Wednesday, August 31, 2011

7. Illustrated initials

Before Charles Ricketts designed  a few (complete and incomplete) series of initials for the Vale Press editions (1896-1904), he not only had been inspired for these by William Morris's initials for the Kelmscott Press, or by initials in early printed books, he had also been testing his capabilities as a designer of initials for commercial magazines.
Initial 'P' (prospectus for the Vale Press edition of William Blake's Poetical Sketches, 1899)
Most Victorian periodicals, including children's monthlies and art magazines, commissioned head- and tailpieces as well as illustrated initials for stories, poems, and articles. There was quite an army of artists involved, and competition was stiff. During the 1880s and 1890s Ricketts was one of them. Although these drawings were considered hackwork, Ricketts was gradually able to distinguish himself from other artists, not only by signing his work with his full name or his initials CR, - he also introduced typical art nouveau style elements.

From Atalanta, vol. III, no. 27 (December 1889), p. [190] 
Some of Ricketts's early illustrated initials are playful or experimental, like the small initials for 'Whittington's advancement' (Atalanta, December 1889), others show a more serious awareness of historical examples, such as the one for an essay by Wilhelmina Munster on 'A Woman's Thoughts upon English Ballad-Singers and English Ballad-Singing', published in The Woman's World, edited by Oscar Wilde (1888).

From The woman's world, vol. I, no. 8 (June 1888), p. 372.
When Ricketts embarked on his publishing activities for the Vale Press, he had had a long training as a draughtsman of initials.