Wednesday, January 30, 2019

392. Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World (addendum)

The latest issue of The Wildean (A Journal of Oscar Wilde Studies) for January 2019 contains some unknown and surprising letters by Oscar Wilde to the British Museum. He wrote one letter and dictated four others in his capacity as editor of The Woman's World between November 1887 and November 1888, and they reveal that during this earliest period of his editorship he contacted a friend in the museum to secure novel illustrations of antiquities. This friend was Cecil Smith. The article, written by Rosario Rovira Guardiola, necessitates an addendum to my earlier series of articles on Ricketts, Wilde and The Woman's World, especially the second blog (see 222. Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World).

Charles Ricketts, 'A Lady of Pompeii', in The Woman's World (October 1888, facing page 536)

Guardiola, an ancient historian and archaeologist at the Department of Greece and Rome at the British Museum, mentions and reproduces an illustration by Ricketts:

In The Woman's World, antiquity would have a predominant role that would help to set it apart from its predecessor, The Lady's World, and even articles on fashion would often include references to antiquity. There would also be articles dedicated to women in particular historical periods such as 'The Pompeian Lady' by Edith Margret, based on the archaeological evidence recovered in the city of Pompeii, as well as articles on specific classical subjects such as 'The Pictures of Sappho' in which Jane E. Harrison discussed the representation of the poet Sappho on Greek vases - a subject on which she was a leading scholar.

The illustration by Ricketts didn't have exactly the same title as the article, but was called 'A Lady of Pompeii', not by Ricketts, but by the art director. The inclusion of this illustration suggests that Wilde's letters had something to do with some objects that Ricketts depicted in his illustration, but that is not the case. The images of artefacts from the British Museum collection were used to illustrate articles on Greek plays, Roman women, the umbrella, and beauty. They were part of Wilde's attempt to change the magazine into a cultured, contemporary and varied periodical, concerned 'not merely with what women wear, but with what they think'.


Charles Ricketts, 'A Lady of Pompeii', in The Woman's World (October 1888, facing page 536) [detail]
Earlier, I contended that Wilde only occasionally tried to secure illustrations, as he was the literary editor of the magazine, not the art editor. The letters about the antiquities from the British Museum show that for some subjects he would do more than only suggest possibilities to the authors of the articles, and contact his acquaintance at the BM to ensure engaging illustrations, because, as Guardiola states, 'Wilde liked to illustrate objects that were not widely known, perhaps to emphasise the modernity of The Woman's World'.



Charles Ricketts, 'A Lady of Pompeii', in The Woman's World(October 1888, facing page 536) [details]
Ricketts is known to have drawn a honeycomb after an original in the natural history museum, and his early drawings display his knowledge of what was on display at the London museums at the time. His Pompeian woman is surrounded by objects that would have attracted visitors, such as a home altar and a tripod with figures of a sphinx and a goat's leg. But Ricketts didn't need to consult a friend at the museum (when young, he probably didn't have one), or bring a letter of recommendation. He would roam the museum on his own, and look for objects that he could use in his illustrations, where they would not be depicted for their scientific interest, or for the idea of novelty, but to suggest a certain epoche, or cultural phase.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

391. Ricketts on Venetian Printing and The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

Recently, an unknown review by Charles Ricketts emerged from the sea of digitised magazines. It was contributed to a magazine that published articles on politics, religion, and art, including poems by such authors as James Joyce: The Speaker, The Liberal Review. I haven't seen a reference to Ricketts's article in The Speaker before - and in my bibliography of Ricketts's publications, this article is not listed.




The article seems quite important to republish. In it Ricketts discusses an incunable that he had taken as an example for an early Vale Press  book, the edition of Daphnis and Chloe in 1893. This edition was received as an important testimony of the modern movement in book arts.   

Ricketts's review of the Methuen facsimile edition of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili was published in The Speaker of 25 February 1905.

There were no illustrations (I have added some for this blog).


The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and Its Character



The Facsimile of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. London: Methuen. £3. 3s. net.

The publishers are to be congratulated on this facsimile of the Hypnerotomachia. The printing is good, the reproduction, on the whole, is excellent. It counts as a notable effort to make accessible the most harmonious volume ever printed, for the Hypnerotomachia is the flower of the Italian presses. In this work the several composing elements - the build, decoration, and the dainty illustration - each touches what is very like perfection; and they are so combined that the result is unsurpassed.


Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Methuen, 1904)
Other noble volumes of the Renaissance - Dürers Life of the Virgin or Holbein's exquisite Dance of Death, for instance - though harmonious enough and unequalled in their way, achieve a different order of success; they interest one as a gallery of pictures by a great master. In the Hypnerotomachia the effect is different; it has the beauty we might admire in a delicate piece of architecture. The books illustrated by Dürer or by Holbein express the genius of a man. The Hypnerotomachia is less intense in its appeal; it is typical of a phase of artistic thought, typical of an enchanted period, and if it was popular in its time as a sort of repository of neo-classical invention, it appeals to us for a different reason - for the expression not of a fashion but a mood which may never occur again. It is local, Italian; it belongs to a charmed moment in the youth of our civilisation.

The author, Francesco Colonna, in his cell in the convent of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, is responsible for the publication of a work which, in its aspect, is all Spring.


Canaletto, Campo santi Giovanni e Paolo a Venezia col monumento a Bartolomeo Colleoni (painting, c. 1740)
I have compared this book to a dainty piece of architecture. That is not all, it suggests also a garden dotted with fragments and relics of an enchanted past. Its effect is really that of some little palace of art standing in its own grounds. Is Francesco Colonna responsible for this? He wished merely for an accompaniment to his half-pedantic, half-childish idyll, and we have forgotten him for the dainty setting. In temper his narrative belonged to that portion of the Renaissance which has become obsolete, which remains essentially mediaeval, despite its neo-classicism - for two of the tiresome fairy godmothers at the birth of the Renaissance, "Pedantry" and "Allegory," had combined to make the work; but two others came to bring their gifts, the fairy "Harmony" and the fairy "Charm."

If the illustrations and decorations of the Hypnerotomachia are typical of a period, are they typical of Venice? I think not. In Venetian art we are unprepared for the temper they reveal. The kind of half-childish patheism which characterises them is singular; yet, if we find evidence of a similar vein of thought in the work of the Florentine craftsman and artisan, we shall not recognise this spirit in the books and booklets issued by the Florentine presses. Florence, the home of the Renaissance, the city of the humanists, lags in the value and importance of her output in the history of printing. Venice, benefiting by her cosmopolitanism, takes the lead in all matters concerning the build and making of books; she owes to her powers of absorption her two greatest designers of type, a  German and a Frenchman. We must not be surprised if her greatest triumph in book illustration comes to us with an unexpected quality and something foreign in invention and temper.


Nicolas Jenson
The dominant influences in contemporary Venetian art were unsuited to the inventive qualities required in the illustrator; the Vivarini are laggards in an icebound pictorial convention. Till late in life John Bellini hardly stoops to romance and the idyll. The illustrations in the Hypnerotomachia are in a mood which was not as yet Venetian. The book is printed in 1499 ate the expense of Leonardo Crasso, a Veronese, and the aim of the work focusses for us an effort at classical reconstruction which might have been contemplated in Florence, Padua, or Verona; it even reflects that more playful and pagan mood of the early Renaissance, and Venice had remained a laggard in all the ideals of the movement. If the Hypnerotomachia is typical of Italy, Venice for centuries has been too busy and too cosmopolitan to remember that she was Italian; she was foreign in temper to the intellectual fervour and the fervent refinement which characterised Florence, remaining rich but provincial; in most things she has been a borrower, for Venetian architecture had caught its local colour from the East, the painting accepts recruits even from the North; belated and conservative, she is the last centre to become influenced by the Renaissance. She takes her revenge, however, in the sudden output of her splendid presses, in her sudden later development in the art of painting. Twenty years are sufficient; and if Venice is the last to be touched by the spirit of the Renaissance, she is the last centre in which it loves to linger on and on, in a prolonged aftermath of art. The Hypnerotomachia is therefore the first obvious sign that the Renaissance is at home in Venice; it is the most typical Italian book which expresses its spirit. It is in Venice also that we will find the last volume  which is stamped by artistic merit: its is the Cento Favole Morali written and illustrated by Verdizotti under the lingering influence of Titian.


Verdizotti, Cento Favole Morali (1570)
[photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York]
For one reason or another Venice became the home of printing; her printers find and establish the standard of excellence in all the arts which go to make a book. We owe the shaping of the definite Roman type we still use to Giovanni Spira and to Jenson; we owe to Aldus the Italic type and the invention of the small "intimate" editions wherein the art of printing leaves the desk and lectern to follow us into our homes, and The Dream of Polifilus, published by him, remains the standard or "canon" for a book beautiful in type, decoration, and picture, and in the coordination of each part to each by an indwelling element of harmony.


Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499)
Who was the maker of the charming illustrations and designs? The question is still unanswered. Our knowledge of Venetian art enables us to dismiss Bellini, or, indeed, anyone absolutely under his influence. Dr. Lippmann's suggestion that the author was Barbari must also be abandoned (the style or mannerisms of this artist are too well known). I incline to think that we must seek outside Venice for the spirit and the hand to which we owe these cuts - that several others designs related to them which appear in the Venetian presses about 1493 are by the same hand. The border to the Lucianus published  by Bevilaqua; the frontispiece to the Terence of 1497 by Simon da Leure, above all the pictures in the famous border of the Herodotus of 1494, and the rather uncouth designs in the Fasciculus Medicinae of 1493 (allowance being made in this case for the scale of these last cuts) present common characteristics: note the treatment of the architecture, the facial types of the men, and the ornamental details - all these present a set of conventions which would haunt one of those later provincial imitators of Mantegna's prints, little masters like Mocetto or, better still, that imitator  of Mantegna's "Bacchanals"and "Triumphs" who passes under the name of the Master of the Rosebery Sketch-book, and who was some craftsman probably from Verona. I had imagined that Mocetto's windows in SS. Giovanni e Paolo might furnish a clue. It was from that place probably that the author of the Hypnerotomachia supervised the publication of his book. I admit that these woodcuts are in pure outline and not shaded diagonally, like the known work of the two minor artists I have mentioned; but the convention and limitations of the Venetian block-cutter have supervened between the drawings and the prints. I am disinclined towards Mocetto as their author. I am, in fact, disinclined to any name, but not to my ascription of a foreign origin to some of the better and more classical Venetian woodcuts, probably those in the Hypnerotomachia; I think we are nearer the temper in which these illustrations were done when we quite forget the schools of Vivarini or of Bellini - in fact, all the pietistic work which was then current in Venetian painting, and think of some cross-current from Verona touching Venice.
                                                                                             CHARLES RICKETTS

Herodotus, Historiae (Venice, 1494)
[image: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library,
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut]

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

390. The 2019 Alphabet: W

W is for Why?

Why are you tarrying? Get hence! I weary of your sullen ways,
I weary of your steadfast gaze, your somnolent magnificence.

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

These lines of poetry are taken from Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx (1894) that figured in this series of letters before, when I wrote about the initial 'I' at the beginning of the poem. For the opening pages of the book Charles Ricketts designed an elaborate frontispiece that also served as the title page - an uncommon combination placed on the left hand page - using an earlier designed initial 'I' for the first line of the poem. This initial displayed the same kind of branches and leaves as the frontispiece drawing 'Melancholia' showed around the figures of 'Melancholia' and the sphinx.

Ricketts could have used the same kind of initials for other pages in the book. However, for these lines of poetry Ricketts designed an untraditional, art nouveau-like set of initials: A, G, H, L, O, T, W. Four were used once only, while 'A' and 'O' appeared twice. The initial 'W' figured four times in the book, introducing the words 'Who', 'With', Why' and 'What'.  



Much is made of the colour of these initials, that were not printed in the same red-brown as the illustrations, but in green, as was the initial 'I' at the beginning of the poem, but why would Ricketts have designed these other initials? Their shapes are extraordinary.


Charles Ricketts, initials for Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (1894)
Some of the details are snake-like, see for example the initial 'G', while the diagonal stem of the 'A' is unusual, and the 'O' has an unorthodox stem-like addition. The 'L' and T' are comparatively normal for modern types. The 'W' is the most extreme deviation from the normal letter 'W', a letter that was often designed by Ricketts for Vale Press initials.

There is no documentary evidence for my thesis (or for any other), but I believe that Ricketts tried to give these initials the same kind of eclectic historical feel as the illustrations that display a mix of Italian Renaissance landscapes, Minoan architecture, and Japanese compositions. Perhaps he endeavoured to create a Minoan alphabet of his own device.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

389. Vale Press Collectors: N.J. Beversen

An important exhibition in the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp in 1904 presented an overview of modern book art in Europe and America, including works by, among others, Flemish, Dutch, French, German, American, Scandinavian, Italian, and Swiss publishers. Many were on loan from the publishing houses, others, especially private press books, came from private collections in Belgium and The Netherlands. 

Vale Press books were displayed prominently, and they were on loan from Edward B. Koster (The Hague), N.J. Beversen (Zwolle), and J. Visser (Rotterdam).


N.J. Beversen (1927)
As a classicist, Nicolaas Johannes Beversen followed a career in higher education at schools in Gorcum, Arnhem, Zwolle and, finally, Leiden; in the last two places, he was appointed as head master of a grammar school. In 1927, he retired, and subsequently sold some of his books and art works. He died in 1932 (he was born in 1860).

The Beversen collection was somewhat of a riddle, as I had found several auction catalogues containing books and art works from his collection, but the Vale Press books were lacking. 

In April 1933, the main part of his library was auctioned in The Hague by Van Stockum's Antiquariaat. There were almost 900 lots ranging from history and topography to languages and special editions. Among the 'Presses spéciales' [private presses] were publications of the Beaumont Press, the Nonesuch Press, The Riverside Press, and Dutch private presses. Classical works were sold by Burgersdijk & Niermans in Leiden (May 1933).

Later, in April 1936, another part of his collection was sold by Van Stockum's Antiquariaat. However, the auction catalogue doesn't distinguish the several provenances of books, although the section 'Publications de luxe' contains books with dedications or letters to Beversen, such as Fr. Porché's book on Paul Valéry et la poésie pure (lot 1895). The private press section contains some Nonesuch Press titles, and among these we find Ricketts's recollections of Oscar Wilde (published 1932).
Catalogue de livres ancines et modernes (Van Stockum's Antiquariaat April 1936)
Recently, in a pile of discarded auction catalogues, I came across a catalogue that explained the absence of Vale Press books from Dutch catalogues. This part of Beversen's collection was offered for sale by Sotheby and Co. on Friday 29 July 1927. 

Catalogue containing the Beversen collection (Sotheby & Co., 1927)
Was Beversen an exception, selling his books in London? - for a Dutch collector this seems quite a step. Exceptional too, was that he sold large parts of his collection during his lifetime. Usually, such collections came on the market after the demise of the collector. However, Beversen had been exceptional as a collector from the start, collecting private press books around 1900 - when Dutch collectors were not keen to buy contemporary book art. 

The 1904 Antwerp exhibition displayed Beversen's versatility as a collector; books from his library were shown in sections concerning France, Germany, Italy, and Great Britain.

The Beversen section in the Sotheby catalogue (1927)
The N.J. Beversen section in Sotheby's catalogue for 28-29 July 1927 consisted of lots 304 through 379, containing 243 volumes with literary books by Conrad, Dickens, Keats, Gissing, and others. There were vellum copies of Essex House Press books, and selections of books published by the Beaumont Press, Nonesuch Press, Doves Press - no books from the Kelmscott Press featured in the catalogue.


There was a fair deal of Vale Press books, including an incomplete set of the Vale Shakespeare - Beversen got hold of 32 volumes of this set of 39 Shakespeare editions. He possessed copies of Hero and Leander, the English and the Latin versions of Apuleius, and the Vale Press editions of Keats, Shelley, and Constable. Ricketts's pamphlets on the art of printing (one co-written by Lucien Pissarro) formed part of his collection, as well as the translation of Maurice de Guérin's The Centaur, The Bacchante - of which a mere 150 copies were printed. 

But Beversen's collection was an incomplete one; his VP Shakespeare collection lacked seven volumes, and he didn't acquire copies of many other Vale Press books, and the same goes for the other books designed by Ricketts (such as Wilde's The Sphinx), or books from other private presses, such as the Doves Press, of which only seven books were listed in the catalogue.

At the time, he was probably the only Dutch book collector who not only acquired his books from the other side of the Channel, but also brought them back to the British Isles. One wonders where they have gone since - and it seems impossible to trace them; as far as I know, they bear no bookplate.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

388. Mario Praz and Ricketts's Fall of Icarus

Mario Praz, best known for his book The Romantic Agony, also wrote a work on his life, his collection and his apartment in Palazzo Ricci in Rome: La Casa della Vita (1958), translated into English by Angus Davidson as The House of Life (1964). 

Palazzo Ricci (19th Century)
In this memoir, Praz mentions Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon, briefly, after remembering a London address: 9 Lansdowne Road:

Nearby was the house of Antonio Cappico where I lived for a month or more in 1923, together with Camillo Pellezzi and Giulio Confalonieri, and where I knew the sweetness of waking up on a spring morning to the song of birds outside the black-velvet-curtained windows.

These are names that need an explanation. Giulio Confalonieri and Praz were of the same age, both were born in 1896. Confalonieri was a musician, a piano teacher, performer, and composer. Camillo Pellezzi was also born in 1896. From 1920 onwards, he was the assistant of professor Antonio Cippico (1877-1935). (See an earlier blog on Cippico.) Cippico and Pellezzi were active members of the fascist movement, teaching the Italian language, and furthering the cause of Fascism. Pellezzi was especially active as a fascist propaganda minister. He is mentioned once only in Praz' memoirs (in the paragraph quoted above). Luckily, fascism was not to everyone's taste.

Mario Praz was not involved in politics, and not only didn't indulge in fascism, after his return to Rome in 1934, he was friends with anti-fascist people like Ian Greenless (1913-1988) who confronted anti-British propaganda in Fascist Italy. (See the essay about 'Fascism Abroad' by Tamara Colacicco.)

Praz was thirty years younger than Ricketts, and apparently he never met the artist, although in his memoirs he writes the following:

Cippico, who lived at 27 Lansdowne Road, possessed a picture by Ricketts, The Fall of Icarus: in it there was a red lighthouse against a blue background of sea and sky which remained in my memory for a long time: when I read Freud, I recalled it and pondered over its phallic significance. The house in which Ricketts and Shannon lived was close by.

The figure of Icarus wore a pendant on the breast; after the painting had been finished, Ricketts gave the original pendant to Michael Field. It was 'a thrush-egg turquoise set in gold with two pearls and an amethyst'.

I have never seen an image of this painting, and would like to have one.