Wednesday, July 17, 2019

416. Ricketts, Shannon, Junius & Ross

About ten years ago, the antiquarian bookseller John Hart described a copy of Franciscus Junius' The Painting of the Ancient, in Three Bookes: Declaring by Historicall Observations and Examples, the Beginning, Progresse, and Consummation of that Most Noble Art. And how those Ancient Artificers attained to their still so much admired Excellencie, a book that was issued in its first English translation (from the Latin) by Richard Hodgkinsonne in London in 1638.


Franciscus Junius, The Painting of the Ancients (1638)
[Another copy]
The Latin edition - De Pictura Veterum - had been printed the year before, in 1637, for Junius's patron, Thomas Howard, the Earl of Arundel.

An ordinary copy of this book would fetch around £300, but this copy was priced at £1200. What was so special? This was an association copy presented by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon to Robert Ross in September 1911. Tipped in is a photograph of Ricketts in Athens.

This particular copy came back on the market on 6 June of this year, when it was auctioned by Forum Auctions in London. The hammer price was a mere £300. The new owner recently contacted me and sent me some images of the work.

The online description of John Hart stated that the copy was in poor condition, 'being badly worn on the corners, with the inner hinges strengthened and the text browned and spotted'. Books from Ricketts's library are usually in such a state, a common fate for books that an artist may use in his studio. The worn state of this book belongs to its artistic history. A plus point is that the artist has made some handwritten notes in it.

Dedication in Junius, The Painting of the Ancients (1638)
The dedication is written by Ricketts on behalf of Shannon and himself: 

To R. Ross from his friends C Ricketts and
                                                   C Shannon
                                      November 5
                                                        1911

Lacking now is the letter which was included by Ricketts:

Here is a copy of The Painting of the Ancients I spoke to you about. We find it a delightful book to dip into at odd moments. Personally I like it better than several classics but, a book is like a friend, one never knows if another will like him also.

And:

Read the last page at the sentence beginning "Protogenes his example may teach us" it may move you to read elsewhere. The first book is dull. It is dedicated to the Countess of Arundell [CR's spelling] to whom Tizianello dedicated his life of Titian. The author sent a copy to Rubens who evidently rather disliked it. There are admonitions against "florid and a kind of lax and ornate use of the pencil" practised by certain moderns ha! ha!

Rubens painted a portrait of the Earl of Arundel.

Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel
(c. 1629-1630)
[Collection: National  Gallery, London]
The letter is no longer with the book, but the photograph is. It shows Charles Ricketts in Athens. He is seated in the Theatre of Dionysos next to the seat of the high priest. (See my 2011 blog about this photograph: 67. Ricketts in the Front Row). 

Ricketts in Athens, 1911
The photograph bears another handwritten dedication:

Athens 1911 C. Ricketts. The seat of Sophocles. The Throne of Kallimachos To R.R. from C.R.

The current owner is Edward Chaney, partly of Dutch descent (his mother being Maaike de Gruyter). Chaney is an expert on the evolution of the Grand Tour, the history of collecting, and other subjects.

He wrote to me that he owns a Shannon lithograph, and is an admirer of Ricketts, Shannon, and Ross.

I was, however, drawn the book itself (Junius's Painting of the Ancients) having published quite a bit on the dedicatee, the remarkable Countess of Arundel and her husband 'the Collector Earl', Junius's principal patron. It is a fascinating book and most interesting that Ricketts should have given it to Ross. The photograph of Ricketts sitting in the theatre in Athens is yet another bonus... All this for a three hundred squids plus commission (from Forum Auctions) almost cheered me up...

The joy of collecting! 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

415. Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (6)

In 1907, Robert Ross published yet another criticism in the form of a play, called 'Shavians from Superman' (published in Masques & Phases, 1910, pp. 224-235). As a starting point it takes the last scene of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, blends it with G.B. Shaw's Man and Superman and discusses the ongoing problems with the censors that authors encountered during these years. Shaw had several plays banned by the office of the Lord Chamberlain, and he particularly protested against the decisions of the censor George Alexander Redford - he was the examiner of plays between 1895 and 1911 (and he died in 1916). 


Charles Ricketts, 'Don Juan' (oil painting, c. 1911) [Collection: Tate, London]
The ban on Wilde's Salomé is discussed as well, and Ross has the Princess Salomé perform the 'dance of the Seven Censors'. Ricketts's theatre and costume designs are mentioned, but this time he doesn't appear as a character in Ross's play. However, Shannon plays his part.


Robert Ross, 'Shavians from Superman'

Donna Ana has vanished to sup her man at the Savoy; the Devil and the Statue are descending through trap, when a voice is heard crying, ‘Stop, stop’; the mechanism is arrested and there appears in the empyrean Mr. Charles Hazelwood Shannon, the artist, with halo.
The Devil (while Shannon regains his breath). Really, Mr. Shannon, this is a great pleasure and quite unexpected. I am truly honoured. No quarrel I hope with the International? Pennell quite well? How is the Whistler memorial getting on?
Shannon. So-so. To be quite frank I had no time to prepare for Heaven, and earth has become intolerable for me. (Seeing the Statue.) Is that a Rodin you have there? Ah, no, I see, rather late sixteenth-century - Jean Goujon? Not in very good taste. We don't like sixteenth-century sculpture.
Robert Ross, 'Shavians from Superman' (fragment) (1910)
The Devil. Oh! I forgot, let me introduce you. Commander! Mr. C.H. Shannon, a most distinguished painter, the English Velasquez, the Irish Titian, the Scotch Giorgione, all in one. Mr. Shannon, his Excellency the Commander.

Shannon. Delighted, I am sure. The real reason for my coming here is that I could stand Ricketts no longer. Ricketts the artist I adore. Ricketts the causeur is delightful. Ricketts the enemy, entrancing. Ricketts the friend, one of the best. But Ricketts, when designing dresses for the Court, Trench, and other productions, is not very amiable.

The Statue (sighing). Ah! yes, I know Ricketts.

The Devil (sighing). We all know Ricketts. Never mind, he shall not come here. I shall give special orders to Charon. Come on to the trap and we can start for the palace.

Shannon. Ah! yes. I heard you were moving to the Savoy. Think it will be a success?


[They descend and no reply is heard. Whisk! Mr. Frank Richardson on this occasion does not appear; void and emptiness; the fireproof curtain may be lowered here in accordance with the County Council regulations; moving portraits of deceased, and living dramatic critics can be thrown without risk of ignition on the curtain by magic lantern. The point of this travesty will be entirely lost to those who have not read ‘Man and Superman.’ It is the first masterpiece in the English literature of the twentieth century. It is also necessary to have read the dramatic criticisms in the daily press, and to have some acquaintance with the Court management, the Stage Society, and certain unlicensed plays; and to know that Mr. Ricketts designs scenery. This being thoroughly explained, the Curtain may rise; discovering a large Gothic Hall, decorated in the 1880 taste. Allegories by Watts on the wall - ‘Time cutting the corns of Eternity,’ ‘Love whistling down the ear of Life,’ ‘Youth catching Crabs,’ &c. Windows by Burne-Jones and Morris. A Peacock Blue Hungarian Band playing music on Dolmetsch instruments by Purcell, Byrde, Bull, Bear, Palestrina, and Wagner, &c. Various well-known people crowd the Stage. Among the living may be mentioned Mr. George Street; Mr. Max Beerbohm and his brother; Mr. Albert Rothenstein and his brother, &c. The company is intellectual and artistic; not in any way smart. The Savile and Athenæum Clubs are well represented, but not the Garrick, the Gardenia, nor any of the establishments in the vicinity of Leicester Square. The Princess Salomé is greeting some of the arrivals, who stare at her in a bewildered fashion.

G.F. Watts, 'Time, Death and Judgment' [Tate, London]

The Devil. Silence, please, ladies and gentlemen, for his Excellency the Commander. (A yellowish pallor moves over the audience; effect by Gordon Craig.)

The Statue. It was my intention this evening to make a few observations on flogging in the Navy, Vaccination, the Censor, Vivisection, the Fabian Society, the Royal Academy, Compound Chinese Labour, Style, Simple Prohibition, Vulgar Fractions, and other kindred subjects. But as I opened the paper this morning, my eye caught these headlines: 'Future of the House of Lords,' 'Mr. Edmund Gosse at home,' 'The Nerves of Lord Northcliffe,' 'Interview with Mr. Winston Churchill,' 'Reported Indisposition of Miss Edna May.' A problem was thus presented to me. Will I, shall I, ought I to speak to my friends here - ahem! - and elsewhere, on the subject about which they came to hear me speak. (Applause.) No, I said; the bounders must be disappointed; otherwise they will know what to expect. You must always surprise your audience. When it has been advertised (sufficiently) that I am going to speak about the truth, for example, the audience comes here expecting me to speak about fiction. The only way to surprise them is to speak the truth and that I always do. Nothing surprises English people more than truth; they don't like it; they don't pay any attention to those (such as my friend Mr. H.G. Wells and myself) who trade in truth; but they listen and go away saying 'How very whimsical and paradoxical it all is,' and 'What a clever adventurer the fellow is, to be sure.' 'That was a good joke about duty and beauty being the same thing' - that was a joke I did not make. It is not my kind of joke - but when people begin ascribing to you the jokes of other people, you become a living - I was going to say statue - but I mean a living classic.

The Devil. I thought you disliked anything classic?

The Statue. Ahem! only dead classics - especially when they are employed to protect romanticism. Dead classics are the protective tariffs put on all realism and truth by bloated idealism. In a country of plutocrats, idealism keeps out truth: idealism is more expensive, and therefore more in demand. In America there are more plutocrats, and therefore more idealists.... as Mr. Pember Reeves has pointed out in New Zealand. ...

The Devil. But I say, is this drama?

The Statue. Certainly not. It is a discussion taking place at a theatre. It is no more drama than a music-hall entertainment, or a comic opera, or a cinematograph, or a hospital operation, all of which things take place in theatres. But surely it is more entertaining to come to a discussion charmingly mounted by Ricketts - discussion too, in which every one knows what he is going to say - than to flaccid plays in which the audience always knows what the actors are going to say better often than the actors. The sort of balderdash which Mr. ---- serves up to us for plays.

The Devil (peevish and old-fashioned). I wish you would define drama.

Hankin (advancing). Won't you have tea, Commander? It's not bad tea.

The Statue. I was afraid you were going to talk idealism.

Hankin (aside). Excuse my interrupting, but I want you to be particularly nice to the Princess Salomé. You know she was jilted by the Censor. She has brought her music.


Charles Ricketts, Design for stage-setting of Oscar Wilde's 'Salome' produced at the King's Hall,
Covent Garden, April 1, 1906. Pencil and chalk [Victoria & Albert Museum]
The Devil. You might introduce her to Mrs. Warren. But I am afraid that the Princess has taken rather too much upon herself this evening.

The Statue. Yes, she has taken too much; I am sure she has taken too much.

A Journalist. Is that the Princess Salomé who has Mexican opals in her teeth, and red eyebrows and green hair, and curious rock-crystal breasts?

The Devil. Yes, that is the Princess Salomé.

Shannon. I know the Princess quite well. Ricketts makes her frocks. Shall I ask her to dance?

The Devil. Yes, anything to distract her attention from the guests. These artistic English people are so easily shocked. They don't understand Strauss, nor indeed anything until it is quite out of date. I want to make Hell at least as attractive as it is painted; a place as well as a condition within the meaning of the Act. Full of wit, beauty, pleasure, freedom ---

The Statue. Ugh-ugh.

Shannon. Will you dance for us, Princess?

Salomé. Anything for you, dear Mr. Shannon, only my ankles are a little sore tonight. How is dear Ricketts? I want new dresses so badly.

Shannon. I suppose by this time he is in Heaven. But won't you dance just to make things go? And then the Commander will lecture on super-maniacs later on!

Salomé. Señor Diavolo, what will you give me if I dance to-night?

The Devil. Anything you like, Salomé. I swear by the dramatic critics.

Hankin (correcting). You mean the Styx.

The Devil. Same thing. Dance without any further nonsense, Salomé. Forget that you are in England. This is an unlicensed house.

     [Salomé dances the dance of the Seven Censors.


Robert Ross, 'Shavians from Superman' (fragment) (1910)
The Devil (applauding). She is charming. She is quite charming. Salomé, what shall I do for you? You who are like a purple patch in some one else's prose. You who are like a black patch on some one else's face. You are like an Imperialist in a Radical Cabinet. You are like a Tariff Reformer in a Liberal-Unionist Administration. You are like the Rokeby Velazquez in St. Paul's Cathedral. What can I do for you who are fairer than ----

Salomé. This sort of thing has been tried on me before. Let us come to business. I want Mr. Redford's head on a four-wheel cab.

The Devil. No, not that. You must not ask that. I will give you Walkley's head. He has one of the best heads. He is not ignorant. He really knows what he is talking about.


Arthur Bingham Walkley. Portrait by Alfred Ellis,
(Eglington & Co., 
carbon print, published 1 May 1892)
[
Collection: National Portrait Gallery]
Salomé. I want Mr. Redford's head on a four-wheel cab.

The Devil. Salomé, listen to me. Be reasonable. Do not interrupt me. I will give you William Archer's head. He is charming - a cultivated, liberal-minded critic. He is too liberal. He admires Stephen Phillips. I will give you his dear head if you release me from my oath.

SaloméI want Mr. Redford's head on the top of a four-wheel cab. Remember your oath!

The Devil. I remember I swore at - I mean by - the dramatic critics. Well, I am offering them to you. Exquisite and darling Salomé, I will give you the head of Max Beerbohm. It is unusually large, but it is full of good things. What a charming ornament for your mantelpiece! You will be in the movement. How every one will envy you! People will call upon you who never used to call. Others will send you invitations. You will at last get into English society.

SaloméI want Mr. Redford's head on the top of a four-wheel cab. 

The Devil. Salomé, come hither. Have you ever looked at the Daily Mirror? Only in the Daily Mirror should one look. For it tells the truth sometimes. Well, I will give you the head of Hamilton Fyffe. He is my best friend. No critic is so fond of the drama as Hamilton Fyffe. (Huskily.) Salomé, I will give W.L. Courtney's head. I will give you all their heads.

Salomé. I have the scalps of most critics. I want Mr. Redford's head on a four-wheel cab.

The Devil. Salomé! You do not know what you ask. Mr. Redford is a kind of religion. He represents the Lord Chamberlain. You know the dear Lord Chamberlain. You would not harm one of his servants, especially when they are not insured. It would be cruel. It would be irreligious. It would be in bad taste. It would not be respectable. Listen to me; I will give you all Herod's Stores..... Salomé, Shannon was right. You have taken too much, or you would not ask this thing. See, I will give you Mr. Redford's body, but not his head. No that, not that, my child.

Salomé. I want Mr. Redford's head on a four-wheel cab.

The Devil. Salomé, I must tell you a secret. It is terrible for me to have to tell the truth. The Commander said that I would have to tell the truth. Mr. Redford has no head!

      [The audience long before this have begun to put on their cloaks, and the dramatic critics have gone away to describe the cold reception with which the play has been greeted. All the people on the stage cover their heads except the Statue, who has become during the action of the piece more and more like Mr. Bernard Shaw. Curtain descends slowly.


Charles Ricketts, 'Don Juan in Hell' (oil painting, 1931) [Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool]
Ross dedicated this piece to Arthur Clifton (1862-1932), one of Oscar Wilde's oldest friends. 

[This is the last episode in our series commemorating the life of Robert Ross, who was born 150 years ago, in 1869.]

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

414. Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (5)

As one reviewer wrote about Robert Ross's Masques & Phases: 'very few live in the present and believe in it as Mr. Ross does'. His essays discuss the art of his times, not that of a distant past. The frequent appearances of living authors and artists in his reviews that are sometimes disguised as one-act plays testifies of this focus on the present. The likes of Shaw and Gosse appear on these imaginary stages.


Harley Granville-Barker (c 1915)
[Library of Congress]
In 1906, Harley Granville-Barker produced a play by G.B. Shaw, The Doctor's Dilemma, and only two days before the first performance Shaw thought that the last scene that was set in a picture gallery should contain real art works. Ross, then the proprietor of Carfax Gallery stepped in and delivered some works of art by Augustus John, William Orpen, Albert Rothenstein and others.

Then Ross wrote another little play, called Some Doctored Dilemma (published in Masques & Phases, pp. 236-247). The scene takes place, of course, in a picture gallery in Bury Street (where the Carfax Gallery had its premises), and is presented as 'a new epilogue for the last performance of Mr. Shaw's play'.

The stage is crowded, says Ross; there are, among others, art critics, journalists, collectors, poets, pickpockets and politicians. On show are paintings that were sold only recently, and immediately offered again at double the price.


Isaac Oliver, self-portrait (detail)
[National Portrait Gallery, London]
Enters a 'striking-looking man, not unlike a Holbein drawing, at a distance: but on nearer inspection [...] he is more like an Isaac Oliver or Nicholas Lucidel.' [Both were Renaissance painters.]

Edmund Gosse inquires after his name, and is told:

That is the Holland Park Wonder, so-called because he lives at the top of a tower in Holland Park—the greatest Art Connoisseur in England. Mr. Charles Ricketts, the greatest —

One of the art critics in the room (Frederick Wedmore) asks whether the frames are included in the prices of the pictures, and Ricketts asks:


Do you think I could buy a frame without a picture?

The others all marvel over the paintings of this painter (the imaginary painter Dubedat from Shaw's play), and they argue over the exhibitions that should have contained his work, or the museum collections that need to buy these works now.

Sir Hugh P. Lane (who established Dublin's Municipal Gallery of Modern Art) suggests to buy works at reduced prices or in exchange of other paintings:

I'll give you a Gainsborough drawing in exchange for them. It has a very good history. First it belonged to Ricketts, then to Rothenstein, then Wilson Steer, and then to the Carfax gallery, and .... then it came into my possession, and all that in three months.

The provenance doesn't go far back in time, and reminds us of the claims that some art critics, Ricketts included, published in newspapers, magazines and books in a constant battle among connoisseurs to find the one undiscovered masterpiece that would change the course of the debates about art. Ricketts, of course, frequently proclaimed he had found a lost masterpiece, and sometimes he actually did, sometimes his claim was as unjustified as that of his adversaries.


Robert Ross (c 1911)
In Ross's play, another critic asserts that the paintings look like reproductions after John or Orpen, and someone asks: 'Do you think Bernard Shaw will like the new epilogue?'. Shaw himself answers:

He will; I'm shaw.

The play ends with an attempt to reconstruct Shaw's ten commandments - they were given to H.G. Wells for revision, but he lost them in the Tube. One of them was:

Thou shalt have none other Shaws but me.

The credo is spoken by an actor:

I believe in Bernard Shaw, in Granville Barker, and (heartily) in The Times.

After this 'review' was published, Ricketts wrote a letter to Ross saying that he was 'delighted with your Epilogue':

I laughed to tears over the D.S.M. and Sir Chawles passage.

D.S.M. was the critic D.S. MacColl and Sir Chawles was Sir Charles Holroyd, who went on listing funds that could secure the Dubedat paintings for the nation:

Sir Charles Holroyd (smoothing things over). I think we ought to have an example for the Tate. (MacColl winces.) The Chantrey Bequest—(MacColl winces again)—might do something; and I must write to Lord Balcarres. The National Arts Collections Fund may have something over from the subscriptions to the Rokeby Velasquez; but I want to see what Colvin is going to choose for the British Museum.

The passage, said Ricketts, 'is quite up to your earliest and best manner'. But he did have one complaint about the way he was himself introduced in the play, as a 'striking-looking man, not unlike a Holbein drawing, at a distance: but on nearer inspection [...] he is more like an Isaac Oliver or Nicholas Lucidel.' 

Ricketts would have preferred:

A prepossessing man not unlike Isaac Oliver or Lucidel at a distance: but on close inspection he reveals the perfection of a Holbein, Gosse, Fry, Lane, Rothenstein, all are perfect.

[See Robert Ross, Masques & Phases, 1909, pp. 236-247 and Robert Ross. Friend of Friends (Edited by Margery Ross), 1952, p. 141.]

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

413. Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (4)

When The Tribune announced that the writer Stephen Phillips (1864-1915) was working on a new play on Faust, Robert Ross answered with a version of his own: 'A Little Doctored Faust' (Masques & Phases, pp. 209-223). 

Ross starts with a quote from the dramatist:


Stephen Phillips
In the version of Faust which I am going to prepare there will be nothing spectacular, nothing to overshadow or intrude upon an immortal theme. As to how I shall treat the story, and as to the form in which it will be written, I am not yet sure—it may be a play in blank verse, or in prose with lyrics. 

Ross's prologue transports us to The British Museum where Phillips got a special room to work on his play, implying that he intended to use earlier plays about Faust. Indeed, Goethe, Marlowe and the composer Gounod join him there, and Phillips tells them:

Of course, I treat you as material
On which to work; but then I simplify
And purify the story for our stage.
The English stage is nothing if not pure.
For instance, we will not allow Salomé.


Wilde's Salomé was banned on the basis of an old law that prohibited the depiction of  Biblical characters on the stage - there were performances in Paris and some private ones in London, the first public performance took place in 1931. 


Faust (1908)
When Phillips's version of Faust was published two years later, in 1908, the title page mentioned a co-author, J. Comyns Carr, and the subtitle was: 'freely adapted from Goethe's dramatic poem'.

In 1906, Ross wrote his version that consisted of the British Library prologue - one remembers of course that Goethe's prologue to Faust was set 'In Heaven', - followed by two acts that are as compact as the introductory scene. The issue of authenticity is ridiculed:

Alexander
. One of your lines strike my familiar spirit.
Surely, that does not come from Stephen Phillips.

Marlowe. No matter; I may quote from whom I will.
Shakespeare himself was not immaculate

And borrowed freely from a barren past.

But how barren was Philipps's past who could take his lines from the likes of Goethe and Marlowe? 

Act I brings us to Faust's Studio where Faust speaks to a servant, using Phillips's words:

Faust. If anybody calls, say I am out;
I must have time to see how I will act.
As to the form in which I shall be written,
I must decide whether in prose or verse.


Eugène Delacroix, 'Méphistophélès apparaisant à Faust' (from Goethe, Faust. Paris, Charles Motte, 1828)
[image: 
National Gallery of Victoria]
Mephisto enters and tells he is not impressed by the British audiences and their so-called love for the theatre.

Mephisto. The stage is now an auditorium,
And all the audiences are amateurs,
First-nighters at the bottom of their heart.
What do they care for drama in the least?
All that they need are complimentary stalls,
To know the leading actor, to be round
At dress rehearsals, or behind the scenes,
To hear the row the actor-manager
Had with the author or the leading lady,
Then to recount the story at the Garrick,
Where, lingering lovingly on kippered lies,
They babble over chestnuts and their punch
And stale round-table jests of years ago.

Mephisto and Faust agree to pay a visit to Lord and Lady Walpurge - she an 'intellectual', and:

The husband rich, dishonest, a collector
Of objets d’art, especially old masters.
He got his title for his promises
To England in the war; financed the raid


The party, says Ross, is not very sophisticated, attended by second-rate literary people, an Irish peer, and some well-known musicians. But then, the Princess Salomé is announced by the footman. He has misheard her name and announces her as:

'Er 'Ighness the Princess Swami.

A Lady Journalist, talking to Faust, remarks:

Fancy having that woman here. She is not recognised in any decent society, she is nothing but an adventuress; talks such bad French, too.

(Oscar Wilde had been criticised for his French when the first edition of the play was published.) But Faust answers that the Princess has many admirers in Germany.

Lady Journalist (hedging). I wonder where she gets her frocks? They must be worth a good deal.

Faust. From Ricketts and Shannon, if you want to know.

Lady Journalist. Dear Doctor, you know everything! Let me see: Ricketts and Shannon is that new place in Regent Street, rather like Lewis and Allenby’s, I suppose?

Faust. Yes, only different.


Lewis & Allenby, London (1866) [image: Victorian web]
Lewis and Allenby were famous silk mercers and retailers of ladies' clothing.

In the next two pieces by Ross, 'Shavians from Superman' and 'Some Doctored Dilemma',  Ricketts and Shannon would, again, play a role.

[This modest series of Robert Ross blogs commemorates his birth 150 years ago.]

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

412. Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (3)

Robert Ross frequently referred to his closest friends in his critical and prose pieces written for periodicals and newspapers and collected in Masques & Phases in 1909.

Robert Ross, Masques & Phases (1909)

In a review of an exhibition of the work of Holman Hunt at Leicester Galleries in 1906, he asserted that every critic invents his own brand of Pre-Raphaelitism and believes 'he knows the great secret'. Following Ruskin, Rossetti and Hall Caine tried their hand at definitions. However, even if these critical approaches would be helpful, Ross insists on examining the individual paintings, not the 'movement', and he finds that in almost all genres other painters were better than Holman Hunt. With his religious subjects, he complains, Hunt is the most popular of them all, 'a scapegoat sent out to wander by the dead seas of popularity', and he frames him as 'the missing link between art and popularity'. The painter William Richmond has 'brandished Excalibur in the form of a catalogue for Mr. Hunt's pictures'. Obviously, that was too much for Ross.


William Holman Hunt, 'Self-Portrait' (1867) [Uffizi Gallery]
At this point, the essay takes a turn and ends like a medieval story about a 'good knight and true', who, as a Knight for the Royal Academy of Art battles against modernism in its many forms.

Through the broken tracery of the Italian Gothic window a breeze or draught comes softly and fans his strong academic arms; he feels a twinge. Some Merlin told him he would suffer from ricketts with shannon complications. Seizing Excalibur, he opens the door cautiously, "Draw, caitiffs," he cries; "draw." "Perhaps they cannot draw; perhaps they are impressionists," said a raven on the hill; and he flew away.
('Mr. Holman Hunt at the Leicester Galleries', p. 179-180).

Ricketts with shannon complications! As if 'rickets' disease is not worrying enough.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

411. Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (2)

Robert Ross - born 150 years ago - published art criticisms in several periodicals, and collected a few of them in a volume called Masques & Phases (London, Arthur L. Humphreys, 1909), a book that is difficult to find these days. However, the complete text is available online at Gutenberg.com.


Robert Ross, Masques & Phases (1909) [cover: detail]
A few weeks ago, I quoted a piece in which Ricketts made his appearance as a character, even one that wrote poetry. (See: Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (1).)

A second time that either Ricketts or Shannon's name turns up in the book is in a column called 'Going Up Top' (pp. 116-124). It is based on the old game of making lists of excellent poets, politicians, etcetera. Ross writes:

During a New Year week I was invited by Lord and Lady Lyonesse to a very diverting house-party.  This peer, it will be remembered, is the well-known radical philanthropist who owed his title to a lifelong interest in the submerged tenth.  Their house, Ivanhoe, is an exquisite gothic structure not unjustly regarded as the masterpiece of the late Sir Gilbert Scott: it overlooks the Ouse. Including our hosts we numbered forty persons, and the personnel, including valets, chauffeurs, and ladies’-maids brought by the guests, numbered sixty.  In all, we were a hundred souls, assuming immortality for the chauffeurs and the five Scotch gardeners. On January 2nd somebody produced after dinner a copy of the Petit Parisien relating the plebiscite for the greatest Frenchman of the nineteenth century; another guest capped him with the Evening News list. The famous Pall Mall Gazette Academy of Forty was recalled with indifferent accuracy.  Conversation was flagging; our hostess looked relieved; very soon we were all playing a p. 120variation of that most charming game, suck-pencil.

Lord and Lady Lyonesse - a name that evokes a sunken land from Arthurian legend as well as hosts that throw the best of parties - invite their guest to list the ten greatest living Englishmen, and when the votes are counted the guests have included the writers Marie Corelli and Rudyard Kipling, the newspaper magnate Lord Northcliffe and the actor George Alexander, among others. 


Robert Ross, Masques & Phases (1909, page 122)
The list drawn up by Ross himself is quite different. From the general list, it only includes the name of Nortcliffe. His eminent men - no women indeed! - are mainly writers, six of them: H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Thomas Hardy, Edmund Gosse, Andrew Lang, some of whom are intimate friends such as Reginald Turner. There is one physicist (Oliver Lodge) and one cardinal (Dom Gasquet), and, for an art critic, oddly enough, there is only one artist on his list. This, of course, is Charles Hazelwood Shannon.

The other guests are not familiar with the names of the physicist and the cardinal. Some believed that Lang had died long ago (he would die in 1912, three years after Masques & Phases was published). Only the one artist in the crowd knows the name of the painter Charles Shannon, the others assume that the portrait painter James Jubusa Shannon is intended.  

Shannon, all too often, was approached by people who wanted him to paint their portraits, only to withdraw the assignment after discovering their error. The wrong Shannon!

When this piece was published in Masques & Phases Shannon wrote to Ross:

Your book is too delightful. I don't get much chance of seeing it because Ricketts is generally curled up on the sofa convulsed with laughter.
[Letter from Charles Shannon to Robert Ross, 13 October 1909, published in: Robert Ross. Friend of Friends, 1952, page 167].

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

410. The Ricketts Medal by Alphonse Legros

At Lyon & Turnbull, Edinburgh, in a furniture sale on 14 May, one lot contained medals depicting the artists G.F. Watts and Charles Ricketts. Both medals were designed by Alphonse Legros. The first one was gilded and quite large (8.5 cm diameter), the second one was a cast bronze medal 'with brown patina' (6 cm diameter). The set was estimated at £600-800, and fetched £1,125 (buyer's premium included).

Alphonse Legros, 'Charles Ricketts' [medal, 1897]
The Ricketts medal dates from 1897. The front shows the artist in profile, the reverse depicts a woodcutter, axe raised, chopping a tree. 

How many copies of this medal were made is unclear. However, Philip Attwood, in his catalogue Artistic Circles (1992) stated that this kind of medal was expensive and issued in 'small editions' (page 11).

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

409. A Unique Copy of Ricketts's Dell'Arte Della Stampa

Last Saturday, auction house Hesse in Hamburg dispersed part of the personal collection of the book designer Hans (Giovanni) Mardersteig, including a range of his own publications that were issued under the name Officina Bodoni. Some of these books have escaped good descriptions in official Officina Bodoni bibliographies, as can be concluded from the two copies of Carlo Ricketts, Dell'arte della stampa (1926). 


Carlo Ricketts, Dell'arte della stampa (1926)
This Italian translation of Ricketts's Defence of the Art of Printing (1899) - the name of the translator is unknown - was printed for the Officina Bodoni by the Stabilimenti Grafici Mondadori in Verona in only 125 copies, all on Fabriano paper. They were numbered from 1 to 125 and bound in half vellum.


Carlo Ricketts, Dell'arte della stampa (1926)
However, one of the copies in this auction is not numbered, but lettered: 'E', and this is one of at least five, and perhaps more copies that were kept by the publisher, or, perhaps, given to the author.


Carlo Ricketts, Dell'arte della stampa (1926):
Mardersteig's copy on Japanese paper
Another copy of the same book was an exceptional one, printed on Japanese paper, especially for Mardersteig himself, and bound in leather. Even the Officina Bodoni's own bibliographies and exhibition catalogues didn't mention these lettered copies, let alone the one copy printed on a different deluxe paper. 

Other deluxe editions in this auction were recorded, for example in the 1979 catalogue by Giovanni Mardersteig, Die Officina Bodoni. Das Werk einer Handpresse 1923-1977 published by the Maximilian-Gesellschaft in Hamburg. According to this bibliography the 1932 Ovidius edition was issued in an edition of three copies on vellum and 120 on Magnani paper. Likewise, Plato's Crito was issued in an edition of 480 copies, of which five deluxe copies on Japanese paper. One of those was sold at the Hesse auction. This was the 'Printers copy', formerly owned by Frederic Warde. It was sold for €2600.

Neither the lettered edition of Ricketts, nor the unique copy on Japanese paper is mentioned in Mardersteig's bibliography. They were sold for €380 (lettered copy) and €2600 (Japanese paper). 


Carlo Ricketts, Dell'arte della stampa (1926)
These books in the Hesse auction came from the grandson of Mardersteig. Most of Mardersteig's collection has remained intact in Italy.