Wednesday, December 12, 2018

385. The 2018 Alphabet: U

U is for Unless.

Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow.

Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Savile's Crime & Other Stories (1891)
This sentence is the opening line of the last story in Oscar Wilde's Lord Arthur Savile's Crime & Other Stories (1891). The cover and spine designs are by Charles Ricketts, who, especially for this book produced a variant on the publisher's mark for James R. Osgood, McIlvaine and Co, as he did for all the new works that he designed for this firm during the early 1890s.

The book was printed by R. & R. Clark in Edinburgh, but it displayed all the asymmetrical and whimsical typographical features of a book printed at the Ballantyne Press where James McNeill Whistler had influenced page design for several years and where Ricketts had his magazine The Dial printed, emulating Whistler's idiosyncrasies and adding his own.

Ricketts might have been responsible for the illustrated initials that appear on the first page of each story: an 'I' (page 3) accompanied by a pair of wings, an 'O' with an acorn and two leaves of what appear to be lathyrus (page 77), a 'W' adorned with two violets (page 91), and finally a 'U' illustrating two small oak leaves (page 157).

No contract for the book has survived, Wilde letters do not mention the initials, we can't be sure whose design they are. However, I have never seen them in any other book; the style is unlike that of other Clark books, we have seen Ricketts draw more designs for a book than he was commissioned (certainly in the case of Wilde's books - for this book he not only drew the publisher's mark but also a smaller variant one), and the initials are subtle, diverse, and seem to symbolize the story they precede. On the other hand, the letters themselves are not like the art nouveau creations Ricketts displayed on the cover of, for example, Wilde's Poems, although the various positions of the two illustrated elements around the initials are harmonious, yet sophisticated and funny.







Initials in Lord Arthur Savile's Crime & Other Stories (1891)
Although the designer of these initials remains unknown, I have always thought that Ricketts might have been their inventor.

The book was produced to reach a larger audience, and was lowly priced at 2s, and Guy and Small (in Oscar Wilde's Profession, 2000, page 232) argue that this was the reason for the lack of illustrations. This might indicate also that the initials were stock initials used for magazines and such, but, again, they look too subtle and new for that and were not used for Wilde's stories when they first appeared in periodicals. As new illustrations were deemed to be expensive, Ricketts might have stepped in to help solve the space problem, that is: the book needed more pages, and the stories were subdivided into chapters, extra title pages were included with subtitles for each of the stories. The initials might have been introduced at that phase of the editorial process. 

Anyway, they are there now for us to enjoy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

384. Moving House

Moving house for the first time since I started this blog, seems a good occasion to quote Paul Delaney on Ricketts and Shannon's relocation to Townshend House in 1922 - hoping he, and my readers, will allow me this lazy blog. 

In 1922, Shannon's career as a lithographer and painter was stagnating, while Ricketts's work as a theatre designer was admired by writers, designers, audiences, and critics alike. 

Shannon, as a result of his feeling of stagnation, latched on to the idea of moving house as a change and 'a sort of renewal of life grown into a monotony of habits'. Ricketts, as usual, took the opposite view, dreading the effort and uncertainty and confessing 'to moments of acute depression and fear of the future which is not good for anyone'. He was, he claimed, 'of a cat-like disposition, deeply attached to places, which I generally like better than people'. However, a move was necessary. Their twenty-one-year-old lease for the Lansdowne House flat was running out and Davis [the owner] had decided to sell the building.


Lansdowne House (Wikimedia Commons)
Faced with the probability of a considerable rise in rent, they decided to buy a place of their own where they and their collections would be secure for the rest of their lives, and even Ricketts looked forward 'to the excitement of recasting and remoulding our "ambience" and the satisfaction of actual ownership to put an end to a deep indwelling sense of regret'. It was not easy to find a house to accommodate them, their two studios, and their large collection, at a price they could afford: 'Palaces are cheap, not so the smaller houses', they discovered, though the sort of smaller house they were seeking would seem more like a palace today. A month was spent house-hunting, and interviewing property agents and lawyers, before 'the possible and desirable place' was found. This required an outlay which intimidated Shannon, and they rushed to see their lawyer over mortgage and cash questions with the fear that it might be snapped up by someone else.
[J.G. Paul Delaney, Charles Ricketts. A Biography. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990, pp. 331-332.]

On May 1923 they found themselves in their new home, Townshend House, a large Edwardian villa (since demolished) near Regents Park. Not a thing in the new house worked, not a window, tap, lock, stove, or geyser, Ricketts claimed, though they had been paid for weeks and months before; the painters had bolted before finishing the job, leaving their paint pots behind - Ricketts was clearly over-reacting as usual. As soon as the stove in the dining-room was working, they made that their headquarters, as the weather was wet and wintry.
[Ibid, p. 333.] 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

383. A Simple Story by Charles Shannon

The first number of The Dial contained one story by Charles Shannon - I don't think he ever again tried to write a literary contribution for a magazine, or a book, and that the only genres he explored were diaries and letters. 

The story was called 'A Simple Story', and the first word of the text was embedded in an illustration: 'Batilda': 'Batilda had risen earlier than usual, for this was the long-expected day when the Holy Father Hilarion would stop and bless her hearth.' (See my blog about the initials in The Dial, No. 1: blogpost 381: The 2018 Alphabet: T.) Charles Ricketts made the drawing and signed it in the upper left hand corner. 

The story is about a visit of the bishop, the Holy Father Hilarion, to an island. One remembers that some of Shannon's earliest drawings were of saints. Hilarion came to the island for work: 'There were two couples to marry and their little children to baptise; three quarrels to arbitrate, and much kindliness to teach'. The Saturday Review (14 September 1889) said it was 'gracefully written'. The Athenaeum (23 November 1889) judged otherwise: 'There are touches - we were going to write splashes - of intense local colour in the terribly confused and confusing narrative Mr. C.H. Shannon calls "A Simple Story," but all there is to tell might have been given in ten lines.' In 2009, David Peters Corbett saw 'A Simple Story' as an example of 'an intense registration of experience that either is exotic or is allowed to be banal or abject in order to reveal or evoke unspecified but resonant meanings and emotions located beneath the surface of events'. In his 1977 thesis, Richard Harold Quinn remarked that the story witnessed Shannon's interest in colour and light, quoting many examples, such as a polished wreath, a red cross, but also a pale blue sky, a green sea turning silver towards noon, and a violet horizon.

Charles Ricketts, 'Batilda' (The Dial, 1889)
The illustration of an interior house shows features mentioned by Shannon in his story. There is a 'wreath of polished ivy leaves', but other elements such like 'a cross painted in red above the hearth' are lacking. However, a lamp said to be placed at the foot of the cross is present in a niche. 

There are small birds on the roof top, garlic is hanging from the door post, a bundle of sticks lies next to the house. Inside, Batilda sits in front of the hearth, anxiously drying her tears. In the room are three other people, probably her girls, Matilda and Basine. In their midst is probably their younger brother Felix in the bath tub before he runs out to see if the bishop has arrived already - the washing scene is not in the story.

This was a reproduced drawing by Ricketts, and the original drawing is in the private collection of Vincent Barlow, who kindly procured an image of it, which is reproduced below.


Charles Ricketts, 'Batilda', original drawing (collection of Vincent Barlow)
In wood engravings, Ricketts frequently forgot to reverse his initials; in this case there was no need to pay attention to mirror effects. Obviously, the lettering of the word 'Batilda' is rather clumsy, and awkward. Some of the letters look like they should have resembled printed letters, such as the 'A' and 'T'. But the large letter 'B' doesn't seem to belong to the same family, and the splitting of one name over three lines is unusual. However, in print, the earliest Vale Press books displayed a similar - debatable - arrangement of letters and words over several lines. 

The original drawing looks like a finished sketch for the slightly reworked definitive drawing which may not have survived, some details have been touched upon later. Look at the birds!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

382. The 2018 Alphabet: T (Always)

T is for Ton.

Ton will be celebrating his birthday on 22 November.

Initial 'T' in Daphnis and Chloe, illustrated by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon (1893)
Ton Leenhouts will be eighty-four this Thursday. In a way, he is the instigator of this blog, as he put me on the path of Ricketts and Shannon way back in the early eighties. His collection started in the mid 1970s, before major exhibitions and publications drew attention to these artists.

It all started with a poster that has since disappeared. In about 1977, Ton bought it in a Verkerke shop that specialized in modern reproductions, most of which were published by this Amsterdam firm. This poster was of an imitation brown packing paper with a blown-up image from a Ricketts woodcut for Hero and Leander (1894) printed in gold and blue. It was one of a series concerned with Aubrey Beardsley and art nouveau. In London these posters were advertised by Gallery Five and presented as wall panels in the late sixties or early seventies. For many years Ton's poster must have decorated his office at the Netherlands Dance Theatre in The Hague where he was director of publicity and public relations, but when I met him it had vanished.

Initial 'T in Daphnis and Chloe, illustrated by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon (1893)
Shortly afterwards Ton started a collection of Ricketts's books. In November 1977 he procured his first Vale Press book, T.S. Moore's DanaĆ«, which incidentally was the last book published by this private press (followed later by a bibliography). Ton must have thought this book a nice acquisition for his collection of 19th- and 20th-century illustrated books. Over the years he bought quite a few Vale Press books, mostly illustrated with wood engravings by Ricketts. One of the earlier purchases was a copy of Daphnis and Chloe (February 1978) with pencilled notes by T.S. Moore; other acquisitions included Beyond the Threshold (May 1978) and the two volume Vale Press edition of Chatterton's Rowley Poems (July 1978). Subsequently Wilde's A House of Pomegranates (July 1978), Ricketts's Recollections of Oscar Wilde (August 1978) and a proof copy of Symonds's In the Key of Blue and Other Prose Essays (October 1978) were added to the collection. 

One day Ton read a short notice in a Dutch newspaper about an exhibition in London. He rushed over to Orleans House Gallery at Twickenham and arrived just in time to see the show before it was taken down that same afternoon, the 20th of May 1979. This of course was the important exhibition mounted by Stephen Calloway and Paul Delaney, who thereby changed the appreciation of the work of Ricketts and Shannon. 

Correspondence with the curators of the exhibition (also the authors of several books on Ricketts and Shannon) helped to direct Ton on his collector's path. Catalogues by dealers such as Robin Greer in London, Blackwell in Oxford, Horodisch of Erasmus in Amsterdam, Warrack & Perkins (who offered a wealth of rare Ricketts materials until the untimely death of Geoffrey Perkins) and the London based dealer Eric Stevens (who sadly died recently) helped to inform him of possible acquisitions for his growing collection. Parcels arrived, sometimes more than two months after ordering a book. Many times catalogues were received in The Hague days after the most desirable books had already been sold in London. Still, new catalogues arrived in the post the following morning.


Exciting years. Fond memories. 

Many happy returns, Ton!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

381. The 2018 Alphabet: T

T is for The.

The sound rolls through the reddening air, the muffled thum! the dumb! of a monotonous drum.


Initial 'T' (The Dial, 1889)
There is a small series of illustrated initials designed by Charles Ricketts that is often overseen. They appeared in the first issue of Vale coterie's magazine The Dial. There were eight literary and critical contributions of which the design was not uniform. 

One opened with a headpiece similar to those designed by Ricketts for the popular magazines:
Ricketts's story 'A Glimpse of Heaven'.

There were two contributions that started with the first word of the text incorporated in an illustration:
Charles Shannons's story 'A Simple Story: the illustration contains the name 'Batilda', which is the first word of the story.
An essay by John Gray about 'Les Goncourt': the illustration contains the first word of the text: 'Never'

There was one contribution that opened with a headpiece with an initial:
John Gray's story 'The Great Worm': initial V.

There is one contribution that opens with an illustration that has its own title, independent of the contents:
Reginald Savage's art notes: 'Notes'. The illustration is titled 'Spes'.

There were three contributions - one essay and two stories that started with an illustrated initial.

The initial 'T' (see above) opens Ricketts's story and play 'The Cup of Happiness'.


Initial 'P' (The Dial, 1889)
The first contribution in the issue opens with a similar illustrated initial 'P' for the essay about the French painter Puvis de Chavannes.


Initial 'L' (The Dial, 1889)
The last piece in The Dial is Ricketts's (anonymously published) story: 'Sensations'. There is one illustrated initial L.

These initials deserve a more elaborate study.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

380. Ricketts at the Turn of the Century

The current exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland is called 'At the Turn of the Century'. The introductory texts suggest that the museum has taken the opportunity to show works from the collection that seem not to be related to each other in any way except for the time of their creation: 'Art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was both forward and backward looking. Some artists developed aspects of impressionist and post-impressionist painting, and moved further in the direction of abstraction; other artists, turned towards spiritual values and created symbols of a purer world; other artists continued with traditional artistic practices.' - That includes almost everything.


Charles Ricketts, 'Don Juan and the Commander' (National Galleries of Scotland)
Ricketts's painting in the exhibition is one of his evocations of the Don Juan story, in which Don Juan invites the statue of the commander (whom he had killed earlier) to his dinner table. 'Don Juan and the Commander' was presented to the gallery by Ricketts's friend John Gray. (See my earlier remarks about the description of the painting in blog 299: 'Don Juan in Edinburgh'.)

On display are paintings by Edouard Vuillard, William Nicholson, Walter Sickert, Mabel Pryde, and other artists, and there is no hurry, as the exhibition can be seen until 28 February 2020. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

379. Designers & Jewellery: Fitzwilliam Museum Exhibition

The Fitzwilliam Museum exhibition 'Designers & Jewellery 1850-1940: Jewellery and Metalwork from The Fitzwilliam Museum' is on view until 11 November. (The show opened in July).


Charles Ricketts, pendant with miniature of Edith Cooper (1901)
The catalogue (same title), written by Helen Ritchie, devotes an entire chapter to the jewellery designed by Charles Ricketts (pp. 99-115), with excellent photographs by Amy Jugg. It is the first time that our publication about Ricketts's mother (Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother, 2016) is quoted in the first lines of a serious essay about Ricketts: 

Charles de Sousy Ricketts (1866-1931) was born in Switzerland to a retired English naval officer and his Italian wife, Cornelia Marsuzi de Aguirre.

The catalogue reproduces sketches alongside new photographs of the jewellery: a brooch, pendants, a painted fan, and a ring, designed by Ricketts in a short time span for a small inner circle of his friends: Michael Field and Maria Sturge Moore. Ricketts kept a drawer full of gemstones, and he arranged selections of them on a piece of paper before sketching a new jewel in pen and water colour. 

Although Ricketts employed Giuliano, a famous firm in London, for all his jewellery, he 'often spotted errors in them over time, and was not always completely satisfied with the goldsmith's work' (as Richie states). That, and Giuliano's invoices, brought his short career as a jewellery designer to an end.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

378. Scholarly Attention for Charles Ricketts (4)

Since 2000, the number of articles about Oscar Wilde or Michael Field that mention Charles Ricketts and his designs for their books has increased. Apart from that, Ricketts himself has become a major subject for research, although these publications are usually not written for a large audience.


Everything for Art and Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother

Book and Theatre Design 

Since 2000, more scholars have emerged with publications about Ricketts's book design, especially in the United States. Nicholas Frankel (1962) published his Oscar Wilde's Decorated Books in 2000 (The University of Michigan Press), followed by his Masking the Text: Essays on Literature & Mediation in the 1890s in 2009 (The Rivendale Press). David Peters Corbett published 'Symbolism in British "Little magazines". The Dial (1889-[189]7), The Pageant (1896-7), and The Dome (1897-1900)' in: The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines (2009). I published several articles on Ricketts, for example on his influence as a book designer on the Dutch debate on modern book illustration in the 1890s (in the Dutch yearbook for book history, 2000), on the printing of A House of Pomegranates (a sequel to this was published by Paul Nash), in The Private Library (2005, and 2007 for the Nash article), and in 2006 The Book Collector contained my article about Rickett's designs for Osgood: 'The Revival of a Publisher's Device. Charles Ricketts and Osgood, McIlvaine & Co.'

In 2004 Oak Knoll Press published Maureen Watry's bibliography of the Vale Press. Vincent Barlow contributed an essay on Ricketts and Shannon as publisher of a formerly untraced edition of Sturge Moore's woodcuts to Studies in Illustration (2014), and I privately published a bibliography of the articles and books written by Ricketts (2015).

A younger generation approached the work of Ricketts with fresh insights. One of them is Jeremiah Mercurio who took as a subject 'Charles Ricketts' illustrations for Oscar Wilde's Poems in prose. An unrealized project' (published online, 2010). Petra Clark is another young scholar who researches Ricketts's illustrations. In 2013 she published an article on 'Bitextuality, Sexuality, and the Male Aesthete in The Dial: "Not Through an Orthodox Channel"' (English Literature in Transition, 1890-1930, 2013), which was followed in 2015 by ‘“Cleverly Drawn”. Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and the Art of the Woman’s World’ (Journal of Victorian Culture, 2015).

An older generation still played its part. In 2007, Carl Woodring (1919-2009) published an article in Wordsworth Circle: 'Centaurs Unnaturally Fabulous'. It discussed centaurs as a motif in Rickett's paintings and book illustrations. Woodring was 87 at the time.

The other major concern of Ricketts, the theatre, was not forgotten. Scholars such as Margaret Mitchell, Lindsay Catherine Thomas, and Judith P. Shoaf published essays on the stage designs for performances by and for soldiers in France, Ricketts's Shakespeare productions, and the dolls he made for Mabel Beardsley.

Exhibitions were mounted on several occasions. An online exhibition was published in conjunction with the publication of Watry's bibliography (At the Sign of the Dial: Charles Ricketts and the Vale Press 1896-1903, Liverpool University Library). Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery showed Decadence and design. Ricketts, Shannon and their circle in 2007, while Ricketts and Shannon. A Creative Partnership was on display in 2009 at the National Portrait Gallery. Museum Meermanno in The Hague commemorated the 150th anniversary of Ricketts's birth with a show called Charles Ricketts. Between Jesus and Oscar Wilde (2016).

The last decade, some new initiatives and themes came to the fore. A new edition of some of Ricketts's main texts was published by The Rivendale Press in 2014: Everything for Art: Selected Writings, edited by Nicholas Frankel. Paul Delaney and Corine Verney solved the riddle of his mother's identity in Charles Rickett's Mysterious Mother (2016), and this blog on Ricketts and Shannon started in July 2011.



Art Collectors

Ricketts and Shannon as art collectors was the subject of some earlier studies, but since 2007 three more articles haven taken up this issue: Jane Munro wrote about them as collectors of drawings (in L’artiste collectionneur de dessin. II (2007), Caroline Elam published 'Piero di Cosimo and Centaurophilia in Edwardian London' in The Burlington Magazine (2009), filling several pages about them as art advisers and collectors with quotes from their diaries and letters, while Christina Rozeik looked at the fate of the collection they bequeathed to the Fitzwilliam Museum: '"A Maddening Temptation". The Ricketts and Shannon collection of Greek and Roman antiquities' (Journal of the History of Collections, 2012).

A new angle was found by Frederick D. King, who looked at The Pageant and its role in changing concepts of art history: Revising Art History in The Pageant (presentation at the North American Victorian Studies Association's supernumerary conference in Florence,  2017). 


Queer Domesticities

Homosexuality

Homosexuality has become a major theme. David Peters Corbett published his article 'Homosociality and Visual Knowledge in the Circle of Charles Ricketts' in Visual Culture in Britain (2007), and two other writers connected this topic with that of interior design: John Potvin wrote 'The Aesthetics of Community: Queer Interiors and the Desire for Intimacy' for the monograph Rethinking the Interior c. 1867-1896. Aestheticism and Arts and Crafts (2010), and Matt Cook devoted a chapter to Ricketts and Shannon in his book Queer Domesticities. Homosexuality and Home Life in Twentieth-Century London (2014). This chapter, 'Domestic Passions: Unpacking the Homes of Charles Shannon and Charles Ricketts' was previously published in the Journal of British Studies (2012).

What will the future bring?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

377. Scholarly Attention for Charles Ricketts (3)

In the 1960s the appreciation for the 1890s, decadence, art nouveau and symbolism grew immensely, partly as a result of the V&A exhibition about Aubrey Beardsley (May-September 1966). The same year John Russell Taylor's The Art Nouveau Book in Britain was published by Methuen - it was profusely illustrated, and an eye-opener for some collectors; it had to be reprinted several times. James G. Nelson wrote another influential book in which Ricketts's work, though not the main subject, was treated extensively: The Early Nineties. A View from the Bodley Head (Harvard University Press, 1971). These two studies were greatly appreciated by curators, collectors, scholars, and book dealers. 


Geoffrey Perkins, A Collection of Books Designed by Charles Ricketts (deluxe copy)
Of course, there were already Ricketts collectors out there. In 1967 the UCLA in California showed books designed by Ricketts from the collections of Albert Sperison and Charles Gullans. In 1982 Carl Woodring had his collection on display at The Grolier Club of New York. Collections owned by public institutions, such as libraries and museums were discovered or described as well, an example being the Catalogue of the Works of Charles Ricketts, R.A. from the Collection of Gordon Bottomley (1985). Bottomley's collection ended up in Carlisle.

Book design remained the most often explored subject in relation to Ricketts, although new venues were found in this field as well. Giles Barber's significant article 'Rossetti, Ricketts, and Some English Publishers' Bindings of the Nineties' appeared in The Library in 1970, and bookbinding and book design were also the topics of Michael Brooks's article in Criticism (1970): 'Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and the Art of the Book'. One study after another was published in the USA, England and elsewhere. In Zurich, for example, the antiquarian book dealer Geoffrey Perkins wrote a catalogue for the firm L'Art Ancien: A Collection of Books Designed by Charles Ricketts. The collection was for sale, and in fact, sold to John Paul Getty Jr. before the distribution of the catalogue - corrigenda and addenda were issued a year later. Scholarly catalogues like this one by Perkins have become exceedingly scarce since then.

Theatre design remained another continuous theme for research. Ifan Kyrle Fletcher wrote about 'Charles Ricketts and the Theatre' in Theatre Notebook (1967), giving a chronological list of Ricketts's productions. Eric A.G. Binnie's dissertation on The Stage Designs of Charles Ricketts was defended at the University of Toronto in 1979. Sybil Rosenfeld published an article about 'Charles Ricketts’s Designs for the Theatre' in Theatre Notebook (1981): an inventory of 111 theatre designs distributed by the National Art Collections Fund. Another article was written by Michael Barclay: ‘More Ricketts designs for the theatre’ (Theatre Notebook, 1982), and he also published an essay in Apollo (1985). However, his dissertation has not been published, or made available in open access. Others wrote about specific performances and costume designs: Carl Woodring discussed John Masefield's The Coming of Christ and Shaw's Saint Joan (in Columbia Library Columns, 1986 and 1988), while Richard Allen Cave compared recent productions of Wilde's plays to performances designed by Ricketts (Modern Drama, 1994).


Charles Ricketts, Pages from a Diary in Greece (1978) (Proof Copy)
Book historical dissertations, such as Richard Harold Quinn's seminal work on Ricketts's and Shannon's magazine The Dial (1977), were followed by those about his work as an artist, such as Simon S.S. Driver's On Charles Ricketts. His Life, Works, and Contributions to the Arts (1977). The latter emphasized a lack of primary sources, and the need for a biography. In London, J.G. Paul Delaney embarked on a long series of articles about Ricketts leading up to his 1990 biography Charles Ricketts, published by the Clarendon Press in Oxford. He published such studies in Country Life (1975), Antiquarian Book Monthly (1978), The Connoisseur (1978), The Pen (1983), and Yeats Annual (1986), while he also acted as editor for Ricketts's diaries and letters issued by The Tragara Press in Edinburgh, starting in 1976 with Ricketts's essay about Michael Field, and followed by selections from the letters and diaries (1978, 1979, and 1981).

Meanwhile, the attention for Ricketts as a designer for the theatre didn't obstruct a growing awareness of his achievements as an art critic. Again, Denys Sutton was the first to devote an article to Ricketts's ideas about Titian: 'Charles Ricketts and Titian' (Apollo, 1978). In 1999, David Peters Corbett published an article on Charles Ricketts’s art criticism in Word & Image. Ricketts came to be seen as a versatile artist and personality, not just as a book and theatre designer. A more general approach of his work was imminent.


Leaflet poster for Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. An Aesthetic Partnership (1979)
The year 1979 was a watershed in the appreciation of Charles Ricketts. Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham hosted an all-round exhibition about Ricketts and Shannon: Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. An Aesthetic Partnership, the exhibition and the catalogue were curated by Paul Delaney and Stephen Calloway. Calloway saw his monograph Charles Ricketts. Subtle and Fantastic Decorator published by Thames and Hudson. Its modest price was directed at a potentially large audience. That same year, 1979, Joseph Darracott organized an exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge: All for Art. The Ricketts and Shannon Collection. The catalogue gave a major boost to the recognition of Ricketts and Shannon as art collectors, a new theme, as did his monograph The World of Charles Ricketts in 1980. This subject was related to another one, the art of the interior that was dealt with by Stephen Calloway in an article about the 'arrangement of a collection' (The Journal of The Decorative Arts Society 1890-1940, 1984). Ricketts was an art collector, but also an art adviser. Paul Delaney wrote about his work for the National Gallery of Canada (Museum Management and Curatorship, 1991).


Catalogue Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. An Aesthetic Partnership (1979)
Yet another subject was homosexuality - in the mid 1980s the Gay Times discovered the work, and especially the partnership of Ricketts and Shannon, and devoted a portfolio to their lives. Later, this subject would be connected to the art of the interior when Queer Studies took over (see next week's blog).

Collecting was a new theme, another was jewellery. Diana Scarisbrick opened the field with a beautifully illustrated article about Ricketts's designs for costly gifts to his friends in Apollo (1982).

New themes were explored, but articles about book design and illustration kept appearing regularly, and even more so during the 1980s and 1990s. Richard S. Field devoted a chapter to Ricketts in The Artistic Revival of the Woodcut in France 1850-1900, edited by Jacquelynn Baas and Richard S. Field (1984). Even in Russia, Ricketts's and Shannon's wood engravings for Daphnis and Chloe were appreciated: an article by T.F. Verizhnikova from 1989 is a testimony to that. The Netherlands always reported about the work of Ricketts and Shannon, and did so as early as 1891; the Dutch magazine Maatstaf published a portfolio of illustrations with an introduction by Ton Leenhouts and myself in 1989.

In 1991, in the scholarly series of Dictionary of Literary Biography, edited by Jonathan Rose and Patricia J. Anderson, volume 112 was published: British Literary Publishing Houses, 1881-1965. It contained a chapter about The Vale Press by Alice H.R.H. Beckwith. The lack of archival material on this subject was more obvious than before, and scholars knew that other venues needed to be explored to penetrate Ricketts's character as a publisher.

A general regard for the works of Shaw, Yeats, and Wilde, always helped to further the case of Ricketts, who designed their books or plays. Of these three, Wilde was the rising star as the 100th commemoration of his death in 2000 came closer. David Peters Corbett's '"Collaborative resistance": Charles Ricketts as illustrator of Oscar Wilde’ was published in Word & Image (1994), the same year as Nicholas Raymond Frankel's dissertation on Oscar Wilde’s Decorated Books was accepted at the University of Virginia. Frankel would publish articles in magazines such as Victorian Literature and Culture (1996) and Studies in the Literary Imagination (1997). I published an article on Ricketts's design for The Picture of Dorian Gray iThe Private Library (1998, distributed in 2000).

While some of these publications were meant for a large audience, many seemed to be written for a scholarly in-crowd. Exhibitions were on the other end of the spectrum: At the Sign of the Dial. Charles Haslewood Shannon & his Circle (Usher Gallery in Lincoln, 1987), ‘Elegante Engelse Boekkunst, The Vale Press 1oo jaar’ (Elegant English Book Art, The Vale Press at a Hundred) (Museum Meermanno, The Hague, 1996) - this was the occasion for my bibliography A New Checklist of Books designed by Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon - and De vrienden van Charles Ricketts (Charles Ricketts's Friends) (National Library of the Netherlands, The Hague, 1997).

The field was considerably widened, opened up to more specialised audiences, Ricketts was a popular subject for scholars. Still more was to come.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

376. Scholarly Attention for Charles Ricketts (2)

Ricketts's death in 1931 set in motion a stream of obituaries, commemorative exhibitions and memoirs, which lasted for twenty years. Friends such as Gordon Bottomley published articles on Ricketts's versatility. Bottomley especially treated Ricketts's career as a theatre designer (in Theatre Arts Monthly, May 1932), but he also dealt with other subjects such as book design; Bottomley was a devotee who retold his fond memories of Ricketts in Durham University Journal (1940). Charles Holmes published his - fascinating and revealing - memories of Ricketts in 1935 (Self & Partners (Mostly Self).


Theatre Arts Monthly (1932)
There was an exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery of works by Orpen, McEvoy and Ricketts (1933), Cassell published the first monograph about Ricketts, introduced by Thomas Sturge Moore (1933), and Ricketts's friend in Germany, Marcus Behmer, wrote a long essay about his book designs in 1935.

After World War II, the first collectors of works by Ricketts came to the fore At Harvard University, A.E. Gallatin showed books from his personal collection (1946). Institutions were aware of their collections as well, especially in the United States, where the Colby Library Quarterly not only published the holdings of American libraries of Vale Press books (1951-1952), but also translations of one of Ricketts's main texts on the principles of the Vale Press, originally published in French in De la typographie et de l'harmonie de la page.

Dissertations about Ricketts started to appear in 1954 when Alan Maxwell Fern finished his The Artistic Theories of Charles Ricketts, and Their Application in His Book Illustration (1954) at The University of Chicago. Book and theatre design remained the main subjects for exhibitions such as the one at the Richmond Public Library in 1956, articles by Carl Weber or Simon Nowell-Smith in academic journals, and a centenary exhibition at Leighton House in 1966.


Apollo (February 1966)
When Denys Sutton published his influential article in the art magazine Apollo (February 1966), a new interest in the artists of the 1890s was imminent, Aubrey Beardsley took the lead, and subjects like art nouveau and decadence prepared new ground for an interest in Ricketts's versatility as an artist.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

375. Scholarly Attention for Charles Ricketts (1)

My impression is that the last twenty years scholarly publications about Charles Ricketts have broadened their scope. In order to find out if there is any truth in this assumption, I have looked at all articles and books about Ricketts, and divided them into several sections. We will start with the publications during Ricketts's life. 

What were the subjects of serious essays about the work of this versatile artist, who was a wood engraver, editor, publisher, type designer, graphic designer, painter, sculptor, collector, stage designer, art critic, art adviser, and writer?

During the early years, before 1900, Ricketts was discussed in relation to two subjects only, art and book design. Serious articles were, for the main part, not written by scholars, but by reviewers, art critics, and journalists, such as the influential Dutch artist and critic Jan Veth who was one of the earliest supporters of his work. In June 1894, he published an article on the 'new book art' of the Vale artists ('Nieuwe boek-kunst', in De Amsterdammer of 17 June 1894), a review of Hero and Leander and The Sphinx.


Jan Veth, self-portrait, 1887 (Drents Museum)
The artists of The Vale were introduced to a large audience in Great Britain by The Sketch in 1894 and 1895, a short series of four essays. Charles Shannon was the first one, discussed by 'Theocritus' in January 1895; Ricketts was the second one, in March of the same year. 

The more interesting essays were written by J.W. Gleeson White, one of the founders of the art magazine The Studio, who died in 1898. In December 1895, the first number of The Pageant (for 1896) appeared. It contained his essay about 'The Work of Charles Ricketts'. The Magazine of Art of April 1897 published a second important essay by Gleeson White, 'At the Sign of The Dial, Mr Ricketts as a Book-Builder'. The term 'book-builder' was an early attempt to define 'graphic designer'.


J.W. Gleeson White (photo: Frederick Hollyer)
An interview and a bibliographical study were written by Temple Scott for Bookselling in December 1896, while another list of Ricketts's publications at the Vale Press was written for The Book Buyer in March 1900 by Ernest D. North. Book design was the subject of an essay that placed Ricketts firmly within the William Morris/Kelmscott Press tradition and the 'revival of printing': H.C. Marillier's 'The Vale Press, and the Modern Revival of Printing', published in Pall Mall Magazine (October 1900).

After the closure of the Vale Press in 1904, Ricketts devoted himself to art, painting, art criticism, and stage design. An essay about 'his Activities' was written by C. Lewis Hind for The Studio of January 1910. Ricketts's versatility was its main subject, while his paintings, bronzes, and earlier book designs were commented upon.

Art and theatre design became the main topics for the articles about Ricketts until his death in 1931, and most of these appeared in the 1920s. Between 1910 and 1920 not much of importance was published about his work, although there were many exhibitions, such as the one introduced by Martin Birnbaum at the Rhode Island School of Design and at the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy in 1914. 

Ricketts's theatre designs were highlighted in articles in Theatre Arts Monthly in 1924, and in Apollo in 1925. However, his illustrations and binding designs were not ignored.

In 1927, The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art published an article about Ricketts's bookbindings in conjunction with an exhibition of bindings collected by Harold Bell. The same year, The Print Collector's Quarterly published Cecil French's essay about 'The Wood-Engravings of Charles Ricketts', and this attention for Ricketts as a graphic designer (avant-le-mot) was crowned with A.J.A. Symons's long essay in The Fleuron (1930) about 'An Unacknowledged Movement in Fine Printing. The Typography of the Eighteen-Nineties'. Ricketts was his main subject.



Charles Ricketts, illustration for
Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891)


During Ricketts's life, serious essays were written about some of his activities, such as wood-engraving, publishing, graphic design, and stage design, but most of these were not really scholarly articles; their main function was to promote his work. Ricketts's qualities as an editor, publisher, painter, sculptor, collector, art critic, art adviser, and writer were not analysed; this would take another fifty years or so. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

374. A Commercial Back-Drop

Last week's blog about the historian Huizinga displayed one of the back-drops Ricketts designed for Shaw's play Saint Joan.

Charles Ricketts, Drop-curtain for Saint Joan (1924)
Internet images are prone to commercialization, and Ricketts's designs are no exceptions. Earlier I showed some examples of mugs

The Shaw back-drop can be ordered as a 'canvas', suggesting that some sort of painting will adorn the prospective buyer's wall. 

'Stretched canvas print' based on Ricketts's design for Saint Joan

The price is quite surprising for a print size of 13 by 10 inches: $95.99. Every free image on the internet can be ordered as a print for a price like this. One could, of course, download the image for free. Even a copy of the book that includes the original reproduction - and fifteen other plates - can be had for less. Saint Joan. A Chronicle Play in Six Scenes and An Epilogue doesn't have to cost more than $90,00. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

373. Johan Huizinga, Shaw, Ricketts, and Roland Holst

The great Dutch historian Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) wrote a review about Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan. He drew a comparison between a Dutch production by the Vereenigd Tooneel (first night: 20 December 1924) and the London production at the Regent Theatre which he saw in February 1925. The play had opened on 26 May 1924 at the New Theatre and ran for 244 performances, after which it moved to the Regent Theatre for another series of 321 performances, and later productions could be seen at the Lyceum Theatre at the Strand in 1926, and elsewhere.



Programme for a performance of Saint Joan,
Lyceum Theatre (May 1926)
Johan Huizinga mentioned the Regent Theatre production, that was - like the others - designed by Charles Ricketts. His costumes, set designs and drop-curtains were judged 'excellent' by Huizinga, who preferred this production and remembered Ricketts's work long after the performance, while those of the Dutch production, designed by the architect H.Th. Wijdeveld - less convincing - didn't impress him that much. Wijdeveld, who was married to one of the foremost Dutch actresses, designed several plays for the company of Eduard Verkade. Verkade was a director, actor, and translator. However, his translation of Saint Joan, according to Huizinga, who gave several examples, was sloppy, and faulty.

Huizinga's article was published in three subsequent issues of the Dutch magazine De Gids (April, May and June 1925) and occupies more than thirty pages in his collected works.

Huizinga, who thought of Shaw as a prosaic mind, was surprised by the serious heroism of the play, and the effort to recreate history in a tragedy. He argued that Shaw had understood Hegel's principle that tragedy doesn't result from the conflict between justice and injustice, but from the conflict between justice and justice. If Jeanne d'Arc had had to face cowards and bastards (Huizinga's words), she would have been a romantic character, not a dramatic one. Shaw took history seriously, all too seriously according to the historian, because he wanted to know what her ordeal could tell us today. Even Shaw's mistakes - wrong names, wrong quotes - don't matter to Huizinga, who subtly mentions them.

Huizinga's main questions in connection to the performance and Ricketts's designs are these: has Shaw given the play a medieval atmosphere, and if so, has it any bearing on the dramatic achievement of the play?


Charles Ricketts, Drop-curtain for Saint Joan (1924)
Huizinga is not convinced by the medieval atmosphere of the play, and feels that the bishop of Reims behaves as a Church of England man while the Dauphin acts like an Eton boy, and the comical effects are simply too Shavian to be medieval. The play is not archaic in any way,  it is unromantic, and still, Huizinga was captivated by Shaw's Saint Joan, the play fascinated him, partly because of Shaw's imagination that gave splendour to certain scenes, such as the dialogue at court before Jeanne enters, or the conversation of Warwick and Cauchon.

Given Shaw's version of this medieval story, the Dutch production would seem to be better suited for it, due to its austere design by Wijdeveld, the absence of historical props, and a subdued realism. But no, Huizinga argues, the play is better served with a colourful medieval setting, as the acting, the costumes and the scene decorations together produce a realistic unity. The lack of an austere style wouldn't go well with a severe performance. Ricketts's colourful and exalted costumes, on the other hand, created a vibrant, harmonious world. Huizinga asserted that the Dutch tradition displayed all varieties of grey, while the British theatre world traditionally excelled in a range of red colours, which he supposed to have come from the Pre-Raphaelites.

As to the actors, Huizinga disliked the acting of Sybil Thorndike, which he characterised as affected and pretentious; for the Dutch production a young actress had been cast for the role of Jeanne, and her performance was boyish, spontaneous, and natural.


Charles Ricketts, Set design for the Epilogue (1924)
After the first instalment had been published, his friend Richard Roland Holst received a copy from Huizinga, and he admired the analysis of the performance, and of Jeanne d'Arc as a historical character. He also wrote: 'I liked the appreciative comments about the work of my old friend Ricketts, of whom, I feel a little estranged these years. If you would like to meet him during your next visit to London, be assured that he would welcome you if I can send him a note in advance.'

A few years later, Ricketts - who remained in contact with his European friends - would send Roland Holst a copy of his new book Beyond the Threshold with a handwritten dedication that referred to 'forty years of friendship'.