Wednesday, November 14, 2018

381. The 2018 Alphabet: T

T is for The.

The sound rolls through the reddening air, the muffled thum! the dumb! of a monotonous drum.

Initial 'T' (The Dial, 1889)
There is a small series of illustrated initials designed by Charles Ricketts that is often overseen. They appeared in the first issue of Vale coterie's magazine The Dial. There were eight literary and critical contributions of which the design was not uniform. 

One opened with a headpiece similar to those designed by Ricketts for the popular magazines:
Ricketts's story 'A Glimpse of Heaven'.

There were two contributions that started with the first word of the text incorporated in an illustration:
Charles Shannons's story 'A Simple Story: the illustration contains the name 'Batilda', which is the first word of the story.
An essay by John Gray about 'Les Goncourt': the illustration contains the first word of the text: 'Never'

There was one contribution that opened with a headpiece with an initial:
John Gray's story 'The Great Worm': initial V.

There is one contribution that opens with an illustration that has its own title, independent of the contents:
Reginald Savage's art notes: 'Notes'. The illustration is titled 'Spes'.

There were three contributions - one essay and two stories that started with an illustrated initial.

The initial 'T' (see above) opens Ricketts's story and play 'The Cup of Happiness'.

Initial 'P' (The Dial, 1889)
The first contribution in the issue opens with a similar illustrated initial 'P' for the essay about the French painter Puvis de Chavannes.

Initial 'L' (The Dial, 1889)
The last piece in The Dial is Ricketts's (anonymously published) story: 'Sensations'. There is one illustrated initial L.

These initials deserve a more elaborate study.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

380. Ricketts at the Turn of the Century

The current exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland is called 'At the Turn of the Century'. The introductory texts suggest that the museum has taken the opportunity to show works from the collection that seem not to be related to each other in any way except for the time of their creation: 'Art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was both forward and backward looking. Some artists developed aspects of impressionist and post-impressionist painting, and moved further in the direction of abstraction; other artists, turned towards spiritual values and created symbols of a purer world; other artists continued with traditional artistic practices.' - That includes almost everything.

Charles Ricketts, 'Don Juan and the Commander' (National Galleries of Scotland)
Ricketts's painting in the exhibition is one of his evocations of the Don Juan story, in which Don Juan invites the statue of the commander (whom he had killed earlier) to his dinner table. 'Don Juan and the Commander' was presented to the gallery by Ricketts's friend John Gray. (See my earlier remarks about the description of the paining in blog 299: 'Don Juan in Edinburgh'.)

On display are paintings by Edouard Vuillard, William Nicholson, Walter Sickert, Mabel Pryde, and other artists, and there is no hurry, as the exhibition can be seen until 28 February 2020. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

379. Designers & Jewellery: Fitzwilliam Museum Exhibition

The Fitzwilliam Museum exhibition 'Designers & Jewellery 1850-1940: Jewellery and Metalwork from The Fitzwilliam Museum' is on view until 11 November. (The show opened in July).

Charles Ricketts, pendant with miniature of Edith Cooper (1901)
The catalogue (same title), written by Helen Ritchie, devotes an entire chapter to the jewellery designed by Charles Ricketts (pp. 99-115), with excellent photographs by Amy Jugg. It is the first time that our publication about Ricketts's mother (Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother, 2016) is quoted in the first lines of a serious essay about Ricketts: 

Charles de Sousy Ricketts (1866-1931) was born in Switzerland to a retired English naval officer and his Italian wife, Cornelia Marsuzi de Aguirre.

The catalogue reproduces sketches alongside new photographs of the jewellery: a brooch, pendants, a painted fan, and a ring, designed by Ricketts in a short time span for a small inner circle of his friends: Michael Field and Maria Sturge Moore. Ricketts kept a drawer full of gemstones, and he arranged selections of them on a piece of paper before sketching a new jewel in pen and water colour. 

Although Ricketts employed Giuliano, a famous firm in London, for all his jewellery, he 'often spotted errors in them over time, and was not always completely satisfied with the goldsmith's work' (as Richie states). That, and Giuliano's invoices, brought his short career as a jewellery designer to an end.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

378. Scholarly Attention for Charles Ricketts (4)

Since 2000, the number of articles about Oscar Wilde or Michael Field that mention Charles Ricketts and his designs for their books has increased. Apart from that, Ricketts himself has become a major subject for research, although these publications are usually not written for a large audience.

Everything for Art and Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother

Book and Theatre Design 

Since 2000, more scholars have emerged with publications about Ricketts's book design, especially in the United States. Nicholas Frankel (1962) published his Oscar Wilde's Decorated Books in 2000 (The University of Michigan Press), followed by his Masking the Text: Essays on Literature & Mediation in the 1890s in 2009 (The Rivendale Press). David Peters Corbett published 'Symbolism in British "Little magazines". The Dial (1889-[189]7), The Pageant (1896-7), and The Dome (1897-1900)' in: The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines (2009). I published several articles on Ricketts, for example on his influence as a book designer on the Dutch debate on modern book illustration in the 1890s (in the Dutch yearbook for book history, 2000), on the printing of A House of Pomegranates (a sequel to this was published by Paul Nash), in The Private Library (2005, and 2007 for the Nash article), and in 2006 The Book Collector contained my article about Rickett's designs for Osgood: 'The Revival of a Publisher's Device. Charles Ricketts and Osgood, McIlvaine & Co.'

In 2004 Oak Knoll Press published Maureen Watry's bibliography of the Vale Press. Vincent Barlow contributed an essay on Ricketts and Shannon as publisher of a formerly untraced edition of Sturge Moore's woodcuts to Studies in Illustration (2014), and I privately published a bibliography of the articles and books written by Ricketts (2015).

A younger generation approached the work of Ricketts with fresh insights. One of them is Jeremiah Mercurio who took as a subject 'Charles Ricketts' illustrations for Oscar Wilde's Poems in prose. An unrealized project' (published online, 2010). Petra Clark is another young scholar who researches Ricketts's illustrations. In 2013 she published an article on 'Bitextuality, Sexuality, and the Male Aesthete in The Dial: "Not Through an Orthodox Channel"' (English Literature in Transition, 1890-1930, 2013), which was followed in 2015 by ‘“Cleverly Drawn”. Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and the Art of the Woman’s World’ (Journal of Victorian Culture, 2015).

An older generation still played its part. In 2007, Carl Woodring (1919-2009) published an article in Wordsworth Circle: 'Centaurs Unnaturally Fabulous'. It discussed centaurs as a motif in Rickett's paintings and book illustrations. Woodring was 87 at the time.

The other major concern of Ricketts, the theatre, was not forgotten. Scholars such as Margaret Mitchell, Lindsay Catherine Thomas, and Judith P. Shoaf published essays on the stage designs for performances by and for soldiers in France, Ricketts's Shakespeare productions, and the dolls he made for Mabel Beardsley.

Exhibitions were mounted on several occasions. An online exhibition was published in conjunction with the publication of Watry's bibliography (At the Sign of the Dial: Charles Ricketts and the Vale Press 1896-1903, Liverpool University Library). Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery showed Decadence and design. Ricketts, Shannon and their circle in 2007, while Ricketts and Shannon. A Creative Partnership was on display in 2009 at the National Portrait Gallery. Museum Meermanno in The Hague commemorated the 150th anniversary of Ricketts's birth with a show called Charles Ricketts. Between Jesus and Oscar Wilde (2016).

The last decade, some new initiatives and themes came to the fore. A new edition of some of Ricketts's main texts was published by The Rivendale Press in 2014: Everything for Art: Selected Writings, edited by Nicholas Frankel. Paul Delaney and Corine Verney solved the riddle of his mother's identity in Charles Rickett's Mysterious Mother (2016), and this blog on Ricketts and Shannon started in July 2011.

Art Collectors

Ricketts and Shannon as art collectors was the subject of some earlier studies, but since 2007 three more articles haven taken up this issue: Jane Munro wrote about them as collectors of drawings (in L’artiste collectionneur de dessin. II (2007), Caroline Elam published 'Piero di Cosimo and Centaurophilia in Edwardian London' in The Burlington Magazine (2009), filling several pages about them as art advisers and collectors with quotes from their diaries and letters, while Christina Rozeik looked at the fate of the collection they bequeathed to the Fitzwilliam Museum: '"A Maddening Temptation". The Ricketts and Shannon collection of Greek and Roman antiquities' (Journal of the History of Collections, 2012).

A new angle was found by Frederick D. King, who looked at The Pageant and its role in changing concepts of art history: Revising Art History in The Pageant (presentation at the North American Victorian Studies Association's supernumerary conference in Florence,  2017). 

Queer Domesticities


Homosexuality has become a major theme. David Peters Corbett published his article 'Homosociality and Visual Knowledge in the Circle of Charles Ricketts' in Visual Culture in Britain (2007), and two other writers connected this topic with that of interior design: John Potvin wrote 'The Aesthetics of Community: Queer Interiors and the Desire for Intimacy' for the monograph Rethinking the Interior c. 1867-1896. Aestheticism and Arts and Crafts (2010), and Matt Cook devoted a chapter to Ricketts and Shannon in his book Queer Domesticities. Homosexuality and Home Life in Twentieth-Century London (2014). This chapter, 'Domestic Passions: Unpacking the Homes of Charles Shannon and Charles Ricketts' was previously published in the Journal of British Studies (2012).

What will the future bring?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

377. Scholarly Attention for Charles Ricketts (3)

In the 1960s the appreciation for the 1890s, decadence, art nouveau and symbolism grew immensely, partly as a result of the V&A exhibition about Aubrey Beardsley (May-September 1966). The same year John Russell Taylor's The Art Nouveau Book in Britain was published by Methuen - it was profusely illustrated, and an eye-opener for some collectors; it had to be reprinted several times. James G. Nelson wrote another influential book in which Ricketts's work, though not the main subject, was treated extensively: The Early Nineties. A View from the Bodley Head (Harvard University Press, 1971). These two studies were greatly appreciated by curators, collectors, scholars, and book dealers. 

Geoffrey Perkins, A Collection of Books Designed by Charles Ricketts (deluxe copy)
Of course, there were already Ricketts collectors out there. In 1967 the UCLA in California showed books designed by Ricketts from the collections of Albert Sperison and Charles Gullans. In 1982 Carl Woodring had his collection on display at The Grolier Club of New York. Collections owned by public institutions, such as libraries and museums were discovered or described as well, an example being the Catalogue of the Works of Charles Ricketts, R.A. from the Collection of Gordon Bottomley (1985). Bottomley's collection ended up in Carlisle.

Book design remained the most often explored subject in relation to Ricketts, although new venues were found in this field as well. Giles Barber's significant article 'Rossetti, Ricketts, and Some English Publishers' Bindings of the Nineties' appeared in The Library in 1970, and bookbinding and book design were also the topics of Michael Brooks's article in Criticism (1970): 'Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and the Art of the Book'. One study after another was published in the USA, England and elsewhere. In Zurich, for example, the antiquarian book dealer Geoffrey Perkins wrote a catalogue for the firm L'Art Ancien: A Collection of Books Designed by Charles Ricketts. The collection was for sale, and in fact, sold to John Paul Getty Jr. before the distribution of the catalogue - corrigenda and addenda were issued a year later. Scholarly catalogues like this one by Perkins have become exceedingly scarce since then.

Theatre design remained another continuous theme for research. Ifan Kyrle Fletcher wrote about 'Charles Ricketts and the Theatre' in Theatre Notebook (1967), giving a chronological list of Ricketts's productions. Eric A.G. Binnie's dissertation on The Stage Designs of Charles Ricketts was defended at the University of Toronto in 1979. Sybil Rosenfeld published an article about 'Charles Ricketts’s Designs for the Theatre' in Theatre Notebook (1981): an inventory of 111 theatre designs distributed by the National Art Collections Fund. Another article was written by Michael Barclay: ‘More Ricketts designs for the theatre’ (Theatre Notebook, 1982), and he also published an essay in Apollo (1985). However, his dissertation has not been published, or made available in open access. Others wrote about specific performances and costume designs: Carl Woodring discussed John Masefield's The Coming of Christ and Shaw's Saint Joan (in Columbia Library Columns, 1986 and 1988), while Richard Allen Cave compared recent productions of Wilde's plays to performances designed by Ricketts (Modern Drama, 1994).

Charles Ricketts, Pages from a Diary in Greece (1978) (Proof Copy)
Book historical dissertations, such as Richard Harold Quinn's seminal work on Ricketts's and Shannon's magazine The Dial (1977), were followed by those about his work as an artist, such as Simon S.S. Driver's On Charles Ricketts. His Life, Works, and Contributions to the Arts (1977). The latter emphasized a lack of primary sources, and the need for a biography. In London, J.G. Paul Delaney embarked on a long series of articles about Ricketts leading up to his 1990 biography Charles Ricketts, published by the Clarendon Press in Oxford. He published such studies in Country Life (1975), Antiquarian Book Monthly (1978), The Connoisseur (1978), The Pen (1983), and Yeats Annual (1986), while he also acted as editor for Ricketts's diaries and letters issued by The Tragara Press in Edinburgh, starting in 1976 with Ricketts's essay about Michael Field, and followed by selections from the letters and diaries (1978, 1979, and 1981).

Meanwhile, the attention for Ricketts as a designer for the theatre didn't obstruct a growing awareness of his achievements as an art critic. Again, Denys Sutton was the first to devote an article to Ricketts's ideas about Titian: 'Charles Ricketts and Titian' (Apollo, 1978). In 1999, David Peters Corbett published an article on Charles Ricketts’s art criticism in Word & Image. Ricketts came to be seen as a versatile artist and personality, not just as a book and theatre designer. A more general approach of his work was imminent.

Leaflet poster for Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. An Aesthetic Partnership (1979)
The year 1979 was a watershed in the appreciation of Charles Ricketts. Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham hosted an all-round exhibition about Ricketts and Shannon: Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. An Aesthetic Partnership, the exhibition and the catalogue were curated by Paul Delaney and Stephen Calloway. Calloway saw his monograph Charles Ricketts. Subtle and Fantastic Decorator published by Thames and Hudson. Its modest price was directed at a potentially large audience. That same year, 1979, Joseph Darracott organized an exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge: All for Art. The Ricketts and Shannon Collection. The catalogue gave a major boost to the recognition of Ricketts and Shannon as art collectors, a new theme, as did his monograph The World of Charles Ricketts in 1980. This subject was related to another one, the art of the interior that was dealt with by Stephen Calloway in an article about the 'arrangement of a collection' (The Journal of The Decorative Arts Society 1890-1940, 1984). Ricketts was an art collector, but also an art adviser. Paul Delaney wrote about his work for the National Gallery of Canada (Museum Management and Curatorship, 1991).

Catalogue Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. An Aesthetic Partnership (1979)
Yet another subject was homosexuality - in the mid 1980s the Gay Times discovered the work, and especially the partnership of Ricketts and Shannon, and devoted a portfolio to their lives. Later, this subject would be connected to the art of the interior when Queer Studies took over (see next week's blog).

Collecting was a new theme, another was jewellery. Diana Scarisbrick opened the field with a beautifully illustrated article about Ricketts's designs for costly gifts to his friends in Apollo (1982).

New themes were explored, but articles about book design and illustration kept appearing regularly, and even more so during the 1980s and 1990s. Richard S. Field devoted a chapter to Ricketts in The Artistic Revival of the Woodcut in France 1850-1900, edited by Jacquelynn Baas and Richard S. Field (1984). Even in Russia, Ricketts's and Shannon's wood engravings for Daphnis and Chloe were appreciated: an article by T.F. Verizhnikova from 1989 is a testimony to that. The Netherlands always reported about the work of Ricketts and Shannon, and did so as early as 1891; the Dutch magazine Maatstaf published a portfolio of illustrations with an introduction by Ton Leenhouts and myself in 1989.

In 1991, in the scholarly series of Dictionary of Literary Biography, edited by Jonathan Rose and Patricia J. Anderson, volume 112 was published: British Literary Publishing Houses, 1881-1965. It contained a chapter about The Vale Press by Alice H.R.H. Beckwith. The lack of archival material on this subject was more obvious than before, and scholars knew that other venues needed to be explored to penetrate Ricketts's character as a publisher.

A general regard for the works of Shaw, Yeats, and Wilde, always helped to further the case of Ricketts, who designed their books or plays. Of these three, Wilde was the rising star as the 100th commemoration of his death in 2000 came closer. David Peters Corbett's '"Collaborative resistance": Charles Ricketts as illustrator of Oscar Wilde’ was published in Word & Image (1994), the same year as Nicholas Raymond Frankel's dissertation on Oscar Wilde’s Decorated Books was accepted at the University of Virginia. Frankel would publish articles in magazines such as Victorian Literature and Culture (1996) and Studies in the Literary Imagination (1997). I published an article on Ricketts's design for The Picture of Dorian Gray iThe Private Library (1998, distributed in 2000).

While some of these publications were meant for a large audience, many seemed to be written for a scholarly in-crowd. Exhibitions were on the other end of the spectrum: At the Sign of the Dial. Charles Haslewood Shannon & his Circle (Usher Gallery in Lincoln, 1987), ‘Elegante Engelse Boekkunst, The Vale Press 1oo jaar’ (Elegant English Book Art, The Vale Press at a Hundred) (Museum Meermanno, The Hague, 1996) - this was the occasion for my bibliography A New Checklist of Books designed by Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon - and De vrienden van Charles Ricketts (Charles Ricketts's Friends) (National Library of the Netherlands, The Hague, 1997).

The field was considerably widened, opened up to more specialised audiences, Ricketts was a popular subject for scholars. Still more was to come.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

376. Scholarly Attention for Charles Ricketts (2)

Ricketts's death in 1931 set in motion a stream of obituaries, commemorative exhibitions and memoirs, which lasted for twenty years. Friends such as Gordon Bottomley published articles on Ricketts's versatility. Bottomley especially treated Ricketts's career as a theatre designer (in Theatre Arts Monthly, May 1932), but he also dealt with other subjects such as book design; Bottomley was a devotee who retold his fond memories of Ricketts in Durham University Journal (1940). Charles Holmes published his - fascinating and revealing - memories of Ricketts in 1935 (Self & Partners (Mostly Self).

Theatre Arts Monthly (1932)
There was an exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery of works by Orpen, McEvoy and Ricketts (1933), Cassell published the first monograph about Ricketts, introduced by Thomas Sturge Moore (1933), and Ricketts's friend in Germany, Marcus Behmer, wrote a long essay about his book designs in 1935.

After World War II, the first collectors of works by Ricketts came to the fore At Harvard University, A.E. Gallatin showed books from his personal collection (1946). Institutions were aware of their collections as well, especially in the United States, where the Colby Library Quarterly not only published the holdings of American libraries of Vale Press books (1951-1952), but also translations of one of Ricketts's main texts on the principles of the Vale Press, originally published in French in De la typographie et de l'harmonie de la page.

Dissertations about Ricketts started to appear in 1954 when Alan Maxwell Fern finished his The Artistic Theories of Charles Ricketts, and Their Application in His Book Illustration (1954) at The University of Chicago. Book and theatre design remained the main subjects for exhibitions such as the one at the Richmond Public Library in 1956, articles by Carl Weber or Simon Nowell-Smith in academic journals, and a centenary exhibition at Leighton House in 1966.

Apollo (February 1966)
When Denys Sutton published his influential article in the art magazine Apollo (February 1966), a new interest in the artists of the 1890s was imminent, Aubrey Beardsley took the lead, and subjects like art nouveau and decadence prepared new ground for an interest in Ricketts's versatility as an artist.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

375. Scholarly Attention for Charles Ricketts (1)

My impression is that the last twenty years scholarly publications about Charles Ricketts have broadened their scope. In order to find out if there is any truth in this assumption, I have looked at all articles and books about Ricketts, and divided them into several sections. We will start with the publications during Ricketts's life. 

What were the subjects of serious essays about the work of this versatile artist, who was a wood engraver, editor, publisher, type designer, graphic designer, painter, sculptor, collector, stage designer, art critic, art adviser, and writer?

During the early years, before 1900, Ricketts was discussed in relation to two subjects only, art and book design. Serious articles were, for the main part, not written by scholars, but by reviewers, art critics, and journalists, such as the influential Dutch artist and critic Jan Veth who was one of the earliest supporters of his work. In June 1894, he published an article on the 'new book art' of the Vale artists ('Nieuwe boek-kunst', in De Amsterdammer of 17 June 1894), a review of Hero and Leander and The Sphinx.

Jan Veth, self-portrait, 1887 (Drents Museum)
The artists of The Vale were introduced to a large audience in Great Britain by The Sketch in 1894 and 1895, a short series of four essays. Charles Shannon was the first one, discussed by 'Theocritus' in January 1895; Ricketts was the second one, in March of the same year. 

The more interesting essays were written by J.W. Gleeson White, one of the founders of the art magazine The Studio, who died in 1898. In December 1895, the first number of The Pageant (for 1896) appeared. It contained his essay about 'The Work of Charles Ricketts'. The Magazine of Art of April 1897 published a second important essay by Gleeson White, 'At the Sign of The Dial, Mr Ricketts as a Book-Builder'. The term 'book-builder' was an early attempt to define 'graphic designer'.

J.W. Gleeson White (photo: Frederick Hollyer)
An interview and a bibliographical study were written by Temple Scott for Bookselling in December 1896, while another list of Ricketts's publications at the Vale Press was written for The Book Buyer in March 1900 by Ernest D. North. Book design was the subject of an essay that placed Ricketts firmly within the William Morris/Kelmscott Press tradition and the 'revival of printing': H.C. Marillier's 'The Vale Press, and the Modern Revival of Printing', published in Pall Mall Magazine (October 1900).

After the closure of the Vale Press in 1904, Ricketts devoted himself to art, painting, art criticism, and stage design. An essay about 'his Activities' was written by C. Lewis Hind for The Studio of January 1910. Ricketts's versatility was its main subject, while his paintings, bronzes, and earlier book designs were commented upon.

Art and theatre design became the main topics for the articles about Ricketts until his death in 1931, and most of these appeared in the 1920s. Between 1910 and 1920 not much of importance was published about his work, although there were many exhibitions, such as the one introduced by Martin Birnbaum at the Rhode Island School of Design and at the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy in 1914. 

Ricketts's theatre designs were highlighted in articles in Theatre Arts Monthly in 1924, and in Apollo in 1925. However, his illustrations and binding designs were not ignored.

In 1927, The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art published an article about Ricketts's bookbindings in conjunction with an exhibition of bindings collected by Harold Bell. The same year, The Print Collector's Quarterly published Cecil French's essay about 'The Wood-Engravings of Charles Ricketts', and this attention for Ricketts as a graphic designer (avant-le-mot) was crowned with A.J.A. Symons's long essay in The Fleuron (1930) about 'An Unacknowledged Movement in Fine Printing. The Typography of the Eighteen-Nineties'. Ricketts was his main subject.

Charles Ricketts, illustration for
Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891)

During Ricketts's life, serious essays were written about some of his activities, such as wood-engraving, publishing, graphic design, and stage design, but most of these were not really scholarly articles; their main function was to promote his work. Ricketts's qualities as an editor, publisher, painter, sculptor, collector, art critic, art adviser, and writer were not analysed; this would take another fifty years or so. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

374. A Commercial Back-Drop

Last week's blog about the historian Huizinga displayed one of the back-drops Ricketts designed for Shaw's play Saint Joan.

Charles Ricketts, Drop-curtain for Saint Joan (1924)
Internet images are prone to commercialization, and Ricketts's designs are no exceptions. Earlier I showed some examples of mugs

The Shaw back-drop can be ordered as a 'canvas', suggesting that some sort of painting will adorn the prospective buyer's wall. 

'Stretched canvas print' based on Ricketts's design for Saint Joan

The price is quite surprising for a print size of 13 by 10 inches: $95.99. Every free image on the internet can be ordered as a print for a price like this. One could, of course, download the image for free. Even a copy of the book that includes the original reproduction - and fifteen other plates - can be had for less. Saint Joan. A Chronicle Play in Six Scenes and An Epilogue doesn't have to cost more than $90,00. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

373. Johan Huizinga, Shaw, Ricketts, and Roland Holst

The great Dutch historian Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) wrote a review about Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan. He drew a comparison between a Dutch production by the Vereenigd Tooneel (first night: 20 December 1924) and the London production at the Regent Theatre which he saw in February 1925. The play had opened on 26 May 1924 at the New Theatre and ran for 244 performances, after which it moved to the Regent Theatre for another series of 321 performances, and later productions could be seen at the Lyceum Theatre at the Strand in 1926, and elsewhere.

Programme for a performance of Saint Joan,
Lyceum Theatre (May 1926)
Johan Huizinga mentioned the Regent Theatre production, that was - like the others - designed by Charles Ricketts. His costumes, set designs and drop-curtains were judged 'excellent' by Huizinga, who preferred this production and remembered Ricketts's work long after the performance, while those of the Dutch production, designed by the architect H.Th. Wijdeveld - less convincing - didn't impress him that much. Wijdeveld, who was married to one of the foremost Dutch actresses, designed several plays for the company of Eduard Verkade. Verkade was a director, actor, and translator. However, his translation of Saint Joan, according to Huizinga, who gave several examples, was sloppy, and faulty.

Huizinga's article was published in three subsequent issues of the Dutch magazine De Gids (April, May and June 1925) and occupies more than thirty pages in his collected works.

Huizinga, who thought of Shaw as a prosaic mind, was surprised by the serious heroism of the play, and the effort to recreate history in a tragedy. He argued that Shaw had understood Hegel's principle that tragedy doesn't result from the conflict between justice and injustice, but from the conflict between justice and justice. If Jeanne d'Arc had had to face cowards and bastards (Huizinga's words), she would have been a romantic character, not a dramatic one. Shaw took history seriously, all too seriously according to the historian, because he wanted to know what her ordeal could tell us today. Even Shaw's mistakes - wrong names, wrong quotes - don't matter to Huizinga, who subtly mentions them.

Huizinga's main questions in connection to the performance and Ricketts's designs are these: has Shaw given the play a medieval atmosphere, and if so, has it any bearing on the dramatic achievement of the play?

Charles Ricketts, Drop-curtain for Saint Joan (1924)
Huizinga is not convinced by the medieval atmosphere of the play, and feels that the bishop of Reims behaves as a Church of England man while the Dauphin acts like an Eton boy, and the comical effects are simply too Shavian to be medieval. The play is not archaic in any way,  it is unromantic, and still, Huizinga was captivated by Shaw's Saint Joan, the play fascinated him, partly because of Shaw's imagination that gave splendour to certain scenes, such as the dialogue at court before Jeanne enters, or the conversation of Warwick and Cauchon.

Given Shaw's version of this medieval story, the Dutch production would seem to be better suited for it, due to its austere design by Wijdeveld, the absence of historical props, and a subdued realism. But no, Huizinga argues, the play is better served with a colourful medieval setting, as the acting, the costumes and the scene decorations together produce a realistic unity. The lack of an austere style wouldn't go well with a severe performance. Ricketts's colourful and exalted costumes, on the other hand, created a vibrant, harmonious world. Huizinga asserted that the Dutch tradition displayed all varieties of grey, while the British theatre world traditionally excelled in a range of red colours, which he supposed to have come from the Pre-Raphaelites.

As to the actors, Huizinga disliked the acting of Sybil Thorndike, which he characterised as affected and pretentious; for the Dutch production a young actress had been cast for the role of Jeanne, and her performance was boyish, spontaneous, and natural.

Charles Ricketts, Set design for the Epilogue (1924)
After the first instalment had been published, his friend Richard Roland Holst received a copy from Huizinga, and he admired the analysis of the performance, and of Jeanne d'Arc as a historical character. He also wrote: 'I liked the appreciative comments about the work of my old friend Ricketts, of whom, I feel a little estranged these years. If you would like to meet him during your next visit to London, be assured that he would welcome you if I can send him a note in advance.'

A few years later, Ricketts - who remained in contact with his European friends - would send Roland Holst a copy of his new book Beyond the Threshold with a handwritten dedication that referred to 'forty years of friendship'.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

372. Catalogues Imitating Books (2)

Catalogue Number Four was the Spring 1984 catalogue of Pagoda Books in London and it was dressed in a thick white paper cover containing images of the front and back cover of a book designed by Charles Ricketts and described in the catalogue as number 242.

Catalogue Number Four, Pagoda Books (1984)
The example for the catalogue was Oscar Wilde. Recollections by Jean Paul Raymond & Charles Ricketts (1932), published posthumously. Of course, Charles Ricketts and Jean Paul Raymond are one and the same person. It is a weird use of a pseudonym, but it allowed Ricketts to pose as an interested listener, or, as the prospectus explained:

Ricketts invented Raymond so that he might create and control his auditory, command its sympathy, and suggest in the half-tones of familiar conversation certain elusive qualities of Wilde as a friend. The artifice succeeds. In a subtle sense he paints a new portrait of Wilde.
(Prospectus and Retrospectus of the Nonesuch Press 1932)

Oscar Wilde, Recollections (1932)
The cover seems to echo Ricketts's own design for Wilde's The Sphinx (1894). The front and back images of both designs together tell a story. 

The catalogue didn't use the spine design, and the gold was replaced with black.

Catalogue Number Four, Pagoda Books (1984)
Each cover is divided into four compartments with a man greeting a woman on the front panel, she is accompanied by a lady, and she herself reveals her young body while raising a glass to the young man. On the back cover the man welcomes her, holding a kylix. This seems the reverse order for the story, which we also see at the top of both covers. On the back the man is alone on a couch, again raising a kylix. On the front of the book the man and woman lie down embracing. Some critics suppose that the order of the images has been reversed by the printer. But Ricketts had intended this order. The original drawing, now in the British Museum, clearly shows this.

Charles Ricketts, design for cover
© The Trustees of the British Museum
The stories told by Ricketts are never straightforward, or one-dimensional.

Oscar Wilde, Recollections (1932)
Pagoda Books was the antiquarian book firm of Julie Speedie who wrote a book about Wilde's friend Ada Leverson.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

371. Catalogues Imitating Books (1)

Sorting out old antiquarian catalogues, I found a few examples of catalogues that imitate one of the books that is offered for sale inside. 

An example is a 2002 catalogue issued by Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books in London: Literature. The catalogue contained 464 descriptions, three of which were of first editions by Oscar Wilde, designed by Ricketts or Shannon: The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), Lady Windermere's Fan (1893), and The Sphinx (1894). 

All would have lent themselves for a catalogue cover, although the first one had been rebacked (not mentioned in the description) which ruined the original spine design. The second one would have given a salmon pink catalogue, but the bookseller opted for the third design, that of The Sphinx.

The Sphinx (1894) and Literature (2002)
The drawings on the front and back cover were slightly reduced in size, while the format of the catalogue was slightly larger than the book. The drawing on the spine was discarded, and replaced by the name of the firm and the subject of the catalogue.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

370. An Early Computer-Based Antiquarian List, May 1985

From the hundreds of antiquarian catalogues that I recently handled - in an attempt to save space - I found one published by Blackwell's Rare Books in 1985. It has a surprising introduction. I remember seeing catalogues that contain a short preamble on the history of the firm, or an account written by a collector on the eve of the sale of his life's work, or an obituary of one of the owners of the firm, but the 1985 Blackwell catalogue has a rather technical foreword.

It is about the introduction of computer software to improve the firm's sales methods.

Blackwell's Rare Books (May 1985)

The computer-printed introduction is signed in pencil by the firm's dealer, Philip Brown:

You are probably aware that we have been considering for some time the use of computers to assist us with catalogue production, selective mailing to interested customers, and for support in many other vital tasks of our antiquarian bookselling, while retaining total flexibility with the personal touches which are so important. We have selected a range of micro-computers with unique software, which will (we believe) achieve the initial objectives we have set, and the first three of these systems are just coming into use.

Blackwell's Rare Books (May 1985)
Blackwell's modernisation made it possible to send specialised lists to customers such as my friend Ton Leenhouts who received this first list in May 1985. The list could be more topical, and didn't have to be expensively printed, as the introduction explained:

An important facility given to us now is that of producing frequent "proof lists". Each list will be subject-classified, and will comprise a selection of descriptions of recent purchases as they come into stock. They will be produced in-house, and will contain bibliographical information to our usual standards. Overseas copies will be despatched by air-mail, and all proof lists will have a very limited circulation. After a brief period, any unsold items will be forwarded to our more widely distributed catalogues.

And so, a new era began. The descriptions, and the books on offer didn't change, and contemporary collecting fashions were not discontinued. For that to happen, the internet had to be invented first.

Inside, we see the traditional division of modern books into two sections: 'Private Press Books', and 'Modern First and Limited Editions'.

In the first section we find a heading for Ricketts's Vale Press.

Blackwell's Rare Books (May 1985)
Comparing prices, we may perhaps deduct that the more desirable presses were Ashendene Press, Officina Bodoni, and Shakespeare Head Press, while other presses were relatively more affordable, such as Golden Cockerell Press, Nonesuch Press, and, indeed, Vale Press.

Blackwell's Rare Books (May 1985)
The descriptions offer other clues for collecting fashions. Entry No 40, for example, contains a description of the Vale Press edition of William Meinhold's Mary Schweidler, the Amber Witch (1903). The notice very carefully describes every imaginable wear and tear, but also points out that the book has never been used for reading:

very slight rubbing to the corners, endpapers lightly browned, untrimmed and almost entirely unopened[.]

The folded quires that formed the book had not been cut open by previous owners, and there must have been a few in the years between 1902 and 1985. As times goes by, such unopened copies get scarcer, while collecting fashions change. The unread book, the unopened book is not as desirable as it used to be. Is the private press book still some sort of trophy? Other features seem to overshadow that particular one: prices are now dictated by condition, the author's fame, and provenance. Nowadays, an 'ideal copy' is a famous book written by a famous writer and owned by a famous collector, while both collector and author have left their emotional traces - words, drawings, tears - between the pages. On the other hand, prices create fashions as well: the most expensive book must be desirable.