Wednesday, August 17, 2022

576. A Summer Anthology (5): Cold Beer

During the summers, art historian Mary Berenson, who lived with her husband Bernhard Berenson at Villa I Tatti near Florence, visited her mother in London, and during her 1904 stay she visited Charles Ricketts.

Mary Berenson
by unknown photographer:
(matte printing-out paper print, circa 1893)
[© National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG Ax160669]

In a letter to Michael Field, he wrote about her charm. In his diary he noted that he attended a concert in Chelsea with Mary Berenson and Michael Field's older half, Katherine Bradley, and that the music of Bach and Beethoven gave him a stabbing headache. A year later, in March 1905, Ricketts and Shannon were having lunch at Villa I Tatti. They liked Mary but found Bernhard unsympathetic, although they shared some vitriolic opinions about fellow art historians.

Charles Ricketts to Michael Field, 29 July 1904

[British Library Add MS 58088, ff 64-6]

      Dear Mrs B.B. called dressed in pale blue and looked like fresh bunches of forget-me nots (plenty of bunches). She is a charming woman from whose presence emanates a perfume of kindness. We mildly ran you both down – oh not very much! – just enough to feel comfortable. I have been basking in the heat & feeling very fit.
      We dined with Toby & Tobie’s wife, Fry was there: on his face shon[e] the reflected glory of the house of Lords, he had been all day at the Chantrey commission, we sat in the garden & talked about the inconveniences of travel. Oh that I had the wings of a dove! I should now be drinking cold beer in Dresden

Roger Fry had been an acquaintance of Ricketts and Shannon since the mid-1890s, and when they moved to Beaufort Street they became his neighbours, but a deep friendship did not develop, even when Fry and Ricketts became involved with the art magazine The Burlington Magazine. They took opposing views on Post-Impressionism. 
Toby appears in other letters to Michael Field, but he is not yet identified - the name probably does not refer to the journalist Henry William Lucy, who could be found in the House of Parliament so often that he used the penname Toby M.P., although the House was the location where the Chantrey committee meetings took plate between 5 and 29 July 1904. Fry was heard as a witness on 15 July. [See note at the bottom.]
Dresden was apparently one of Ricketts's favorite cities. He had visited Dresden for the first time the previous year, in August 1903, and even then he wrote to Shannon that the beer there was great: it "tastes like melted topaz, while the sweat beeds off my noble brow and the walls wave about".

Thanks are due to John Aplin for providing the transcription of this letter, and for solving the puzzle: Mr and Mrs Toby are nicknames for Thomas Sturge Moore and his bride Maria Appia.