Wednesday, July 30, 2014

157. Not Rupert Brooke

In 1915 Ricketts's friend Gordon Bottomley published his play King Lear's Wife in the periodical Georgian Poetry, 1913-1915. Offprints of this publication could be used to send out to friends and relatives.


Auction catalogue, Christie's, London, 4 December 1933

Bottomley wrote a personal dedication to Ricketts and Shannon in one of those copies. His play was the first contribution to the book. It was followed by a series of poems by the poet Rupert Brooke (1887-1915).


Contents page in Georgian Poetry 1913-1915 (source: Internet Archive)
The offprint includes the first page of Brooke's contribution on which only his name is printed.


First page of Rupert Brooke's  contribution to Georgian Poetry 1913-1915 (source: Internet Archive)
This prompted a reaction by Gordon Bottomley, who wrote around the caption 'Rupert Brooke' an extra inscription: 'You must not look at [printed name: Rupert Brooke]. This isn't his book. - G.B.'

This copy was sold after Ricketts and Shannon had died. Christie's catalogue for the auction of 4 December 1933 describes the book as lot number 290; inserted was a letter to Ricketts and Shannon.

Fifty copies of this offprint were printed for Bottomley. The poet and artist Reginald Hallward and his wife also received a copy in which the same annotation was penned on the fly-leaf for the (absent) Brooke section. This copy was on sale with Charles Cox recently: 'You must not look | At [Rupert Brooke]; | This isn't his book. | G.B.'

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

156. A Summer Miscellany of Mistakes (4)

The comedy of errors that we know as bibliography is played with gusto in auction catalogues. Here we find Vale Press books ascribed to the Eragny Press, or vice versa, and ghosts are created, even if a catalogue has been prepared with the utmost care. And of course, after the sale, descriptions will not be corrected or adapted. Library catalogues also may contain mistakes, - they certainly do, although usually it is the absence of information that confuses the reader, - but, given time and devoted bibliographers, their omissions and errors will one day be adapted.


The Library of John Quinn, Part Three [I-Morley]. New York, The Anderson Galleries, 1924
In 1923 and 1924 The Anderson Galleries in New York sold the collection of John Quinn, owner of a series of manuscripts of Joseph Conrad, and, famously, the manuscript of James Joyce's Ulysses. The sale was in the hands of Michael Kennerley, started in November 1923, and ended after five monthly sales in March 1924. More than 1000 pages of catalogue descriptions were produced, almost 13.000 books and manuscripts were disposed of to make up for the lack of storage room. Quinn's rented New York apartment at 58 Central Park West had been sold, and he had to vacate it. He died the following July. 

The catalogue was printed by William Edwin Rudge, renowned for his fine printing. The notes were written by John Quinn in collaboration with Vincent O'Sullivan, and Charles Vale added biographies of important authors and printers. But even in this catalogue, errors slipped in.


The Library of John Quinn, Part Three [I-Morley]. New York, The Anderson Galleries, 1924, page 493 (detail)
A page long biographical sketch introduced seventeen editions of works by John Keats, published between 1895 and 1922, some of them by private presses such as The Daniel Press, The Doves Press, The Mosher Press, and the Eragny Press. In 1898 the Vale Press published a two-volume edition of Poems. Keats was one of Ricketts's favourite poets. If he had seen the catalogue - I do not presume he did - it would have pained him to read that these volumes were now seen as Eragny Press publications.

A mistake that is more difficult to understand entered the catalogue on page 593, where only four editions of Christopher Marlowe were described (items 6046, 6047, 6047a, 6048), including the Vale Press edition of Doctor Faustus (1903). The last item described an edition of Hero and Leander, published in Edinburgh in 1909.


The Library of John Quinn, Part Three [I-Morley]. New York, The Anderson Galleries, 1924, page 593 (detail)
The annotation stated that this was 'one of 500 copies' and that the book had been 'designed by and printed under the direction of Charles Ricketts'.

This concerns an edition of Hero and Leander printed by Ballantyne in Edinburgh. Ricketts and Shannon illustrated another edition of this book almost twenty years earlier, in 1894. The 1909 edition was, of course, not designed by Ricketts. It formed the first part of the Renaissance Library issued by Joseph M. Dent, and it was Dent who had designed the type for it, as the colophon explained.


Christopher Marlowe, Hero and Leander (London, Joseph M. Dent, 1909)
Obviously, some notes must have been in disorder, otherwise this ghost of a book would not have been advertised.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

155. A Summer Miscellany of Mistakes (3)

After publisher's bindings of the ninety-nineties became a vogue among collectors - in the wake of the Aubrey Beardsley exhibition in the Victoria and Albert Museum, curated by Brian Reade, and the publication of John Russell Taylor's guide The Art Nouveau Book in Britain, - both events took place in 1966!, - dealers and bibliophiles were sometimes led astray in the search for new discoveries. A number of books was ascribed to well known or lesser well known artists, although these were in fact designed by unfamiliar artists from that era, artists whose work had not yet been discovered as a subject for art or book historians. 


Exhibition Poster, 'Aubrey Beardsley', 1966 (location: Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
The 1890s saw a great deal of designers working along the lines of the Arts and Crafts and the Art Nouveau, and publishers hired young and anonymous artists to decorate title pages and bindings for books.

If a book was ascribed to Charles Ricketts its price increased, and more so than by an attribution to, let's say, Will Jenkins. Similarly, the names of Beardsley or Talwin Morris would generate more enthusiasm than that of Christopher Dean

If a binding is not signed, an attribution to Ricketts needs documentation, and for that matter, even a signed binding can not do without additional evidence, which can sometimes be found in advertisements, or letters. Contracts and proofs, unfortunately, are rare. 

Taylor himself ascribed a few books to Ricketts that have since been justly attributed to other artists, for example The Poetical Works of James Thomson.


Cloth binding for The Collected Poems of Lord de Tabley (1903)
He also attached Ricketts's name to The Collected Poems of Lord de Tabley, and referred to Ricketts's binding designs for Vale Press books: 'on the cover [...] we encounter the severe, "architectoral" later manner in which abstract pat­terns of straight lines and small circles are broken up by only the smallest tokens of representationalism'.

The attribution was picked up by Clare Warrack and Geoffrey Perkins, whose catalogues should be consulted by everyone interested in the 1890s, as they contain lots of unique items that have not been described elsewhere.


Title page of The Collected Poems of Lord de Tabley (1903)
In their Catalogue 19 (1974) a copy of De Tabley's book was listed as number 124: 'Red cloth gilt', 'Upper cover and spine blocked in gold with a design by Ricketts'. The price was identical to that of a copy of Lord de Tabley's Poems, Dramatic and Lyrical. This 1893 volume had, of course, triggered the attribution (for an illustration, see 'To V.F. from C.R.').

Fourteen years later, in their Catalogue Sixty-Nine (1988) another copy of The Collected Poems of Lord de Tabley was offered as a Ricketts design.

Other dealers, collectors and libraries, did not mention Ricketts as the designer and usually no artist's name is connected to the book's design. A Bookman's Catalogue (about the Norman Colbeck collection, published in 1987), for example, does not mention a designer.


Charles Ricketts's monogram CR on Poems, Dramatic and Lyrical (1893)
The 1893 edition of Poems had been signed with Ricketts's monogram CR in the upper left hand corner of the front cover, but the Collected Poems were not signed by him.

On the title page of The Collected Poems of Lord de Tabley another monogram can be discovered. There is a letter M between the crossing branches in the stylized floral figure.


Detail of title page, The Collected Poems of Lord de Tabley (1903)
The book was published by Chapman & Hall Limited in London in 1903, and the 'M' design could have been designed by an artist that worked regularly for the firm. The binding could still be the work of Ricketts. However, the binding too shows the 'M' monogram. It can be seen in the lower part of the central panel.


Monogram 'M' on the binding of The Collected Poems of Lord de Tabley (1903)
That settles it. But then, who is 'M'? Two years ago, Malcolm Haslam published a book on Arts and Crafts Book Covers to accompany an exhibition at Blackwell, The Arts and Crafts House. One of the artists discussed is William Brown Macdougall, who was born in Glasgow in 1868, moved to London in the nineties, and worked in a style that owed a lot to Aubrey Beardsley and William Morris. A well-known example of his work is Dante Gabriel Rossetti's The Blessed Damozel that he illustrated in 1898 for Duckworth and Co. Macdougall later lived in Essex with his wife, the novelist Margaret Armour. He died in 1936. 

Haslam mentions that he designed 'stamped cloth book covers for Dent, Duckworth, Service & Paton, Chapman & Hall, Kegan Paul, Blackie, Macmillan, and Black'. One of his monograms (Haslam illustrates two of them) is the simple 'M' that also figures on the binding and the title page of The Collected Poems of Lord de Tabley. Why his name went unmentioned in the book is not clear.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

154. A Summer Miscellany of Mistakes (2)

In June 1894 Oscar Wilde's poem The Sphinx was published, decorated by Charles Ricketts. The text was reprinted with other poems in several editions, but Ricketts's drawings were not reprinted during his lifetime. Only the cover illustration was (poorly) reproduced on the cover of a 1910 reprint that was issued again in 1918. Both editions were published by John Lane, The Bodley Head.

Title page (fragment) of Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx, illustrated by Alastair (London, New York, John Lane, 1920)
In 1920 another artist illustrated The Sphinx for the same publisher, the incomparable Alastair, or Hans-Henning von Voigt (1887-1969), who performed as a dancer and a pianist, and became a translator out of necessity, but was a celebrated artist in his heyday. His drawings were likened to those of Aubrey Beardsley, and were published by John Lane, Georg Müller Verlag, Les Éditions G. Crès et Cie, the Avalun-Verlag, publishing firms in London, Munich, Paris, and Vienna, but also by the New York firm of Alfred A. Knopf, and the expatriate firm of Harry Crosby in Paris, The Black Sun Press.


Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx: frontispiece by Alastair (London, New York, John Lane, 1920)
The illustrations for this edition were printed in black and blue (usually Alastair's drawings were reproduced in orange and black), and show his concern for intricate detail and evil or destitute facial expressions. Horror, in his drawings, is never far away from luxury.

The edition run was 1000 copies. Auction catalogues regularly include a copy of this edition. And every now and then the book is associated with Charles Ricketts, in which case the cover design is ascribed to him.



Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx: cover design by Alastair (London, New York, John Lane, 1920)
Some examples of this incorrect attribution to Ricketts can be found  in recent auction catalogues. 

In May 2012 the Dutch auction house of Bubb Kuyper sold a copy of the book (lot 2768) for which the description reads: '[Alastair]. Wilde, O. The Sphinx. London/ New York, J. Lane, 1920, 36p., 12 plates and 13 capitals by ALASTAIR, all printed in black and blue, printed in 1000 copies, orig. gilt dec. cl. by C. RICKETTS, t.e.g., 4to. - Some sl. foxing. Otherwise fine. = Peppin/ Micklethwaite p.310 (under Hans Henning Voigt) and Houfe p.486': "(...) his colour illustrations have more the feel of the contemporary Russian school of ballet designers".'

Toovey's, located in Washington, UK, also sold a copy of the book in their auction on 10 July 2012, lot 3245. The description included the following: '12 plates and 13 decorative initials by Alastair printed in black and blue. (Occasional light browning or spotting.) Original decorated cloth blocked in blue and gilt to a design by Charles Ricketts, t.e.g. (somewhat soiled)'.

Earlier, on 23 October 2010, the Berlin auction house Galerie Bassenge described as lot 2508 another copy of the book: 'Alastair. - Wilde, Oscar. The Sphinx. 1 Bl., 34 S., Mit 13 farbigen Initialen und 10 (2 als fl. Vorsätze) mit Türkis kolorierten Tafeln von Alastair. 30 x 22 cm. In Golddruck illustr. OLeinenband (Einbandillustration von Charles Ricketts; etwas unfrisch). London und New York, J. Lane, 1920'. 

Many more examples, earlier and later, could be quoted, but these suffice to indicate that it is a widespread error, the source of which can be found in the preliminaries of the book itself. Why would Ricketts be mentioned in relation to this book?


Publisher's note in Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (London, New York, John Lane, 1920)
In the front of the book is a publisher's note, listing four works under the heading 'By Oscar Wilde' and one under the heading 'By Alastair'. The last Wilde title is The Sphinx, having 'a Cover-design by Charles Ricketts and a Preface by Robert Ross'. 


Robert Ross, 'Note', in Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (London, New York, John Lane, 1920) 
The 1920 edition, illustrated by Alastair, contains this 'Note' by Robert Ross, which was a standard insertion on behalf of the copyright owner. It seems, that the combination of the Ross note and the publisher's advertisement for an edition with a Ricketts cover led book dealers to believe that the Alastair edition had a cover design by Ricketts. In fact, the advertisement is for the 1918 reissue of The Sphinx that had no illustrations other than the reproduction of the original 1894 cover.

The 1920 cover, with a bold looking sphinx, is of course drawn by Alastair. There is no signature. Ricketts was not involved in the design of this edition. 

[A copy of Alastair's Sphinx is made available by Nicholas Frankel on OpenStax.]

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

153. The Portrait of Mr W.H.

Last week I was asked to write about the portrait of W.H. that Ricketts made for Oscar Wilde. In his Recollections of Oscar Wilde (1932), Ricketts remembered that Wilde had told him on his first visit to the Vale: 

I have found from evidence in the Sonnets that Mr. W.H. was a young actor named Willie Hughes - is that not a charming name? Now, I need a portrait, which I describe, as a frontispiece. You will see a great deal depends upon this. (p. 30)

And Wilde argued:

You are the man I have wanted; I wish you to paint a small Elizabethan picture - something in the manner of, shall we say, Clouet. I have written in narrative form an essay on Shakespeare's sonnets (p. 29).


Oscar Wilde, 'The Portrait of Mr. W.H.',
in Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Prose Pieces (London, Methuen, 1908, p. 147)
The essay about the dedicatee of Shakespeare's sonnets was published in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine of July 1889, and Wilde invited Ricketts to visit him in Tite Street to hear him read the story. Ricketts remembered:

Within a fortnight I had painted the small portrait of Mr. W.H. upon a decaying piece of oak and framed it in a fragment of worm-eaten moulding, which my friend Shannon pieced together. (p. 35-36)

Wilde wrote back to state that the painting 'is not a forgery at all - it is an authentic Clouet of the highest artistic value'. In the story, the portrait is described as 'a small panel picture set in an old and somewhat tarnished Elizabethan frame', and the style is compared to that of 'François Clouet's later work' (1958 edition, p. 4). At the end of the story the painting is no longer attributed to Clouet, but to Ouvry. 


Léonard Gaultier, portrait of François Clouet (1515-1572)
Later, Ricketts was asked to design a title and initials for a new book edition of the story, which was announced repeatedly by the publishers at The Bodley Head as 'The incomparable and ingenious history of Mr. W.H., being the true secret of Shakespeare's sonnets now for the first time here fully set forth, with initial letters and cover design by Charles Ricketts. 500 copies. 10s. 6d. net. Also 50 copies large paper. 21s. net.' The book was said to be 'In preparation' in the List of Books in Belles Lettres (Including some Transfers) published by Elkin Mathews and John Lane, dated September 1893, but it was postponed, and in the end never materialized due to the break-up of Mathews and Lane.

On 24 April 1895, after Wilde was arrested, and had been declared bankrupt, his library was sold from his house. The sale catalogue listed Ricketts's painting as number 125: 'An old oil painting of Will Hewes, framed'. According to Wilde's bibliographer, Christopher Sclater Millard (Stuart Mason), the lot was purchased by Edwin Parsons, who later disposed of it, and in 1914, when Millard published his bibliography, he had to say that its present whereabouts were unknown. In 1958, Vyvyan Holland, in his introduction to the enlarged version of The Portrait of Mr W.H., again testified of that and the painting never surfaced. 


Stuart Mason, Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (1914, p. 7)
Millard contacted Ricketts and Shannon for information about their Oscar Wilde book designs, and he asked Ricketts to describe the 'Clouet' painting. Ricketts then made a thumbnail sketch for him. 

Millard died in November 1927. The sketch turned up in a lot of autograph cards from Ricketts to Robert Ross in Dulau's Catalogue 161. Oscar Wilde. Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, First Editions, published in 1928: 

'Ricketts (Charles). Three autograph cards, signed, and a small sketch. [...] (4) A tiny thumbnail sketch in pencil on a piece cut from one of Messrs. Sotheby's catalogues, intended to portray a rough idea of the Portrait of Mr. W.H. In the sale of effects at Tite Street there was a picture described as an old painting on a wood panel of Mr. Will Hews. This was actually the work of Ricketts, and this thumbnail sketch was made for Millard when he was preparing his bibliography.' (p. 91, no. 55).

Catalogue 161. Oscar Wilde. Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, First Editions (London, Dulau, 1928, p. 91)
This lot belonged to the ones that were bought by William Andrews Clark Jr., in 1929. His collection is now in the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles. The catalogue description reads: 'Box 54, Folder 3 (Thumbnail sketch in pencil labe[l]led: "My W. H. drawn by C. Ricketts, 22 Nov., 1912." The sketch was jotted down for Christopher S. Millard. 1912 November 22. Physical Description: Slip of paper.' 

[By the way, Willie Hughes in the story became Will Hewes in Wilde's sale, and Will Hews in Dulau's catalogue; his name already circulated in several forms in eighteenth-century theories about the identity of W.H., and, of course, refers to several lines in the sonnets of Shakespeare.
'My W.H.' could be a mistake for 'Mr W.H.'] 

I have asked for a scan, but the request may take a while to be processed.


The end of The Portrait of Mr W.H. (London, Privately Printed, 1904, p. 48)