Wednesday, December 30, 2015

231. Vale Press Spine Label Variations

The labels on the spine of Vale Press books usually carry the title of the book, and the name of the author. Nine of them only mention the title (Empedocles on Etna, 1896, Bibliography of the Vale Press, 1904, among others). One of them only mentions the name of the author, namely the edition of Lyrical Poems of Shelley, 1898; the label has: 'Shelley'.

Twelve books have spine labels mentioning both author and title; four of those include the Christian names (Thomas Campion for example), two have the initials for the Christian names (H. Vaughan) only. The two Blake editions have not been treated identically: The Book of Thel (1897) mentions 'W. Blake' on the spine label, while Poetical Sketches (1899) has his full name: 'William Blake'. It is not always a question of lack of room on the labels: some labels have been lettered from head to foot, others have been lettered across. 

Four spine labels mention the title and the initials of the author's name: Sonnets by E.B.B. (1898) being the first of those, while three plays by Michael Field only mention 'M.F.' underneath the full title: The World at Auction (1898), The Race of Leaves (1901) and Julia Domna (1903). The first play of Michael Field, however, mentioned the full name Michael Field on the spine label: Fair Rosamund (1897). 

'Sonnets by Elizabeth Barrett Browning' was a bit too long for the spine label of this small book, the spine measuring 154 mm; the full name would have required a label of about 140 mm; it would have covered almost the whole spine. (By the way: the title page mentions E.B. Browning; only the colophon mentions the full name of the author.) The Michael Field trilogy is another story.

There is quite some variation, and moreover, even for the same book spine labels may differ. As not all books were bound at the same time (certainly not during the early years of the press), the printer was asked to print new ones when sales made this necessary. Note, for instance, the spine label on two copies of The Race of Leaves.



Michael Field, The Race of Leaves (1901): spine labels

On the left spine label (see the image above) the initials M.F. have been placed much closer together than on the one on the right: 5 mm instead of 11 mm. The left one is the more common of the two. More importantly, the decorations are not identical. One has an acorn motive, the other one a leaf ornament. Both - and other small decorations, such as stars - were used for the spine labels, but usually the same design was used for all copies of an edition. Not in this case. 

As the two other titles of the Roman trilogy - as they called this series of three plays - had spine labels with the M.F. at the far ends of the label with ample white in between, it may have been the label on the right that was the later one. However, The Race of Leaves was the second play of the trilogy, and therefore no standardization may have been intended. Also, there are more descrepancies. The first volume has an acorn motive on the spine label, the last one has no decoration at all. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

230. Printing black in The Race of Leaves

Michael Field's play The Race of Leaves was published by The Vale Press in June 1901. The border for the first text page was based on a wood-engraving by Ricketts, which he had begun working on in January. There were four panels, the left and right one running the whole length of the page with images of thyrsus, vine branch and rings in the left panel, and a portrait of Commodus and an Amazon with a lamp in the panel on the right.


Michael Field, The Race of Leaves (1901), page [v]: border designed by Charles Ricketts
The border pages were printed from electrotypes, but this did not always mean that the black was evenly printed, as a comparison of several copies of this book can prove. The lower left and lower right hand corners show grey areas in some copies.



Charles Ricketts, border for The Race of Leaves (1901), detail

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

229. Charles Ricketts and the Search Engines

The title of this week's blog sounds a bit like a children's book, and I have to admit that what could have become serious research was mostly play. I compared the results of a number of search engines using the same query: "charles ricketts".

The list of results for this search in Google starts with Wikipedia, followed by this blogspot, and then by links to the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Tate.


Google search for "Charles Ricketts" (December 2015)

In Bing the results are slightly different. First result is Wikipedia, followed by 'Top 25 Charles Ricketts profiles' on LinkedIn (none of them being our Ricketts of course), and third in place is this blogspot.


Bing search for "Charles Ricketts" (December 2015)
The results in Yahoo, again, were slightly different: first comes a link to Whitepages (addresses found), followed by Wikipedia, Top 25 LinkedIn profiles, and images. This blogspot follows after those.


Yahoo search for "Charles Ricketts" (December 2015)
The Chinese Baidu search machine gives a markedly different result. First comes Wikipedia, then some links to other search machines (of Baidu and Bing), then another Wikipedia page on Charles Holmes, followed by a page of Amazon.com. Mostly links to links and links to advertisements. Could not read all the details in Chinese characters of course.


Baidu search for "Charles Ricketts" (December 2015)
Our blogspot can be found, but one has to search for my name in combination with Ricketts's in order to get the result. A search for "ricketts" [and] "shannon", does not give any relevant results. Google answers this new query with a list headed by a link to this blogspot; Yahoo and Bing show this blogspot in second place, while Facebook comes first.

A search that combines results from several search engines - using Dogpile - lists Wikipedia, followed by LinkedIn profiles, and immediately after that this blogspot. Another combined search, using IxQuick delivers us a listing of Wikipedia, LinkedIn, and this blogspot (interspersed with links to Wiki pages about Ricketts and Wilde). Dogpile and IxQuick change your query while you type it: they insist that you are not looking for "Charles Ricketts", but for "Charles tickets". Much more popular, apparently. 

Apart from the Chinese search engine, most sites have similar results.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

228. Japanese closets in Ricketts's design?

For Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx Ricketts made his best known binding design. The vellum covers are blocked in gold with a design of four figures (on the front and the back of the book) and the geometrical lines suggest a room - by night (back cover) and by day (front cover).

At the top of the design on both covers is a strip of what seems to be some sort of Japanese closet with simple sliding doors. The similarity to such closets is suggested by the panels underneath the image, which seem to be larger doors in front of which the figures are standing:  a woman with a lantern, a leaping sphinx, a crouching sphinx, and a woman with a garland.


Charles Ricketts, design for Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx (1893): front cover
The interpretation of the 'closets' is, however, complicated by two opened doors, one on the front cover which gives a view of a bell and a bell wheel, and another one of the back cover, which shows a dove carrying a branch in its beak. Both are Christian symbols.

Charles Ricketts, design for Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx (1893): back cover
Both opened 'doors' show features from the world outside; we can not assume that the flying dove is locked up in the closet, or that the bell is located within the house. The row of 'closets' must be a set of windows.

A comparison of the back and front cover shows that the doors have knobs on either left or right. It seems that the dove appears when the left door is opened, and the bell when the door on the right is opened. The knob is visible on both sides. The other option - the sliding door has been moved to the left or right - does not explain the changed placement of the door knobs.

Conclusion, for now: there are no Japanese-style sliding doors in front of a row of closets on the cover of Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx. What we see, possibly, are shutters placed in front of the top windows. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

227. The Dynasts in 1920

For the production of Thomas Hardy's play The Dynastst at the Kingsway Theatre in London, Ricketts designed a lithographic poster. The play ran from 25 November 1914 to 30 January 1915. 'Owing to a cold', as his wife later wrote, 'Hardy was unable to be present on the first representation, but he went up two or three weeks later.'

The play was about the Napoleonic Wars, and the main figure on the poster is that of War, a Janus-faced head with a headdress of horns. It holds a scythe in one hand, and on the palm of his other hand is a toga-clad figure, who can be identified as Napoleon. Along the bottom edge of the poster are battle scenes with soldiers and a horse. 

Charles Ricketts, poster for The Dynasts (1914)
The lettering on the poster was written by Ricketts and mentioned the title and author above the image and the name of the theatre underneath. This poster was printed by Vincent Brooks Day & Son Ltd. in London. Additionally there were 50 proofs, signed by Thomas Hardy and Charles Ricketts. On these the text-lines had been omitted. Furthermore, there was a limited edition of 12 copies, signed by author and designer, with small signed drawings by Ricketts. These little drawings depicted 'Napoleon and Death', 'Napoleon and the Sphinx', 'Napoleon as a Sphinx', etcetera.

R.L. Purdy, in his bibliography of Thomas Hardy, mentions the performance, but not the poster. He also mentioned a later performance by the Oxford University Dramatic Society at the New Theatre Oxford, 10 to 14 February 1920. For this occasion a new poster had been printed, of which I was not aware when I published my checklist of the books designed by Ricketts and Shannon in 1996. The text for the poster was not in Ricketts's lettering. A copy of this rare poster was given to the Victoria and Albert Museum by Mrs T.E. Griffits [?] in 1958.

Charles Ricketts, poster for The Dynasts (1920) (©) Victoria and Albert Museum, London




Wednesday, November 25, 2015

226. Two deluxe copies of "The Importance of Being Earnest"

Part V of The Library of an English Bibliophile was scheduled for auction at Sotheby's yesterday, 24 November. The sale catalogue lists two deluxe copies of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde in a vellum binding designed by Charles Shannon (1899).

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (1899):
one of 12 copies bound in vellum
The play was published in an edition of 1000 copies. There were also 100 large paper copies printed on Van Gelder Zonen paper, numbered and signed by Wilde, and additionally there were twelve numbered copies on Japanese vellum. These copies were for presentation only.

For sale were number 3, with a handwritten dedication to Robert Ross, dated February 1899, and No. 5, with a dedication to Frances Forbes-Robertson, dated June 1899. The first one contains an autograph letter by Wilde to Ross promising three seats for the opening night of the play. Estimate of that copy was: £160.000-180.000 [it was sold earlier as part of the Jacques Levy collection in 2012; hammer price including buyer's premium was $362.500.] This time the hammer price including buyer's premium was £197.000.

Sotheby's estimate for the other copy (No. 5) was: £50.000-70.000. This copy remained unsold.

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (1899):
one of 12 copies bound in vellum
In Wilde's bibliography (1914) a few other copies were listed: No. 2 was dedicated to Edward Strangman [this copy was sold by Christie's in 2001, for $60.000], No. 4 was located in the British Museum; No. 10 had been sold by Hodgson's in 1911; in 1912 No. 11 had been sold by Sotheby's from the collection of C. Sebag Montefiore and No. 12 was said to be in the collection of Maurice Schwabe.

Since then copy 9 has been added to the British Library collection, it was acquired from the collection of Lady Eccles.

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (1899):
No. 9 of 12 copies bound in vellum
Another (?) copy was sold by Whitmore Rare Books in Catalogue 4. No. 10 is now in the J. Harlin O'Connell collection at Princeton University Library.

No. 1 Leonard Smithers (?)
No. 2 Edward Strangman [dedication]
No. 3 Robert Ross [dedication] [formerly in the collection of Jacques Levy]
No. 4 [location:] The British Library
No. 5 Frances Forbes-Robertson [dedication]
No. 6
No. 7
No. 8
No. 9 [location:] The British Library [collection Lady Eccles]
No. 10 [location:] Princeton University Press [collection J. Harlin O'Connell]
No. 11 C. Sebag Montefiore
No. 12 Maurice Schwabe

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

225. Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World (5)

In the previous episodes of my blog, we have established that Oscar Wilde's and Charles Ricketts's collaboration to The Woman's World (edited by Wilde) were not interrelated, that Ricketts did not have to turn to Wilde to get commissions for the magazine, that Wilde did not generously give Ricketts several important commissions, that the drawings for The Woman's World were not the first commissions Ricketts received from Cassell & Company, that Ricketts did not leave the firm or stopped contributing to the magazine when Wilde ended his editorship and left the firm, and, therefore, that no 'affinity between the two men's artistic visions even before their official partnership began' existed in reality.

The last quote came from Petra Clark's fascinating essay on Ricketts and Wilde in connection with The Woman's World. (See Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World (1) for more details.) Despite the fact that there was no early relationship between Ricketts and Wilde, we can see that they were heading in the same direction, and that they were on the same track. It did not take long for Wilde to conclude that Ricketts should design his books, but that decision was prompted by The Dial and not by The Woman's World.


Charles Ricketts, initial for The Woman's World
Ricketts's early drawings have been described as 'hack work', and as Clark points out, this qualification is based on an undeserved dismissal of his skills as a draughtsman. His fusion of Victorian interests with Pre-Raphaelitism, Arts and Crafts ideas, and Symbolist motifs sets his work apart from many anonymous artists. 

Clark writes: 'Like many "hack" artists at the time, Ricketts's work was largely anonymous'. However, when most illustrations in The Woman's World went unacknowledged in the captions, some of these mentioned the artist's names, and the contents pages in the yearly bound up volumes mentioned some of the illustrators as well. The illustrations themselves often contained the artist's initials, and for his earliest commissions Ricketts used his full name: 'C. Ricketts'. By June 1888, Ricketts had changed his signature to a series of monograms with the letters 'C' and 'R', often encapsulated within a small square border. Sometimes his drawings for an article were supplemented with drawings by other, anonymous artists, but even when Ricketts did not use a monogram, it is not that difficult to distinguish his drawings in The Woman's World from those by othersRicketts's drawings betray his affinity with the Aesthetic Movement, and in particular with the work of Pre-Raphaelite artists, whose work he alludes to, such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. His drawings are rich in detail (even if these do not serve the story), full of vivacity, movement, and a feel of modernism, even when the subject is Egyptian or Elizabethan. These drawings also 'exhibit the beginnings of his own style and his idiosyncratic approach to illustration' (as Clark writes).

A striking example of the last quality brings his hack work close to his free work. One of the tailpieces published in The Woman's World (May 1889) closely resembles one that Ricketts used in his own magazine The Dial (August 1889). The boundaries between work in commission and work after his own taste were gradually fading.

Clark reminds us of the general practice of illustrating articles and stories in magazines from the 1860s onwards: illustrations, such as chapter initials and frontispieces, anticipated the events, but during the 1880s and 1890s this 'gave way to increasingly conflicted relationships between word and image in illustrated texts', and an 'ironic' failing to match visual expectations 'seems to have become a preferred tactic for him', that is, Ricketts. Here, Clark follows the findings of other scholars, such as Jeromiah Romano Mercurio and Nicholas Frankel.


Charles Ricketts, initial for 'Boots and Shoes' (The Woman's World, May 1889)
Petra Clark:

'Ricketts's playful perversity is certainly apparent in the case of B. de Montmorency Morrell's May 1889 piece on the stylistic development of footwear entitled "Boots and Shoes". The images Ricketts supplies to accompany the article refer obliquely to the historical overview provided in the text by making visual some of the things to which the author refers, but in a way that must be deciphered. The decorated initial "T" at the start of Morell's article forms part of a frame that reads "Chrispinus Sutor", the Latin for "Crispin shoemaker", referring to the Roman martyrs of a similar name who later became conflated into the patron saint of shoemakers, Saint Crispin. This frame surrounds a central image of a hooded man with a halo (presumably an interpretation of Saint Crispin), who seems to be fitting an angel with a shoe. Ricketts clearly enjoyed fashioning these sorts of somewhat tongue-in-cheek medieval "illuminations", since he created a similar initial inscribed "Orpheus" in his headpiece for Wilhelmina Munster's June 1888 article "A Woman's Thoughts upon English Ballad Singers and English Ballad Singing". The tailpiece at the end of the "Boots and Shoes"article also calls for a slightly different interpretive approach; it transcends a merely illustrative function in relation to the text as shoes are not really the focus at all - only two or three pairs are even visible. Its image of four couples dancing seems innocuous enough until one more closely examines their dress and notices that the dancers are chronologically mismatched: their clothes all derive from different historical periods, ranging from a fourteenth-century lady wearing one of the "towering peaked and horned headdresses" referred to by the author of the article, to a shepherdess-like "merveilleuse" of the late eighteenth century, who sports an ostentatious bonnet and excess drapery.'


Charles Ricketts, tailpiece for 'Boots and Shoes' (The Woman's World, May 1889)
These comments by Clark are based on a thorough examination of the drawings in relation to the text, and as such add to our knowledge of Ricketts's motives, his working methods and his development as an artist.

Ricketts's 'playful irrelevance or irreverence towards the narrative' has been labelled 'collaborative resistance' (by David Peters Corbett) and 'faithful infidelity' by Jeremiah Mercurio. His drawings 'do not lend themselves to easy "reading"', as he intended them to be 'art'. We are fortunate to see that scholars like Petra Clark research Ricketts's work and publish their findings.


Charles Ricketts, illustration for 'Boots and Shoes' (The Woman's World, May 1889)

Charles Ricketts, illustration for 'Boots and Shoes' (The Woman's World, May 1889)

Charles Ricketts, illustration for 'Boots and Shoes' (The Woman's World, May 1889)

Illustration (anonymous, not by Charles Ricketts) for 'Boots and Shoes' (The Woman's World, May 1889)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

224. Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World (4)

Before the publication of his drawings in The Woman's World, edited by Oscar Wilde, the young artist Charles Ricketts had already received several commissions from the publishers Cassell and Company. 

His initial contribution to The Woman's World appeared in June 1888 (volume I, number 8, page 372), illustrating an essay on Elizabethan ballads.

His earliest drawings for Cassell and Company - as far as I know - had appeared more than six months before, in November 1887. These were, however, not his earliest published drawings as he had contributed drawings to an elusive periodical called The Alarum in 1886, while Shannon had made drawings for Judy, a comic journal. They must at least have tried to find more sources of income and may have been lucky with other journals. 


Charles Ricketts's signature, 1887

Cassell's History of England

For years, Cassell had published a multi volume publication on the History of England, and in 1887 the publisher issued volume I of a new edition that was advertised as the Jubilee Edition, referring to Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee that was celebrated on 20 June 1887. Since the 1850s Cassell's History of England had been a reliable seller, and the modern parts were updated regularly. The Golden Jubilee was too good an opportunity to pass up. New and revised editions had been advertised before, but large parts of the texts and numerous illustrations were republished in one after another edition.

Earlier, the publishers wrote in several introductions to the newly edited editions that revisions had been made, which may not always have been true: 'The preceding edition of this History has been most carefully corrected and revised, and the Publishers are thankful that the present one has not failed of a success more than equal to that which had attended its predecessor.' New editions came with added volumes: 'Ten years have passed since the publication of the Eight volumes of Cassell’s History of England, which originally ended with a notice of the lamented death of the late Prince Consort. The reader is now presented with a continuation of the narrative nearly to the present day'. Each time, the number of volumes grew. 

By 1887 it was time for another new and revised edition, and for the first time the texts were truly and thoroughly revised from volume I to the end. I compared several passages, and this time, the editors kept word: the texts have been rewritten. The title pages asserted: 'the text revised throughout, and profusely illustrated with new and original drawings by the best artists'.

Volume I ('From the Roman Invasion to the Wars of the Roses') appeared in 1887, volume 2 followed in 1888, volume 3 in 1889. These three volumes contain drawings by Charles Ricketts. Other volumes, without drawings by Ricketts, followed: volume 4 (1891), volume 5 (1892), volume 6 (1893), volume 7 (1894), and volume 8 (1895).


The new edition was issued in monthly parts (prices 7d at Ricketts's time), but I have not been able to locate any of these, as most, of course, must have been bound up. The 'New and Original Drawings' were 'specially executed for this Edition by Leading Artists', as an advertisement in The Publishers' Circular (6 December 1888) brought to the attention of the English booksellers.


Cassell's History of England. Volume I (1887)

The artists of Cassell's History of England


Who were these artists? Their names were not mentioned in the advertisements, nor in the list of illustrations that was published in each volume. Only a few illustrations mention the artist in the captions underneath the image, and these are for reproductions of paintings by John Gilbert (1817-1897) (p. 329), and Henry Gillard Glindoni (1852-1913) (p. 541).

The first volume of the Jubilee edition contained 36 full page illustrations, 162 normal illustrations (half or three quarter page illustrations), and 168 small illustrations. There were portraits of kings and other famous people (18), details of arches, pottery, dress, etc. (42), there were drawings or reproductions of coins, cameo's, rings, manuscripts, and engravings of objects (116), there were views of cities and buildings such as castles (60) and there were maps (2), and many of the illustrations depicted historical scenes (113). The historical drawings were mostly half and full page illustrations, and a large number of  these were signed by the artist.

However, most of the signatures are indecipherable: CDM (?),W[...]oot (?), and only some are signed with the full name of the artist. Most of them are not well known today. According to Cassell and Company the 'Leading Artists' of the day were R. Jones (p. 216), Herbert Railton (1857-1910), and L. Speed (p. 313), or  the French artists Jules Giraudet and Edouard Zier (1856-1924). These artist were at least ten years older than Ricketts, who was born in 1866, and was only 20 years of age in 1886.

Their drawings may not have been made for Cassell at all, because the publishers usually bought cheap blocks for illustrations in France, which explains the presence of French illustrators in a work about the history of England.

Most of the illustrators only made one drawing for this volume. However, Railton had six commissions (p. 261, 404, 413, 436, 480, 593), Zier did ten illustrations (p. 45, 69, 76, 121, 129, 145, 148, 228, 240, 337), Edmund Blair Leighton (1852-1922) signed seven illustrations (EBL: p. 149, 181, 249, 308, 344, 373, 512), while Wal Paget signed five (WP: p. 185, 193, 312, 525, 605), GB at least four (p. 97, 237, 368, 441), and most of the signed illustrations were the work of Henry Marriott Paget (1856–1936) (HMP: p. 8, 16, 41, 61, 124, 133, 184, 209, 220, 297, 397, 504, 588, and 596). He did fourteen illustrations.

A certain 'C.R.' did eight illustrations, but these were not carried out for the Jubilee edition, as his work appeared in earlier editions from around 1872 onwards. If we compare an earlier edition with the Jubilee edition, we see that most illustrations in the former were anonymous, while a lot of the illustrations in the Jubilee edition have been signed with initials. That was something of a novelty for illustrators at the time, and we can ascertain that a lot of the illustrations in this edition were, indeed, new, although they had not been produced by the most famous artists of the day. 

Anyway, 'C.R.' does not stand for Charles Ricketts, who initially signed his drawings for Cassell with his full name: 'C. Ricketts'. The other artists were at least ten years older than him.

Charles Ricketts, 'Flight of Mathilda from Oxford Castle'

Ricketts's first illustration for Cassell's


Rickett's five illustrations appear on page 176, 357, 381, 401 and 521. These are all signed 'C. Ricketts', and although they are not dated, we may be sure that at least two of them must have been published in the monthly instalments that appeared earlier, possibly in 1886, as drawings on page 213, 216 and 361 are dated 1886 and those on page 413 and 436 are dated 1887. Ricketts probably recieved his commission in 1886. The five included one full page illustration (page 401).

His first illustration, 'Flight of Mathilda from Oxford Castle', was a pen drawing, reproduced on a half page format (101x135 mm, within border: 105x140 mm), illustrating the text on page 176: 'One night in December, when the ground was covered with snow, Matilda quitted the castle at midnight, attended by four knights, who, as well as herself, were clothed in white. The party passed through the lines of their enemies entirely unobserved, and crossed the Thames, which was frozen over.' The escape by the Empress Matilda (c.1102-1167) took place in 1142.

The other illustrations were 'Capture of Bruce’s wife and daughter at Tain', 'Escape of Roger Mortimer from the Tower', 'Black Agnes at the siege of Dunbar Castle', and 'Arrest of the conspirators at Cirencester'. More about these drawings and those for volume 2 and 3 of the Jubilee edition will follow later.

Next week: back to Oscar Wilde's The Woman's World.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

223. Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World (3)

The first contact between Oscar Wilde and Charles Ricketts did not take place because of Ricketts's drawings for the magazine that Wilde edited, The Woman's World. This is sometimes suggested, although there is no evidence for it. Moreover, the practice of editing a journal for a huge firm like Cassell & Company at the end of the 1880s was determined by the business model of the publishers with particular departments for the work in hand. Wilde was appointed literary editor for the magazine in 1888, but he was backed by the art editor, Edwin Bale. Bale was responsible for the selection of drawings, for soliciting illustrators and artists, and for decisions on practical matters, such as format, and fees. Alas, no letters between Ricketts and Bale have come to light so far.

Speculating on the role of Wilde as an editor, Petra Clark (in her essay ''"Cleverly Drawn": Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and the Art of the Woman's World' (see my two earlier blogs on Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World), concludes that Wilde's involvement in the art direction of the magazine was shallow. However, she states:

'It is easy to imagine why the ambitious young Charles Ricketts would have sent Wilde some drawings that ultimately earned him occasional work for Cassell & Co., but it is unclear what prompted Wilde to generously give a relatively untested and (to him) unknown artist several full-page commissions. What is clear is that by the time Wilde left Cassell & Co., so had Ricketts, as there is no evidence of any drawings by him in the magazine's final year (1889-90) under Fish's editorship. Such a coincidence suggests an affinity between the two men's artistic visions even before their official partnership began.'

As we saw in last week's blog, Wilde was not the editor who gave Ricketts these commissions. And I can add that Ricketts did not leave the publisher, as, from November 1889 onwards, he received commissions for quite a few illustrations for another Cassell magazine, The Magazine of Art. And, in fact, Ricketts made several contributions to the final year of The Woman's World. He drew a headpiece for each of the monthly instalments of 'The Latest Fashions' between November 1889 (Vol. III, No. 25) and July 1890 (Vol. III, No. 33). He did not contribute any full page illustrations, true, but then he had many other publishers waiting for him, including the magazine Atalanta (from December 1888) and The Universal Review (from August 1889), and, with Shannon, he had embarked on a magazine of his own, The Dial that made its first appearance in August 1889.

Ricketts's first illustration for The Woman's World appeared in the June 1888 issue (page 372), that is in volume I, number 8.


Charles Ricketts, illustration for an article by Wilhelmina Munster, in The Woman's World, June 1888, p. 372.
The illustration was a headpiece for an article by Wilhelmina Munster, 'A Woman's Thoughts upon English Ballad-Singers and English Ballad-Singing' (p. 372-374). Based on a pen drawing, the reproduction measured 131x163 mm. It was signed CR. The reproduction was also signed by the engraver, H.K. Davey [?].

If Ricketts had sent in drawings to an editor of The Woman's World, they would not have been addressed to Wilde but to Bale. On the other hand, it may not have been necessary for Ricketts to make a drawing and risking rejection by an editor. He may have received an assignment for a drawing, as he had worked for the publishers before, and the art editors knew his work. Cassell and Company employed a great number of artists for their large range of magazines and copiously illustrated works. As was the custom at the time, these art editors had a waiting room for aspiring artists, who with a portfolio of drawings waited for a call. Ricketts must have visited several of these offices when he tried to earn a living as an illustrator, but the situation at Cassell's was different for him. The drawings for The Woman's World were not the first ones he made for the firm, and that he immediately got several important commissions for the magazine testifies to the trust the art editor had in Ricketts's skills.

What strikes us now is that his illustrations for The Woman's World are much more artistic than the drawings of other contributing artists.


Charles Ricketts, headpiece for 'Decebal's Daughter' by Carmen Sylva in The Woman's World, July 1888
Ricketts's second drawing in The Woman's World shows his ability to illustrate a story, while keeping his own preferences for scenery, costumes, and capricious details. It is a headpiece for 'Decebal's Daughter' by Carmen Sylva, translated by E.B. Mawer (p. [385]-389): a war scene featuring Decebal's daughter Andrada on a fortified tower looking down on the Romans led by Trajan invading the city of Decebal. Nearby is a wooden tower with fighting soldiers, one fallen to the ground, another leaning over the wall to fight. We see an approaching army and the burning city walls. In the lower left is an initial 'T', decorated with a kneeling figure, a sword, a shield and (partly outside the border) a fish; underneath is a small compartment containing a garland. 


Charles Ricketts, initial 'T' for 'Decebal's Daughter' by Carmen Sylva in The Woman's World, July 1888
The other illustrations for the June and July 1888 issues of The Woman's World are neo-Renaissance initials and vignettes, realistic or slightly romantic sketches of buildings and landscapes, portraits after paintings or photographs, reproductions of paintings, drawn impressions of sculptures or other art works, middle-of-the-road illustrations for stories, or static drawings of posing models showing new dresses. Ricketts's illustrations are startlingly different: they show fantasy, and movement, a great feeling for drama (for example in the use of perspective in the Carmen Sylva drawing), and they contain details that are not mentioned in the story.

Charles Ricketts, full page illustration for 'A Lady in Ancient Egypt' by Helen Mary Tirard in The Woman's World, July 1888
The first full page illustration for The Woman's World was: 'The Toilet of a Lady of Ancient Egypt'. It was signed by Ricketts with his monogram CR, and in the 'List of Full-Page Plates' was mentioned: 'Drawn by C. Ricketts'. Other full-page images in this volume (1887-1888) were done by Walter Crane, Paul Destez, and Gordon Browne, who each did one plate, while Ricketts did two. The image contains more than was necessary to illustrate the article: the lady and her dress, attended by three servants in a palace garden with a pond. Added are doves and two cats in order to enhance the intimate, idyllic atmosphere, which we do not find in any of the other illustrations in The Woman's World at the time.

As I said, Cassell & Company knew what they could expect of the young Ricketts - he was 21 at the time of his contributions to The Woman's World. They had given him other earlier assignments for a substantial new publication for which a large number of younger artists made drawings.

See next week's blog.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

222. Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World (2)

Last week Petra Clark's article in the September issue of the Journal of Victorian Culture was mentioned: '"Cleverly Drawn": Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and the Art of the Woman's World' (it can be downloaded from Journal of Victorian Culture Online). 

It is assumed, by scholars such as J.G.P. Delaney and David Peters Corbett, that Wilde and Ricketts met before 1889, when, according to Ricketts Wilde had been sent a copy of Ricketts's and Shannon's magazine The Dial. It seems logical to state that they must have met before that, and to find a possible reason for a meeting in the drawings Ricketts had done earlier for The Woman's World during Wilde's editorship.
The Woman's World, Volume I, No. 7, June 1888
In Oscar Wilde. Recollections (1932, p. 28) Ricketts recalled: 'A copy sent to Wilde brought him to the house I shared with Charles Shannon in the Vale, Chelsea.' Ricketts does not mention an earlier meeting. He then says, 'I had imagined him a younger man - do not forget at that time only his volume of 'Poems', 'The Happy Prince' and a few articles had appeared.' The memories of Wilde were, of course, written late in Ricketts's life (and published posthumously), but the details seem to be convincing, and from them it may be gathered that Ricketts and Wilde (and Shannon) met for the first time after sending The Dial. In fact, that is what Ricketts remembered: '[...] my first meeting in 1889, which I have described' (p. 38).

There is no reason to assume that Wilde and Ricketts met earlier, simply on the basis of the drawings Ricketts did for The Woman's World. Magazine editors did not work like that. True, since June 1888, Wilde and Ricketts shared a publication space, but there was no need for them to meet each other, or even correspond.


Oscar Wilde's Role as an Editor


What was Wilde's role as an editor? Petra Clark quotes part of a letter that Wilde wrote to Wemyss Reid (1842-1905), early 1887. Reid was a manager at Cassell & Company, the publishers of The Lady's World that was relaunched as The Woman's World under Wilde's editorship in 1888. 


Advertisements


Clark suggests that Wilde could decide upon the important matter of advertisements: 'Consequently, Wilde abolished all advertisements as part of his editorial remodelling, and relegated an abbreviated version of the fashion pages (which had once taken precedence) to the back of each issue.'

Indeed, Wilde suggested that the magazine should open with literature, art, travel, and social studies: 'let dress have the end of the magazine'. His complaint about some articles being only thinly disguised advertisements did not refer to the actual advertisements that Cassell needed as an extra source of income. And they were not abolished at all. Each issue of The Woman's World contained advertisements for non-literary and mundane products such as soap, baking powder, 'linene collars and cuffs', 'medicinal food', beauty cream, 'corset waists', and railways, alongside Cassell's own advertisements for new publications. Clark may have missed these advertisements, as libraries used to discard the covers and advertisements when the issues were bound up, and, also, because Cassell & Company offered yearly bound volumes of The Woman's World (advertised each December) and in these the advertisement leaves were also removed.


The Woman's World, Volume I, No. 7, June 1888: advertisements at the back

The New Cover Design for The Woman's World


Clark quotes a passage on the artistic content of the magazine:

'It seems to me', wrote Wilde, 'that just at present there is too much money spent on illustrations, particularly on illustrations of dress. They are also extremely unequal, many are charming [...] but many look like advertisements, and give an air to the magazine that one wants to avoid, the air of directly puffing some firm or modiste. A new cover also would be an improvement.' (The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, 2000, p. 298).

The magazine got a new cover, as Clark writes: 'no longer did the magazine bear the former green cover of the Lady's World, which featured an "idealized goddess" vainly gazing at her reflection in a mirror, for the cover of the Woman's World sported "a William-Morris-type spray of leaves" and "serpentine women with sensuous chests", done in red ink on a pinkish ground. (The quotes are from an article by Laurel Brake, 'Oscar Wilde and The Woman's World', 1994).

The new cover was signed by L.F.D., and designed by the Arts and Crafts decorator Lewis Foreman Day (1845-1910), who had worked for Cassell's before.

Clark writes that 'Wilde made an implicit effort to align the appearance of the Woman's World more closely with Arts and Crafts publications such as the Century Guild Hobby Horse than with other mass-market magazines'. I think that this may have been Wilde's intention, but it was not his decision. That was left to the publishers and the managers.


Literary Editor


If we re-read Wilde's letter carefully, we see what he says about the illustrations and the cover. He wrote, in much more detail, about the literary contents of the magazine and went out of his way to mention possible future authors of articles. He mentions almost thirty names of new literary collaborators, but does not mention one artist, let alone an artist for the cover design. He may have had ideas about the art contents, but he did not ventilate them, and was not asked to do that.

In the beginning of this long letter to Wemyss Reid, we find a reason for this. Wilde writes: 'I have read very carefully the numbers of The Lady's World you kindly sent me, and would be very happy to join with you in the work of editing and to some extent reconstructing it.'

Wilde was not asked to be its new editor-in-chief, but its literary editor, as he mentions in quite a few letters that he wrote to future collaborators: 'I have been asked to become literary adviser to one of the monthly magazines' (letter to Louise Chandler Moulton), 'I have been asked to become the literary adviser of one of Cassell's monthly magazines' (letter to Minnie Simpson), 'It is for a magazine of Messrs Cassell's to which I am a sort of literary adviser' (letter to Phoebe Allen). There are some letters that state that he is asked 'to edit' the magazine (letters to Julia Ward Howe and to Eleanor Sidgwick), which may leave some room for a wider interpretation of his function. I believe that Wilde's initial answer to Reid should be taken for what it is: he was to be the literary editor of a magazine that for the rest would be managed by Cassell's managers.

In some letters Wilde asked if an article was in need of illustrations: 'The article will be illustrated as you may direct' and 'Would you, however, desire it to be illustrated? If so, it would be necessary to get it done as soon as possible' (letters to Phoebe Allen), or: 'We should set about the illustrations at once.' (letter to Violet Fane). This suggests that Wilde worried over the illustrations, but left it to the authors to suggest the subjects for the illustrations. He did not decide upon the illustrations himself, nor on the names of the illustrators. He did not make any suggestions other than work should be started on time in order to ensure that the issue would not be held up. Now and then he made simple suggestions for a frontispiece portrait of the author or of a painting to go with an essay about a particular artist: 'We might also have for the frontispiece of the magazine an engraving of a good Jan Steen or any other picture you might care to select.' In a letter to Oscar Browning Wilde writes: 'If you send me the photographs I will get them reproduced at once, so as to have no delay about the publication.' Soon after, Wilde complained to John Williams, assistant chief editor of Cassell's, that 'I find that without a staff of some kind a magazine with special illustrated articles cannot get on' (October 1888). He was to be assisted by Arthur Fish. In his last letter to Wemyss Reid he writes: 'I am specially indebted to Mr Bale, whose artistic knowledge and experience have always been at my disposal'. Only one letter to Edwin Bale has survived: 'Dear Mr Bale, I send you the photographs of Lady Archibald Campbell - one for frontispiece, two for setting into the article. Also three drawings by Godwin to be set into the text - like marginal sketches.' Bale was a watercolourist who worked for Cassell as Art Director between 1882 and 1907.

All other letters written as an editor of The Woman's World (as published in The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, 2000) were sent to literary collaborators. There are no letters to artists that mention work for The Woman's World, not even to the important artists, such as Walter Crane. Wilde's work did not involve working with artists, giving them commissions, judging their work, making suggestions for changes. I presume that Bale did all that, as was the custom with many magazines: the 'art' contents was left to the managers of Cassell's, who had at their disposal a large number of decorators and artists that worked for the magazines and illustrated works the firm published. Wilde alludes to this side of the matter in a letter to T.J. Cobden-Sanderson: 'The photographer of the Art Department here is quite accustomed to photographing delicate works of art.'

Wilde did not suggest a name for the artist who designed the new cover for The Woman's WorldThe commission for drawings that Charles Ricketts received form the editors of The Woman's World were not dependent on Wilde's intervention or judgment, and therefore Ricketts will not have sent them to Wilde, but to the Art Director.

What really happened? See next week's blog.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

221. Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World (1)

PhD candidate Petra Clark (University of Delaware) recently published an article in the September issue of the Journal of Victorian Culture: '"Cleverly Drawn": Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and the Art of the Woman's World'. It was accompanied by a blogpost on the Journal of Victorian Culture Online from where the article can be downloaded.

The Woman’s World (1887-1890) was the successor of The Lady's World; Wilde was asked to become its editor, and subsequently suggested some changes such as a new title. Wilde did not write many pieces for the magazine himself, his job was to solicit new texts. 

Petra Clark argues that Charles Ricketts approached Wilde while he was editor of the magazine in order to get commissions for drawings, and that his early drawings for this magazine quickly became more than 'hackwork', as he introduced new art nouveau styled elements that transcended the message his illustrations were supposed to convey to the readers. Ricketts got some orders for large format drawings that fitted his growing specialism: costume, especially Elizabethan dresses and surroundings.

Charles Ricketts, header for 'The Latest Fashion' (The Woman's World, December 1889)
Petra Clark writes: 

Despite their subjects being dictated by the articles for which they were commissioned, many of Ricketts’s illustrations are nonetheless highly personalized, even going so far as to suggest his relationship with other artists.
One such interaction that particularly stood out was Ricketts’s with Gustave Fraipont. Fraipont was a Belgian-born French artist who contributed illustrations to a number of magazines during this period, and created many headers for the Woman’s World over the course of its run, particularly for the 'The Latest Fashions' and 'Paris Fashions' sections of each monthly instalment. Fraipont’s header designs for earlier issues emphasized feminine accessories such as fans, lace, powder puffs, and ribbons. At some point during 1889, Ricketts seems to have been given the 'The Latest Fashions' headers to do, which is where things get interesting. Ricketts too draws the same sort of items as Fraipont, but adds in mischievous putti who gambol across the header and, more often than not, disrupt the order of the toilette with their own uses for these items.
Such plump imps were a common element in Renaissance and Baroque art, so employed here, they at once invoke high art as well as the sentimental, while undermining both. It is unclear whether Ricketts was mocking such figures that may have appeared in pre-existing designs by Fraipont, or if he just found the putti a convenient vehicle to playfully engage with the work of the older artist. In any case, Fraipont’s subsequent headers for 'Paris Fashions' began to feature his own putti, though it is likewise difficult to know why: possibly he decided to fight putti with putti, or he recognized the appeal of Ricketts’s designs and sought to assimilate them into his own. These dozen or so putti headers become more and more ridiculous as each artist took his turn, finally reaching a fever-pitch of absurdity and excess before dying down.


Next week I will publish some footnotes to this article, commenting upon the way these early commissions for The Woman's World came about, and how the relationship between the firm of Cassell, the publisher of The Woman's World, and the artist Ricketts evolved, and how Oscar Wilde as an editor may have played a role.

The problem of each article on Ricketts's early works lies in the absence of archives (the Cassell archive was destroyed, no early letters between Ricketts and Wilde have survived), and therefore conjecture must be called in to fill in the gaps. Clark hands us some material to further our thoughts about Ricketts's early commissions, although I think that Wilde's role is needlessly overrated, and that we have to turn to our knowledge of the daily practice of running a magazine to get some answers. As I see it, there is no reason to assume that Ricketts had sent his drawings to Wilde.