Wednesday, September 27, 2023

634. Ricketts and Shannon as Puppets

Helen Richie wrote a fascinating blog earlier this year about the Ricketts and Shannon collection bequeathed to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. (Read The Art Collection of Ricketts and Shannon.) One of the issues she dealt with was the attribution of the estate to Shannon instead of Shannon and Ricketts, caused by Shannon dying last. Thomas Sturge Moore wrote a letter to the museum's director to have it corrected, but that only partly happened. 

In 2019, a video was dedicated to the issue. Created by Jasmine Brady, Ana Dias, Bruna Fernandes and Lucian Stephenson, the animation reimagines a portrait by Edmund Dulac of Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. Dulac depicted the pair as medieval saints. 

In this Museum Remix some elements have been changed. See Letter to the Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum. (Also on YouTube).

Jasmine Brady, Ana Dias, Bruna Fernandes, Lucian Stephenson,
Museum Remix participants: 
Letter to the Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum

At the start, the Dulac image is imitated; and, after thirty seconds approximately, Ricketts and Shannon hold in their hands some of their Greek treasures, a cup and a statuette. Animals, such as a hare on the ground and a bat in the sky, are taken directly from Dulac. Their faces are replaced by masks with newly drawn portraits and they are depicted as puppets with moving limbs and heads. As Moore's letter and the director's reply are read out, the couple's posture changes and at the end - instead of their art treasures - they hold each other's hands.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

633. A Signature in a Vale Press Sydney

Dedication copies of Vale Press editions are quite rare. A particularly special one has two dedications written by Ricketts in a copy for Thomas Sturge Moore: 'To T.S. Moore from C. Ricketts after ten years, since the publication of Daphnis and Chloe, I know of no one else to whom I would have the same pleasure in dedicating my work'. Ricketts wrote this inscription on the last free endpaper, and only then saw that he was holding the book upside down and that he had written a dedication not in the front but in the back of the book. He further inscribed it on the proper front free endpaper: 'To T.S. Moore from his affectionate old friend C. Ricketts'. (This copy is part of the Mark Samuels Lasner collection at the University of Delaware Library).

John Suckling, The Poems of Sir John Suckling
(Vale Press 1896) in a contemporary binding

Another Dedication Copy?

Soon to be auctioned is a copy of another Vale Press book with a dedication by Ricketts: John Suckling's The Poems of Sir John SucklingIt is one of the early Vale Press books, published in 1896. This copy is bound in brown leather (not designed by Ricketts) and has an ownership inscription by Eugenia Law Biddle and bookplates of Brian Douglas Stilwell and Alexander van Rensselaer (1850-1933).

The copy will be auctioned on 27 September at Freeman's in Philadelphia. It is described as a presentation copy: 'Presentation copy, inscribed on second free leaf by founder of The Vale Press Charles Ricketts: "from CS Ricketts".'

Ricketts's name in John Suckling, The Poems of Sir John Suckling
(Vale Press 1896) 

But has Ricketts indeed written this himself? I'm sceptical. 

Why does it say 'from' Ricketts, omitting the name of the recipient - this is unusual. More commonly, Ricketts wrote 'To X, from his old friend Charles Ricketts'. 

'CS' stands for Charles de Sousy - a middle name he did not frequently use after 1895 - the colophon of the book has 'Charles Ricketts'. 

Both the letter 'R' at the beginning and the 's' at the end of the name are very unusual in shape and the whole name does not seem to be written quickly as Ricketts did, but letter by letter. 

Personally, I think this signature is not genuine.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

632. Writing Letters at the Keep, Chilham

In 1918, Ricketts and Shannon were granted the use of a country retreat, the Norman tower of Chilham Castle in Kent, near Canterbury. It took some time before it was habitable and Ricketts and Shannon furnished the rooms and created a garden. Soon, it proved a popular getaway for their many friends and acquaintances who often visited unexpectedly.

Oddly enough some of our own friends have taken to coming down and our catering gets complicated. Shortly we shall return to London for a short rest.
(probably October 1921)

In his letters to Muriel Lee Mathews (born De Selincourt, 1867-1938), he regularly wrote about experiences at Chilham, where many guests stayed at the actual castle that was owned by Edmund and Mary Davis. But even when the Davis's entertained a crowd, the castle grounds offered plenty of places to retreat quietly, as Ricketts wrote:

To-day Shannon and I took a flask, and had tea in a meadow near the river which belongs to the estate and is visited by no one. We found masses of little forget-me-nots and exquisite sedge and some horrid blackberries.
(18 September 1920)

Of course, their tower also offered privacy:

The Tower by moon light with tree shadows cast across it looks like an ideal setting for Tristan, it has three bogey rooms, a winding staircase leading to the surprise – a light charming 18 century room beautifully panelled from which I am writing, this is already almost finished.
(probably October 1921)

Georgian Room, The Keep, Chilham, 1920s

This room had been redecorated in the Georgian style at the beginning of the 19th century. The windows had been enlarged and looked out over the castle and the landscape around it with a regal view of the river Stour. The floor below had bedrooms and the ground floor contained a dining room and kitchen. One morning, Ricketts wrote to Muriel Lee Mathews:

[...] the hoppers howl melancholy noises in the local pubs at night and our otherwise excellent housekeeper sings “ar’t thou weary? ar’t thou languid”, etc whilst preparing breakfast, this, and a voluminous odour of fried eggs and bacon coming into the bedroom is a sign that I have to get up.
(probably October 1921).

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

631. Richard Le Galienne Remembers The Vale Press

The Romantic '90s by Richard Le Galienne is one of those memoirs that contains details whose reliability cannot be established. The book was published in 1926 by G.P. Putnam's Sons. By then, Le Gallienne, lived in the United States, and the 1890s were 25 years in the past.

Frederick Hollyer, portrait of Richard Le Galienne, c. 1890
[Collection V&A, London]

Le Gallienne, born in Liverpool in 1866, was the same age as Ricketts, whom he mentioned twice in his recollections, the second time as the designer of Lord de Tabley's 1893 collection of poems and the first time as the publisher of the Vale Press. It is that first passage that intrigues me.

Le Gallienne was the chief reader of The Bodley Head, and said that John Lane

was the first to apply to general publishing the new ideals in printing and binding that were already in the air, and which, before William Morris had started his Kelmscott Press, had found expression in such beautiful esoteric magazines as the Century Guild Hobby Horse, edited by Herbert P. Horne, Arthur Macmurdo and Selwyn Image, and the Dial, published under the joint editorship of Charles Ricketts and Charles H. Shannon, who were presently to start the Vale Press, one of the  earliest of those "private presses" that were just then coming into fashion, and the most influential of them all.

That last sentence is already intriguing. I know this holds true for the Netherlands: it was only after Morris's death that his influence in the Netherlands became greater than that of Ricketts and Shannon, who actually captured the imagination of the youngest generation of artists in the early 1890s. In Britain, by contrast, the influence of the Vale Press was initially very slight, and the works of the pre-Vale period were also often ridiculed.

Lane had the advantage of the coöperation of Messrs. Ricketts and Shannon in several of his early volumes [...]. There was a delightful aura of mystery about these early private presses, particularly about the Vale Press. Had Messrs. Ricketts and Shannon been alchemists, their operations could not have been veiled in a more thrilling secrecy, or the results awaited with more hushed expectancy; and specimen pages of any new book on which they were cloistrally engaged were shown privately by Lane to a favoured few as things sacrosanct, and occultly precious, with that reverent solemnity  which characterizes the true collector. The times were serous about Beauty.

I have to assume that the chronology is quite mixed up here.

The first book of the Vale Press dates from 1896 and Shannon did not collaborate on it. By that time, Ricketts was using Hacon & Ricketts as his business name, he employed staff to sell and ship the books and specimen pages really did not go to John Lane. They did, of course, for the period before that, when Lane was the publisher of books designed by Ricketts and Shannon, mainly for Oscar Wilde, but also for other authors such as Thomas Hardy.

So the facts do not add up, but intriguingly, the atmosphere of secrecy and popularity with which Ricketts's and Shannon's earlier editions were apparently surrounded remained distinctive, at least it was so memorialised a quarter of a century later. Over twenty-five years, facts had turned into myths.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

630. Kathleen, Lady Kennet about Charles Shannon

Kathleen, Lady Kennet, posed for Shannon for several paintings, when she was still unmarried and known as Kathleen Bruce - see blog 628. Charles Ricketts: Statue by Kathleen Bruce (later Scott, later Lady Kennet).

Two years after her death in 1947, her second husband, Lord Kennet, published her memoirs: Self-Portrait of an Artist. From the Diaries and Memoirs of Lady Kennet, Kathleen Lady Scott (London, John Murray, 1949).

Kathleen Bruce, sitting for a portrait by Charles Shannon (1909) 

She reminisces about Charles Shannon in an account of her meeting with Captain Scott. She met Scott during a luncheon-party at Mabel Beardsley, and again, ten months afterwards, at a tea-party:

He suggested taking me home. I had not been going home; I had been going to dine in Soho with a gentle Academician, Charles Shannon, who was painting me. But without a second's hesitation I threw over my dining companion and announced myself ready to be taken home.

For ten months he was in her company, until work took him out of London.

I went back to my posing for Shannon and sat quietly hour after hour, wondering whether I could wrench myself from all my tumultuous friends and take this innocent rock as the father of my son for whom I had been searching.
"Kathleen," said Shannon, putting down his plate, "You don't love me at all to-day."
"But you've been working; you didn't want me to be chatty and interesting while you paint."
"You're not thinking about me or posing. You've got something on your mind. I know your face too well not to know that."
I smiled and was clam-like. Although this beautiful painter was thirty-eight, I was the first woman he had ever loved. I loved his work so deeply that we had become devoted friends. He painted portrait after portrait of me, and had success with them. They sold quickly for public galleries and one went to the Luxembourg. I loved sitting for him in the very exquisite surroundings of his lovely studio, and he taught me more than all the professors in Paris of design and harmony of line. There was quiet there and peace. I didn't want to ruffle that quiet content. What a lot of upheavals and severings I saw looming ahead. Yet quite clearly this healthy, fresh, decent, honest, rock-like naval officer was just exactly what I had been setting up in my mind as a contrast to my artists friends, as the thing I had been looking for. As I sat there in the quiet, temple-like studio, I made my decision.
We went out, I and the artist, to a Soho restaurant to dine. He took me home and came upstairs with me.
"Listen," I said, taking the lapels of his coat, "I'm going to marry someone."
The painter leant his back against the door.
"Whom?" he said. "Not X?"
"No, not X. You don't know him; he's not of our world at all. I'm sorry if you mind."
The gentle creature murmured, "You shouldn't be that; but I'll go home now."
And he moved hesitatingly downstairs.
Outside he walked blindly, with his head, I suppose, still swimming, and coming to the Sloane Street crossing walked straight into the traffic and under a bus. He was taken to St. George's Hospital. He was not killed, and I knew nothing about it till two days later, when it had become merely a funny little accident.
(Self-Portrait of an Artist, pp. 83-85)

Her memoirs contain a photograph of her sitting in Shannon's studio. Seated on a bench, her profile is shown in a mirror behind her; on the left are a statue and a fireplace.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

629. An Unpublished Drawing for The Universal Review, 1889

Until the mid 1890s, Ricketts and Shannon out of necessity produced much work commissioned by magazines or publishers. For Harry Quilter's The Universal Review, Shannon did some drawings, and once they jointly produced the drawings for a story. This was 'Jezebel' by Julian Corbett, published in The Universal Review, vol. IV, No. 16 (August 1889).

Not all attempts led to publication and fees; some work remained in portfolio, and although Ricketts later destroyed his early work, scraps of it remained here and there. An example can be found in the collection of The British Museum. 

Charles Ricketts, design for a battle scene illustration (c.1889)
British Museum, London
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license
permission of Leonie Sturge Moore and Charmian O'Neil]

The drawing, 19,7 x 15,2 cm, depicts a battle scene with a chariot and half-naked figures holding shields and weapons. The pen and ink drawing, touched with blue watercolour, was acquired in 1946 (museum number 1946,0209.45).

It is quite conceivable that this drawing was also made for the story 'Jezebel'. In the story, her husband and two sons are killed or injured in a religious battle, when Jezebel introduces the gods Astarté and Baal as alternatives to the Jahveh worshipped by 'fakeers' in Carmel and the mountains of Gilead. Eventually, enemy troops come to her palace to kill her.

The chariot of the assassin rolled into the court, and not one word did she deign to utter to mitigate the savage retribution of her foe. [...] Goaded to fury with her taunts, Jehu cried to the zenana eunuchs to cast her at his feet. In a moment the queen of all that was refined and gentle in her age was struggling helpless in their rough embraces.  In another she was dashed brutally into the court below.  Backwards and forwards in a frenzy of savage hate the felon captain drove his chariot across her mangled form, and then passed on to drink to the last dregs the blood of her husband's kin. (The Universal Review, vol. IV (1889) No. 16page 563).

This is exactly the scene Ricketts has sketched: Jezebel's injured body lies in the foreground; with her right arm she fends off an assailant. It is a dramatic and violent scene, perhaps a little too much for Quilter's magazine.

The provenance of the drawing is somewhat vague, according to the British Museum's description, but it is fairly direct. The drawing was donated by Constance Rea. This was Constance Halford (1863-1952), an artist, who in 1907 had married the painter Cecil Rea. Constance was a sister of Mary Davis (born Halford), a great friend and patron of Ricketts and Shannon, as was her husband, Edmund Davis. Constance may have acquired the preliminary drawing from Ricketts, or perhaps from another friend, such as Thomas Sturge Moore.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

628. Charles Ricketts: Statue by Kathleen Bruce (later Scott, later Lady Kennet)

In the first decade of twentieth century, the artist Kathleen Bruce made a statue portraying Charles Ricketts. The bronze was exhibited in 1908, and a copy was presented to the Leeds Art Gallery by Lord Kennet in 1949. 

Kathleen Scott, 'Charles Ricketts' (c.1908)
Collection: Leeds Art Gallery
[Creative Commons License]

The statue measures 32.5 x 10.5 x 14.5 cm.

It is an usual artist's portrait in the sense that Ricketts is depicted sitting, arms and legs crossed, bent slightly forward. He is not portrayed as an active sculptor or painter, does not stand in front of his easel, does not make any of his characteristic gestures with his ever-active hands, does not have a cigarette in his hand or in the corner of his mouth; he looks contemplative, but also somewhat defeated. In fact, when this portrait was done, Ricketts was quite depressed. His paintings did not satisfy him, and, worse, his companion, Charles Shannon, had fallen in love, again, with a woman. In 1903, Shannon had threatened to leave Ricketts and marry his model Hetty Deacon; in 1906, Shannon was infatuated by the sculptor Kathleen (Liz) Bruce (1878-1947) .

He was almost twenty years older than the good-looking, artistic woman of the world, who had nursed villagers in the Balkans, had studied sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art and at the Atelier Colarossi in Paris between 1901 and 1906, and had been a pupil of Rodin. She produced statues of Ricketts and Shannon, Max Beerbohm, Harley Granville Barker, George Bernard Shaw, among many others (images can be found on the Art UK website).

Kathleen Scott, 'Charles Shannon' (c.1910)
Collection: Leeds Art Gallery
[Creative Commons License]

Shannon's portrait is very similar, although he holds a paper or sketchbook.

Shortly after her relation with Shannon, in 1908, she married Robert Falcon Scott, the Polar explorer who died in the Antarctic in 1912. In 1922, she married Edward Hilton Young, later Baron Kennet of the Dene (thus becoming Lady Kennet). In her 1938 book Homage forty sculptures were illustrated, the portraits of Ricketts and Shannon were not included.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

627. An Unopened Copy of A House of Pomegranates

A number of years after the first private presses were established - concentrating on William Morris's Kelmscott Press and the first generation after that - a peculiar craze arose around rarity of these books. This was the fashion of the untouched book, the book as it came from the bindery to the collector who did not cut open the sections, but left them unopened, untouched and thus unread. It was a kind of tribute to the ideal book, where the object had become more important than the text. 

Copies of private press books were subsequently promoted in the trade as 'unopened' and examples are rare, but sufficiently well known. The curious thing is that less rare books also sometimes turn up in unopened condition, giving them a unique appeal.

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891)
Cover, designed by Charles Ricketts

Last month, an unopened copy of Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates was sold by Sotheby's in New York, hammer price $4,500, a substantial price for a not uncommon book that, dependent on the state and provenance, can be priced from around £500 to £2,500.

The Sotheby copy was in an excellent state: 'Original green linen backed cream boards stamped in pale red and gilt with designs by Ricketts, including a peacock, fountain, and a basket of pomegranates, spine gilt-lettered with a few small pomegranate designs, decorated endpapers; slight browning to edges, some minor spotting to lower board. Housed in custom case and folding chemise'. Moreover, this copy was 'Unopened'.

Unopened copies of this book are rare. There is one in the Norman Colbeck Collection at The University of British Columbia. Unopened copies were sold by Sotheby's in July 1925 and Hodgsons (1926) (both acquired by Quaritch), again, 'a slightly worn' copy by Sotheby's (1979) (acquired by Warrack & Perkins, obviously not this copy). There might be three or four unopened copies in all.

Originally said to be a children's book, but marketed as a luxury item, the publishers  had a thousand copies of the book printed, each priced at 21s. 

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891)
Copies of the first binding (left) and second binding (right)

There are two binding states of the book and the Sotheby copy belongs to the original binding state. It has a pale yellowish green spine and the boards are covered with greyish yellow cloth. The second binding state has a darker greyish green spine and light brown cloth boards. The plates by Charles Shannon have been pasted on white linen guards in the first binding state copies. For the second binding states paper guards were used for this. There are some more differences, but these suffice to identify copies.

The Sotheby copy not only displays the colour scheme of the first binding state, but also shows the insertion of the plates as called for in the first binding state.

This implies that an early buyer of the book, during Wilde's life time, and even during Wilde's pre-prison years, acquired a copy of the book, kept it closed, and never used a knife to cut open the folded sections. For a book like this, it is astonishing, and then to have survived in this condition for more than a hundred years. Unopened, commercially produced books - this is an under-researched book historical branch.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

626. The Legend of The Sign of the Dial

In 1894, the collaboration of Hacon & Ricketts as a firm involved not only the foundation of a publishing house, for which new typefaces were designed and created, but also a small shop to sell books, wood-engravings and lithographs of Ricketts, Shannon and their circle, and to organise exhibitions of their art and works by admired masters and predecessors. The shop at 52 Warwick Street was opened in March 1896. 

On the inside, in front of the storefront window, hung a nameplate 'HACON & | RICKETTS'. There is a photograph showing this signboard, but it is too vague to see how the name was painted and who painted it. Since Ricketts was the firm's typographer it seems obvious that he did it, but not necessarily.

Charles Shannon, details of recto of signboard for The Sign of the Dial (1896)
[Aberdeen Archives, Gallery and Museums]

A double-sided painted signboard hung from the facade. This was the work of Charles Shannon and it also contained the name of the firm, supplemented by that of the store on the recto side, below the names was a painting of two female figures. The woman on the left is leaning with an arm on a pedestal while reading a booklet; to her right, a woman kneels, turning her face away as she raises what appears to be a sprig of spring bluebell (a symbol of hope), to the reading woman; both are within a wicker hedge against a blue background.

Charles Shannon, details of recto of signboard for The Sign of the Dial (1896)
[Aberdeen Archives, Gallery and Museums]

The verso depicts a sun dial above the image of a grazing Pegasus near a half naked woman, both against the same background of hedge and sky.

The signboard is painted in oil on panel, 85,5 x 48,8 cm, and was purchased by the Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums in 1949.

The text on the signboard reads:



[The characters 'O' and 'F' are intertwined]

Within each line, words are separated by a period (placed at half height), except in the third line where the last word is a ligature of the letters O and F. Each character is drawn separately, which is clearly demonstrated in lines 3 and 4 that both begin with the word THE, but the width of these words are different. In line four, the individual letters of the word THE are connected. Each line is aligned with both margins.

The lettering is totally different from that of The Dial magazine of which Shannon drew the first cover and Ricketts that of the other four issues. Ricketts would not have respected the rigorous separation between the lines and, for example, would have allowed the tail of the character R to continue with a graceful arc in the space below.

Looking again closely at the blurred photo of the store (Bookselling, 1896), it can be seen that the lines of the other signboard are filled out differently, although it is not clear where the ampersand is. Its authorship cannot be ascertained, but it may be that this sign was put up there right at the opening and Shannon's sign was a slightly later addition.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

625. Dust Jackets and Their Replacements

Dust jackets are of interest to collectors today, not only because the book is complete (less naked) with the original dust jacket, but also because they add an element of art and design to the whole. 

This is particularly true of the early books designed by Charles Ricketts. Of these, the dust jackets are extremely rare, which can drive up the price of a copy considerably. Copies of The Picture of Dorian Gray in first edition with dust jacket can fetch amazing amounts. 

Dust jackets have therefore been targets of forgers since the invention of good photocopiers. 

Facsimile dust jacket for W.B. Yeats Essays (1924)

Nowadays, there are providers of replicas that clearly state that they are replicas. Even then, the replica is not printed on paper from the time itself, offers no more than an image of the original and does not feel the same.

One such supplier started as a collector who liked to see a more complete image of the book on his shelf. Mark Terry started Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC in 1995 and built it into a company that his sister and later his son also came to work for. Is there really a business model to be based on providing such copies? Are there really that many collectors who want to fold a replica dust jacket around their copy?

Their current archive consists of 60,000 scans, and the firm provides custom made copies: 'I can resize a jacket to fit any book. All I need is the height, width, and spine width of your book.'

By the way, all jackets state 'Facsimile Dust Jackets L.L.C.' on the front flap.

The collection can be searched, but does not give results for the name of Ricketts or Shannon. However, a few (anonymous) designs by Ricketts for the collected works of W.B. Yeats can be found: the design for Essays (1924), Early Poems and Stories (1925), and The Collected Plays of W.B. Yeats (1934).

Facsimile dust jacket for The Collected Plays of W.B. Yeats  (1934)

Because Ricketts's early dust jackets are so extremely rare, they are not available through this database.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

624. Charles Ricketts about Marcus Behmer

Throughout his career, the German artist Marcus Behmer (1879-1958) has been engaged with Ricketts's work. 

The Insel Verlag edition of Goethe's West-Östlicher Divan (1910) was decorated by Behmer, and its opening pages distincly refer to the borders of Vale Press publications.

Early on Behmer seems to have seen works from the Vale Press and collected them. However, most of the books were lost in a bombing raid during World War II, and few survivals from his library are known to exist.

Dorothea Werner, portrait of Marcus Behmer, dated 1947
[Creative Commons Licence 3.0]

Little remains of the correspondence between Ricketts and Behmer either. However, the most recent catalogue on his oeuvre, Peter Christian Hall's Delphine in Offenbach. Marcus Behmer, Meister der kleinen Formate, published in 2018, quotes unpublished notes by Behmer on his work.

In 1927, Behmer wrote a four-page essay about 'Charles S. Ricketts (Vale Press). Eine Auswahl seiner Werke' for the exhibition catalogue Internationale Buchkunst Ausstellung Leipzig 1927. This was followed two years later by 'Bibliophile Shakespeare-Ausgaben' in Philobiblon (October 1929) that mentions Ricketts's Shakespeare editions, and in 1935 Behmer published his essay 'Charles Ricketts' in Buchkunst. Beiträge zur Entwicklung der graphischen Künste und der Kunst im Buche. With 10 pages and 28 illustrations, this was his most substantial piece on Ricketts.

Thanks to several publications, we knew what Behmer thought of Ricketts, but now we also hear what Ricketts thought of Behmer. (Ricketts himself never published anything about Behmer's work.)

Behmer considered his illustrations for Enno Littmann's Vom morgenländischen Floh (1925) his greatest achievement, adding that Ricketts greatly appreciated it.

Die späteren Bücher mit Radierungen sind übrigens mit ungewöhnlicher Sorgfalt "aufgebaut", aber dergleichen merkt kaum irgend jemand. So z.B. der sehr schmale und hohe Satzspiegel im Flohbuch, wo der untere Papierrand sehr schmal, der äussere aber sehr breit ist, eine ganz ungewöhnliche Form bei europäischen Büchern; ist von anscheinend niemand bemerkt worden; ausser von einem Mann wie Charles Ricketts, dem feinsten, nicht fachmännisch bornierten Kenner, der gleich empfand, dass dieser Seitenaufbau dem "morgenländischen" Geschmack - dem Titel des Buches entsprechend - angepasst war. 
(Letter to Gotthard Laske, 10 March 1929, in Delphine in Offenbach, p. 253) 

The later books with etchings are, by the way, "constructed" with unusual care, but hardly anyone notices this. For example, the very narrow and high type area in the flea book, where the lower margin is very narrow, but the outer margin is very wide (a very unusual form in European books), has apparently not been noticed by anyone; except by a man like Charles Ricketts, the finest, not narrow-minded connoisseur, who immediately felt that this page layout was adapted to the "Oriental" taste - according to the title of the book.

Behmer's copyright is apparently very confusingly settled, therefor I can't show an image on this page, but plenty of images of the flea book can be found online at sites of antiquarian booksellers - if you want to sell it you may reproduce it, if you own it you are not allowed to do so.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

623. A Portrait of John Westlake

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A Portrait of John Westlake

Charles Shannon's subjects for paintings were not very diverse. There were many portraits (mostly commissions), there were idylls of the classical world (like 'The Wood Nymph' or 'The Infant Bacchus'), subjects taken from the Bible ('The Wise and Foolish Virgins'), and figures of women bathing ('The Morning Toilet') or swimming ('The Incoming Tide').

One of his commissioned portraits is that of John Westlake (1828-1913), lawyer and fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. From 1851 to 1860, he was a fellow of Trinity, publishing a treatise on international law. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1854, and co-founded the Working Men's College (1854) where he taught mathematics. In 1885, he was elected to Parliament and from 1888 to 1908 he was a professor of international law at Cambridge, and from 1900 to 1906 also a member of the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

Charles Shannon, portrait of John Westlake
[Location: Trinity College, Cambridge]

One can hardly imagine Shannon and Westlake having an engaging conversation during the sittings for this portrait that was finished in 1910, but perhaps they had more in common than we think as Westlake was married to an artist, Alice Hare (1842-1923), who also held a variety of social roles in education and health care, and, in 1887, was asked by Oscar Wilde to contribute to The Woman's World (which she did not).

Shannon's oil on canvas, 90 x 71 cm, was donated by subscribers to Trinity College, Cambridge.

Westlake, incidentally, had experience posing for painters. When he was a lot younger, he was portrayed by Lowes Cato Dickinson (1819-1908). This undated portrait, probably from the late 1850s, is an oil on canvas, 130 x 101.4 cm kept in the collection of the University College London Hospitals Arts Store. Dickinson was also a founder of the Working Men's College, and like Westlake a Christian Socialist.

Lowes Cato Dickinson, portrait of John Westlake, undated
University College London Hospitals Arts Store]

Another portrait, dated 1902, was done by Marianne Stokes (1855-1927), an Austrian painter who married the landscape painter Adrian Stokes, and exhibited widely in London. This is executed in egg tempera on panel, 19,1 x 13.3 cm.

Marianne Stokes, portrait of John Westlake, 1902
[Location: National Portrait Gallery]

A few years earlier, Westlake's wife Alice had done a portrait of him as well: an oil on panel, around 1896-1897, 33,7 x 26 cm.

Alice Westlake, portrait of John Westlake, 1896-1897
[Location: National Portrait Gallery]

The portrait by his wife is curiously the most official and a rather solemn image; the eyes and his smile in particular do not display the mild humour the other portraitists apparently experienced, although one has to say that Shannon's portrait seems to portray a rather tired but patient aged man.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

622. Costume Designs at Auction

Peter Farley, a theatre designer, international exhibition curator, writer and teacher, died last year [read his obituary in The Guardian] and this week Bonhams sells items from his collection, including four costume design drawings by Charles Ricketts.

Bonhams' sale today (on 5 July) also includes designs by Leon Bakst and Alexandre Benois, while a watercolour/gouache drawing by Glyn Philpot ('Le Trayas') will be in next week's sale (12 July).

The Ricketts lots are 131 and 132, each comprising two framed costume designs, 31.1 x 21.9 cm.

Charles Ricketts, costume design, undated

For which play(s) these sketches in watercolour and pencil were done is not stated. The drawings show no written directions in Ricketts's hand, but one of them is signed with his initials. Two of the drawings illustrate servants, carrying a small dish or vessel, another depicts warriors or guards, carrying a sword or spear, and one depicts a masked dancer wearing snake-like gloves.

Charles Ricketts, costume design, undated

As usual, Ricketts twice sketched two costumes for minor roles on a single sheet, and the four drawings show six costumes in all. The estimate for each set of two drawings is £2,000 to £3,000. 

Charles Ricketts, costume design, undated, signed: 'CR'

The drawings were sold for £3,200, including premium (lot 131), and £2,432 including premium (lot 132).

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

621. The 2023 Alphabet: Z

Z is for 

The Bard of the Dimbovitza

Hélène Vacaresco, The Bard of the Dimbovitza.
Designed by Charles Ricketts
(detail of spine of second edition, 1892)

At the time Ricketts was designing book covers and title pages for commercial publishers such as James R. Osgood & Co, he created a design for Hélène Vacaresco's first series of poems, The Bard of the Dimbovitza, 'collected from the peasants' as the title page proudly stated and translated from Romanian by Carmen Sylva and Alma Strettel. The first edition appeared in 1891 in a tan cloth binding and in a parchment-bound deluxe edition. Later editions and the second volume were executed in green cloth.

Hélène Vacaresco,
The Bard of the Dimbovitza.
Designed by Charles Ricketts
(spine of deluxe edition, 1891)

For the spine, a brass plate was made after a drawing by Ricketts. None of the lettering on the spine was set in lead type, but designed by Ricketts, and stamped from a plate. 

This can be observed, for instance, in the difference between characters that should have been identical, such as 'T' in THE', which is sans serif, while in  'VITZA' it has serifs.  Then again, the 'Z' next to the second 'T' has no serifs. The length of the tail of 'R' in the title is slightly less exuberant than that in the author's name. These characters have not been typeset. 

It is one of the few times Ricketts had to design the letter Z for a title - as an initial it does not appear in his oeuvre.

Hélène Vacaresco, The Bard of the Dimbovitza.
First Series and Second Series
Designed by Charles Ricketts
(spines editions dated 1892)

When the second series was published - seen here in a later printing next to a later printing of the first series - the plate for the spine had to be altered and space was made for the designation 'Second Series' by replacing the word 'THE' at the top, and, in fact, the entire section above the author's name has been revised to create space. (Thanks are due to Martin Steenson, Books & Things, London, for his observation.) The lower part of the plate remained untouched. This was done by a professional at the bindery, as was the custom at the time. Ricketts was not called in to make this change after the first series was published. The short dash between 'VITZA' and the series designation is inconsistent with Ricketts's design ideas.

Publishers did not want to spend money on such changes and while authors and publishers could complain about copyright violations, for artists, this right simply did not exist.

An Index to the 2017-2023 Alphabet:

A - 286. The 2017 Alphabet: A

B - 289. The 2017 Alphabet: B

C - 291. The 2017 Alphabet: C

D - 301. The 2017 Alphabet: D

E - 303. The 2017 Alphabet: E

F - 305. The 2017 Alphabet: F

G - 306. The 2017 Alphabet: G

H - 307. The 2017 Alphabet: H

I - 309. The 2017 Alphabet: I 

J - 310. The 2017 Alphabet: J

K - 313. The 2017 Alphabet: K

L - 314. The 2017 Alphabet: L

M - 316. The 2017 Alphabet: M

N - 320. The 2017 Alphabet: N

O - 321. The 2017 Alphabet: O

P - 334. The 2017 Alphabet: P

Q - 335. The 2017 Alphabet: Q

R - 338. The 2018 Alphabet: R

S - 345. The 2018 Alphabet: S

T - 381. The 2018 Alphabet: T

T - 382. The 2018 Alphabet: T [a special celebratory installment]

U - 385. The 2018 Alphabet: U

V - 386. The 2018 Alphabet: V

W - 390. The 2019 Alphabet: W

X - 619. The 2023 Alphabet: X

Y - 620. The 2023 Alphabet: Y

Z - 621. The 2023 Alphabet: Z

& - 397. The 2019 Alphabet: &

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

620. The 2023 Alphabet: Y

 Y is for 

You must wake and call me early

Initial 'Y' in Alfred Tennyson, Lyric Poems (Vale Press, 1900)

Ricketts designed two different initials 'Y', the first one, done for Daphnis and Chloe (1893) was also used in the Vale Press Keats edition in 1898. 

A smaller initial 'Y' appeared in Milton's Early Poems in 1896, and was used in several other Vale Press books. Its final appearance was in the edition of Tennyson's lyric poems, published at the end of 1900.

It is a five-line floral initial with twirling stems and small flowers.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

619. The 2023 Alphabet: X

Years ago I started a series on initials and letters that Charles Ricketts designed for illustrations, for commissioned books or for his Vale Press editions and we almost got to the end, but I could not find any examples for X and the series was temporarily suspended. 

Initial X designed
by Charles Ricketts

I had overlooked the specially designed enlarged initials based on the Avon Type used for the title-pages of his 39 volume Shakespeare edition from 1900 tot 1903 as well as for the identically executed single-volume edition of Doctor Faustus by Marlowe. These series of initials came in two sizes that were combined on the title-pages. The larger ones were also used to introduce the first text line of each play. 

X is for

A Most Pleasant and Excellent Conceited Comedy of Sir John Falstaff and the Merry Wives of Windsor

William Shakespaere, A Most Pleasant and Excellent Conceited Comedy
of Sir John Falstaff and the Merry Wives of Windsor
(Vale Press, 1902)

The Avon Type was specially designed for the Shakespeare so that the lines were less wide and the pages could contain more text.

The title-pages always contain only the title, however short or long. In the case of the Sonnets or Doctor Faustus, not even a single line was filled, but Ricketts refrained from decorations on these pages, as they were followed (two pages later) by two opening pages containing both the publisher's device and a decorated text page, the latter with a border that differed for the three types of plays (tragedies, comedies and histories).

But he did do something else that would raise eyebrows and showed that the criticism of his early title-pages would not stop him from carrying out such practices in a different way. As we saw in A.L. Cotton's criticism [read blog 616. Ricketts and an Attack on Him by a 'Fool'], he had in the past used a peculiar alternation of capitals and lowercase letters on opening pages. However, Cotton praised the restraint in the decorations of the Shakespeare volumes. Did he overlook the title-pages or did he consider the combination of two formats of initials on the purely typographical pages to be according to the rules?

William Shakespeare, The Excellent History of the Merchant of Venice
(Vale Press, 1902)

On these title-pages, we see idiosyncratic word breaks, the letters of one word are often in two sizes, even names are not sacred - like that of FALSTAFf - and quite often two smaller characters are placed on top of each other, or one is placed above an asterisk.

This was not necessary, of course; with careful measuring and drawing, the titles could also have been set in smaller initials only. Even the larger initials would have fit, although this would have resulted in many more hyphenations. As is often the case, we do not know what Ricketts's thoughts on this were. But I assume both regular solutions would have seemed uninventive and boring to him.

What is clear is that he also saw these pages as decorations, and let's face it: everyone pretty much knew these titles by heart. A single key word - Hamlet, Othello, merry, merchant - sufficed.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

618. Charles Shannon's Studio in 1920

Shortly before and after World War I, Ricketts and Shannon were occasionally surrounded by film crews and were, as Ricketts wrote, 'cinema'd'. But they were also frequently photographed. One such photo appeared in the 1 May 1920 instalment of The Sphere.

'Mr. Charles Shannon, A.R.A., in his Studio in Holland Park'
(The Sphere, 1 May 1920, p. 125)

Shannon poses with a brush pointing at an oil painting - he was working on a large version of 'The Convalescent'. The canvas is positioned at an angle in the studio , making the scene somewhat difficult to perceive, not least because immediately behind it is a framed painting with a portrait of a lady.

The painting was acquired by Kojiro Matsukata and probably destroyed when his London warehouse went up into flames. [Read blog 363 about the Matsukata collection.]

Luckily, in 1924, the painting had been photographed; see plate 25 in Charles Shannon (London, Ernest Benn, 1924).

Charles Shannon, 'The Convalescent'

(Thanks are due to John Aplin for finding the studio photograph.)