Wednesday, September 18, 2019

425. A Thomas Sturge Moore Exhibition: Phoenix and Unicorn

Tomorrow the exhibition Phoenix and Unicorn & In Conversation: Coming into the Light will open in Dulwich College (London). The exhibition consists of two parts. There is a section on Thomas Sturge Moore, curated by Jan Piggott, showing books and prints in six display cases (with additional texts). The other section shows the work of contemporary wood engravers, such as Gaylord Schanilec.

Phoenix and Unicorn & In Conversation: Coming into the Light

The phoenix and the unicorn in the title refer to some designs by Sturge Moore. Curator Jan Piggott will deliver a lecture on 14 October, 'Revival of Wood Engraving Book-Design', which will be followed by a lecture on W.B. Yeats and Sturge Moore by Roy Foster. Later, the British Art Journal will publish an article on Sturge Moore's book designs.

It may not be the great exhibition that Thomas Sturge Moore's work deserves, but nowadays it is a small miracle if a show is dedicated to one of the lesser gods of the art world at all.

To mark the event, here is a lesser known portrait of Sturge Moore, a drypoint etching by Alfred Hugh Fisher (1867-1945), not dated but probably around 1920. This copy from the collection of Vincent Barlow is a presentation proof inscribed to A.J. Finberg, author of an article on Sturge Moore's wood-engravings in The Studio (1915).

Alfred Hugh Fisher, 'Thomas Sturge Moore' (drypoint, c. 1920) (c.22.5 x 15 cm)
[Collection Vincent Barlow]

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

424. Advertising The Vale Press in The Studio

In blog 421 (Advertising The Vale Press Books in 1896) I wrote about the earliest advertisements for Vale Press books that appeared in weeklies such as The Saturday Review in March 1896, and I mentioned a slightly later advertisement in The Studio.

This advertisement appeared in the issue of April 15, 1896. At the end of each year, the instalments were bound together, and, as a result, single copies of this leading art magazine are rare. Morover, the advertising sections in the front and back were removed by the bookbinder, and most copies of The Studio in libraries and museums therefore lack the advertisements; a good reason to reproduce it today. It can be surprisingly hard to find a copy with the advertisements in place. The April 1896 issue had 16 pages of ads in the front and 4 pages in the back (numbered from Ad. I to Ad. XX). More ads were printed on the inside of the front cover, and on both sides of the back cover.

The Studio, April 15, 1896, page Ad. XI
The advertisement of the 'Vale Publications' appeared on page Ad. XI among advertisements for carved oak sideboards, lithographs and art books ('for the artist and student').

The text is reproduced after a page set in Vale Type. However, there is no separately published 'notice' or 'list' of books with this exact wording. Part of the text corresponds to that of a 'Notice' from January 1896, but the headline and intro do not appear in it.

The Studio, April 15, 1896, page Ad. XI

Notice (c January 1896)
The text and lay-out of the first column correspond exactly to the first four paragraphs of the Notice (but the last paragraph is missing). The second column begins with a text printed on the second page of the Notice, but the rest is new and does not appear in this Notice or in any other prospectus. However, the books mentioned in The Studio - from the Milton edition to The Passionate Pilgrim - are those that appear in the same order in The List of Books to be Published by Messrs. Hacon and Ricketts, at the Sign of the Dial, LII Warwick St. Regent Street. The List probably dates from February, and announces the Milton for March 1896; the other books would be ready in April and May (a claim that wasn't fulfilled). Although all these books are mentioned in the advertisement, the wording is different.

Notice (c January 1896)

The last lines - 'Prospectuses can be had on application [...]' - of course do not appear in the prospectuses themselves. At the Ballantyne Press (where the Vale Publications were printed), the text of the advertisement has been set specifically for this advertisement to display the Vale Type. It was then photographically reduced in size for a block (as illustrations were), and printed in The Studio.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

423. Charles Shannon's Lithographs for The Savoy (2)

Charles Shannon contributed lithographs to the first three issues of The Savoy, then no more. His contributions were always prominently placed in the front, only preceded by the designs of Aubrey Beardsley. In the first issue, their contributions are followed by those of Charles Conder, Joseph Pennell, Louis Oury, William Rothenstein, F. Sandys, James McNeill Whistler, Max Beerbohm, and Jacques L. Blanche. In short, the editors had a lot to choose from, but both in this first and later issues Shannon kept his leading position.

The Savoy, 'Art Contents' (No. 2) and cover (No. 3) (both 1896)
Although these four lithographs were published in 1896 (between January and July), they all date from 1895. There is also a small edition printed by the artist himself. Of the last two lithographs, 'The Dive' and 'Stone Bath', 25 proofs are printed on two types of paper. The Savoy printed three lithographs in grey, and one in green. 

Charles Shannon, 'The Dive' (The Savoy, No. 2, April 1896)
The second number of The Savoy contained two of Shannon's lithographs (see last week's blog), the second of which was called 'The Dive', depicting (quoting Ricketts's description): 'A girl in the act of plunging into the water; her companion peeps through a doorway.' The British Museum owns one of the signed copies (not the transfer-lithograph), and it is described as follows: 'Nude girl diving into a stone pool; another female figure watching through doorway at left'.

Charles Shannon, 'The Dive', proof, signed  (British Museum)
The third number of The Savoy was published in July 1896 and contained Shannon's lithograph 'The Stone Bath', depicting 'Two nude women and a child in a bath-house; one standing and resting her head on a ledge; the other sitting and leaning forward supporting the child in the water' (The British Museum owns one of the proofs). Ricketts added that the girl on the left leans on 'a parapet'.

Charles Shannon, 'The Stone Bath' (The Savoy, No. 3, July 1896)
Rainforth Armitage Walker (1886-1960), under his pseudonym Georges Derry, published an essay on Shannon's lithographs ('The Lithographs of Charles Hazelwood Shannon', in: The Print-Collector’s Quarterly; December, 1914, p. 392-420) in which he praises these two works as part of a series of Stone-Bath lithographs:

Each one is marked by some particular quality of pose or grouping, charming either from its originality or its gracefulness. For instance, in The Stone Bath [...], the delicately drawn thigh and right leg is beautifully contrasted with the angle of the stone against which the figure leans, and the whole body is given a vitality - almost a color - from the contrast of living, muscular flesh with hard, smooth stone. Again in The Dive [...] the sense of quick motion is given by the wisp of hair which flies up, from the sudden plunging forward of the figure.

From Ricketts's catalogue we know that the order of publication in The Savoy was somewhat different from the order of production of the four lithographs:
1. Salt Water (The Savoy, 2);
2. The Letter (The Savoy, 1);
3. The Stone Bath (The Savoy, 3);
4. The Dive (The Savoy, 2).

The format of both prints - the proof and the transfer lithograph - are the same, but the more attractive, less smooth paper makes the proofs look more subtle.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

422. Charles Shannon's Lithographs for The Savoy (1)

Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon would never contribute anything to the infamous magazine The Yellow Book. In a letter to Richard le Gallienne, Shannon wrote: 'Ricketts and I have decided not to appear in your Yellow Book, as it might lead to complications over the fourth Dial'. This issue of their own magazine was to appear in March 1896, it was long in the making (and number 3 had been published in October 1893, before The Yellow Book started). They admitted that the first issue of The Yellow Book appealed to them: 'We think the Yellow Book looks extremely well and bright' (See Books from the Library of John Lane Publisher. London, Dulau and Company Ltd., 1929, p. 98.)

Charles Shannon, 'The Letter', lithograph in The Savoy, No. 1 (January 1896)
After Beardsley was dismissed as editor of The Yellow Book, he was given the opportunity by Leonard Smithers to fill a new magazine with drawings and stories. This was christened The Savoy. Shannon would contribute four lithographs to the first three issues (January to July 1896). 

Were the lithographs in Shannon's own publications - the issues of The Dial and three Portfolios - printed by the artist from the original stones, those in The Savoy were so-called transfer lithographs. In his catalogue of Shannon's lithographs Ricketts would state:

My experience obtained while assisting or merely watching the proofing of lithographs, and clinched by the fate of prints published in the "Dial," points to there being nearly always a slight deterioration between the first printing and any subsequent issue, if the stone has been "rolled up" and put on one side even for a small space of time. In the editions of the "Dial," where as many as three hundred and ten proofs have sometimes been taken, deterioration has taken place. This disadvantage need not exist in transfer-lithography as the drawing is usually transferred to a hard surface, a polished stone (the friction in printing being thereby reduced to a minimum), on which a chalk drawing cannot be made, while several transfers can continue the reproduction indefinitely.
(Charles Ricketts, A Catalogue of Mr. Shannon's Lithographs. London, E.J. van Wisselingh, 1902, p. 19).

Printing the lithographs himself took Shannon many hours of course and since the edition of The Savoy was ten times as high as that of The Dial, there was no escaping it: the 3,000 lithographs were printed as transfers by Thomas Way. However, Shannon also printed a number of these as separate proofs on Van Gelder paper. Of 'The Letter' (published without a title in The Savoy's first number) there were 25 proofs in red and black, while The Savoy's version is in grey.

Charles Shannon, 'The Letter', proof, printed by the artist, signed in pencil (British Museum)
Shannon's contribution was highly esteemed by, for example, the critic of The Academy, and the poet Ernest Dowson.

The British Museum describes the first lithograph, 'The Letter' as follows: 'Two girls, whole-length in profile to right, huddled together reading a letter'. 

Ricketts, in his catalogue, described it more precisely: 'A slight sketch of two girls in wide muslin skirts perusing a letter.' 

The second issue of The Savoy contained two lithographs by Shannon. The first of these was called 'Salt Water' (it was printed in green). The British Museum's description gives: 'Young nude woman standing on a beach, whole-length and in profile to left, stooping slightly and holding the hands of two small children, the boy striding towards the sea and the girl leaning back'. (See The British Museum.)

Charles Shannon, 'Salt Water', lithograph in The Savoy, No. 2 (April 1896)

According to Ricketts's the work depicts: 'A young girl bather bends facing the sea and wind. She holds two small children by the hand.' Here the BM description is more detailed. Of this lithograph, Shannon printed 35 separate proofs in black, in red, and in green.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

421. Advertising The Vale Press Books in 1896

Before the first books of the Vale Press appeared, the firm Hacon & Ricketts opened a shop, published an advertising leaflet (The List of Books...) and the fourth issue of The Dial. In the meantime, the new publisher had also announced its forthcoming publications through advertisements.

The earliest advertisements appeared in several weekly magazines on 14 March 1896. I had never seen them before (or read about them), and in order to find them, I had to browse through several complete volumes of magazines, page by page, and read through all the small advertisements. (Some of these magazines are now available digitally, but often the small advertisements are not easy to find). The Vale Press advertisements can be found among other small announcements of typists, new magazines, publisher's agencies, etc.

The Saturday Review, 14 March 1896

The advertisement appeared in several weekly newspapers. The first one I found was in The Saturday Review of 14 March 1896. On the same day The Academy and The Athenaeum published similar ads.

The Athenaeum, 14 March 1896
Probably all these magazines got the same text, but because of their own editorial instructions, each advertisement is spelled slightly different. Sometimes there are even verbal differences, an example of which is the sentence about the original spelling in which the new editions would be published.

The Editions will be printed with Spelling with which they were written. 
(The Saturday Review)
The Editions will be printed with spelling in which they were written. 
(The Athenaeum and The Academy)

The Academy, 14 March 1896

The advertisement clearly shows that the fourth issue of The Dial was for sale from 14 March. This early date was not yet known.

The text of the announcement in The Academy reads:

THE SIGN of the DIAL. – Messrs. HACON & RICKETTS, 52 Warwick Street, Regent Street, W.  – Messrs. HACON & RICKETTS beg to announce the forthcoming publication of carefully edited Books, for which a fount of type has been designed to accompany the illustrations and decorations cut on the wood by Charles Ricketts and other original engravers. The Editions will be printed with spelling in which they were written. Catalogues may be had on application. THE DIAL, of which No. 4 is now ready, will henceforth be published at their shop, 52, WARWICK STREET, REGENT STREET, W.

This advertisement did not appear in the newspapers (such as The Times) or in other magazines (such as Pall Mall Gazette), at least not on 14 March 1896. These papers did not have extensive sections with publisher's advertisements. The three weeklies mentioned did have such sections and they published reviews and lists of books published that week. 

Apart from that, these journals were aimed at an academic audience, often an audience of collectors. Reports on book and art auctions regularly contained details that would interest the bibliophiles among them. The phrase about the spelling of the classics of English poetry was of course aimed at an audience of scholars and connoisseurs.

Advertisements in The Studio and The Bookman for April 1896 have been noticed before, but these earliest advertisements are new discoveries. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

420. Series That Will Be Continued...

Several series of blogs I started in the past have not yet been completed. Some series have stopped halfway, others are almost at the end. Hereby my assurance that these series will one day be continued and finished. 

Charles Ricketts, initial W for Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (1894)

Series I

On 18 January 2017 I started a series about Ricketts's initial letters, calling it 'The 2017 Alphabet'. [See blog No. 286 for the letter 'A']. The series ran through the following year, with a slight change in the title, and this a number of instalments were published this year. High time for a new one. We are almost at the end of the alphabet!

Oscar Wilde, Poems (1892), designed by Charles Ricketts
[Carl Woodring Collection]

Series II

Another series - planned as a shorter one - was about the design of Oscar Wilde's Poems from 1892. But the way it goes, as soon as you go into details, it gets complicated - the series has been discontinued for a while, but will certainly be resumed in due course. The first instalment was published on 14 March 2018 [See blog No. 346. Ricketts's Design of Oscar Wilde's Poems (1892) (1)].

'Mouse and nut' pattern, used upside-down 

Series III

The oldest series that I started, but never finished, is the one about patterned papers. The first blog on this subject (blog No. 18) appeared on 23 November 2011. I thought it would be a good idea at the time to have a series of blogs in reserve in case I couldn't think of a topic for a new blog, but that never really happened. Anyway, in this series I came across all kinds of unsolvable questions and details that needed to be sorted out first - but of course I'm just trying to live a life outside the blog universe as well, so follow-up episodes can get stuck. I feel most guilty about not completing this series. [See blog No. 18. Patterned Papers (1).]

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

419. Printing The Illustrations of A House of Pomegranates (1891)

The most recent volumes of The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, IX and X, contain the texts of The Importance of Being Earnest and the versions on which this play was based. The editor, Joseph Donohue, pays attention to some of the book historical aspects, such as the textual tradition, the printing process and the date of publication, but not to the binding designed by Charles Shannon - Shannon is not mentioned in the whole book (two volumes, 1189 pages).

Charles Shannon, untitled illustration for 'The Star-Child'
(Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates, 1891, between p. 128 and p. 129)
(Photograph: Henk Treur)
This certainly does not apply to all volumes of this edition, but strangely enough it does to Volume VIII: The Short Fiction (2017), which reprints and publishes a commentary on the fairy tales from A House of Pomegranates (1891), among other prose pieces. This volume was edited by Ian Small. He frequently mentions Ricketts and Shannon in his introduction, and discusses various book-historical aspects, such as the desire of publisher and author to play two markets at the same time: that of the children's book and that of the luxury, bibliophile edition: 

It is at this point that a consideration of the book's design and printing becomes important. Osgood, McIlvaine & Co. had not only commissioned Charles Ricketts to design the book, they had also commissioned his partner Charles Shannon to provide the illustrations. [...] The finished work, however, had a number of shortcomings.
(p. xlix)

Small then falls back on the bibliography of Stuart Mason from 1914 without quoting later literature on the printing process. Pages later - in the 'Textual Introduction' he returns to this point and seems surprised that the printing company, the famous firm The Chiswick Press, was content with the fact that Shannon's prints were not printed properly. 

The proofs also confirm the assumption that the illustrations (made by Charles Ricketts) were added to the type after the galley-proofing of text was complete, and that the subsequent plates were sent to Paris for printing.
(p. xcviii).

I am not sure I understand this point, as galley proofs were not meant to contain illustrations. As to the plates, Mason stated:

These four plates were printed in Paris by some "improved" process. After the book was finished and bound it was noticed that a dusty deposit had formed on each plate, probably owing to some chemical impurity either in the printer's ink or in the chalky paper used. To take off this deposit each plate was rubbed with soft flannel, which removed the surface and left the reproductions faint and in some cases almost obliterated.
(quoted by Small, pp. xlix, lii).

However, the problem of the enigmatic French process was solved years ago and it is therefore very surprising that Ian Small does not refer to the article on this subject published by Paul W. Nash in the Spring 2007 edition of The Private Library.

Nash's article was a response to my article (published in The Private Library of Summer 2005) in which I argued that there are two different binding editions of A House of Pomegranates, one bound in a pale yellowish green spine and ivory cloth boards; the other in a darker green spine and light brown cloth boards; in the first case Shannon's plates are pasted on white linen guards, in the second case on pale brown paper guards, - and there are more differences. 

Two binding states of Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891)
I also pointed out that Shannon's plates contained a small monogram that was hard to interpret and that I read as 'WHD sc', but that Nash was correct in reading as 'VDH sc'.

Monogram 'VDH sc' (lower left corner of the plates by Charles Shannon
in A House of Pomegranates, 1891)
Nash was able to find out at which firm in Paris the blocks for these illustrations were manufactured and which process had been used. After a discussion of the Chiswick Press ledgers, he continues: 

An examination of Shannon's plates in A House of Pomegranates confirms that they were drawn on Papier Gillot. Their overall appearance suggests an etching process; the paler tones show a clear pattern of fine vertical lines, while darker areas show a pattern of equally regular horizontal lines bisecting the vertical to form a close network. The palest shading of all shows the expected pattern of dots, diminishing to nothing at all for pure white areas.
(Nash, p. 34)

'VDH sc', he stated:

is in fact the monogram of the firm Verdoux, Ducourtioux et Huillard, which existed in Paris between 1890 and 1895. They were etchers, engravers and photo-engravers, generally preparing blocks for printing by others.
(Nash, pp. 35-36)

To summarise, the text and decorations for A House of Pomegranates were printed by the Chiswick Press, before 10 November 1891. Shannon's drawings were made on Papier Gillot and sent to Paris, where Verdoux, Ducourtioux et Huillard created etched relief  blocks directly from them (justifying at least in part Mason's statement about an 'improved processs' being used at Paris); the blocks for Ricketts's illustrations may also have been made in Paris, perhaps by the same firm. Verdoux, Ducourtioux et Huillard may well have printed Shannon's plates too, although this remains unproven, and other companies (including Gillot's) could have been responsible.
(Nash, pp. 38-39)

The technical details and the name of the Parisian engraver are therefore known, and in the future it will no longer suffice to refer to Mason to describe the production of Shannon's illustrations. It is strange and extremely unfortunate that this important article by Paul Nash has escaped the attention of the editors of Wilde's complete works.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

418. Eight Copies of John Keats's Poems Printed on Vellum

When the Vale Press announced a two-volume edition of John Keats' poems of which eight copies would be printed on vellum, the enthusiasm was so great that this luxury edition was completely subscribed before publication in December 1898. H.C. Marillier called this edition the 'cream of the whole series' of Vale Press up to that date.

Photo of a binding designed by Charles Ricketts,
The Poems of John Keats,
said to be commissioned by Walter Noble
[British Museum]
The vellum was supplied by Henry Band and Co of Brentford and was called 'Roman Vellum' since the firm had produced this vellum sheets for William Morris (who preferred to have Italian vellum that was unavailable because the Pope needed it for his many encyclicals. So goes the story.) 

The eight copies on vellum were not delivered in a publisher's binding - whereas the ordinary paper copies were all bound in white buckram. Vellum editions were published by the Vale Press from December 1897 onwards, and Ricketts announced that he would specially design bindings for these books for a price that could range from three to twelve guineas. Initially these leather bindings were executed by Riviere and Son, but later he transferred the binding work to Zaehnsdorf. If a special binding was not commissioned, the vellum copies were issued as folded gatherings in a protective paper wrapper. At auctions held before the publishing house was dissolved, such non-bound sets were sometimes described. 

Vellum copy of The Poems of John Keats
(Vale Press, 1899)
[Wellesley College, photo: Ruth Rogers]
Copies on vellum were owned by the wealthier Vale Press collectors, such as H. Sidney (sold 1903), and Laurence W. Hodson (sold 2013), and of course by Ricketts and Shannon themselves (Shannon's copy was sold in 1937).

Some of them were bound after a design by Ricketts, such as the Shannon and Hodson copies, the latter one in red morocco. One copy was thus bound for William Noble, like the Hodson copy the design incorporated his initials. Others were bound by the London firms of Riviere and Son, Ramage or Sangorski and Sutcliffe.

By now, I have been able to locate five of the eight vellum copies, two of them in English collections, and three of them in East-Coast libraries in the USA. The numbering is random (the copies are not numbered in the colophon).


The University of Liverpool Library, Special Collections, Class No: SPEC Noble A.16.41-42. Gold-tooled in red morocco by Zaehnsdorf, 1899. Bound for William Noble, bearing his initials in the design.

University of Manchester Library, John Rylands collection, Manchester: R31745: From the library of D. Lloyd Roberts M.D. F.R.C.P. Ravenswood Broughton Park Manchester. Late nineteenth-century full red goatskin; gilt-rolled floral and foliate border, enclosing gilt-tooled corner-pieces; goatskin doublures; gilt-tooled at foot of front doublure: Bound by Ramage London; five raised bands to spine; gilt-tooled decoration within compartments; title gilt-lettered in second compartment; top edge gilt.

Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Cambridge, MA: GEN Keats *EC8 K2262 B898p3. Bound by Rivière & son in green morocco, gilt; vellum doublures; top edges gilt, with designer's autograph note in each volume. Binding designed for H.W. Bell. Glyn Philpot, in morocco cases.

Special Collections, English Poets, Margaret Clapp Library, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA.: Call: Vellum binding, gold lettering, by Sangorski & Sutcliffe, London. In green cloth slipcase. Purchased from George Herbert Palmer Fund.

Smith College, Special Collections, Northampton, MA: Rare Book Room Stacks, 825 K22p 1898. Full dark green morocco by Riviere & Son (front cover of volume 1 detached; other hinges cracked; largely faded to brown. Gift of Henry L. Seaver, 1954.

Vellum copy of The Poems of John Keats
(Vale Press, 1899)
Bound by Sangorski and Sutcliffe
[Wellesley College, photo: Ruth Rogers]
The three other copies have interesting provenances:

Charles Shannon's copy. Morocco binding, auctioned at Sotheby's on 1-2 November 1937. Acquired by Sawyer.

Edward Smith Willard's copy, in a vellum binding, containing his autograph signature or bookplate. Auctioned by Sotheby's, 17 July 1907. Acquired by Edwards.


These three copies are probably in private collections. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

417. Charles Ricketts in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Last week's blog included a portrait of the Earl of Arundel by the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, and this week another portrait of the Collector Earl illustrates a blog about Ricketts in Boston.
Peter Paul Rubens, Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (c. 1629-1630)
[Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston]
[Wikimedia Commons]
I visited the area (Amherst and Boston) because of the book-historical congress SHARP and afterwards, waiting for my flight, I had time to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston which is conveniently close to that other great museum, The Museum of Fine Arts. (My colleague and friend Ruth Rogers of Wellesley College advised me to visit the Gardner collection because of the Italianate-style villa that houses it.) Boston experienced the usual hot summer weather, and the air-conditioned museums were crowded. 

The intimacy of Gardner's museum did suffer from the hustle and bustle - there were queues of people waiting in front of some special and not very large rooms: you had to make an effort to be able to stand face to face with a painting by Henri Matisse or the mysterious 'Nocturne, Blue and Silver: Battersea Reach' (c.1872-1878) by James McNeill Whistler.

View of the courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
19 July 2019 [Photo: author]
The much larger halls with windows overlooking the (now covered) courtyard were less crowded, if only because most tourists were mainly concerned with a selfie or a family portrait in front of the large open windows. In one of these rooms there was a portrait of the Earl of Arundel by Rubens, made around 1630. 

Last week's blog was about Junius's book on painters and painting commissioned by this Earl, an edition of which Ricketts and Shannon gave a copy (their own copy) to Robert Ross as a gift. That happened in 1911. Sixteen years later, in the Fall of 1927, Ricketts made a trip to Canada and America and visited the collection of Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924), who had died a few years earlier.

Anders Zorn, 'Isabella Stewart Gardner in Venice' (1894)
[Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston]
[Wikimedia Commons]
Ricketts spent a week in Boston before setting sail on the Laconia for England, and let several friends know that he had enjoyed New York and Boston. The poet Bottomley received a letter that Ricketts wrote on 8 December, after returning to London.

View of the courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
19 July 2019 [Photo: author]
The famous Gardner Collection, now housed in a Venetian palace made out of the material of two genuine Venetian houses, is delightful; authentic pictures by Giorgione, Botticelli, Piero della Francesca, Giotto, Titian, Pesellino, Fra Angelico are placed on old brocades. The courtyard was a mass of giant white chrysanthemums, white cinerarias, white cyclamens, one Roman sarcophagus filled with crimson cyclamens, and a lovely pink camelia tree in a Chinese pot; there are small fountains in niches with running water and plants, and while looking at Botticelli's "Rape of Lucrece" I heard dim echoes of Mendelssohn. I moved towards a vast room hung with superb tapestries, and two of the attendants at a piano sang Rubinstein's "Azra," Rimsky's "Rose and the Nightingale" (in French), one of the "Dichter liebe" songs in German, and then played two of Chopin's immortal Preludes and a piece by Rachmaninov. Imagine two British policemen doing this in the Wallace Collection! I was told afterwards that these attendants, who all seemed intelligent and even good-looking, are Harvard students, well paid for this work done in extra hours, and that thousands a year are spent on their salaries, and on the relays of flowers in the Cortile.
(Self-Portrait, 1939, pp. 391-392)

It typifies Ricketts that he spends more superlatives on the plants and flowers and on the music than on the works of art. In the meantime, the guards are no longer students of music and standing in front of Botticelli's painting you don't hear vague musical sounds anymore, but the constant noise of the air conditioning and the whispering voices of tourists trying to guess what happened to that poor Lucrecia and why a rape looks like a murder.

View of the courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
19 July 2019 [Photo: author
Gardner did a lot of business with the art historian, art dealer and art paean Bernard Berenson (the museum sells the complete correspondence of the two) and before Ricketts visited the museum he was told about it by the English dealer Colin Agnew:

Agnew revealed stories about Berenson's crooked dealings with Mrs Isabella Gardner that the shocked Ricketts found 'impossible', but he had heard similar stories before and Agnew swore that 'enough is known in the trade to ruin B.B.' 
(J.G. Paul Delaney, Charles Ricketts. A Biography, 1990, pp. 360-361).

Attribution of paintings to famous medieval painters was Berenson's specialty, and he was also a master at re-attributing works when his first attempt proved historically incorrect.

During his tour of the museum, Ricketts will also have seen the portrait of the Earl of Arundel. Nowadays it hangs in a room dedicated to Dutch art, including Flanders. There are paintings by Rembrandt (less than in the past because of an illustrious burglary) and by Rubens.

Peter Paul Rubens, Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (c. 1629-1630)
[Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston]
[Photos: author]
Ricketts wrote to Shannon that Giorgione's painting 'Christ Carrying the Cross' moved him to the bone:

I trembled before Giorgione's Christ, unmistakably by him.
(J.G. Paul Delaney, 'Charles Ricketts and the National Gallery of Canada', 1991, p. 367)

Ricketts' attributions don't always hold up either. Already in 1896, when Gardner bought the painting, the name of the maker was contested, - all the more reason for Ricketts's absolute certainty - but today it is appreciated as a work by a pupil of Bellini, probably Vincenzo Catena (c 1470-1531). 

Fortunately, the climatic conditions have also improved. During his visit, Ricketts noticed that the lighting was poor and that the paintings were often in poor condition.

Statue in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
[Photo: author]
Despite the many visitors, the building with its quirky rooms still impresses, the paintings no less than the plants and the decorations including peculiar statues such as a lion attacking a man. Many visitors use the lion to rest on.

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

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.


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!