Wednesday, June 12, 2019

411. Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (2)

Robert Ross - born 150 years ago - published art criticisms in several periodicals, and collected a few of them in a volume called Masques & Phases (London, Arthur L. Humphreys, 1909), a book that is difficult to find these days. However, the complete text is available online at

Robert Ross, Masques & Phases (1909) [cover: detail]
A few weeks ago, I quoted a piece in which Ricketts made his appearance as a character, even one that wrote poetry. (See: Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (1).)

A second time that either Ricketts or Shannon's name turns up in the book is in a column called 'Going Up Top' (pp. 116-124). It is based on the old game of making lists of excellent poets, politicians, etcetera. Ross writes:

During a New Year week I was invited by Lord and Lady Lyonesse to a very diverting house-party.  This peer, it will be remembered, is the well-known radical philanthropist who owed his title to a lifelong interest in the submerged tenth.  Their house, Ivanhoe, is an exquisite gothic structure not unjustly regarded as the masterpiece of the late Sir Gilbert Scott: it overlooks the Ouse. Including our hosts we numbered forty persons, and the personnel, including valets, chauffeurs, and ladies’-maids brought by the guests, numbered sixty.  In all, we were a hundred souls, assuming immortality for the chauffeurs and the five Scotch gardeners. On January 2nd somebody produced after dinner a copy of the Petit Parisien relating the plebiscite for the greatest Frenchman of the nineteenth century; another guest capped him with the Evening News list. The famous Pall Mall Gazette Academy of Forty was recalled with indifferent accuracy.  Conversation was flagging; our hostess looked relieved; very soon we were all playing a p. 120variation of that most charming game, suck-pencil.

Lord and Lady Lyonesse - a name that evokes a sunken land from Arthurian legend as well as hosts that throw the best of parties - invite their guest to list the ten greatest living Englishmen, and when the votes are counted the guests have included the writers Marie Corelli and Rudyard Kipling, the newspaper magnate Lord Northcliffe and the actor George Alexander, among others. 

Robert Ross, Masques & Phases (1909, page 122)
The list drawn up by Ross himself is quite different. From the general list, it only includes the name of Nortcliffe. His eminent men - no women indeed! - are mainly writers, six of them: H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Thomas Hardy, Edmund Gosse, Andrew Lang, some of whom are intimate friends such as Reginald Turner. There is one physicist (Oliver Lodge) and one cardinal (Dom Gasquet), and, for an art critic, oddly enough, there is only one artist on his list. This, of course, is Charles Hazelwood Shannon.

The other guests are not familiar with the names of the physicist and the cardinal. Some believed that Lang had died long ago (he would die in 1912, three years after Masques & Phases was published). Only the one artist in the crowd knows the name of the painter Charles Shannon, the others assume that the portrait painter James Jubusa Shannon is intended.  

Shannon, all too often, was approached by people who wanted him to paint their portraits, only to withdraw the assignment after discovering their error. The wrong Shannon!

When this piece was published in Masques & Phases Shannon wrote to Ross:

Your book is too delightful. I don't get much chance of seeing it because Ricketts is generally curled up on the sofa convulsed with laughter.
[Letter from Charles Shannon to Robert Ross, 13 October 1909, published in: Robert Ross. Friend of Friends, 1952, page 167].

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

410. The Ricketts Medal by Alphonse Legros

At Lyon & Turnbull, Edinburgh, in a furniture sale on 14 May, one lot contained medals depicting the artists G.F. Watts and Charles Ricketts. Both medals were designed by Alphonse Legros. The first one was gilded and quite large (8.5 cm diameter), the second one was a cast bronze medal 'with brown patina' (6 cm diameter). The set was estimated at £600-800, and fetched £1,125 (buyer's premium included).

Alphonse Legros, 'Charles Ricketts' [medal, 1897]
The Ricketts medal dates from 1897. The front shows the artist in profile, the reverse depicts a woodcutter, axe raised, chopping a tree. 

How many copies of this medal were made is unclear. However, Philip Attwood, in his catalogue Artistic Circles (1992) stated that this kind of medal was expensive and issued in 'small editions' (page 11).

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

409. A Unique Copy of Ricketts's Dell'Arte Della Stampa

Last Saturday, auction house Hesse in Hamburg dispersed part of the personal collection of the book designer Hans (Giovanni) Mardersteig, including a range of his own publications that were issued under the name Officina Bodoni. Some of these books have escaped good descriptions in official Officina Bodoni bibliographies, as can be concluded from the two copies of Carlo Ricketts, Dell'arte della stampa (1926). 

Carlo Ricketts, Dell'arte della stampa (1926)
This Italian translation of Ricketts's Defence of the Art of Printing (1899) - the name of the translator is unknown - was printed for the Officina Bodoni by the Stabilimenti Grafici Mondadori in Verona in only 125 copies, all on Fabriano paper. They were numbered from 1 to 125 and bound in half vellum.

Carlo Ricketts, Dell'arte della stampa (1926)
However, one of the copies in this auction is not numbered, but lettered: 'E', and this is one of at least five, and perhaps more copies that were kept by the publisher, or, perhaps, given to the author.

Carlo Ricketts, Dell'arte della stampa (1926):
Mardersteig's copy on Japanese paper
Another copy of the same book was an exceptional one, printed on Japanese paper, especially for Mardersteig himself, and bound in leather. Even the Officina Bodoni's own bibliographies and exhibition catalogues didn't mention these lettered copies, let alone the one copy printed on a different deluxe paper. 

Other deluxe editions in this auction were recorded, for example in the 1979 catalogue by Giovanni Mardersteig, Die Officina Bodoni. Das Werk einer Handpresse 1923-1977 published by the Maximilian-Gesellschaft in Hamburg. According to this bibliography the 1932 Ovidius edition was issued in an edition of three copies on vellum and 120 on Magnani paper. Likewise, Plato's Crito was issued in an edition of 480 copies, of which five deluxe copies on Japanese paper. One of those was sold at the Hesse auction. This was the 'Printers copy', formerly owned by Frederic Warde. It was sold for €2600.

Neither the lettered edition of Ricketts, nor the unique copy on Japanese paper is mentioned in Mardersteig's bibliography. They were sold for €380 (lettered copy) and €2600 (Japanese paper). 

Carlo Ricketts, Dell'arte della stampa (1926)
These books in the Hesse auction came from the grandson of Mardersteig. Most of Mardersteig's collection has remained intact in Italy.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

408. Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (1)

On the 24th of this month, Robert (Baldwin) Ross's 150th birth anniversary will be commemorated with a Robert Ross Celebration Dinner in London's Savile Club. He was born on 25 May 1869, and died in October 1918. Ross, a Canadian art dealer, art critic, and journalist, is mainly remembered for his relationship with Oscar Wilde. Eight years after the death of the author, Ross published a first edition of his collected works, restoring Wilde's literary reputation.

Robert Ross, Masques and Phases (1909)
In 1909 Ross published a series of essays and reviews, Masques and Phases, that ran into several reprints. Ricketts and Shannon figure in some of them, as characters in short plays that comment upon Bernard Shaw's latest dramas, The Doctor's Dilemma (staged in 1906, parodied by Ross in February 1907) and Man and Superman (1902, elaborated by Ross in June 1907). However, the first appearance of both men was in Ross's review of a new edition of Swinburne's William Blake. A Critical Study: 'Swinblake. A Prophetic Book. With Home Zarathrusts'.

Ross's narrator recounts:

We came to a printing-house and found William Morris reverting to type and transmitting art to the middle classes.
‘The great Tragedy of Topsy’s life,’ said Theodormon, ‘is that he converted the middle classes to art and socialism, but he never touched the unbending Tories of the proletariat or the smart set.  You would have thought, on homœopathic principles, that cretonne would appeal to cretins.’
‘Vale, vale,’ cried Charles Ricketts from the interior.
I was rather vexed, as I wanted to ask Ricketts his opinions about various things and people and to see his wonderful collection.  Shannon, however, presented me with a lithograph and a copy of ‘Memorable Fancies,’ by C. R.
How sweet I roamed from school to school,
   But I attached myself to none;
I sat upon my ancient Dial
   And watched the other artists’ fun.
Will Rothenstein can guard the faith,
   Safe for the Academic fold;
’Twas very wise of William Strang,
   What need have I of Chantrey’s gold?
p. 95Let the old masters be my share,
   And let them fall on B. B.’s corn;
Let the Uffizi take to Steer—
   What do I care for Herbert Horne
Or the stately Holmes of England,
   Whose glories never fade;
The Constable of Burlington,
   Who holds the Oxford Slade.
It’s Titian here and Titian there,
   And come to have a look;
But ‘thanks of course Giorgione,’
   With Mr. Herbert Cook.
For MacColl is an intellectual thing,
   And Hugh P. Lane keeps Dublin awake,
And Fry to New York has taken wing,
   And Charles Holroyd has got the cake.
Robert Ross, Masques and Phases (1909, pages 94-95)
This is the only poem that Ricketts was said to have written; he kept himself to reviews, art criticism, and prose. This poem mentions almost everyone that counted in the contemporary art world - and included many friends and enemies of Ricketts; Ross, of course, was friends with most of them. 'Vale' refers to the Vale Press, the 'dial' to the magazine The Dial.

After this brief meeting, the narrator doesn't mention Ricketts anymore. 

However, the narrator asks his guide after the whereabouts of John Addington Symonds, the author of A Problem in Greek Ethics, a title that Ross changes into one that reminds us of John Keats's poetry: An Ode on Grecian Urning, the proceeds of which were destined for the Arts and Krafts Ebbing Guild, a contamination of the Arts and Crafts Society and Richard von Kraft-Ebing, the German psychiatrist whose definition of homosexuality was based on the idea of a 'sexual inversion' of the brain. Symonds's Problem has been called 'perhaps the most exhaustive eulogy of Greek love'. This openly display of homosexual inside jokes was not without danger at the time; yet, published without problems. The writings by Ross were taken as literary playfulness in the manner of Max Beerbohm. In comparison to Ross, Ricketts was a closed book.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

407. An Exhibition of Famous Woodcut Illustrations

For some of the early shows at Hacon's & Ricketts's shop 'The Sign of the Dial', it has proved difficult to establish dates. The exhibition of Famous Woodcut Illustrations of the Fifteenth & Early Sixteenth Centuries is one of those. In my checklist (1996) and in my bibliography of Ricketts's publications (2015), I assumed that 1898 was correct, even though Maureen Watry, in her book about Ricketts listed it as a 1897 catalogue. There seemed to be no diary notes, letters, or other documentary evidence available.

Famous Woodcut Illustrations of the Fifteenth & Early Sixteenth Centuries (1897)
However, the growing number of digitised newspapers has now given us that proof. The Glasgow Herald of 5 April 1897 published a short descriptive review of this exhibition that can definitely be dated: 25 March to 24 April 1897.

Famous Woodcut Illustrations of the Fifteenth & Early Sixteenth Centuries (1897)
The exact dates are taken from a copy of the invitation on which the dates were written in ink by the shop's assistant (collection of The Bodleian Library).

The review - part of 'The World of Art’, in Glasgow Herald, 5 April 1897, p. 7 - reads as follows:

Messrs. Hacon & Ricketts have gathered together a small but very choice exhibition in their little gallery at The Sign of the Dial, in Warwick Street, where also may be seen examples of their very beautiful printed books. The exhibition consists of about two score of woodcut illustrations by famous masters of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, a period of rapid development and great output in this particular branch of art. The earliest shown woodcut dates from the middle of the fifteenth century, and is from – the probably Dutch – block-book “Canticum Canticorum,” and there are fine examples from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” 1497; Petrarch’s “Trionfi,” 1499, &c. By the German masters there are woodcuts from Dürer’s “Life of the Virgin,” 1505; “The Little Passion,” 1510; “The Great Passion,” 150, and his earlier work the “Apocalypse.” Also examples of Holbein’s “Dance of Death” and “The Old Testament,” Burgkmair’s “The Wise King,” and “Praxis Criminis”, by Geofroy Tory, 1541.

Famous Woodcut Illustrations of the Fifteenth & Early Sixteenth Centuries (1897)

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

406. Go in One Day to Van Wisselingh's "Dutch Gallery"

James McNeill Whistler wrote hundreds of letters. On 20 March 1901, he posted a letter in Ajaccio, destined for London where his sister-in-law Rosalind Birnie Philip would open it sometime later to read his instructions:

Go in one day to Van Wisselinghs “Dutch Gallery”. There is an exhibition of C.H. Shannon’s drawings pastels etc.. Get a catalogue and post -

(See Letters of J. McN. Whistler 1855-1903; A.M. Whistler, 1829-1881, online at the University of Glasgow website.)

A text-only catalogue, printed in Vale type, had been issued by the Dutch Gallery, 14 Brook Street. It listed 73 drawings (studies, mostly in chalk or silverpoint), pastels, lithographs and woodcuts.

Charles Shannon, 'The Toilet' (lithograph) [National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1914]

The exhibition was favourably reviewed by Roger Fry in The Athenaeum (23 March 1901), who stated that the show was 'as rare as it is delightful':

His imagery is unconditioned by time and place. He combines and recombines into a succession of harmonious designs a few elemental motives. The relaxed forms of leisurely torsos, the rhythmic movement of bare limbs seen against an expanse of sea, figures draped in vague impersonal costume moving slowly in a dim chamber - these, and such as these, are the whole material of his art.


It will be seen, then, that Mr. Shannon sets before himself a most difficult task: he resolutely refuses all those aspects of life which fascinate our curiosity or involve the interests and passions of every day; he will gratify us only in so far as he can reveal and we can accept ideas of pure visual beauty, almost as pure and as unconditioned as the ideas of music.

Fry noted that 'a certain grasp of structural form' was lacking, and 'a more permeating imaginative investigation of the relations of the parts in a possible three-dimensional space' could be hoped for in future works by this 'distinguished' artist. He singled out some studies for 'Shell-Gatherers' as evidence of Shannon's investigative nature.

Charles Shannon, 'Shell-Gatherers' (lithograph, 1894)
[British Museum]
On 6 April Whistler, still on the Island of Corsica, had received a report, or several letters, from his sister-in-law, and he answered: 

I have had all the results of your expeditions - The Galleries - and the tea parties - and the various descents upon the town! -- Shannon's catalogue & the rest of it! all excellent! and very prettily done - together with wise & most apt remarks upon the occasions - which I enjoyed in my Island! - Napoléons - & mine! -

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

405. Who Edited Marlowe?

In May 1903, the Vale Press published Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus. The colophon mentioned that this volume was edited by John Masefield - he was only 24 at the time. However, in his bibliography of the press, Charles Ricketts stated that the volume had been edited by Thomas Sturge Moore who also edited the multi-volume Vale Press Shakespeare edition. Therefore, the question is: who edited Marlowe?

Spines of Shakespeare's Richard III and Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (Vale Press, 1903)
There are no Vale Press archives extant; we will have to examine other sources for evidence. The Vale Shakespeare had been issued in green linen bindings stamped in blind after a design by Ricketts. Doctor Faustus, executed in the same style of binding, was printed on the same paper bearing the mermaid watermark, the text being set from the same type (Avon). 

Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (Vale Press, 1903)
In his bibliography Ricketts wrote:

This Volume was edited by T. Sturge Moore, and printed uniform with the volumes of Shakespeare, the border used being that of the Tragedies.

Colophon of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (Vale Press, 1903)
The colophon of the book itself stated:

This edition of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe has been seen through the press by John Masefield.

Charles Holmes, the Vale Press's manager, had met John Masefield early on, and in his memoirs Self & Partners (Mostly Self) (1936), he mentioned Masefield once, in a chapter about a regular dining group at Roche's in Old Compton Street:

I particularly recall one evening when [Laurence] Binyon brought in a tall, bronzed young man in blue serge, with a grave quiet manner, whom he introduced to us as John Masefield the sailor-poet.
(p. 188)

Masefield remained unmentioned in his chapter about the Vale Press that alluded to quarrels with Sturge Moore over the proofs for the Shakespeare volumes. There is no written testimony (in print or in manuscript) that links Sturge Moore to the Marlowe volume, other than Ricketts's bibliography.

Colophon of Shakespeare's Richard III (Vale Press 1903)
Each volume of the Vale Shakespeare had an almost identical colophon, for which standing type could be used, switching only the lines that contain the title and the year of publication. However, there were slight alterations (the first volume, for example, included information on the Avon type). 

The two vertically placed decorative leaves that conclude the first part of the colophon (it continued at the bottom of the page stating the names of the publishers) were absent in the Marlowe volume, that, although issued simultaneously, was not part of the Shakespeare series. The lists of books that advertised the Vale Press volumes didn't mention the name of the editor. A Final List of Books to be Issued by Messrs. Hacon & Ricketts (1902) announced the book as 'the only book besides the Shakespeare printed in the Avon fount', and a Special Notice dated January 1903 stated: 'Non-subscribers to the Shak[e]speare may obtain Copies of this book, provided their orders are received before Feb. 1, 1903.' All copies were sold before the end of June.

Masefield was a young, but prolific writer, who by 1903 had published a book of poetry, an anonymous introduction in the catalogue of the Wolverhampton Art and Industrial Exhibition, 1902, and his edition of Poems by John Keats was to be published in September 1903. Moreover, he had published more than fifty prose fragments, poems and book reviews in newspapers and magazines such as The Tatler, The Speaker, The Pall Mall Magazine and The Academy.

Masefield was an up-and-coming man, and an acquaintance of the Vale Press coterie: Laurence Binyon had met him first at Yeats's house, in February 1901, went out of his way to get him commissions, and introduced him to Holmes (and others); Ricketts and Shannon were both very much involved in the 1902 Wolverhampton exhibition for which Masefield acted as secretary - which meant they corresponded and met at several occasions; Masefield, Ricketts and Shannon would be collaborators for the 1903 magazine The Venture; and Masefield was a member of a group of stage writers around W.B. Yeats, and the Marlowe edition aimed to financially support this group that was called - not officially, but in this colophon - the Romantic Stage Players. Several names were used for the stage initiatives, such as the Theatre Society for Romantic Drama, and The Masquers, - and Yeats was anxious that the money would be lost to his dramatic efforts - but when the Literary Theatre Club came into existence, the money raised with the publication of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus went to them.

The colophon of the book wouldn't have mentioned Masefield's name if he had not been involved in the editorial process. It was the only Vale Press book that contained his name. Masefield, as early as 1906, would claim the work as his in a listing of his work (see Philip W. Errington's John Masefield. The "Great Auk" of English Literature. A Bibliography, 2004, p. 576). Ricketts (not a bibliographer by training) simply made a mistake in his bibliography (not his only one). 

At the time of publication, Masefield's name was mentioned (based on the book's colophon no doubt) in the Publisher's Weekly of 4 July 1903, in a message about the new publications of John Lane (co-distributor the Vale Press books in America): 'they announce another Vale Press volume, Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus," which has been seen through the press by John Masefield, and decorated by Charles Ricketts, under whose supervision the book has been printed for the benefit of The Romantic Stage Players. There will be only two more volumes of the Vale Press, after which the Press will suspend operations.' 

And there is a particular copy of the book to be considered. The book appeared in May - the British Library copy is stamped '25 May 03' - and Masefield's own copy bears a presentation to his wife, dated 8 June 1903. That private copy would probably not have been dedicated by him, had he not been the editor. 

Inscription by John Masefield to his wife, and Masefield's posthumous book label
in his copy of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (private collection)
It can safely be said that Masefield edited the Vale Press edition of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. There is no evidence of the contrary.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

404. Shannon's Prices for Portraits

In November 1901, Robert Ross - the manager of Carfax Gallery - asked Charles Shannon to quote him prices for portraits; Shannon's answer wasn't serious:

With regard to my prices for portraits:

I charge:
                    250 to 300 for 1/2 length of ugly people.
                    200 to 250 for beautiful ones.
                    Full length life size fat man 400 guineas.
                       "         "        "     "    thin man 350    " 

Charles Shannon, 'Souvenir of an International Ball (Portrait of Miss Kathleen Bruce)' (1907)
[Cleveland Museum of Art]
The letter was published by Margery Ross in Robert Ross. Friend of Friends. Letters to Robert Ross, Art Critic and Writer, together with extracts from his published articles (London, Jonathan Cape, 1952, page 72).

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

403. Vellum Copies of the Vale Press Cellini Edition (3)

Earlier, I have written about the vellum copies of the Vale Press edition of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (see particularly the second blog: 199. Vellum Copies of the Vale Press Cellini Edition).

We can now add another vellum copy to the list, located at Houghton Library, Harvard. In an essay about bookbindings for Country Life (March 1928), E.H.M. Cox wrote:

Finally, we come to the particularly bold decoration designed by Mr. Philpot on the Life of Benvenuto Cellini: translated by John Addington Symonds, two volumes, imperial 8vo, one of ten copies printed on vellum by the Vale Press in 1900. In this the symbolism is especially cleverly worked out with the lightning of his fiery career and the dagger. This binding is carried out in blue niger morocco, and is extremely successful.

For the life of Cellini, see Wikipedia. The binding was ordered by collector Harold Wilmerding Bell (1885-1947), whose books are now at Houghton Library. 

Vale Press edition of Cellini (1900), volume 1:
binding designed by Glyn Philpot
The binding's designer was Glyn Philpot (1884-1937), a painter, who sometimes digressed and designed costumes and interiors, painted murals, and worked at sculptures. At the start of his career he imitated book designs by Charles Ricketts. Bookbinding came much later, during the 1920s, and it seems that all of his binding designs were done for books owned by Bell, who himself designed some bindings for books in his collection.

In his biography of Philpot, Paul Delaney mentioned these bindings in passing; other publications about Philpot do not. There is only this fugitive article by E.H.M. Cox, published with the vague title 'Some Fine Modern Bookbindings', accompanied by eight illustrations of bindings, five of which were designed by Philpot, while all were executed by the London firm of Robert Riviere and Sons. 

Philpot's designs were for books printed by the Doves Press, the Ashendene Press, the Eragny Press, and the Vale Press.

The Bell copy went to the Houghton Library in 1948 as part of his bequest (accession number is *47-712 F). Philpot signed both volumes of this copy that was printed on vellum.

[Thanks are due to Susan Halpert, Reference Librarian, Houghton Library].

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

402. A 1916 Sphinx Drawing by Charles Ricketts

On 22 March, Princeton University Library has published a blog about a book illustration by Charles Ricketts that 'does not seem to fit any published project', as the Graphic Arts Curator Julie Mellby wrote to me. (See the Graphic Arts blog.)

The drawing is in style with Ricketts's later drawings, apart from one detail: this drawing is dated: 1916. This is not only unusual - Ricketts's drawings for Beyond the Threshold for example were not dated, nor were his series of drawings for Poems in Prose and a similar series inspired by Wilde's The Sphinx that the artist undertook in 1920s - this drawing predates these drawings by five to ten years.

Charles Ricketts, drawing dated 1916 (Princeton University Library, Graphic Arts)
Is this another Sphinx drawing by Ricketts, or not? The double-lined border, the details in the architecture and landscape, and even the colouring are in style with these later drawings, but the subject of the sphinx had been explored by Ricketts long before, the sphinx being a subject for symbolist painters all over Europe, and especially for Ricketts's example Gustave Moreau. An early drawing of the sphinx, 'Oedipus and the Sphinx', modelled after a drawing by J.A.D. Ingres was bought from Ricketts by Frederic Leighton, and later was reproduced in The Pageant.

The Princeton drawing bears a date and the artist's monogram 'CR', but not a title. It could be called 'Silence', after the bronze sculpture with that name that Ricketts had finished around ten years earlier (now at the Andrews Clark Memorial Library). The fingers pointing to the closed lips suggest the same title 'Silence'. The figure is that of the winged Hermes, who not only is the messenger of the gods, or the conductor of souls into the afterlife, but is also associated with rhetorics and pleading.

The figure of Hermes stands on a stone block next to a skull that belongs to a victim of the sphinx. To the right side of the face of Hermes is the statue of the sphinx on a pedestal. The empty space (half of the image) suggests great height in a steep mountain area.

The date 1916 is puzzling. However, I think there may be an answer for which we have to combine letters from Ricketts to Robert Ross, and a note in his diaries concerning the Red Cross Sale at Christie's. The book and manuscript committee for this sale was chaired by Edmund Gosse. Contributions were to be sent in by the end of February 1916, and the auction took place over several weeks in April.

Initially, Ricketts thought of sending in his copy of Wilde's The Sphinx, as he mentioned to Ross:

Do you think my suggestion would be acceptable at the moment and make money for the Red Cross Sale if I sent up my signed copy of The Sphinx (not the edition de luxe) the dedication is quite simple, to C. Ricketts etc. and without the comments by Oscar I have in the Poems and the Intentions.
[Letter to Robert Ross, February 1916, see Robert Ross, Friend of Friends (1952), p, 281].

In the end he withdrew the book, and the Wilde letters that were to accompany it, but meanwhile he had been working on some drawings. First of all, there was a vellum envelope that was to hold the Wilde letters. 

His diary note, as presented in Self-Portrait (1939, p. 254), reads: 

Drew the vellum envelope for the Oscar Wilde letter. Found the vellum at first trying; and I actually squinted with application like a child with its tongue out, and found afterwards that the seat of my breeches was quite moist. After all, the work came more easily than I had anticipated.

Ross and Shannon objected to selling this at auction, Ricketts already had his doubts, and the valuation of a bookseller distressed him, so he backed off. But there was more, and that concerned the 'drawings' he had been making:

Probably a touch of sentiment enters into the selfish reasons for my retention of the signed Sphinx – the other signed books are so much less my books. Possibly a certain coldness on the part of Holmes and Binyon when I showed them the vellum drawings helped also. 
[Letter to Robert Ross, February 1916, see Robert Ross, Friend of Friends (1952), p, 284].

The puzzling element here is the word 'vellum'. The Princeton drawing is on paper. Obviously, Ricketts would have made several sketches for the design he wanted to draw on vellum, a material that prompts the artist to use all his skills. The whereabouts of these vellum drawings is unknown. The Princeton drawing may have been one of the preparatory drawings. The colouring may or may not date from the same year; the addition of the monogram seems to imply that Ricketts considered this to be a finished drawing, or that he prepared this drawing for presentation. 

Charles Ricketts, drawing dated 1916 (Princeton University Library, Graphic Arts)
We can't be certain, but the date 1916 does relate to drawings by Ricketts that were directly associated with Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx, drawings that were not intended for a proposed new edition of the book, but were made with the 1916 Red Cross Sale in mind. The copy, the letters, and the decorated envelope could be anywhere now. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

401. Exhibition at the Heath Robinson Museum

Some works by Ricketts and Shannon are on display during the exhibition 'The Beardley Generation' at the Heath Robinson Museum in London (see here for the museum's website). 

William Heath Robinson (1872-1944), trained at Islington School of Art, was an illustrator who showed influences of Aubrey Beardsley, Walter Crane, Arthur Rackham, and others - there seems to be no direct link between Heath Robinson and Ricketts or Shannon. 

Heath Robinson Museum (website)
'The Beardsley Generation', curated by Geoffrey Beare, displays works by Beardsley, Ricketts, Laurence Housman and the Robinson Brothers (Heath Robinson had two brothers who were also illustrators). (See Beare's video on the show.)

The focus is on the implications of new technological possibilities, as the museum's website explains:

The exhibition will explore the impact that new photographic means of reproduction (process engraving) at the end of the 19th Century had on illustration. Older artists who had relied on the craft wood-engraver to work up their sketches for publication were swept aside and a new generation of artists, well versed in the requirements of process engraving, were much in demand. The new technology also resulted in an expansion in the production of illustrated books and periodicals.

The work of Ricketts and Shannon is represented by one book and two drawings.

In one of the cases lies the well known edition of Daphnis and Chloe - the subject of last week blog 400 by Rebecca Mitchell. 

Number 21 and 22 in the show are original drawings by Ricketts. Both were reproduced in The Pageant of 1896: 'Psyche in the House' and 'Oedipus and the Sphinx'. The second drawing was reproduced in photogravure (by the Swan Electro Engraving Company). The first one was reproduced as a half-tone.

The image of 'Psyche in the House' is now better known for its publication in The Vale Press edition of De Cupidinis et Psyches Amoribus in 1901, five years later. The book contained five illustrations, four of which were based on earlier designs and some had been published in magazines. 

Charles Ricketts, 'Psyche in the House'
(The Pageant, 1896)
The image of 'Psyche in the House' had been reworked as a wood-engraving with considerable changes. Most importantly, the pair of hands holding a chalice (on the left) and the black surface around the open window (on the right).

Charles Ricketts, 'Psyche in the House'
(De Cupidinis et Psyches Amoribus, 1901)
There are many other changes, such as the position of the flowers on the tiled floor, the lever on the right hand hatch, and the cut-off upper side of the image. However, the main symbolism of the illustration remained untouched.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

400. A Wildean Daphnis and Chloe

Blogpost number 400 is guest written, on my invitation, by the eminent scholar Dr. Rebecca N. Mitchell of Birmingham University, Department of English Literature, where she is reader in Victorian Literature and Culture and Head of Research of the School of English, Drama, American and Canadian Studies.

Her research interests reflect her 'interdisciplinary background in literary studies and art history'. Her latest book, co-written with Joseph Bristow, contained notes on the Vale Press edition of The Rowley Poems, and was published by Yale University Press: Oscar Wilde's Chatterton: Literary History, Romanticism, and the Art of Forgery (2015). Mitchell, Bristow, along with Yvonne Ivory, will edit the final volumes of the Complete Works of Oscar Wilde for Oxford University Press. 

A recent essay including comments on the designs of Ricketts and Shannon was published in The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 112 (2018): 'The Century Guild Hobby Horse: Crafting Generic Networks in Fin de Siècle England'. 

It is both an honour and a delight to publish her contribution on Daphnis and Chloe as a very special, celebratory blogpost.

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving for Daphnis and Chloe (1893)

Charles Ricketts, engraved by Charles Shannon, Trial Proof No. 1 (first state). 
Charles Ricketts Collection, Series 4, Box 3. The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library,
University of California, Los Angeles. Used with permission.

 A Wildean Daphnis and Chloe

The many lines of direct influence between Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and Charles Shannon are well documented in this blog and in the critical and biographical literature. Most prominent are the commissions: the Ricketts-designed edition of Wilde's The Sphinx (1894), the Ricketts-painted portrait of 'Mr. W. H.' in the style of a Clouet, and Shannon's designs for the bindings of Wilde's Society plays were produced in response to the author's requests. But there are other, less obvious patterns of influence that also illuminate the relationships between the author, artists, and their audience. As Joseph Bristow and I have documented, in February 1895, on the very night that the Marquess of Queensberry left the accusatory calling card that would precipitate Wilde's doomed libel lawsuit against his lover's father, Wilde stopped by Ricketts and Shannon's home and encouraged them to produce a volume of Thomas Chatterton's poems for their Vale Press (see note 1). They seem to have followed through on his advice, as their glorious two-volume edition of The Rowley Poems was published in 1898.

Ricketts and Shannon returned the favour of inspiration, planting a seed for a later work of Wilde's with their edition of Longus's Daphnis and Chloe printed in 1893 by the Ballantyne Press on behalf of the Vale, a still-nascent operation. Ricketts supplied a pithy plot summary of Longus's story in a letter to Cecil Lewis in 1920: 'Two foundlings brought up by shepherds fall in love, but, like the Young Lady of Slough, they found they didn't know how.' A few lines later, Ricketts concludes that 'The story is curiously silly, corrupt, fresh, and exquisite.' (see note 2). That mix of characteristics appealed to a number of fin-de-siècle writers and artists: the hapless young lovers stumble through a number of erotic (and homoerotic) sexual encounters, all with the plausible deniability of ignorance. Before the Ricketts and Shannon edition was produced, David Nutt offered an edition in his 'Tudor Library Series' in 1890, and Henry Vizetelly's translation from the Greek appeared in the same year, with illustrations based on eighteenth-century antecedents. Though never one to shy away from scandal, Vizetelly was careful to note in his Preface that 'the language of Longus [had] in certain instances, been very considerably chastened.'

Daphnis and Chloe (David Nutt, 1890)
The market was thus newly primed to Longus's story, and welcomed Ricketts and Shannon's illustrated edition; critical response was uniformly positive. Remarking on the Daphnis and Chloe woodcuts in a 1903 exhibition, a reviewer gushed that the volume was: 'an extraordinary production for the present age, not unworthy of being considered beside the cuts in "Poliphilus" and other Italian book-illustration of the great period.' (see note 3).  Another critic described the unified style of Ricketts and Shannon's efforts in Daphnis and Chloe with real sensitivity: 'In research for linear rhythm and logical design, in a disposition of figures that is at times so deliberate as to obtrude deliberation on one's notice, and in the choice of darkened light as the envelope, these two artists are as one.' (see note 4). It is a comment that raises another valence of meaning: the co-production of the edition, produced by a pair who were partners in life as well as art. The final printer's page indicates that 'The Woodcuts drawn on the wood by Charles Ricketts from the Designs by Charles Shannon and Charles Ricketts have been engraved by both,' though the printed book does not distinguish which scenes are by which artist (see note 5). As Paul van Capelleveen has shown in an earlier post in this blog, the work was self-referential in other ways, with Ricketts, Shannon, Sturge Moore, and Lucien Pissarro all seated at the banquet table in a two-page illustration of the Wedding Feast. As a site of mutual collaborative creativity, Daphnis and Chloe chimed with others in their circle and beyond.

Colophon in Ricketts and Shannon's edition of Daphnis and Chloe (1893)
Perhaps it was this positive model of collaboration that inspired Oscar Wilde to take up Daphnis and Chloe himself. After his release from Reading Prison, Wilde left England for the continent, settling in Berneval-sur-Mer in late May, 1897. There, he wrote to friends that he expected a visit from Ricketts and Shannon in September (see note 6). It is unclear if he was visited by the duo (though Ricketts later remembered they didn't meet each other after Wilde had been released from prison, see note 7), but in August Wilde did entertain artist and composer Dalhousie Young, whom he had met in person earlier that summer. Wilde devised a plan to collaborate with Lord Alfred Douglas and Young on an operatic setting of Daphnis and Chloe, some four years after the Vale produced its seminal version of the story. Wilde's correspondence suggests that he and Douglas were to share the responsibility for the lyrics and that some work, at least, was completed on the project. Whatever Wilde's artistic intention, he managed to leverage the promise of collaboration (his and Bosie's; theirs and Young's) on Longus's story for a much needed £100 courtesy of the composer, procured only after a series of strained letters that evince equal parts genuine interest and desperation. After those letters, the trail on the Wilde/Douglas/Young collaboration goes cold. Unlike Ricketts and Shannon, Wilde and Douglas were never to see their joint efforts on Daphnis and Chloe through to completion.

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving for Daphnis and Chloe (1893)

Charles Ricketts, engraved by Charles Shannon, Trial Proof No. 2. 
Charles Ricketts Collection, Series 4, Box 3. The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library,
University of California, Los Angeles. Used with permission.

The tantalizing suggestion that the pair had undertaken much work is belied by Wilde's tendency in those years to exaggerate his progress as a way of subsidizing his increasingly dire finances (see note 8). Still, intrigued by the promise of existent work from Wilde's final years, in 1935 the radio performer and director and ardent Wilde fan Léon Guillot de Saix contacted still-living members of Wilde's circle for any information that might inform his biography of the author. Guillot de Saix's letters are held in the Richelieu branch of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and among them is correspondence from Young's widow. Edith Young's response puts an end to speculation that Wilde and Douglas ever sent Dalhousie Young draft content for a libretto. Though she remembers visits with Wilde, 'Nothing ever came of' the Daphnis and Chloe project, she writes; 'I think Wilde got tired of the idea.' (see note 9).

     Rebecca N. Mitchell


I would like to thank Leonie Sturge-Moore for permission to reproduce the Daphnis and Chloe proofs by Ricketts, and the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library for their generous consideration. Some content from this post was presented at the May 2018 'Curiosity and Desire in Fin-de-Siècle Art and Literature' Conference at the Clark, hosted by the International Walter Pater Society, and I am grateful to the hosts and the audience for their support and feedback. 

Charles Ricketts, Oscar Wilde. Recollections by Jean Paul Raymond and Charles Ricketts. London, 1932, p. 41. See also Joseph Bristow and Rebecca N. Mitchell, Oscar Wilde's Chatterton. Literary History, Romanticism, and the Art of Forgery. New Haven & London, 2015.
Self-Portrait. Taken from the Letters & Journals of Charles Ricketts, R.A. London, 1939, p. 324-325.
The artists have since been identified through trial proofs held at, among other archives, the William Andrews Clark library at UCLA, as well as in hand-annotated copies.
'The Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers', in: Western Daily Press, Bristol 19 February 1904, p. 9. 
'Woodcuts, Lithographs, and Fans', in: Morning Post, 11 December 1903, p. 6.
Letter to Carlos Blacker, 12 July 1897 and Letter to Laurence Housman, 9 August 1897, The Complete Letters. (Ed. Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis). London, 2000, pp. 911, 923. 
Charles Ricketts, Oscar Wilde (see note 1), p. 49: 'We exchanged a few letters. I never saw him again.'
See Nicholas Frankel, Oscar Wilde. The Unrepentant Years. Cambridge, 2017, pp. 140-141.
Collection Guillot de Saix, COL-31/302, Box 1 Folder 1. Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving in Daphnis and Chloe (1893)

Note by Paul van Capelleveen
I was curious when the self-referential character of Daphnis and Chloe, in particular the wood-engraving of the banquet scene that includes portraits of the Vale Press artists, was mentioned for the first time. It turns out that it was referred to, very early, in 1896, as part of a much-needed advertising campaign for the Vale Press. 

Temple Scott published an interview with Ricketts in Bookselling (December 1896), 'Mr. Charles Ricketts and the Vale Press’, and in the accompanying bibliography Scott's description of the book was obviously based on Ricketts's clarifications. He wrote that there were thirty-six wood-engravings, 'counting a double page on pp. 96-97 as one', and he added: 'This double-page engraving contains portraits of the wood-engravers of the Vale set.'