Wednesday, April 16, 2014

142. Hope in 1914

In his diary for April 1914, Charles Ricketts wrote about his (and Shannon's) artistic achievements:

Shall we live to see ourselves secure and respected? 

Charles Ricketts, 'Italia Redenta', lithograph, 1917, [detail]

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

141. Charles Shannon as seen in 1893

Leo Simons, writing about the Fourth Arts and Crafts Exhibition for the Dutch newspaper Opregte Haarlemse Courant (4 December 1893), not only described William Morris as a speaker, and Charles Ricketts as a 'nervous and refined personality', he also gave a portrait of Charles Shannon, whom he considered a greater and more sensitive artist than Ricketts.

Paying a visit to the home of these young men, one meets the complaisant, handy Shannon, the quiet worker of the two, and one could mistake him for the younger, lesser artist, for the moon to the Sun Ricketts. However, the mildly ironic yet boyish expression of his pale eyes, and his delicate lips, betray a distinct personality, and his lithographs, even more than his wood engravings, are the work of an artistic talent that shows more sensitivity, and a deeper feeling for pure art, than the intellectual Ricketts.


Charles Shannon, 'White Nights', lithograph, 1893
Simons gave favourable descriptions of two lithographs by Shannon: 'White Nights' and 'Romantic Landscape' (both published in the third issue of The Dial, October 1893) of which he liked the use of soft line, light and shadow.

Simons recorded that Ricketts and Shannon were surprised by the attention given to their work in the Netherlands:

more copies of The Dial have been sold in our country than in America. In England, their privately published works are remarkably slow to sell. Not more than a hundred collectors buy these books for the love of art; another hundred or hundred and fifty that are not sold abroad, are bought by speculators. Now, being sold out, Daphnis and Chloe, is priced at forty guilders [c. 3 guineas] (original price: 26 guilders [2 guineas]), and the first two issues of The Dial that they had difficulty selling at 4½ guilders [7s.6d.] are now traded for twelve to eighteen guilders.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

140. A Dutch Portrait of Ricketts and Shannon in 1893

Leo Simons, in his three articles about the Fourth Arts and Crafts Exhibition in London (see last week's blognot only wrote about William Morris, whom he heard speak on 2 November 1893. Simons devoted an entire column to the work of Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon in the Dutch newspaper Opregte Haarlemsche Courant of 4 December 1893. This essay is among the earliest newspaper pieces about them.

Simons describes them as the 'recluses of the Vale' in Chelsea, and as 'prominent modernists', whose magazine The Dial was a noteworthy and irregularly issued publication. He reported that the third issue had just appeared. 

The Studio (October 1893) had recently written about the Arts and Crafts Exhibition that the new issue of The Dial 'was issued just too late to be shown here'. 

In The Netherlands art critic and artist Jan Veth would mention this issue in a review of 17 December 1893. These were the earliest reviews of the magazine, including England.


Charles Shannon, 'The Vale in Snow', lithograph (1889)
Simons concluded that Ricketts and Shannon's efforts were different from Morris's in that they did not print their own periodical, and their chief merit was to be found in the illustrations: Ricketts's wood engravings and pen drawings; Shannon's lithographs and wood engravings. He observed a half century of different influences between Morris and the other two artists, Ricketts and Shannon.

He went on to describe Ricketts's appearance, suggesting that he knew them personally:

Ricketts, especially, is a nervous and refined personality; a pale pointed face framed with a reddish beard, light eyes, energetic features, and lively gestures while he discusses art; with a resolute, often passionate declaration of approval or condemnation of an artist and his work. He appears to be more the agitated Frenchman than the modest English gentleman; and when Lucien Pissarro, the dark black bearded, earnest French artist (his eyes expressing a childlike melancholy) is sitting opposite him, he as easily trades English for French. Even a first impression of this artist is one of extraordinariness, a fine and tender personality, more an ecstatic intellectual life than a physical one, and the more attractive because of a total absence of affectation.

Simons goes on to describe their surroundings: a quiet oasis near a busy road, a house painted in light green, a long and narrow pale yellow room; the walls covered with paintings and lithographs by Shannon and an occasional example of Indian or Medieval art; on a table near the fireplace were cups with flowers that Shannon had sown and gathered from their garden; the whole without a trace of wealth, or fashion, or picturesqueness, and all the more comfortably individual.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

139. William Morris and a Dutch eye-witness

On 2 November 1893 William Morris gave a lecture 'On the Printing of Books' at a meeting in the North Gallery of the New Gallery, 121 Regent Street, London, under the auspices of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. The Unpublished Lectures of William Morris (edited by Eugene D. Lemire, 1969) mentioned that 'no text remains' of this lecture, although it must have been comparable to one published in Arts and Crafts Essays (1899). 

The William Morris Internet Archive Chronology also mentions the lecture, and states that the text was published in The Times, 6 November 1893: 'On the Printing of Books'. However, The Times did not print the text of the lecture, only an account of it: 'Mr. William Morris on the Printing of Books'.


The Times asserted that the gallery was completely filled and that Morris was received with cheers. Morris lantern-lecture was a short history of printing, showing pages printed by Gutenberg, Schweinheim, and others up to 1532.


In the audience was at least one Dutch reporter: Leo Simons (1862-1932). Simons was a Dutch critic, reporter and publisher, who lived in London between 1893 and 1897, when he was a partner of publishing firm Henry & Co. Among the last books issued by the short-lived firm was the second volume of Charles Shannon's and Gleeson White's magazine The Pageant. The firm went bankrupt in 1897. (Around 1881, by the way, Simons had been a student at the Kensington Art School to learn drawing.)

In 1893, Leo Simons wrote a series of articles on the Arts and Crafts movement for a major Dutch newspaper, Opregte Haarlemsche Courant. He had been its theatre critic since 1885. The first part appeared on 16 October 1893, the second one on 30 October, and the last one on 4 December 1893. Next week, I will quote from the third issue those parts that were about Ricketts and Shannon.


Leo Simons
The two earlier instalments were mainly devoted to William Morris, as was part of the last issue that contained an account of the lecture that Morris had delivered on 2 November. It had been announced at the end of Simons' second article: 'On the Second of November William Morris will deliver a lecture on "the art of printing"'. As Simons lived in London, he decided to attend.

These three articles are a remarkable early Dutch testimony of the importance of the Arts and Craft movement, and were previously unknown. They were not mentioned in a bibliography on the Dutch reception of Morris and his works in the Netherlands: William Morris in Nederland. Een bibliografie. Geschriften van en over William Morris verschenen in het Nederlands taalgebied 1874-2000, edited by Lieske Tibbe, Wim Gerlagh and Sjaak Hubregtse (Leiden 2003). A more recent publication, Anne van Buul's In vreemde grond geworteld. Prerafaëlitisme in de Nederlandse literatuur en beeldende kunst (1855-1910) (Groningen 1983) did not mention them either. Only recently, when I blogged about the Flemish arts nouveau periodical Van Nu en Straks, did I stumble upon a reference to Simons's articles. There is no online archive of this newspaper, and I had to consult the microfiche edition at the National Library of the Netherlands.

Starting point for the three articles was the recently opened Fourth Arts and Crafts Exhibition (2 October-2 December 1893). Because of his importance to the Arts and Crafts movement, Simons began with a portrait of Morris, whom he described as 'a somewhat stout figure of average height', dressed in 'an oversized blue jacket that is worn with age'. His somewhat casual dress and his shabby wide-brimmed hat were in contrast with his 'powerful head and its grey square beard', and with his 'steady eyes that were half hidden by his glasses'. 


William Morris
In his first essay, Simons described the work of Morris & Co. and of the Kelmscott Press. He also gave a short catalogue of furniture that was for sale at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition. Simons saw the importance of Morris, but argued that the Gothic inspiration would make these chairs and tables unsuited for the modern home.

The second essay was an introduction to the history of the Arts and Crafts, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: Maddox Brown, Rossetti, Burne-Jones. Simons also mentioned the work of Walter Crane and the Fitzroy Picture Society, before announcing Morris's lecture of 2 November.

His third essay started with another picture of William Morris:

William Morris was standing on the low platform, dressed slightly more careful than usual, broad, and round, in his blue jacket, unlike the formal and respectable dress of English gentlemen at a soirée. No orator, no raconteur; he is a teacher who wants to instruct his audience, and does not care for  the style of his lecture. His talk was held together by awkward interjections such as 'now I have still to say this' and 'now I must add' [Simons actually quoted these phrases in English!], and his lecture was a disruptive flow of stuttered comments to lantern slides of early printed books.

Simons concluded that it was almost impossible to give a summary of this presentation. His detailed account mentions that Morris talked about calligraphy, and the art of the book. Morris contested that a beautiful book did not need decorations, which Simons found remarkable as the Kelmscott Press books displayed numerous decorative illustrations. He talked about type, and discussed his preference for Gothic types. He then discussed lay-out, margins, paper, ink, and ended with pictures of his own books. It is interesting to see that Simons, a relative outsider, wrote about the quality of the lecturer, and his appearance on the platform; and also that he did not summarize (as The Times did) the history of the book in Morris's lecture (which did not contain anything new), but concentrated on what was novel: Morris's view of 'the ideal book'. 


Leo Simons

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

138. Charles Ricketts on Modern Women's Dress

Charles Ricketts wrote about fashion several times. He contributed pieces about 'Greek Dress' and 'The True Significance of Dress' to the Saturday Review in January and February 1909, and he became well known as a designer of costumes and scenery for the stage. His most famous designs were done for Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado in 1926.

His view on modern dress was published in an interview for the Evening News; and reprinted in the Daily Mail, 2 June 1928. This interview has, to my knowledge, not yet been used for articles or books about Ricketts.

Modern Women's Dress is "Graceful and Charming in Every Way."

Handsome Tribute from a Royal Academician - Short Skirts of the Grecian Girls - Splendid Combination of Utility and Beauty - But the Corsage is Too Monotonous - And Footwear Should be Well-studied - A Glance Backwards: When the Bustle was a Delight

Daily Mail Atlantic Edition, 2 June 1928
Women's taste to-day is sound. Of that I have received ample assurance from Mr. Charles Ricketts, Royal Academician, a distinguished authority in historical dress and designer of costumes for many plays, including "St. Joan" and "The Mikado."

"I love the clean and new head," he declared, "though I must admit I wasn't sure of it at first. The shingle allows you to appreciate the shape of a girl's head and her carriage of it as you never could when all that bird's-nest business was the fashion.
"But the appearance of women is now graceful and charming in every way - I even think girls' faces are prettier than ever they were! And I should not be surprised if that were because of the dresses and the wide interests of their lives."

He reminded me that there is nothing new in short skirts; the girls of ancient Greece wore them - strange that elderly connoisseurs should so admire a short skirt on an ancient decorated bowl, and yet be blind to its beauty in reality. But though it is no new thing, it is new to us.
"Women have only recently learned how to carry short skirts," he said. "You can see that if you watch an older woman in one - she doesn't know where to put her legs.
"Nearly every period of dress has charm - or has had charming exponents of its best points. The bustle, which most people think of as an enormity, was wonderful on some graceful women; they moved like swans. The 'aesthetic' type that was ridiculed was really an extremely beautiful arrangement of lines, on the right person. And to see an elegant woman moving swiftly in those huge hooped skirts was a delight."


Portrait of Charles Ricketts in Daily Mail Atlantic Edition, 2 June 1928
I asked Mr. Ricketts which recent fashion he admired most, and he said that during the two years before the war women were the most gracious and elegant fashions of his lifetime.

"That period was immeasurably better than the twenty or so previous years," he said, "but there was a sad falling-off immediately after the war, when the fashions became violent and vulgar and skirts shortened to just the wrong length.
"Now, as I said, they are lovely; but there is just one thing about women's dress that, as an artist, I regret: the monotony of the corsage. It is dull and rather childish - in fact, when it's pink, it might have come straight from the nursery. Of course, it is very much better than the upholstered eggcup affair, but we ought to think of something more interesting.
"I hate all the talk of the 'indecency' of modern dress," he went on. "It is anything but indecent. It is a splendid combination of mere sex-appeal."

"But I do wish women would pay more attention to their shoes," he said, earnestly. "In America - but then, American women carry modern dress to perfection. Footwear is an art over there; it completes the dress. Shoes should never be chosen because they look smart in themselves; it is essential that they should be a part of the whole dress."

Mr. Ricketts has been designing costumes for a play about the Spanish conquest of Mexico, and he showed me two exquisite designs. "Do you think," he asked," that these old Mexican dresses would be modest enough for a bishop?"
M.R.
From an interview in the London "Evening News,' associated with the "Daily Mail."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

137. Multiple Portraits of Charles Shannon

The Late Victorian Portraits Catalogue of the National Portrait Gallery in London contains a list of all known self-portraits, portraits by other artists, and photographs of Charles Shannon, whose death occurred on the 18th of March, 1937. Perhaps, those in London can have a view of one of those portraits on the 18th of this month to commemorate the artist.


A portrait of Charles Shannon, in Daphnis and Chloe (1893): seated at the table on the right are (right to left): Ricketts, Shannon, Thomas Sturge Moore, Lucien Pissarro (with a full beard) and Reginald Savage.
The contribution for the Portraits Catalogue is written by Dr. Jan Marsh. Listed are self-portraits from 1892 to 1928, photographs from the mid-1870s to 1922, and a series of portraits by other artists from 1893 to 1920.


A portrait of Charles Shannon, in Daphnis and Chloe (1893)
In the earlier years, Shannon was portrayed by Charles Holmes, William Rothenstein, Alphonse Legros, and Charles Ricketts, all from his close circle of friends. In later years, portraits by R.F. Watts, Jacques-Emile Blanche, Francis Dodd, Max Beerbohm, Kathleen Scott (Lady Kennet), and Edmund Dulac, testify to his growing reputation in the art world.


A portrait of Charles Ricketts, in Daphnis and Chloe (1893):

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

136. A Collector's Story

This week’s blog is written by Paul Durham (1966), an English collector of the work of Ricketts, and particularly Shannon. Here is his story:

In Search of Ricketts & Shannon

Those of us who collect are sometimes asked why or how we started collecting. It is not always easy to pinpoint the reason, but in my case I can.

As a teenager with time on my hands, I was flicking through a book on art, turning page after page without anything standing out, and then on one page I was confronted with a black and white drawing 'The Dancer’s Reward' by Aubrey Beardsley which stopped me in my tracks. Its stark boldness and all that blood interested me; it was full of strange beauty but at the same time horrific. It was an illustration to Oscar Wilde’s Salome published by Elkin Mathews & John Lane in 1894. My interest in the 1890’s was born. I came to realize that books can be interesting not just for the text within, but also for their illustrations and decoration of the covers.

I bought all 13 volumes of The Yellow Book when I was about 17, and I started to buy Ricketts and Shannon when I was around 19 or 20. (I was born in 1966.)

Beardsley was a dominant force with his notoriety gaining the spotlight and he stood out as a true original. Oscar Wilde shone out and eclipsed all the other writers. His brilliant wit and the story of his downfall enhanced his subsequent reputation. Others would emerge from the fog of time and some would fade back into the gloom taking shadowy roles. However, two individuals continue to jostle for attention and demand to be better known: Charles Ricketts and his partner Charles Shannon.

At first I found it difficult to discover much information about them, but one thing was clear: they were connected with all the important personalities of the decadent movement. Their artistic world and work was one of refinement.

I started to collect, seeking out their work. But at first there were slim pickings; the only books I found were some early commercially produced books, Poems, Lyrical & Dramatic of Lord de Tablay (1893), and In the Key of Blue by John Addington Symonds (1893), both published by Elkin Mathews and John Lane.

Three lithographs by Charles Shannon: ‘The Toilet’ (1895), ‘Salt Water’ (1895) and ‘The Sower & the Reaper’ (1904) 
I had started to hear about the Vale Press but had not yet seen any volumes published by it, only the odd black and white photograph of some. And then by a stroke of good luck I found my first Vale Press book in a book shop in Woodstock, long since closed. I still have it. It is a rather tatty edition of The World at Action by Michael Field (1898), the spine rubbed and split. Just holding it made me feel it was different to the other books I had found. Both the paper and the printing made me aware of the effort and expertise that had gone into the making of this book. I wanted to find more of them, but what was published by the Vale Press was unknown to me so I was working blind. I was able to make a small list of books mentioned or illustrated in other books, but it was not clear to me how many or what they had done. This is where the collector needs help.

I had no clue at the time of existing bibliographies and lists, I had only heard of Ricketts and Shannon in biographies of Oscar Wilde and Beardsley. It was only ever in passing references. I found Darracott’s book The World of Charles Ricketts a bit later on. As now all the early books were hard to get hold of, and bookshops at the time did not want to be helpful, as I was young and a punk.

Therefore, Maureen Watry’s The Vale Press: Charles Ricketts, a Publisher in Earnest (2004), was the first book that enabled me to ascertain what the Vale Press published in full, including the ephemera. Then I found my first lithograph by Shannon at an Antiques fair, ‘The Toilet’ (1895), this was a find, but it would be a long time until I found my next one.

Shannon’s lithographs have been listed by Paul Delaney in his book The Lithographs of Charles Shannon published by Taranman (1978) which gave me pointers firstly to know what to look out for and secondly to assess the date, title and edition number of my latest find. I am glad to say my collection has grown over the years, to some forty five volumes by the Vale press and eight lithographs by Shannon. Among other prints I have two woodcuts by Shannon for Daphnis and Chloe (1893), which I found in a junk shop in 2007: ‘The Topmost Apple’ (woodcut for page 75) and ‘Chloe singing’ (woodcut for page 15). Both are signed by him.

Charles Shannon, two proof woodcut illustrations for Daphnis & Chloe (1893), signed, and a roundel woodcut, ‘The Dovecot’ (1903)
But as a collector I am aware there are gaps in the jigsaw. And the largest of these is the work of Shannon. He has lived far too long in the shadow cast by Ricketts and I should like to know what he did, what he produced.

Little information is available as to what his work is about, the symbolism used. It has always been seen that he played a supporting role to Ricketts, but maybe it is time to re-examine the interaction in the work of the two men. Such a study could flag up missing works, a painting or a set of wood block proof pulls to an illustrated book that was never realized in full, but all now lost to the scholar. Equally a collector could come across a letter slipped in to a book or a dedication inscribed on a flyleaf to a confidante hinting to some unknown deed or lover. So, the academic and the collector working together could one day fill in a gap or two in the puzzle, creating an understanding of the lives of Ricketts and Shannon.

That is why this collector keeps looking, just maybe one day in a box of old picture frames in the sale room or junk shop the portrait of Willie Hughes, commissioned by Oscar Wilde and painted by Ricketts but now lost is waiting to be rediscovered.

Paul Durham

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

135. Ricketts in a Cathedral

When Eric Binnie published his book on The Theatrical Designs of Charles Ricketts in 1984, he listed three designs for The Coming of Christ by John Masefield, which was performed in Canterbury Cathedral on 28 and 29 May 1928: a costume for a Roman soldier (in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum), a design for Gaspar and one for an angel, both held by the Bell Estate, the executors of the Bishop Bell and Mrs Bell of Chichester.

George Bell (1883-1958) had married Henriette Livingstone in 1918, and was appointed Bishop of Chichester in 1929, but from 1925 to 1928 he had been Dean of Canterbury, which explains how he came into the possession of two of Ricketts's designs. He initiated the Canterbury Festival of the Arts, the first of which was the Masefield play in the summer of 1928, and the most famous one was T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral in June 1935.

Ricketts worked with colour schemes, as he recorded, and for The Coming of Christ he dressed Christ in white and red, the Virgin Mary in Gentian blue, the warriors in 'steel and blood', and the archangels in gold. The girl-angels were, like Mary, dressed in Gentian blue.


Charles Ricketts, costume design for 'Angel in the Myrrh' (1928) [Chris Beetles Gallery, London]
One of the costume designs has turned up for sale in London, where Chris Beetles Gallery offers it for £6,500.00. It is inscribed with the title (below the mount), and measures 12x12½ inches.

The 1928 performances by amateurs from Canterbury were well attended. A newspaper reported that beforehand 6,000 applications for tickets had been made (Dover Espress, 25 May 1928), as word was out that the play contained some revolutionary speeches. Indeed, some shepherds engaged in a debate of a communistic and atheist character. Masefield, confronted with protests, said: 'How do you expect shepherds to talk? I would have them talk something livelier than sheep' (Derby Daily Telegraph, 24 May 1928).

On both days, Whit Monday and Whit Tuesday, the play was performed before two audiences of 1,500 each, one in the late afternoon and one in the evening. A review was published in several newspapers, showing that the critic was in awe of the costume designs:

The rich colours of the costumes, blending effectively with the background of the choir screen, in front of the nave steps where the performance took place, made a magnificent spectacle. [...] The costumes, designed by Mr. Charles Ricketts, R.A., were made by Canterbury women, and the accessories by students at the Canterbury School of Art.'

Later, the play was performed by the Citizen House Players of Bath at the Wellington Town Hall (Monday 21 January 1929), using Ricketts's costumes. The music, as in the earlier performances, was by Gustav Holst.

Eric Binnie, The Theatrical Designs of Charles Ricketts. Ann Arbor, MI, Umi Research Press, 1985, p. 149, 151.
Joseph Darracott, The World of Charles Ricketts. London, Eyre Methuen, 1980, p. 175-178.
J.G. P. Delaney, Charles Ricketts. A Biography. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990, p. 366.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

134. The cover design of James Thomson's 'Poetical Works'

This week an inquiry was made about James Thomson's Poetical Works, published by Reeves and Turner in 1895. In my exhibition publication A New Checklist of Books Designed by Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon (1996), I listed the cover design in 'Appendix 2. Books attributed to Ricketts, but not in fact designed by him'.

The question was raised by Simon Wilson:

[...] I was puzzled by the entry in Appendix 2 of the checklist where you say the Thomson Poetical Works (two vols incidentally) is not by Ricketts. As you can see the CR monogram is very clear in the lower left corner of the cover design. So what is going on? You cite information from Carl Woodring, to whom respect, but surely the monogram is definitive proof?' 

Monogram on the front cover of James Thomson, Poetical Works (1895) [image: collection Simon and Alessandra Wilson]
As I promised Simon, here is my answer.

The cover design was not mentioned in the advertisements for the book, see for example The Academy (26 January 1895): 'Now ready, price 12 s. 6d. The Poetical Works of James Thomson ("B.V."). The City of Dreadful Night, Vane's Story, Weddah and Om-El-Bonain, Voice from the Nile and Poetical Remains. By James Thomson ("B.V."). Edited by Bertram Dobell. With a Memoir of the Author. 2 vols., crown 8vo.' This was followed by a quotation from John Addington Symons's Memoirs, and by the publisher's address. Ricketts's name as a designer was frequently used by publishers for their advertisements, but not in this case.

The Publishers' Circular of the same day mentioned some more details: '2 vols. post 8vo. pp. 828, 12s. 6d.', but no specifics on the cover's design.

For a long time, nothing happened. Then, in 1966, John Russell Taylor published The Art Nouveau Book in Britain, his pioneering and highly acclaimed study on Art Nouveau book design, which became a guide for collectors worldwide. It was reprinted more than a decade later. In his chapter about Charles Ricketts, the cover for Thomson's Poetical Works was said to be by Ricketts, although the handwritten title in the upper left corner and the waves in the background do not seem to be examples of Ricketts's Art Nouveau styleTaylor used an illustration to point to the chronological puzzle that was posed by this design: 

'for the cover [...], where considering the subject-matter of the contents a morbid, decadent style would be thoroughly justified, Ricketts reverts unpredictably to a simple, artless, almost 1850-ish brand of Pre-Raphaelitism.'

This was quoted by other scholars. Giles Barber, in his defining article on the Rossettian influence on book covers in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, 'Rossetti, Ricketts, and Some English Publishers' Bindings of the Nineties' (The Library, December 1970), wrote about the design: 'At complete variance with The Sphinx he [Ricketts] could produce, in 1895, for The poetical works of James Thomson [...] a cover more reminiscent of the most Pre-Raphaelite of Rossetti's drawings'. 

Two years later, George Perkins, working for the Zurich based antiquarian firm L'Art Ancien, produced a new tool for the ardent collector, A Collection of Books Designed by Charles Ricketts (1972). The collection was sold to John Paul Getty Jr. (1932-2003), whose book collection is now in Wormsley. In the L'Art Ancien catalogue, the binding for The Poetical Works of James Thomson was listed in the section 'Books designed by Ricketts not present in the collection'.

James Thomson, Poetical Works (1895) [image: collection Simon and Alessandra Wilson]
In 1973, a leaflet with 'Corrigenda & addenda' was issued by L'Art Ancien, de-attributing the design, without mentioning the name of another designer. Perkins acknowledged Carl Woodring for the information about Thomson's poems.

In 1996, in my checklist, I quoted Perkins and, indirectly, Woodring.

Carl Woodring, in a letter dated 5 May 1997, wrote to the Dutch Ricketts & Shannon collector Ton Leenhouts about his de-attribution, and professed that, in turn, he owed his information to another collector and professor:

'Charles Gullans of UCLA first identified for me the initials, taken by Taylor to be CR, as GR for George Rhead'.

That would explain why the monogram in the design is not typical for Ricketts, who used other monograms in the nineties; Ricketts never let the bow of the 'c' intrude into the letter 'r'. It also explains away this unchronological design in Ricketts's career, and by naming Rhead explains its Pre-Raphaelitism. 


George Woolliscroft Rhead, design for plants
The 'monogram is definitive proof', as Simon Wilson argued, and he is absolutely right. If we look at the work of George Woolliscroft-Rhead (1855-1920), we come upon the exact same monogram from the early eighties to the Great War. See, for instance, his book on Modern Practical Design (London, Batsford, 1912), which is available on the Internet Archive. The title page was designed by the author, and signed GR in the decorative flowers and branches underneath the title shield. Other illustrations, for Alfred Tennyson's Idylls of the King (1898), and Studies in Plant Form (1903), display an identical monogram as the one used for the cover of Thomson's poems.




Several monograms of George Woolliscraft Rhead
The binding design of The Poetical Works of James Thomson should, therefore, definitely be attributed to George Woolliscroft-Rhead. Charles Ricketts had nothing to do with it.

[Many thanks to Simon Wilson for making the observation.]

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

133. A painting attributed to Charles Shannon

On Saturday 8 February Thomaston Place Auction Galleries in Thomaston, Maine, sold carpets, paintings, statues and other antiques from local homes and from the Boston area. Among these was a small painting, attributed to Charles Shannon.

Charles Shannon (attributed to), 'Fox Hunter Watering His Horses' (oil painting, no date)
The scene was described as 'Fox Hunter Watering His Horses', and the miniature oil painting, measuring 7,6x10,4 cm, has an inscription on the back, attributing the painting to Shannon, whose signature CHS might be in the lower left corner on the front. 

Back panel to 'Fox Hunter Watering His Horses' (attributed to Charles Shannon)
If the painting can be attributed to Shannon, it certainly is an early work, from the eighties or early nineties of the nineteenth century. At auction, there were some bidders in the room and others on the internet, and for the small oil a price of US$ 475 was realized.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

132. A Lithograph for The Burlington Magazine

Every now and then, The Burlington Magazine reproduced works of art of which the originals were for sale to the subscribers. In December 1906 Charles Shannon contributed an original lithograph, called 'The Morning Visit'.


Charles Shannon, 'The Morning Visit' (Lithograph, 1906)
The Lithographs of Charles Shannon, a catalogue compiled by Paul Delaney in 1978, lists this lithograph, which was issued separately, as number 68, and states that for the annual subscribers of The Burlington Magazine at least 110 copies were printed. These were issued in a blue paper wrapper. A copy in a private collection has the number 292, and we may assume that at least 300 copies were printed.


Colophon for 'The Morning Visit' by Charles Shannon (Lithograph, 1906)
The reproduction in The Burlington Magazine (December 1906, p. [187]) was preceded by an introduction of C.J.H., Charles Holmes.

It is a commonplace of current criticism to speak of Mr. Shannon's painting as an echo of that of others, Whistler, Watts and Titian being the masters who perhaps are most generally assumed to be his artistic originals. [...] As times passes, however, the charges of imitation grow fainter, there is less and less inclination to label a painting by Shannon with another name than his, and the popular feeling about him is becoming the same as that which has long been held by those who have known his lithographs.
For a lithograph, like a drawing, is a more direct utterance of a man's self than anything which can be expressed in the more complicated and, even in the most skilful hands, more accidental medium of oil painting. Hence in his series of lithographs, which must now be about seventy in number, Mr. Shannon's personality shows more clearly, perhaps than in any other portion of his work, and this Morning Visit might almost be regarded as its embodiment. We see there an artist to whom instinct for design, for the airy spacing of the gestures of women and children, is the one thing of importance, to whom the inexpressive details and violent surprises of modern realism seem, if not precisely vulgar, at least alien to the temper in which great art is conceived. [...]
In Mr. Shannon's lithographs this fluent line is modified by the modern feeling for vibrant light; a feeling apparently not quite compatible with perfect use of the oil medium. Here then we have to recognise how marvellously belanced is this art which comprises such gracious amplitude of mass[,] such vital suppleness of contour, and such a charm of silvery atmosphere within its modest scope.

The lithograph depicts a female figure, with long unmade hair, lying on a bed, reaching for her baby that is held firmly by a nurse. Mother and child are naked, (the nurse is dressed), and a symbolism of purity seems intended. There is a curtain in the background.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

131. The Burlington Magazine Index Blog

Barbara Pezzini of the Burlington Index Project - she wrote for us about Ricketts and The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs in 2012 - has started The Burlington Magazine Index Blog in November of last year. Published on an irregular basis, seven blogs have now been posted on former editors of the journal, the use of photography to art critics, art dealers' advertisements, and a poem and a story by Robert Ross that make fun of art critics.

The Burlington Index Project discloses the hidden treasures in this art magazine, that in a certain phase of his life, was important to Ricketts. He wrote a series of articles for the magazine, and his name frequently figured in its columns.

Writing about his description of Titian's paintings three weeks ago, I was reminded of the review that was published by the Burlington on his book on Titian in 1910. It was signed C.J.H., Charles John Holmes (1868-1936), one-time manager of the Vale Press who had moved on to become co-editor of the Burlington Magazine. By the time of his writing the review of Titian, he was director of the National Portrait Gallery. In 1916 he was appointed director of the National Gallery.

Holmes wrote a review that showed his acute knowledge of recent publications in the field. He praised the writers' point of view 'of a working painter', which brought a 'true originality' to the book, he questioned the need for one of the illustrations, criticized the limited discussion of the problematic dating of Titian's birth, and corrected the occasional error:

Now and then he slips, as in the reference to Ruskin (p. 171), who from first to last never wavered in his wholehearted veneration for Titian, but such slips are rare.

An anonymous reader also noted this slip and made a marginal note on this page.


Handwritten note in a copy of Charles Ricketts, Titian (1910)
This copy was probably owned by a connoisseur, who used many pages for handwritten annotations, and inserted paper clippings about newly discovered paintings by Titian, or sale results, in the late twenties and thirties. 


 Annotations and clippings in a copy of Charles Ricketts, Titian (1910)
Blank pages were used for listings of paintings and galleries in addition to Ricketts's List of works, and newspaper articles were pasted over some illustrations, as in the case of Titian's portrait of Philip II.


Annotations and clippings in a copy of Charles Ricketts, Titian (1910)
The annotations in pen seem to be written by another reader than the pencil underscores and remarks that occur throughout the book, as page 106 shows. The Pencil Commentator adds information from a 1927 article, and refers to George Gronau's earlier work, Tizian (1900). The Pen Commentator, in a paragraph about 'Ecce Homo', inserts details about the 'Kunst & Wunderkammer' in Prague, wrongly 'correcting' Ricketts's phrasing of the transfer of the painting from Prague to Vienna.


Annotations in pen and pencil in a copy of Charles Ricketts, Titian (1910)
Alas, there is no name or bookplate, nor are there any personal references that can lead us to the writer(s) of these annotations. The only thing to go by, is a 'Presentation copy' stamp on the title page. 


'Presentation copy' of Charles Ricketts, Titian (1910)
Holmes review (The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, June 1910, p. 184-185) ended with a recommendation:

The book, in short, contains much that might assist the producers, the collectors, and even the critics of modern art, while we have said enough to show that to the library of the student it should become essential.

The 'Presentation copy' shows that the book was used as a work of reference for the twenty years that followed its publication.

And that, in a way, is the function of The Burlington Magazine Index Blog. It will publish details and stories about the magazine, while calling attention to new research, which will prompt you to visit a gallery or museum, or consult your bookcase, or to type up your findings and questions.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

130. Christ on the Cross

The Centrum voor Teksteditie en Bronnenstudie (Centre for Text Edition and Information Research) in Gent (Belgium) maintaines a website for the Flemish magazine Van Nu en Straks, which was issued between 1893 and 1901.

In January 1894, Ricketts published a drawing that was later used as the closing illustration for Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx in Van Nu en Straks. The book was published a few months later.

Charles Ricketts, illustration for Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (1894) [detail]
Letters concerning the illustration were published in a book on the genesis of the magazine, Het ontstaan van "Van nu en straks". Een brieveneditie 1890-1894 (Antwerp, 1988). The letters can be searched and consulted for Ricketts references online.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

129. A Landscape painted by Charles Shannon?

In the summer of 2013 one could find an oil painting by Charles Shannon on Ebay. It was offered by Colin's Antiques and Rare Books, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and praised as 'A Gorgeous Landscape in Nice Condition'. Priced at US$ 4,687,50, the painting was to be had for a reduced sum.  


Charles Shannon, oil painting of a landscape, 1891
The price is now back to its original of US$6,250,00, although the option'Best Offer' is available. The landscape was described as follows: 'A dirt path winds past flowers to a fence, a field with haystacks and figures. In the distance are mountains'. The signature appears to the lower right: CH Shannon 1891'.


Charles Shannon, signature on the oil painitng of a landscape, 1891
Is this a Shannon painting? The work is said to be 'in very good condition', in 'an age appropriate frame', that has a small area of loss. Buying paintings on Ebay, of course, is not without its hazards, and apart from that, it should be noted that landscapes are not the highest in ranking if it comes to Shannon's paintings. His evocations of women and children, and his portraits are more attractive.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

128. Titian's confession of faith as an artist

After the closure of the Vale Press in 1904, Charles Ricketts did not abandon book design. He was not only asked to design Oscar Wilde's De Profundis (1905), he also did the binding for Wilde's collected works (1908) and made illustrations and designed bindings for books by Michael Field, Gordon Bottomley, Laurence Binyon, W.B. Yeats, Bernard Shaw, and others. Almost every year, until the end of his life, he designed a book. 

However, it is quite right to state, as Nicholas Frankel does in his introduction to Charles Ricketts's Everything for Art: Selected Writings (recently released by The Rivendale Press), that Ricketts had turned his attention to other occupations, mainly painting and art criticism. Frankel reads between the lines of his farewell to the Vale Press:

We can already sense a diversification in Ricketts's interests written between the lines of the Introduction to A Bibliography. Ricketts was beginning to turn away from matters of printing and bookmaking to those broader questions of art that would preoccupy him for much of the next two decades. Indeed as the "Writings on Art" that follow show, Ricketts career as a book-designer and printer can justifiably be seen as something of a detour - albeit a vital and influential one - in a career that had begun by pressing questions about the constitution and basis of art. (p. 41)

Ricketts published three books of art criticism - The Prado and Its Masterpieces (1903), Titian (1910), and Pages on Art (1913) - and while he designed bookbindings for others in those years, he did not design these three.


Spine of Charles Ricketts, Titian (1910), printed with the series design in gold on blue buckram
With his early writings on art Ricketts introduced a symbolist influence in England. In these, and in later pieces, he stressed the importance of design, of harmony, skill and technique. According to the art historian Roger Fry, Ricketts was an exceptional writer on art, and one who 'talked of colour with such profound feeling for its imaginative significance'. Ricketts also emphasized the skill of the painter Rubens, whom he judged one of the best draftsmen (only Michelangelo was better): his figures are 'flexible solids seen in space, and influenced in their shape by the laws of balance and the actual facts of their substance'. Of all artists that he admired - Gustave Moreau, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Diego Vélazquez - Titian was his greatest example.


Spine of the rare dust-wrapper for Charles Ricketts, Titian (1910), printed with the series design in blue on brown paper
Nicholas Frankel writes about his love for Titian's work:

Both The Prado and Titian speak loudly of Ricketts's love of Venetian painting. But for Ricketts, Titian above all was "the father of modern interpretive painting". Both books contain judicious summations as well as startling readings of Titian's paintings, cloaked in a painterly prose that closely mirrors the experience of viewing the painting's canvas. No reproduction does justice to the textures and colours of Titian's Bacchanal, Ricketts observes for example, and poor restoration had weakened the picture by the time Ricketts viewed it in the flesh. (p. 49-50)

Titian's was "the faculty to order things with the power of selection which belongs to the poet," Ricketts observes, and "his gift of selection in the storehouse of Nature is so great that we are liable to forget the limitations and conventions which had existed before him." It would not be enough to say, however, that "he opened the window in the palace of Art upon the wealth of Nature" since Titian undoubtedly "shut them upon many details which earlier masters had noted." Titian's power, says Ricketts, lies in his grasp of "larger facts, such as the solidity of ground, the breadth and movement of the sky, the individuality in the structure of the trees, the balance and breadth in the construction of the human figure, and the moving mystery in the light and shade." The designs of earlier painters, and even those of the great Florentine primitives, affect us by comparison as "scenes upon a stage, where sky, trees, and buildings are represented at full size, yet actually dwarfed by comparison to the scale in nature. "Titian, by contrast, "reduced the size of his 'theatre,' and chose facts that would fall readily into relation." (p. 51)


Spine of a later binding for Charles Ricketts, Titian (1910), with the series design blind-stamped on blue buckram
When we come away from Ricketts's art criticism, it is his own prose that lingers in the mind (p. 51).

Frankel then quotes a passage that starts with:

The Garden of Loves, the Bacchanal, and the Bacchus and Ariadne were amongst those fine things which Michael Angelo saw and praised at the court of Ferrara, together with a portrait now unfortunately lost. Together they form what may be called Titian's confession of faith as an artist....

Frankel concludes his introduction to Ricketts's writings on art with:

The passage gives a clue to the peculiar genius of Ricketts's own writings about art: we admire the acute sensitivity and rich enthusiasm of Ricketts's judgments, forgetting that these are produced by artistic means no less than the paintings he criticizes. The interlocking rhythms and textures of Ricketts's prose capture the overall "design" of the painting, mirroring if not creating the experience of viewing it. Under the ease and apparent spontaneity of Ricketts's writings on art, we might say, lies a skill that is born from Ricketts's intimate familiarity with the literary arts no less than his encyclopedic knowledge of the visual ones. (p. 52)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

127. "The thread of the dreadful 'interview'"

Today, one hundred and ten years ago, Charles Ricketts sat to a portrait for Shannon, then wrote about the painter Watteau and read a book by Edmond and Jules de Goncourt. In the evening he wrote in his diary: 'Felt a sort of unreasoning pleasure at the old year being done with'.

As to things over and done with, during an interview with Temple Scott, given many years earlier, in 1896, Ricketts gave the impression that he would be glad if it was over. The interviewer commented that on 'a wintry Friday night' he visited Ricketts and Shannon in their house for an interview that was published in the December 1896 issue of Bookselling. At the time, they were living at 31 Beaufort Street, Richmond, where Ricketts had a first floor studio. The interview took place at Shannon's studio, which was upstairs:

A comfortable arm chair was found near a lamp, and Mr. Ricketts edged himself away into the shadow, prepared to stand the siege of "interviewing."

After a long talk, dinner was served, and:

Dinner being over, we surrounded the fire to resume the thread of the dreadful "interview." We had rather let the interview alone if we could have got Mr. Ricketts to go on without our questioning. [...] However, there was nothing for it but to go on. 

Ricketts was not that unwilling to be subjected to an interview, and he even gave 'a welcome for another visit', but it seems that the dinner talk was far more interesting than the answers about the Vale Press books. The 'reminiscences of past struggels', the 'shrewd remarks' on contemporary art, and the 'delightful stories told of days when the "heart was young"' had been freely distributed at the dining table by Ricketts, who obviously delighted in telling those entertaining stories, but was not that keen to speak about the work he had under hand.


The window of 'At the Sign of The Dial', Hacon & Ricketts's shop at 52, Warwick Street, London
(from 
Bookselling, December 1896, p. 506): alas, it is impossible to see what  exactly is on display
At the time of the interview Ricketts was 30. The first seven books of the Vale Press had been published that year, the firm Hacon & Ricketts had opened a shop at 52, Warwick Street (near Regent Street), and his business was in need of the promotion that an interview could bring. 

The interview has now been re-published (in a corrected and standardized version) in Nicholas Frankel's anthology Everything for Art: Selected Writings (2013). The illustrations, including the press mark, and five illustratrions from Vale Press books, as well as a rare photograph of the shop ('At the Sign of the Dial'), have not been reproduced with it. 

When the shop was opened, in April 1896, it did not yet have the sign board painted by Shannon, but by June it was in place. Temple Scott, the interviewer for Bookselling, told of his first impression of Ricketts, which I quoted in blog 29: The Beautiful Forehead.

The interview was followed by a bibliography (in Bookselling, not in Everything for Art), including a section of 'Books in preparation'. Only one book was never realized.

The interview is important for several reasons. For example, Ricketts was asked whether he would have his type 'used in the printing of all books', and the answer is rather vague and long, but it comes out that only texts that 'deserve being so embodied' would be set up using his type. Secondly, the interview contains early comments on the shape of his letters, on the texts he wanted to print, and on the intentions and reception of The Dial. The thread of the article was the position of the artist in contemporary society, and Ricketts's position in the book business was clearly not that of a printer or regular publisher, but an artist.


'Books in preparation' (Bookselling, December 1896, p. 512)