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.'

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

399. Charles Shannon. Cancelled Stone

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

398. Gleeson White's New Ideal Book

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

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

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

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

Parallèlement (1900) [copy: Princeton University Library]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

397. The 2019 Alphabet: &

& is for &

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

396. Two Deluxe Copies of The Sphinx

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

395. Ricketts and Shannon as Old Masters of the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

394. Charles Shannon's Russian Postcard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There might be more of these postcards.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

393. An Extra-Illustrated Sphinx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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