommendation. He would roam the museum on his own, and look for objects that he could use in his illustrations, where they would not be depicted for their scientific interest, or for the idea of novelty, but to suggest a certain epoche, or cultural phase.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

391. Ricketts on Venetian Printing and The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

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




The article seems quite important to republish. In it Ricketts discusses an incunable that he had taken as an example for an early Vale Press  book, the edition of Daphnis and Chloe in 1893. This edition was received as an important testimony of the modern movement in book arts.   

Ricketts's review of the Methuen facsimile edition of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili was published in The Speaker of 25 February 1905.

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


The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and Its Character



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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

390. The 2019 Alphabet: W

W is for Why?

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

389. Vale Press Collectors: N.J. Beversen

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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