Wednesday, November 20, 2019

434. Dante, War and Ricketts

The Book of Italy appeared during World War I, in 1916, and its chief aim was to help the Italian soldiers' and sailors' families in the United Kingdom, and the Italian Red Cross, as editor Raffaello Piccoli wrote in the preface.

At the time of publication Piccoli was lecturer in Italian at the University of Cambridge (later he became professor). After the War he would become a visiting professor at Northampton and Chicago, and became a professor of English Literature at the university of Naples where he was born in 1886. In the course of his life he would meet authors such as T.S. Eliot, and philosophers including Ludwig Wittgenstein. Among the magazines that published his articles was the Burlington Magazine of Art. [A portrait of him was published on Literary Magdalene, 2016.] He was an opponent of fascism. His obituary appeared in The Times, two days after he had died in Davos on 21 January 1933. He had been in ill health for some years.


Charles Ricketts, 'Dante at the Tomb of Pope Anastasio',
in The Book of Italy (1916)
As a connoisseur of both English and Italian culture, Piccoli was the obvious person to act as an editor, although he was quite young at the time (around 30 years old). During the war, he left for Italy to take part in the fights at the front; he was subsequently wounded, and held prisoner in a concentration camp. 

The Book of Italy was published in April 2016 in two editions, one in blue cloth (7s 6d) and 'a fine edition' bound in white vellum (21s). The volume brings together various contributions from authors, critics, musicians and artists and contains a reprint of a woodcut by Charles Shannon ('Fruit Pickers', from 1898) and a reproduction of a drawing by Charles Ricketts.

Ricketts's illustration is a drawing heightened in watercolour. The location of the original is unknown to me and unfortunately it has been reproduced in black and white (in half-tone) in The Book of Italy. It was given a prominent place, facing the first text on page 1. However, the place of honour was for a work by John Sargent, 'Head of a Neopolitan Boy', which was reproduced in colour as a frontispiece (there were seven colour illustrations).

Ricketts's contribution is called: 'Dante at the door of the tomb of Pope Anastasio (Inferno, Canto XI)'. The reference is to lines 7-9 of Canto XI:

In su l'estremità d'un' altra ripa,
  Che facevan gran pietre rotte in cerchio,
  Venimmo sopra più crudele stipa;

E quivi per l'orribile soperchio
  Del puzzo, che il profondo abisso gitta,
  Ci raccostammo dietro ad un coperchio

D'un grande avello, ov' io vidi una scritta
  Che diceva: "Anastasio papa guardo,
  Lo qual trasse Fotin della via dritta."

In this canto (a translation is available online) Dante and Virgil make a delay between the tombs and Virgil explains to Dante (and the reader) how the deeper layers of hell are classified. They see an inscription indicating that this is the resting place of Pope Anastasius, who was led astray from the right path by Photinus. Anastasius and Photinus lived during the fifth century, and played their part in the Acacian Schism between the Eastern and Western Christian Churches.

Virgil then says that they should slowly start the descent into hell, so that they can get used to the appalling stench. Ricketts may have chosen this passage to indicate that the war would bring even more misery. But he may also have wanted to refer to the schism in contemporary European culture, where the West was at war with the East and the North with the South.

Charles Ricketts, 'Dante at the Tomb of Pope Anastasio' (detail),
in The Book of Italy (1916)
From below not only flames and dirty vapours rise, but also a steady wind, given the billowing mantle of Virgil, whose young face, like Dante's, is directed towards the name Anastasio. Ricketts misspelt the name, he left out an 'a': 'ANAS | TSIO'.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

433. The Portrait(s) of W.H.

This week's blog is a guest blog written by Geoff Dibb, events secretary of the Oscar Wilde Society. In 2013, his study of Wilde's UK lectures was published by the Society: Oscar Wilde, A Vagabond with a Mission. Last week's blog contained a scoop: the first publication of Ricketts's sketch of Mr. W.H. In the text below, Dibb compares this sketch with Wilde's descriptions.

The Portrait(s) of Mr. W.H.



The Portrait of Mr. W.H. is an intriguing and delightful essay by Oscar Wilde, part fiction, part literary criticism of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Much detail was given about it in this blog in 2014 (153. The Portrait of Mr W.H.) However, here I intend to look in detail at Wilde's descriptions of the eponymous portrait(s) and the painting which Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon prepared for Wilde.

The Portrait of Mr. W.H. has been published in two forms: as an article in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine in July 1889 which Wilde then re-worked and extended to book length. He laboured over it for years but the book was not published and the manuscript disappeared after the chaos of his trials in 1895. A book length manuscript of Wilde's was found and published in 1921. I have serious doubts that this book contained Wilde's final efforts and will touch on this later.



Dedication in Shakespeare's Sonnets
(designed by Charles Ricketts, Vale Press, 1899)

In both the magazine and book editions the main characters are trying to prove the theory that the Mr. W.H. mentioned in the dedication to the 1609 volume of the Sonnets is a beautiful young actor called William Hughes (or any variant or spelling of this name). When they fail to find proof that there was an Elizabethan actor in Shakespeare's company of that name, the originator of this theory, Cyril Graham, then finds an Elizabethan portrait of 'Master Will. Hewes' in Warwickshire. Or, rather, he pretends to have done so because, eventually, this portrait of Mr. W.H. is found to be a forgery by an artist called Edward Merton. Despite this the un-named Narrator is inspired and continues to study the Sonnets and search for evidence. I am not going to describe the fascinating storyline but I am going to look carefully at this forged portrait and its various incarnations, literary and artistic.

This eponymous portrait is described in detail three times in the magazine article. Its first appearance is quite early in the text:

... a full-length portrait of a young man in late Sixteenth-century costume, standing by a table, with his right hand resting on an open book. He seemed about seventeen years of age… [he wears a] black velvet doublet with its fantastically gilded points, and … two masks of Tragedy and Comedy… hung somewhat formally from the marble pedestal ...
[the ellipses are mine]

The book on which his right hand rests is open at the dedicatory page in Shakespeare's Sonnets. The portrait is next described when we are told about it being supposedly 'found' by Cyril Graham:

Here was an authentic portrait of Mr. W.H., with his hand resting on the dedicatory page of the Sonnets, and on the frame itself could be faintly seen the name of the young man written in black uncial letters on a faded gold ground, "Master Will. Hews."

And lastly, in the magazine edition, Merton, who forged the portrait, is found and his preliminary sketch is discovered:

... a drawing of the picture of Mr. W.H. ... It was almost a facsimile - the only difference being that the two masks of Tragedy and Comedy were not suspended from the marble table as they are in the picture, but were lying on the floor at the young man's feet.

Soon after publication of the magazine, Wilde began to extend the article to book length and, in the autumn of 1889, he met Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon for the first time. He told them about his theory of Mr. W.H. and invited Ricketts around to his home in Tite Street where he read the whole thing to him, presumably from an extended manuscript at this point. He then asked him to produce a portrait of Mr. W.H. - in the style of Clouet - which could be used as the frontispiece of the projected book. Wilde must have either written Ricketts a description of the portrait or given him the magazine article. Ricketts recalled:

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

Wilde wrote the very next day:

It is not a forgery at all; it is an authentic Clouet of the highest artistic value. It is absurd of you and Shannon to try and take me in! 

Wilde was engrossed in this subject and continued to work on it but, when his trials began, it was dropped by his publisher who supposedly returned the manuscript to Tite Street. Shortly afterwards Wilde became bankrupt and a chaotic auction of his and his family's belongings took place in Tite Street. The auction catalogue includes no reference to this manuscript but does have:

125 An old oil painting of Will Hewes, framed

which was sold but eventually it, too, disappeared and has never re-appeared, which is a great pity. However, in November 1912 Ricketts did a thumbnail sketch of the portrait which we can now see:

Charles Ricketts, portrait sketch of Mr. W.H.
[image: William Andrews Clark Library, Los Angeles,
with permission of Leonie Sturge Moore and Charmian O'Neil]
[darkened and cropped by Geoff Dibb]

This is, undoubtedly, a very sketchy sketch of the oil painting and Ricketts drew it 23 years after he painted the original. Because of this passage of time it may not be a completely accurate reproduction but he did paint the original and his recollections are generally accurate. In any case, it is all we have.

We can make out some details which accord with Wilde's description of the portrait: it is a full length portrait of a man standing with his right leg advanced, his right arm is resting on a table or plinth (on which I can be persuaded is a book), his outfit (it looks to be sixteenth century) is darkly hatched to represent his 'black velvet doublet' and there is a rough indication of a worm-eaten frame. This is all fine but, top left, there is an object which looks to be an elaborate scroll or plaque which generally would have contained some details about the subject of the portrait. If sixteenth-century portraits include any information about the subject, it is a name and possibly age and date, usually written along the top of the picture or to the side of the portrait itself, or a coat of arms is painted. The use of a scroll to contain details, whilst known, is not common at this period. 


As I have already noted, in the magazine edition description of the portrait, Wilde writes that the sitter's name is on the frame:

... written in black uncial letters on a faded gold ground, "Master Will. Hews."

But, in drafting his book edition, this is changed by Wilde to:


... on the corner of the picture could be faintly seen the name of the young man himself written in gold uncial letters on the faded bleu de paon ground, "Master Will. Hews."

The name has moved from being on the frame to on the corner of the picture. I do accept that there is no mention in the text of a scroll bearing his name, and indeed, Wilde has previously described the background of the portrait as being peacock-blue, so his conception is of the name on the painted background. However, for whatever reason, the Ricketts sketch does show a scroll in the corner of the picture.

The most significant other change is in the third occurrence of the portrait where Merton's preliminary drawing is discovered:

Magazine: 
It was almost a facsimile, - the only difference being that the two masks of Tragedy and Comedy were not suspended from the marble table as they are in the picture, but were lying on the floor at the young man's feet

Book:
It was almost a facsimile, — the only difference being that the two masks of Tragedy and Comedy were not lying on the floor at the young man's feet, as they were in the picture, but were suspended by gilt ribands.

What can we make of this significant change, moving the masks of comedy and tragedy from being suspended to lying on the floor? If the masks were suspended from the table in Ricketts's sketch of his portrait, then they would be obvious and just a little below the table top. They definitely are not there. Has Ricketts omitted this key detail or could there possibly be a mask lying on the floor at the young man's feet indicated by a semi-circular shape alongside Will Hewes' right foot?

I have a photographic reproduction of the manuscript which was published as the book in 1921 and this page is interesting: Wilde has pasted page 9 of the magazine article onto a larger sheet and has made changes to the magazine text shown below (struck through text is where Wilde has crossed words out and bold text is Wilde's new insertion):

... and on the frame itself corner of the picture could be faintly seen the name of the young man ... 

When it comes to the two masks Wilde has made a first set of changes:

... the two masks of Tragedy and Comedy were not suspended from the marble table pedestal as they are in the picture, but were lying placed on the floor at the young man's feet.

So at this earliest stage of correction, Wilde is improving his text, not altering his description. But then, with a very different pen, he scores through five lines of the sentence after ... the two masks of Tragedy and Comedy and a new section is written at the top of the page and inserted:

were not lying on the floor at the young man's feet, as they are in the picture, but were suspended by gilt ribands

I think we are seeing different corrections at different times, here. The earlier insertions (pedestal and placed) may have been made by Wilde to improve his text but this wholesale change in the position of the two masks must have been made later, after he received Ricketts's portrait and realised its error.

I have to admit that the sketch by Ricketts is not unambiguous when it comes to details. But Wilde must have had a reason to change his descriptions and I conclude that, although Wilde was overjoyed with Ricketts's portrait, it must not have reproduced these particular details accurately and, rather than ask Ricketts to paint another - clearly an unacceptable option - he edited what he hoped to be the text of his book to match the painting. After all, the text and the painting had to correlate because it was planned to be the book's frontispiece. 

Whilst this 'two masks' text is changed at this point in the manuscript, Wilde did not make the same change to the text at the beginning of the story and, therefore, the book edition descriptions published in 1921 differ. It may be that at that point, Wilde felt he had increased his text sufficiently to have created the draft of his book and sent it to be typed. After that he then worked on this typescript. This is commonly how he did work, editing typescripts and sometimes producing several as he redrafted his text. Perhaps it was a later, more complete and corrected text which was submitted to his publishers and this was returned to Tite Street and lost in the chaos of 1895.

Conclusion


I believe Wilde did alter the text of The Portrait of Mr. W.H. to accord with Ricketts's painting. I also believe that the text of the book-length version Wilde submitted to his publisher - probably in typescript - was lost in 1895 and the manuscript which was published in 1921 is an earlier draft.

The intriguing portraits of Mr. W.H. are both literary and actual: eventually there were six in total. The magazine edition had both the portrait (masks suspended) and Merton's original drawing of it (masks on the floor); the book edition (the typescript that I speculate existed but is now lost) had a different portrait (masks on the floor) and a different original drawing by Merton (masks suspended); Ricketts actually painted a forgery of an imaginary forgery (with masks on the floor) and, eventually, because this was lost, he sketched the portrait we have before us now (masks not suspended.)

Finally


On page 9 of the manuscript, following the amended description of the portrait, Wilde inserted a sentence for his book edition which wonderfully encapsulates the fiction, forgery and facts that constitute The Portrait of Mr. W.H.: 

It is quite clear from Sonnet XLVII that Shakespeare had a portrait of Mr. W.H. in his possession, and it seemed to me more than probable that here we had the very 'painted banquet' on which he invited his eye to feast, the actual picture that awoke his heart 'to heart's and eye's delight'.

This is Wilde's chronologically impossible fancy: Shakespeare's sonnets worshipping the 'Fair Youth' could have been written at any date from 1585 to the end of the century, but the seventeen year-old boy of the portrait is pointing at the dedicatory page which did not exist until publication in 1609. The portrait had to be painted after the Sonnets were published and, therefore, this young man cannot be Mr. W.H. and Shakespeare cannot have feasted his eyes upon it. After 1609, the 'Fair Youth' would not have been seventeen but aged anywhere between twenty-seven and his early forties.
     Geoff Dibb


References:
Oscar Wilde, 'The Portrait of Mr. W.H.', in: Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, vol. CXLVI (July-December 1889), pp. 1-21.
The Portrait of Mr. W.H. As Written by Oscar Wilde. New York, Mitchell Kennerley, 1921.
Jean Paul Raymond & Charles Ricketts, Oscar Wilde Recollections. [London], The Nonesuch Press, 1932, pp. 28, 35-36.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

432. The Portrait of Mr. W.H.

What did Charles Ricketts's portrait of W.H. look like? Earlier, I wrote about Oscar Wilde's story and about Ricketts painting that did not surface after the sale of Wilde's possessions, see blog 153 The Portrait of Mr. W.H

Ricketts made the painting so that it could serve as a frontispiece for a publication of Wilde's story. The painting is considered to be lost. But in 1912 Ricketts showed Wilde's bibliographer Christopher Sclater Millard (Stuart Mason) what it had looked like. His sketch has been preserved in the William Andrews Clark Memorial library, Los Angeles, and is now published here for the first time, with thanks to the library (for providing the scan) and to the copyright holders, Leonie Sturge Moore and Charmian O'Neil.


Dedication to Mr. W.H.
In Oscar Wilde. Recollections (published posthumously in 1932), Charles Ricketts remembered what Wilde's study looked like:

His small study in Tite Street was painted buttercup yellow, the woodwork lacquer red. On the walls hung a Monticelli, a Japanese painting of children at play, and a drawing by Simeon Solomon of Eros conversing with some youths dressed in the clothes worn in Shelley's boyhood. Behind the author's chair a red stand supported a cast from the bust of the Hermes by Praxiteles.
(Oscar Wilde, Recollections, 1932, pp. 34-35)

Later on, Ricketts's painting of Mr. W.H. would be hung there. He would make it after Wilde read him 'The Portrait of Mr. W.H.' and he would remember the author's description of a painting of Willie Hughes, 'a boy-actor of great beauty' to whom Shakespeare allegedly had presented his sonnets:

It was a full length portrait of a young man in late sixteenth-century costume, standing by a table, with his right hand resting on an open book. He seemed about seventeen years of age, and was of quite extraordinary personal beauty though evidently somewhat effeminate. Indeed, had it not been for the dress and the closely cropped hair, one would have said that the face, with its dreamy wistful eyes, and its delicate scarlet lips, was the face of a girl. In manner, and especially in the treatment of the hands, the picture reminded one of François Clouet's later work. The black velvet doublet with its fantastically gilded points, and the peacock-blue background against which it showed up so pleasantly, and from which it gained such luminous value of colour, were quite in Clouet's style; and the two masks of Tragedy and Comedy that hung somewhat formally from the marble pedestal had that hard severity of touch - so different from the facile grace of the Italians - which even at the Court of France the great Flemish master never completely lost, and which in itself has always been a characteristic of the northern temper.
(The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. Volume VIII. The Short Fiction, 2017, pp. 260-261)


Charles Ricketts, portrait sketch of Mr. W.H.
[image: William Andrews Clark Library, Los Angeles,
with permission of Leonie Sturge Moore and Charmian O'Neil]
In a follow-up blog, Wilde collector Geoff Dibb - in 2013 he published a book about Oscar Wilde's lecture tours of Britain and Ireland, - will examine Wilde's texts more thoroughly.


Charles Ricketts, portrait sketch of Mr. W.H.
[image: William Andrews Clark Library, Los Angeles,
with permission of Leonie Sturge Moore and Charmian O'Neil]

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

431. Ricketts's Death Certificate

For many of Ricketts's friends, his death came as a surprise, although they found him tired and overworked in recent years. The poet Gordon Bottomley, for example, felt that Ricketts, after Shannon's accident, showed even more grandeur than before. He wrote to Thomas Sturge Moore:


I used to revere him and think I knew what he was: but it was not until after Shannon’s calamity that I realised all his grandeur as well as greatness. Every time I was with him after that he opened out more and more: and I used to come away with a new awe mingling with my ancient admiration. There was one night when he kept Emily and me sitting late, and then walked with us to the ’bus, that we never forget: his loneliness, his solicitude for Shannon, the dignity and beauty of all he said made us often feel like tears if he had not been on a plane beyond them.
[Unpublished letter from Gordon Bottomley to Thomas Sturge Moore, 1 November 1931]


The gravestone of Gordon and Emily Bottomley, at Dundurn, Perthshire
[Photo: Thinair: Wikimedia Commons]
During his last year Ricketts had made a summer trip to Italy, but he was bored and felt depressed and tired. Shannon, who, after his fall, had never become himself again, 'developed a "phobia" against his studio and against Ricketts' (as Paul Delaney informs us in his biography of Ricketts). Ricketts threw himself into his work and designed dresses and scenery for Ferdinand Bruckner's play Elizabeth of England, but he couldn't handle it all, and asked Henning Nyberg to complete his work, while Bruce Winston saw after the costumes.

His doctor treated him for indigestion, and it was said to be nothing serious. In the early  morning of 7 October 1931, his man-servant Percy Nicholls brought Ricketts his medicine. When Nicholls  returned a few hours later, Ricketts had died in his sleep of heart failure. Delaney adds: 'Indeed, one might say he had died of a broken heart.'

What then follows are stories about the cremation, the memorial service and the scattering of the ashes. But in the meantime some events had occurred and they were due to the doctor's misdiagnosis.

Here is what Thomas Sturge Moore wrote to Gordon Bottomley on 21 December 1931:

The doctor diagnosed Ricketts['] case quite wrong and gave him exactly the worst treatment, and then refused to sign the death certificate so that the police took his poor body away for a couple of days for Dr Spillsbury to examine. As Jackson says if any man ever died of a broken heart it was Ricketts. [...] But I expect Nyberg has written all the details to you. And I suppose they ought to be forgotten. 
[Unpublished letter from T. Sturge Moore to Gordon Bottomley, 21 December 1931]

Indeed, Nyberg had written Bottomley, but he hadn't touched on these sinister details.

Bernard Spilsbury, c. 1925
[Photo: Official Home Office photograph]
[Wikimedia Commons]
Bernard Spilsbury (1877-1947) - Moore added a letter 'l' to the name - was a famous pathologist who performed thousands of autopsies following sudden deaths, including murder victims, but he also examined the bodies of executed criminals. Ricketts's sudden death needed to be examined.

These fragments are published as a prepublication of the forthcoming online edition of the complete correspondence of Thomas Sturge Moore and Gordon Bottomley, which is being prepared by John Aplin for InteLex Past Masters
I am very grateful to John Aplin for agreeing to this pre-publication.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

430. Ricketts In Wilde's Lifes

In this blog, I haven't mentioned the new biography about Oscar Wilde before, but the book is a good opportunity to see how both biographers - Richard Ellmann and Matthew Sturgis - deal with Charles Ricketts.


Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (1987): index (detail)
The lemma Ricketts is the most elaborate in the index of Ellmann's biography Oscar Wilde (published 1987). There are twenty references. In most cases they do not refer to Wilde's meetings with Ricketts, but to stories that Wilde told and that Ricketts published in his Recollections of Oscar Wilde (1932). This applies to almost half of the references. In one case Ellmann refers to the letters and diaries published in Self-Portrait (1939).

Ricketts is only mentioned in passing as the designer of Wilde's books. Much more attention is paid to the coterie of the Vale and The Dial in connection with John Gray, one of Wilde's lovers, to copies of Wilde's books that Ricketts received, and to the possibility that he was a model for Basil Hallward in The Portrait of Dorian Gray. The role of designer of Wilde's books is almost neglected. Ricketts's role in Wilde's life was mainly limited to the years 1890-1895, and from 1905 onwards with his designs for the posthumous Wilde publications.

There are no portraits of Ricketts or reproductions of Wilde's books in Ellmann's biography.


Matthew Sturgis, Oscar. A Life (2018): index (detail)
Wilde's fame has not diminished since 1987, on the contrary; in 2018, the new biographer Matthew Sturgis no longer even mentions Wilde's surname in the title of his biography: Oscar. A Life. We don't recognise any Oscar - except Wilde.

Only fourteen references to Ricketts are included in Sturgis' index. Sturgis approaches Ricketts in a different way: not as a source for stories about Wilde, but as a designer and friend of Wilde throughout the book. In only two cases does he quote Ricketts's Recollections as a source for stories about Wilde and others. Most of the passages are about Ricketts's designs for The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Sphinx, and other books. Evidently, he had Delaney's biography of Ricketts at his disposal (which had not yet appeared when Ellmann wrote his biography), but he also cites earlier works such as the memoirs of William Rothenstein and Charles J. Holmes, and he quotes from Wilde's letters. From this he found a nice phrase about Ricketts's advice to join him in a Trappist monastery after prison (imagine them together in  monastery cell), and another letter in which Wilde expects Ricketts and Shannon to visit him at the end of his life: 'those good kind friends of mine'.

This is how Sturgis treats both artists, Ricketts and Shannon: as good friends of Wilde and as his most important designers. In this way he does more justice to their unique relationship with the author than Ellmann did.

However a few small mistakes are to be regretted. He erroneously calls A House of Pomegranates 'The House of Pomegranates' and still thinks (despite our little book about Ricketts's mother!) that Ricketts was half French. He was half-Italian!

Sturgis' biography does not contain images of Ricketts's designs either, but there is a double portrait of Ricketts and Shannon: a well-known lithograph by William Rothenstein. 

Matthew Sturgis, Oscar. A Life (2018): endpapers
And then, there are the endpapers: they have been decorated with a design after Ricketts. Now this is truly to be regretted. The design is not justified and was created by maltreating Ricketts's original design for the binding of Wilde's Poems. 

This in itself was a misjudgement, and the art editor did not realize that Ricketts had also designed the endpapers for the 1892 edition of Poems - with a different design - that should have been chosen instead,  and then, of course, in the perfect design of Ricketts himself, and not in a bad arrangement.

The red colour is passable. But the subtlety of the original has disappeared. We can't blame the author for this, but we can blame his publisher. Shame!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

429. Ricketts's Erotic Sphinxes

Occasionally, in search of literature on illustrations and book covers, you'll come across an article that surprises you. Recently I read some chapters in Gerard Curtis's Visual Words. Art and Material Book in Victorian England. The book dates from 2002 and contains a chapter on the visual impact of books, as the author states: 'from their relationship with busts in libraries to their use as symbolic and iconic manifestations of sexuality and death, and as objects sublimating morality and mortality'. This chapter is called 'The empty biscuit tin'.

Charles Ricketts is mentioned in this chapter (not in the index):

Literary culture dressed up its desires, clothing the object in preparation for the tantalizing opening of reading and its abstract pleasure by decorating both the cover and the inside of the book. Such dressing-up heightened the erotic attraction, linking sensual physicality and textual abstraction. Indicative of this unfolding of textual pleasure were the numerous erotic bookplates and markers designed by artists like Aubrey Beardsley, and by various artists in Germany and France. These sensual bookmarks and ownership tags demonstrated the intensification of the sexual element of book-ownership that arose in the latter part of the century, particularly under the influence of the Aesthetic movement.
(pp. 253-254)


Aubrey Beardsley,
Mr. Pollitt's Bookplate
These are difficult assertions to substantiate. In Germany, for example, there had certainly been an increase in erotic bookplates, but has this not been due to the increased private publishing of erotic works in small editions? Whereas in England privately printed books often commemorated deceased soldiers, or other family members, in Germany this kind of publication was often erotic in nature. There was a growing industry of pornographic luxury publications in France and Germany. The collectors adapted their bookplates. We never see this erotic type of bookplate in the more decent editions, the private press publications, for example, of the Kelmscott, Doves, and Vale Presses.

Curtis assertions are made in a paragraph called 'The breast-bound book', which, by the way, is Marcel Duchamp's cover for Le Surréalisme en 1947. This is an indication of the ease with which Curtis jumps back and forth through time, from an example from 1863 in which books by female and male authors are not allowed to stand next to each other on the bookshelf, to a period in which sexuality was commented on and shown in a different way. His assumptions are not always based on facts. In this context Ricketts is mentioned.

Given the high percentage of publishing costs spent on binding alone, the widespread attention to bindings and their designs by publishers show how there was an economic return on catering to both the commodity and fetishistic reliquary value of text. Indeed a considerable  number of covers from the period featured comely women, making the textual attraction quite specific. 

Curtis mentions Louis Legrand's binding for Erastène's Cours de Danse Fin de Siècle (1894) with the 'grasped spread-leg of a Cancan dance', and Aubrey Beardsley's illustration for a prospectus advertising The Yellow Book, displaying 'a sensual woman, clad in black, and out alone at night, preparing to pick out a volume at a bookstall'. In between, he mentions Ricketts:

Charles Ricketts's erotic sphinxes on the binding of Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx (1894), were complemented on the frontispiece by a topless female  wrapped in vines.
(p. 254)


Charles Ricketts, binding for Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx (1894): detail of front cover
While Legrand and Beardsley undoubtedly had erotic intentions with their illustrations, this applies to a lesser extent to Ricketts, especially when it came to female figures, who do not always seem to be drawn from nature. The breasts of the sphinxes, for example, are extremely stylized.


Charles Ricketts, binding for Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx (1894): detail of back cover

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

428. Phoenix and Unicorn

The small exhibition at the Rotunda of the Old Library at Dulwich College in London (see blog 425) ends on 17 October. Requests to visit should be addressed to the Director of Art and Design Technology, Sue Mulholland. (See here for her email address). A catalogue is available at the same email address.

Exhibition 'Phoenix and Unicorn', Dulwich Gallery, September 2019
[Photo: Cas Piggott]
The curator (Jan Piggott) kindly mailed me some images made by his wife, Cas Piggott. They show the five display cases with books and prints from his collection, and on the wall are reproductions and texts. Originally, the exhibition was supposed to be more extensive and obviously the selected works hardly fit in the showcases. The books are lying on top of each other. Only a private collector can do that. A museum or library would not give permission for this nowadays because of the strict climate and display requirements. This presentation is prove of the collector's insatiable appetite and admiration for the work of Thomas Sturge Moore.

Exhibition 'Phoenix and Unicorn', Dulwich Gallery, September 2019
[Photo: Cas Piggott]
The work of Thomas Sturge Moore is shown between that of his contemporaries Charles Ricketts and Lucien Pissarro. There are some remarkable exhibits, such as the original woodblock for the engraving 'The Centaur's First Love', that is always associated with the Vale Press edition of Maurice de Guérin's The Centaur, and The Bacchante. (1899), translated and illustrated by Sturge Moore. This wood-engraving was not used for the book.

T.S. Moore, 'The Cantaur's First Love' (block and print)
[Photo: Cas Piggott]

The block was among some seventy blocks given to the St Bride Printing Library by Leonie Sturge Moore. This block has been kept in an envelope, and is accompanied by a print. It is shown with the artist's tools.


Exhibition 'Phoenix and Unicorn', Dulwich Gallery, September 2019
[Photos: Cas Piggott]
Moore engraved some ninety blocks; the images did not reach a very large audience. His bookbinding designs did reach a wider public, especially the ones he designed for a large number of William Butler Yeats' later books of poetry and prose, such as Reveries over Childhood and Youth and The Cutting of an Agate. These elegant and symbolic designs were seen by most contemporary readers of Yeats' work.

The opening, I heard, was a special event, attended by four Sturge Moores, two Binyons, and a Pissarro. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

427. A Dedication Copy of Dorian Gray

Next Monday, on 7 October, a deluxe copy of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray will be auctioned at Christie's in Paris.


Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
Deluxe copy No. 74 (design: Charles Ricketts)

This is a special copy, No. 74 of 250 signed large paper copies, containing an inscription by Wilde to the French author Pierre Louÿs: 

Given to 
Pierre Louÿs
by his 
friend
Oscar Wilde

in London:
in June:


Dedication to Pierre Louys in
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
Deluxe copy No. 74 (design: Charles Ricketts)
This copy was auctioned in 1926 with Pierre Louÿs' collection. Purchased by Dr. Lucien Graux, who placed his bookplate in it, it was auctioned again in 1957. Now, the estimated price is: €30,000-€40,000

In 1891, the original price of a deluxe copy was 21 shillings.

PS (7 October 2019): 
Price realized (hammer price plus buyer's premium): €100,000.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

426. Exhibition Catalogue Design 1898

For the 'First Exhibition of Original Wood-Engraving' in the Dutch Gallery, E.J. van Wisselingh's London art gallery, a catalogue was designed by Charles Ricketts and printed at the Ballantyne Press. The show opened on 3 December 1898.

Such catalogues, usually, were not subject to criticism, but in this case D.S. MacColl, in The Saturday Review of 10 December 1898 (pp. 778-779) made an exception. 

He started out very positive:

A charming exhibition is now open at the Dutch Gallery in Brook Street. It brings together the work done in original wood-engraving by Messrs. Ricketts and Shannon and their associates, Messrs. Sturge Moore, Reginald Savage and Lucien Pissarro.

After praising Ricketts's and Shannon's work for The Dial, and their early wood-engravings for Daphnis and Chloe, and before praising Shannon's new work in another medium, the chiaroscuro wood-engravings, he paused to criticise the exhibition catalogue:


The First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving (1898) [catalogue, page 1]

Mr. Ricketts’ later work in “Hero and Leander,” “Cupid and Psyche,” and some of his books seems to me less perfectly balanced, more strained, form sacrificed in the effort at gesture and intense expression, or swept into decorative curves. The discussion of his type and books I must leave for another time, since it demands a detailed treatment. 

The criticism only focused on the cover (also the title page):

I will only raise one point for the moment, taking the title of the catalogue as a text. This, giving the name of the exhibition and its address, is printed like the old colophons in one block without a break, and not only is it difficult at a glance to pick out and read these two statements, but the arrangement requires minor dislocations. The word “engraving” is divided between two lines; “Hanover” ends one line, and “Square” begins another. I contend that lucidity would be the gainer by a different arrangement, and decoration need not in the least suffer. 

These unfortunate truncations had been the subject of earlier criticism when the first publications of the Vale Press were given eccentric title pages in which rules of poetry were sometimes hindered by the decorations or initials. Ricketts would later express his regret about his youthful, ill-considered typographical designs, although he rejected any criticism of his fonts.

But the small catalogues for Van Wisselingh were part of the occasional printing process, which did not involve much typographical ingenuity. They were merely mentioned in passing in his own bibliography of the Vale Press - Ricketts didn't think they were important. The catalogues are now, of course, of great historical importance.