Wednesday, October 13, 2021

533. Artist's Statements and Manifestos

Last week we reached the deadline for a major project I have been working on as editor-in-chief for the past few years: an almost 400-page work for Stanford University and the Codex Foundation, Materialia Lumina: Contemporary Artists' Books from the Codex International Book Fair. The book is due out next January when an exhibition on the twenty-first century artist's book opens at Stanford University. It will not surprise readers of this blog that I have managed to smuggle Charles Ricketts's name into this work in an essay on the Chinese book artist Leilei Guo, whose book Waves is discussed. It is a work without words, with images of an apartment building in Beijing.

Leilei Guo, Waves (2013)
Photo: Huug Schipper


Ricketts's name could be dropped in an exploration of a collection of artists' publications on their own work: from manifesto to letter.

Without the artist’s explanation, we would probably not be able to grasp the meaning of the visual presentation. Guo provided an artist’s statement for Waves that is an alternative manifestation of it. 

As a genre, the artist’s statement is controversial and not always recognized, although it has a long history. We can link it to the early modern artist’s manifesto that can be seen as a 'passport to modernity' (1) — starting with the Futurists just before the First World War, but we can go a step further back and refer to artists’ manifestos written by book designers such as William Morris, Lucien Pissarro, and Charles Ricketts to defend the private press ideals in the 1890s. 

The antithesis of the manifesto’s opinions and ideals is another modernist idea: the work of art should speak for itself. This proposition may compromise the performative nature of the artist’s statement that can be either the narrative or the meta-narrative, a supplement or a contextualization — 'the artist statement performs a vital if complex rhetorical role' (2). 

In addition to the manifesto, conceptual art is the breeding ground for artists’ statements. Since the 1990s, these have become more or less mandatory, for facilitating acquisition, as a justification for commissioned works, or as an explanation in exhibitions. Nowadays the statements correspond to the responsibilities of the artist as a cultural theorist and practitioner (3).

The viewer should also be aware that an artist’s statement may contradict or extend the artwork. In this case, Guo has produced a loose sheet of paper (or e-document) that is not specially designed to align with the style of Waves. As such, it shares the ephemeral position of an artist’s talk, an interview, or an exhibition statement, similar to other manifestations such as prefaces, sketchbooks, and private correspondence.

References:
(1) 100 Artists’ Manifestos, ed. Alex Danchev (London: Penguin Books, 2011), xxix.
(2) Ibid.
(3) W.F. Garrett-Petts, Rachel Nash, 'Re-Visioning the Visual: Making Artistic Inquiry Visible', Rhizomes. Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge 18 (Winter 2008), http://www.rhizomes.net/issue18/garrett/index.html.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

532. Birth and Death

Tomorrow, October 7, it is ninety years since Charles Ricketts died.
Last October 2 marked the 155th anniversary of his birth.

Charles Ricketts, Self-portrait (c. 1898),
Woodcut printed from two blocks on Japan paper
British Museum No
 1949,0411.989
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

531. Hand-Coloured by Miss Gloria Cardew (3)

There are not many articles in newspapers and magazines that pay attention to Gloria Cardew's work around 1900 and only one mentions her work for the Vale Press books. That she also coloured editions of the Kelmscott Press is mentioned in The Sketch, 28 December 1898, p. 368:

Miss Cardew has even been trusted by some fortunate possessors of Kelmscott editions with the task of colouring the designs and borders, and their confidence in her powers has been fully justified.

Label in books hand-coloured by Gloria Cardew


In the same year in The Contemporary Review (August 1898), Albert Louis Cotton mentioned copies of Vale Press books coloured by Gloria Cardew (the article was partly reprinted in The Academy Supplement of 6 August 1898):

In Miss Gloria Cardew, a young art student,a  colourist has recently appeared who is capable of doing charming work in this direction. [...] Miss Cardew’s efforts form one more attempt to revert to good individualistic handwork, as opposed to the mechanical methods of a time in which sixpenny magazines, crowded with process blocks, furnish the mental pabulum of millions. It is difficult to realise the effect of, say, one of the Vale books, with its initials and borders embellished with delicate tints, after the fashion of the ancient miniaturists. Among Miss Cardew’s triumphs must especially be noted Mr. F.S. Ellis’s “History of Reynard the Fox,” a metrical version of the old English translation, with its fifty woodcut engravings after Mr. Walter Crane. These last, when decorated in gold and colours, in the medieval style, almost place the volume on a level with the illuminated manuscripts which were the glory of the monks of old.


Unfortunately, no titles of Vale Press books that were coloured by Cardew were mentioned. In an article on Cardew for The IBIS Journal, Denis Collins wrote in 2014 that he was aware of three such Vale Press books. I listed them in my blog 202:


1.
Michael Drayton, Nimphidia and the Muses Elizium (November 1896).
The Drayton copy was described by Howard M. Nixon in his British Bookbindings presented by Kenneth H. Oldaker to the Chapter Library of Westminster Abbey (London, Maggs Bros, 1982), and is now in that library. It was purchased by Oldaker from the firm of Heywood Hill.

2.
William Blake, The Book of Thel, Songs of Innocence, and Songs of Experience (May 1897)
The Blake was offered for sale by Bromer Booksellers in Catalog 110. Five British Presses: Daniel, Eragny, Vale, Essex House, Gregynog. Select Stock and Recent Acquisitions (Boston, November 2001, No. 53).

3.
Michael Field, Fair Rosamund (May 1897).

To this short list can be added another shorter one of two Vale Press books. Both are special in their own way.

4.
The Sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney (March 1898).
This copy has the library ticket of 'Earlston Reading-Room and Circulating Library No. SH80'. It  also has a printed label with the text: 'The Illustrations in this Book were coloured by hand by Miss Gloria Cardew.' 
There is a (possibly unique?) handwritten inscription on one of the endleaves: 'The illustrations in this book were coloured by me Gloria Cardew April 1898. This copy was sold at auction in 2021: Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps & Photographs. Edinburgh, Lyon & Turnbull, 24 February 2021, lot 199. Now in a private collection.

The Sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney (1898)
Hand-coloured by Gloria Cardew

5.
The Rowley Poems of Thomas Chatterton (June 1898).
Signed on inserted leave: 'Gloria Cardew'.
Owner's stamp of Helen Ladd Corbett.
This is one of eight copies on vellum, two volumes bound in one by Riviere & Son.
Offered for sale in Catalogue No. 8 (E-List), Recent Acquisitions (March 2020). Saint Louis Park, MN, USA, Under the Hill Books, Nolan Goodman, [17 March 2020], no. 10. Now in a private collection.

The Rowley Poems of Thomas Chatterton (1898)
Hand-coloured by Gloria Cardew

This supplement thus contains two new items of information about Gloria Cardew's coloured copies of Vale Press books. She dared to have a go at an extremely rare and precious copy printed on vellum. To sign her work, she has included a handwritten note in the other book in addition to her printed label. It brings Cardew just a little closer.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

530. Hand-Coloured by Miss Gloria Cardew (2)

Six years ago I wrote a blog about the hand-coloured Vale Press books to which the name of Miss Gloria Cardew is attached (blog 202. Hand-Coloured by Miss Gloria Cardew). In the meantime, there are some new facts to report, on the one hand due to the discovery of an unknown interview with the artist, and on the other hand due to the emergence of more Vale Press books coloured by her. 

Miss Gloria Cardew
The Ladies Field, 11 December 1898

Nothing was known about Cardew's life until now, except that she was about twenty years old when she first exhibited work at Karslake & Co. It is therefore suggested that the name is a pseudonym. Although a few photos have been published, I had not seen the one accompanying this blog before. She worked between 1897 and 1902 and then disappeared from the scene.

The author (E.M.E.) of the untraceable magazine The Ladies Field, 11 December 1898 (there is one copy preserved in the British Library), interviewed her, but does not quote her directly. 

However, two new facts emerge: that she spent several years in California and that she began her career as a colourist by colouring her own photo portrait. Below is the main part of the article (with thanks to John Aplin).


E.M.E., ‘Miss Gloria Cardew. Hand Colourist of Book Illustration’, in The Ladies Field, 11 December 1898, p. 84:

Miss Gloria Cardew, who is young and enthusiastic, produces choice work as a colourist. Not only does she possess the true feeling for colour and its [one word illegible], but she has also dexterity in the application of colour to black-and-white drawings; hence the finished results obtained by her. I have seen many beautifully illustrated books coloured by Miss Cardew with the greatest skill. […]  it may be mentioned that the Duchess of York has just accepted a volume of “Children’s Singing Games,” coloured by Miss Cardew, for her little son, Prince Edward.

Miss Cardew’s work, dainty and delicate as it is, seems specially adapted to the illustration of fairy-tales, poems, fanciful subjects, and, particularly, all kinds of books for children, to whom the educative value of good colour is of paramount importance. In examining the artistic books to which I have alluded, what impressed me more even than the colouring was the infinite fund of patience brought to bear upon the work, especially in cases where many facsimile copies of one book are required.

In the course of my visit to Miss Cardew, she showed me her first attempt at hand-colouring. It was her own photograph; and that was the simple beginning of what has now grown into an elaborate graceful art. Miss Cardew has spent some three or four years of her life in California, and I cannot help thinking that her colour-sense must have been greatly influenced, and to some extent developed, by the brilliant colour effects to be seen in that dry atmosphere. Certainly she has a rare perception of colour, as well as a marvellously delicate touch.

Messrs. Karslake and Co., 61, Charing Cross Road, who are agents for “The Guild of Women Binders,” exhibit Miss Gloria Cardew’s work, and, I believe, transact business for her. I learn from Mr. Karslake that the colouring of an illustrated book increases its value by 200 per cent. Moreover, there is a demand for these embellished volumes, chiefly, of course, among collectors and connoisseurs. The colouring is copyright, and cannot be infringed by colour-printing. Therefore, each book is practically an artist’s proof.


It appears that Miss Cardew has undertaken to colour 100 numbered copies of the “Song of Solomon”—with Mr. Granville Fell’s fifteen plates—on large Japanese paper, and twelve out of the hundred are to have a set of the large plates printed on white vellum, in addition to the impressions on Japanese paper. Besides these plates, the text of this volume contains sixteen decorative drawings.I have seen one complete specimen, and it is indeed a work of art.

Mr. Cyril Davenport, of the British Museum, is among those who are interested in this revival of hand-colouring as initiated by Miss Cardew. As may be supposed, she is kept constantly busy, and finds her occupation so absorbing and fascinating that she is prone to neglect such every-day matters as outdoor air and exercise. Fortunately, however, her friends do not permit of too close a pursuit of brush and water-colour.

I marvel exceedingly at Miss Gloria Cardew’s gift of patience.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

529. A New Catalogue: "The Vale Press of Charles Ricketts"

Sales catalogues or e-lists devoted entirely to the books of the Vale Press and Charles Ricketts are quite rare. On September 7, Blind Horse Books in DeLand, Florida, distributed online a list of 25 items: nineteen works (in twenty volumes), five related books about Ricketts, and one prospectus for a Vale Press book. Some of these works can also be found on the antiquarian bookshop's website

Screenshot of Blind Horse Books' website, September 2021

The condition of most of the books is far from perfect: there are damaged spines, sun-darkened covers, and some copies have been rebound, in one case by the American bookbinder James Tapley, who died in 2019. One of the items is the booklet we published ourselves: Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother that Tapley bought when it was published. The books in this catalogue are from his collection. He may have bought some books in poor condition with a view to re-binding them.

An example of Tapley's bookbindings can be found on the website of the SMU Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology: the binding he made in 2019 (the year of his death) for the Vale Press edition of Henry Vaughan's Sacred Poems. This copy is now offered for sale in the Blind Horse Books list.

Other books were acquired by Tapley out of interest in Ricketts's work, and there are two extremely interesting items here.

One of them is Ricketts's reminiscences of Oscar Wilde, published posthumously by the Nonesuch Press in 1932, Oscar Wilde. Recollections. This copy is not numbered and comes from the collection of the Nonesuch Press publisher Francis Meynell who always kept a few copies for himself before the numbers were written into the copies. A note from his nephew documents the provenance. In addition to this unnumbered copy, and the numbered copies of the edition, there are also copies 'out of series' for review.

Another exceptional book is Ricketts's Beyond the Threshold from 1929. The book should have appeared before Christmas 1928 (Ricketts wrote in a letter), but the earliest dedication copy is dated 7 March 1929. The Tapley copy contains an invoice from the publisher A.J.A. Symons/The First Editions Club for G.C. Williamson, which shows that the book cost £3 3s when published and that it was already available in February: the invoice is dated 19 February 1929.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

528. Ricketts's Grandfather in Seville

Charles Ricketts was very fond of his grandfather, Edward Woodville Ricketts (1808-1895), who lived in Ryde on the Isle of Wight and whose 'beautiful voice & diction' he later remembered with affection. There were not many family members he ever spoke about, let alone in a positive way, but his grandfather was one of his favourites. Paul Delaney, in his 1990 biography, wrote that Ricketts remembered his grandfather as 'kindness & sweetness incarnate'. (A portrait is printed opposite page 8.) A miniature portrait of Edward by Andrew Plimer appeared in The Connoisseur in 1909. The portrait was painted in 1814 when he was about six years old.



Andrew Plimer, portrait of Edward Woodville Ricketts (1814)

His house was filled with a fine collection of books and with paintings that Ricketts later remembered well. His grandfather left those paintings to a childhood friend with whom he had travelled to Italy, Lord Northesk, and when Northesk's collection was auctioned at Sotheby's in June 1915, Ricketts went to see the paintings, recognizing 'the old "Bassano," once in the Ryde dining-room', and other paintings by Masaccio and Pesellino (he thought). The emotions overwhelmed him and he fled Sotheby's rooms, almost fainting on the stairs.

But grandfather was not only an art lover. A recent discovery by one of his descendants, John Ashwell - Edward was his 'great, great, great grandfather' - shows that Edward Woodville Ricketts also sometimes manifested himself as an artist.

Edward Woodville Ricketts, etching signed E.R. 1833

The etching is signed in the lower left-hand corner: 'E.R. 1833', and a note in pencil states: 'Edward Ricketts fecit 1832'.

Pictured is Seville's famous clock tower, the Giralda, which dates back to the twelfth century and was built as a minaret.

We can deduce from this that he was not an undeserving draughtsman, and that he was a collector with a knowledge of artistic techniques. We also now know that he not only made trips to Italy, but also to the southern coast of Spain, perhaps on his way to Italy or on his way back home.

[With gratitude to John Ashwell for the scan of the etching and for his kind permission to reproduce it here.]

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

527. Charles Ricketts: A War Illustration

Of course, there is never a period without a war going on somewhere, but in recent weeks we have again been confronted with deplorable facts: terror, change of regime, violence, fear, victims and refugees.

Charles Ricketts, 'Black Agnes', as published in
Annie S. Strachan, Famous Women in Scottish History
(1909)

Charles Ricketts published his first drawings in a book when he was twenty-one: they were mainly war scenes for Cassell's History of England, Volume 1: From the Roman Invasion to the Wars of the Roses. (Read more about these early illustrations in blog number 224.) One of these drawings depicted the attack on Dunbar castle that was defended by Agnes, Countess of Dunbar in 1337. The caption read: 'Black Agnes at the siege of Dunbar Castle'. Large chunks of stone fly through the air, one of the soldiers is hit by an arrow in his eye while Black Agnes watches the battle unfold.

The pen drawing (202 x 147 mm), signed C. Ricketts, illustrated the text on page 400: 

Another of the most remarkable defences of these castles was that of Dunbar by the Countess of March. She was the daughter of the renowned Thomas Randolph, first Earl of Moray, of that family so gloriously associated with Scottish history, and from her complexion was called Black Agnes. The castle of Dunbar was built on a chain of rocks running into the sea, and its only connection with the mainland was well fortified. Montague, Earl of Salisbury, besieged it, and brought forward engines to throw stones, such as were used to batter down walls before the invention of cannon. One of these, with a strong roof to defend the assailants, standing up like a hog’s back, was called the sow. When Black Agnes saw this engine advancing, she called out to the Earl of Salisbury, in derision – 'Beware Montagow, For farrow shall thy sow.' She had ordered a huge stone to be set on the wall over the castle gate, and as soon as the sow came under this was let fall, by which means the roof of the machine was crushed in, and as the English soldiers ran out, they were shot down by a flight of arrows; whereupon the Black Agnes shouted out to Salisbury, 'Behold the litter of English pigs!' As the earl brought up fresh engines, and sent ponderous stones against her battlements, Black Agnes stood there, and wiped disdainfully the fragments of the broken battlements away with her handkerchief, as a matter of no moment.

Ricketts's drawings became the property of Cassell, who sold their blocks on a large scale to other publishers. This is how, more than twenty years later, the illustration of Agnes came to J.W. Butcher publishers in London, who used it as the frontispiece in the publication Famous Women in Scottish Story (1909). It shows how little control the young artist had over the distribution of his work. Years later, when he was already reasonably well known, youthful works could turn up in books uninvited.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

526. CR or CR

Occasionally, book covers are incorrectly attributed to Charles Ricketts based solely on the initials CR. Recently I saw an online description of an anthology of children's poems whose cover design was 'possibly' designed by Charles Ricketts.

Poetry for Children. One Hundred of the Best Poems for the Young (reprint, 1912)

It is a part of a Pocket Anthologies series titled: Poetry for Children. One Hundred of the Best Poems for the Young, published by Gowans & Gray Ltd in London and Glasgow.

The antiquarian bookshop that offers it describes the cover as 'Glasgow-Style', and that might be a reason to interpret the initials 'CR' not as Charles Ricketts, but as, say, Charles Robinson

There are both arguments against and in favour of Robinson as the illustrator of this cover. Apparently, Robinson rarely used the initials 'CR' as a monogram for his drawings. He did work for the publishing house Cowans & Gray in Glasgow where his edition of The New Testament was published in 1903.

Such a misattribution indicates, in any case, that in some circles the name Ricketts is better known than Robinson's and that the name Ricketts is associated with books that fetch more than Robinson's. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

525. Immortal Masterpieces and Calculated Stupidity

In a letter to Antonio Cippico on 10 December 1929, Charles Ricketts wrote that he was part of the hanging committee of the Italian exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts.

'The Hanging Committee at Work'
(The Sphere, 4 January 1930)

Almost four weeks later, the newspaper The Sphere published a photograph of the hanging committee of the Exhibition of Italian Art, 1200-1900. Pictured are, from left to right: Charles Ricketts, Ettore Modigliani (the Italian delegate), Lady Chamberlaine (member of the hanging committee, the selection committee and the finance committee), W.G. Constable (of the National Gallery), Archibald Russell (selection committee) and Major A.A. Longden (the Secretary General of the exhibition). Ricketts and Modigliani were members of the selection committee and of the hanging committee. The photo was taken 'just after Christmas'.

Almost everyone pictured was described by Ricketts weeks earlier in the letter to Cippico, and with only one exception it was downright negative:

I find to my regret that I have to be active in hanging the Italian show; this at some other time would have been one of the events of my life, but the other members of the hanging committee are lacking in experience, vitality, and conviction, Modigliani excepted, whose vitality is too great, and who I fear may resent the slowness of perception and negative energies of his English confrères, and the calculated stupidity of the workman staff of the R.A.
(Self-Portrait Taken from the Letters & Journals of Charles Ricketts, R.A. (1939, pages 418-419).

It is not entirely certain whether the workmen holding the painting at the right height while the others pose for the picture are from the Royal Academy, or whether they were additional forces called in by Constable from the National Gallery. The painting is recognizable as Giorgione's 'The Tempest', then the private property of Prince Giovanelli, now in the collection of The Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice.

Giorgione, 'The Tempest' (c. 1505)
[Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice]


To view this painting, one walked from the vestibule to the Central Hall (where sculpture and tapestries were on display) and then to the left, to Gallery III where the late 15th and 16th century paintings hung (as in the smaller Gallery IV)

The arrangement of the exhibition was a nightmare, partly because of the interference of officials, but also because works were taken off the wall again to be photographed for the catalogue, or glazed. Paintings came from all over the world and those from Italy and Germany arrived at the very last moment. Indeed, Modigliani gave up after two days. (Paul Delaney wrote a vivid account of the whole operation in his biography of Ricketts).

Ricketts continued:

Possibly I am wrong, and may find the contact with these immortal masterpieces a tonic and a stimulus; it should count as something, after all, to help to lift and hang the "Birth of Venus" in its place, and to see that Fra Angelico and Mantegna are comfortable.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

524. Unpublished: the Vale Press edition of Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia

In a letter to the American publisher F. Holland Day (dated October 1894), Charles Ricketts disclosed his intention to publish an edition of Charles Lamb's The Essays of Elia. It would be a quarto volume, with decorations and initials, issued in 300 copies.

Portrait of Charles Lamb
[National Portrait Gallery]

Lamb (1775-1834), is now best known for his Tales from Shakespeare (written with his sister Mary Lamb). However, his essays - including The Essays of Elia - were quite influential, and remained popular within certain circles because of their authentic style. Although Lamb was opposed to atheism, Ricketts liked his essays.

Which passages would have attracted him and which lines fascinated him? What made Ricketts think they were interesting enough to include in the Vale Press series of editions? Why a Lamb edition was not published in the end is a question we cannot answer.

Here are two suggestions for a posthumous Vale Press edition of the works of Charles Lamb.

Deputy, under Evans, was Thomas Tame. [...] His intellect was of the shallowest order. It did not reach to a saw or a proverb. His mind was in its original state of white paper. A suckling babe might have posed him. 

Antiquity! thou wondrous charm, what art thou? that, being nothing, art everything! When thou wert, thou wert not antiquity - then thou wert nothing, but hadst a remoter antiquity, as thou calledst it, to look back to with blind veneration; thou thyself being to thyself flat, jejune, modern! What mystery lurks in this retroversion? or what half Januses are we, that cannot look forward with the same idolatry with which we for ever revert! The mighty future is as nothing, being everything! the past is everything, being nothing!

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

523. Owen Pritchard, an Elusive Vale Press Collector

A number of libraries contain complete collections of the Vale Press books, but they are fewer in number than one might think. Many university collections, for example, consist of a dozen or so Vale Press books, and even nearly complete collections are fairly rare. One such nearly complete collection is at Bangor University on the northern west coast of Wales. Founded in 1884, and originally known as the University College of North Wales, the university received an extensive collection of porcelain, pottery, and glass (558 items), as well as books from London-based physician Owen Pritchard. A year after the presentation in 1920, a catalogue was published, with illustrations of porcelain, pottery and glass, but unfortunately not of the books.

University College of North Wales, Bangor.
The Owen Pritchard Collection of Pottery, Glass and Books
(1921):
illustration of Bristol earthenware


Dedication written by Owen Pritchard in a copy of University College of North Wales, Bangor.
The Owen Pritchard Collection of Pottery, Glass and Books 
(1921)


Owen Pritchard (1854-1928) was one of those rare collectors who make donations during their lifetime. In 1920, the collection was valued at £2,000-£3,000, and a newspaper said that it would be housed 'in separate cases in the vestibule entrance to the great library at the college, over which a tablet suitably inscribed' would be placed.

Dr. Owen Pritchard
[Collection: Archives and Special Collections
Bangor University]

Pritchard's personal life is almost entirely hidden behind that collection - the catalogue does not reveal his origins or career. He was an Anglesey man (son of a local labourer) who had been a student at Bangor before he moved to London where he lived as a bachelor for the rest of his life. He was a prominent London Welshman, who, for instance, acted as host for the meetings of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion. He became Doctor in Legibus on the ground of his generous support of higher education, especially in North Wales. At one time, he was a surgeon at St Saviour's Hospital for Cancer and Diseases of Women. He had his own medical practice at 37, Southwick Street, Hyde Park. 

When he died in a nursing home (after an operation), two addresses were mentioned: 41, Gloucester Square and 37, Southwick Street. He was cremated at Golder's Green and the funeral was attended by Sir Vincent Evans (who had catalogued his books), Lady Watson (wife of one of his favourite poets), and Mr. Allen Lane (nephew of the publisher John Lane). He left £36,387, of which £600 went to his 'old friend and chauffeur' Walter Whittle, £600 to his housekeeper Edna Graven, and another £600 to his 'old friend' and 'our greatest poet' Sir William Watson (1858-1935). £4,000 was destined to scholarships in the science department of North Wales University College (now Bangor), and the residue could be used for any purpose the college would determine.

Although he remained virtually unknown as a book collector, he had at least one friend who was at the centre of the publishing world in the 1990s: John Lane. 

John Lane


James Lewis May recorded:

Young Pritchard, having taken his M.D., came up to London—came, like John Lane, to try his luck. He brought with him some sound medical knowledge and the skill to use it, with a fund of indomitable courage, invincible tenacity, but with mighty little money. Looking about for a likely place to put up his plate, chance led him to a certain house in Southwick Street. It was already inhabited by a doctor, but it was in a deplorably dilapidated condition, and the practice was virtually non-existent. 


According to the British Medical Journal, this was the address of William Stewart, M.D.


Pritchard saw possibilities in the place. He took over the house, bought the goodwill of the 'practice' for a song, and then, with the few pounds remaining to him, started to face the future. He worked like a lion. [...] Little by little at first, afterwards by leaps and bounds, he went ahead, till at length he became one of the most successful and most popular practitioners in the district.

(J. Lewis May, John Lane and the Nineties. London 1936, page 29).

John Lane came to visit him in his practice, to advertise the home for the treatment of nervous and mental cases that his parents had started in Bristol. Pritchard heard that Lane was on the look-out for lodgings, and offered him a room. The food-bill was divided equally between them. Lane paid ten shillings a week for his room, and the rent was never raised. Frequently, Lane's letters were written on the back of Pritchard's bills.

[...] the two men became devoted friends. They had tastes in common, for the doctor, too, was a bibliophile and a great collector.
(J. Lewis May, John Lane and the Nineties. London 1936, page 30).


John Lane and Elkin Mathews established The Bodley Head in 1887, and became publishers to Oscar Wilde and many other decadent writers. After their break-up Lane continued the firm, publishing The Yellow Book with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley. Occasionally, he gave books to Pritchard. Recently, a copy of W. Carlton Dawe's Yellow and White, 1895, was offered for sale, bearing the dedication: 'Dr. Pritchard | from | J.L.' From this we may deduce that in 1920 not his entire collection of books moved to Bangor. John Lane even published a book written by Pritchard: On the Brink. A Play in One Act by a London Doctor. It was privately printed for the author in 1910. The 1921 catalogue was also published by John Lane, The Bodley Head, but probably distributed by the university.


What was his book collection like? 


In the catalogue, Vincent Evans characterises Pritchard as a collector without specialisation, but with 'a great admiration for beautiful craftmanship'. The library developed through subscription, purchase or presentation, and Pritchard maintained 'close friendships with many authors, and some publishers'. (However, he does not appear in their biographies, with the exception of Lane). The collection donated to Bangor consists of three parts: private presses, literature and miscellaneous publications.


The last section contains historical works, travelogues, dictionaries. The literature contains many works from the 1890s (Aubrey Beardsley, the Rhymer's Club, Oscar Wilde, but also Rossetti and Morris) and special sections with works by Lord Latymer, Richard Le Gallienne, Stephen Phillips and William Watson.


'Ballantyne Press' list in University College of North Wales, Bangor.
The Owen Pritchard Collection of Pottery, Glass and Books 
(1921)


The private press section is representative of the times. Pritchard owned sixteen volumes issued by the Ashendene Press, of which two printed on vellum. The Doves Press is represented with seventeen books (including the five-volume Bible), the Eragny Press with six works, the Daniel Press with three books, and the Kelmscott Press with three books (although many more were incorrectly listed as Kelmscott Press books).


The Vale Press books are divided into two parts: one under the heading 'Ballantyne Press' (where they were printed) and one under the heading 'Vale Press' (the official name that is hardly ever mentioned in the books). (One book is listed under 'Various Authors'). There are forty-one works (in eighty-three volumes), including the thirty-nine-volume Shakespeare and, for example, the three-volume Shelley edition. (One of the works listed, Tennyson's Lyric Poems can not be traced in the online catalogue of Bangor University.) He also owned three (out of five) issues of The Dial.


Only six books (in seven volumes) are lacking:  The Passionate Pilgrim. Songs in Shakespeare's Plays (1896), E.B. Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese (1897), Lyrical Poems of Shelley (1899), The Poems of John Keats (1898), D.G. Rossetti's The Blessed Damozel (1898), and A Bibliography of the Books Issued by Hacon & Ricketts (1904).


'Vale Press' list (detail)  in University College of North Wales, Bangor.
The Owen Pritchard Collection of Pottery, Glass and Books 
(1921)

The collection does not include dedication copies, copies printed on parchment, or bound in a leather binding specially designed by Ricketts.

Nevertheless, it is an impressive collection, which must have occupied a special place in Pritchard's heart: why else would he have collected so many works from this press and comparatively so few from the other presses? 

Moreover, Pritchard also bought a number of books designed by Ricketts, such as Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx, Lord De Tabley's Poems, Dramatic and Lyrical, John Addington Symonds's In the Key of Blue, and Oscar Wilde's De Profundis. 

Intriguing is the copy of Oscar Wilde's A Woman of No Importance (1894). It has a handwritten dedication: 'Owen Pritchard, M.D., from a grateful patient'. But who was this patient? 

Not Oscar Wilde, but his publisher, John Lane.

[Thanks are due to Shan Robinson, Senior Special Collections Assistant, Archives and Special Collections, Bangor University.]



Wednesday, July 28, 2021

522. A Small Exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery

From 18 May to 30 September, the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool will be showing a small selection from its holdings under the title 'Charles Shannon and Charles Ricketts'. On display are a lithograph, a painting and a drawing by Shannon and a watercolour by Ricketts. Curator Jessie Petheram wrote a short article about Ricketts and Shannon for the museum's website (read her contribution 'Shannon and Ricketts - A Creative Partnership').

Charles Shannon, 'The Modeller', lithograph (1891)
[Walker Art Gallery]

The oldest of the four works is a lithograph by Shannon with a portrait of Thomas Sturge Moore, dated 1891. Shannon made a small number of prints himself which were distributed in 1893 in the portfolio Early Lithographs. A few years later, Thomas Way printed twenty-five 'more forcible and less delicate' impressions (as Ricketts wrote).

Sturge Moore is caught 'in the act of modelling a figure which stands on a table to the right' (Ricketts again): 'A bucket occupies the foreground.' From 1887 to 1892 Sturge Moore attended the Lambeth School of Art. At first he worked in clay. I don't think any statues have been preserved, sculpture was not his forte.

The second object in the exhibition is the painting 'Lady with a Cyclamen (Mary Frances Dowdall)', painted in 1899. (For an image, see my earlier blog 'Rediscovered Interviews (2)' from 2020.)

Jessie Petheram, Assistant Curator of Fine Art, believes that Shannon undermines the classical symbolism of the cyclamen - true love and religious devotion - by painting Dowdall in clothing that is 'not clearly masculine or feminine'. The sitter criticised the institution of marriage and 'argued for women to be treated as complex individuals rather than "soap-spirited fools".'

Charles Shannon, 'Study for The Wise and Foolish Virgins',
chalk and gouache on paper (c.1917-1919)
[Walker Art Gallery]

Chronologically, the third work is a drawing by Shannon, a study for his painting 'The Wise and Foolish Virgins', illustrating the parable from the Bible's New Testament. The painting is also on display in a nearby room in the Walker Art Gallery. The curator supposes that Shannon's and Ricketts's fascination for some of the parables reflected 'their own concerns about whether, as two men in a loving relationship, they were prepared to be judged by God'. I am not sure about Shannon's faith, after all, he was the son of a reverend; but I am pretty sure that Ricketts would have laughed at the idea to be admitted to a place called Heaven.

Ricketts's work is represented by a watercolour and chalk on paper, a stage setting for Bernard Shaw's play Saint Joan, drawn about 1924.

These four works were acquired by the museum over a long period of time: the lithograph in 1909, the painting in 1967 (a gift from Mrs R.B.Tollinton), the drawing in 1971 and Ricketts's sketch in 1933 (with support from the Art Fund).

It is wonderful to know that after acquisition they were not stored unseen in the depot but, as now, were brought out and displayed. Hopefully, they will soon be added to the museum's online collection in the near future.

The exhibition can be seen at the Walker Art Gallery until the end of September.

[Thanks are due to Jessie Petheram and Felicity Robinson.]

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

521. Ricketts's Design for Dedicated (1914)

After Edith Cooper died, her partner, Katherine Bradley, collected Edith's poems (written from 1899 onwards). They were published in August 1914 under their joint pseudonym Michael Field as Dedicated. Charles Ricketts designed the linen binding, of which the front cover and spine are decorated. The original design drawings have been preserved in The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow.


Charles Ricketts, two drawings for the binding of
Michael Field, Dedicated (1914)
Location: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

While some critics recognise a baptismal font on the cover and on the back two connected rings, I think we see a fountain (on the cover) and a thyrsus - a staff topped with a pine cone - and  two laurel wreaths (on the spine). See my earlier blog about Three Spine Designs by Charles Ricketts.

The drawings are (as usual) larger than the book: 28.8 by 22.7 cm - the book measures 19,8 by 13 cm. They were copied and photographed (the image then reduced in size) for the making of a brass block to stamp the design on the binding.

The drawings have inscriptions such as: 'cut same size as drawing. Photograph this | onto the brass. Do not copy scratchy workmanship', and 'cut this quite clean | do not imitate scratches | of pen in letters etc'.

The blockmakers kept to the brief, sometimes making small necessary improvements and sometimes not.

In his drawing, Ricketts placed small acorns in the far corners, but he forgot the acorn in the top left corner. This has been corrected.

Charles Ricketts (designer), binding of Michael Field, Dedicated (1914)

For the coffered ceiling above the fountain (which is in a niche or a chapel) Ricketts drew a pattern of five rows with different ornaments in each row. In Ricketts's design the ornaments in each row appear to be identical, but they are all individually drawn and slightly different from oen another. During the processing for the block, the ornaments per row were standardised. Whether this was the intention or not is impossible to say, but in the Vale Press ornamental papers that Ricketts designed, such minor variations were maintained.

The support for the ceiling is represented by vertical lines. The lines in the middle do not connect at the same height at the top (lower on the right). 

Charles Ricketts (designer), binding of Michael Field, Dedicated (1914)

 
Also, they seem to protrude through the floor. This has been retained in the block for the binding.

Charles Ricketts (designer), binding of Michael Field, Dedicated (1914) 

The handle of the thyrsus on the back of the book is a little too neatly copied. Ricketts's pen faltered twice and the lines are now interrupted in two places. This was clearly not Ricketts's intention.

Thanks to the digitisation of objects in museums, libraries and archives researchers can study Ricketts's book designs with new interest and scrutiny.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

520. An Early Caricature by Charles Ricketts

As an artist, Charles Ricketts was not easily satisfied, and on one of his moves, he threw a lot of his youthful work into the bin. Shannon did the same - it was the result that mattered, not the sketches or the way to get there. (Friends sometimes kept those drawings.) In an album in the British Museum one finds a photograph of a very early sketch, said to be by Ricketts. (The museum number is 1962,0809.2.55). The drawing is dated 27/2/1882. Ricketts was not yet sixteen then.

Charles Ricketts, photograph of a caricature dated 27 February 1882
[Image: British Museum, London: 1962,0809.2.55.
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]
(with permission of the executors of the Charles Ricketts estate,
Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmain O'Neil)

The drawing measures 75 by 65 mm, and it depicts 'a man in silhouette, whole-length profile to left' (quote from the catalogue). It seems to be a young man. There is a caption written in a speech bubble and the words are hard to decipher, but I think it says: 'I never wish anything but I demand'.

It may be a student joke, a sketch made out of boredom or discontent. The image has not been published before.

The original will probably have been thrown away. The photo was saved, and came via Robert Steele to Riette Sturge Moore, who donated the album to the BM in 1962.

Even when he was older, Ricketts continued to make caricatures. There is, for instance, a self-portrait of him slumped in a chair, asleep after a dinner where he obviously overate.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

519. Milton's Early Poems in a Pigskin Binding (2)

A fortnight ago I reported on a Sybil Pye binding for a copy of the first Vale Press publication, John Milton's Early Poems (April 1896). [Read more about this special binding.] The new owner has sent me some images to prove that the binding was made by Sybil Pye.

Marianne Tidcombe wrote: 'Her bindings are signed with a monogram stamp' ['SP'], 'and the date, inside the lower cover, nearly always towards the top of the fore-edge turn-in.'(*) That is indeed the case, only the date is missing here.

John Milton, Early Poems (1896). Binding signed by Sybil Pye

The inscription linking this book to the collector who commissioned the binding is as follows: 'from the books of Arthur & Margaret Gillett | 21.4. 1962'.

John Milton, Early Poems (1896). Inscription

The titles of quite a few Vale Press books are uncertain. The title on the binding often differs from the title on the opening pages (there are rarely any actual title pages), which in turn differs from the title in the colophon.

The Milton edition shows the same diversity.
Title on spine: MIL- | TON | EARLY | POEMS
Opening pages: MILTON | EARLY POEMS
Colophon: HERE end the Early Poems of John Milton.
Prospectus: THE EARLY POEMS OF JOHN MILTON
Bibliography (1904): THE EARLY POEMS OF JOHN MILTON

Pye's binding shows different variants again:
Title on spine: EARLY | POEMS OF | MILTON
Title on front and back cover: THE EARLY POEMS OF MILTON

(*) Marianne Tidcombe, Women Bookbinders 1880-1920 (Oak Knoll Press & The British Library, 1996), page 149.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

518. Sea-Folk, A Lithograph by Charles Shannon

Charles Shannon produced lithographs from 1889 onwards, but there were years when he did not work in this medium. The first period of 54 lithographs ran until 1897 (one was published only a year later), after which he did not devote himself to lithography again until 1904. The second period lasted much shorter, from 1904 to 1909, and resulted in 29 lithographs.

The last period began during the First World War, in 1917, and ended in 1920. After twelve more lithographs, Shannon abandoned this medium. (Other lithographs were designed, by the way, but they never got beyond the trial stage. There is a lithograph from 1888, predating the first one, from which four proofs were pulled; no Shannon lithographs dated after 1920 are known to exist.)

In his catalogue, The Lithographs of Charles Shannon 1863-1937 (published 1978), Paul Delaney  only reproduced lithographs from the first period.

Charles Shannon, 'Sea-Folk' (1897)
[Image: British Museum, London: 
1899,0913.1.
[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

The last lithograph from the first period is 'Sea-Folk' (1897). It is not the largest lithograph Shannon ever made, but it is the one with the most figures - I think I can count twenty-five people. In the 1902 catalogue of Shannon's lithographs (with an introduction by Ricketts) the scene is described as follows:

Groups of girls and children are playing in the wash of the sea. The background is filled with a breaking wave. Fifty-six proofs exist printed in green, in black, and in blue.
(Charles Ricketts, A Catalogue of Mr Shannon's Lithographs, no. 54, p. 31).

The British Museum owns a copy in green (illustrated here). Copies in black ink look very dark indeed, as if the scene is a nocturnal one. The British Museum has an impression in black after the cancellation of the plate.

Charles Shannon, 'Sea-Folk' (1897)
[Image: British Museum, London: 
1938,0804.30.
[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]


The variety of actions and postures is maximised within a horizontal strip in the centre of the image. Above this, the foam heads of the surf are depicted. In the foreground, the low water on the coast can be seen. Some figures are sitting on the sand in the shallow water and are drawn almost entirely in white line.

Charles Shannon, 'Sea-Folk' (1897)
[Image: British Museum, London: 
1899,0913.1.
[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]


Children play with a fish that they have apparently caught, raising it triumphantly to the sky. Another group of children try to catch another fish in the shallow water.


Charles Shannon, 'Sea-Folk' (1897)
[Image: British Museum, London: 
1899,0913.1.
[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

One wonders, of course, if the fish would not have fled long ago in the face of this crowd of children amusing themselves so loudly; Shannon probably combined several observations at the beach.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

517. Milton's Early Poems in a Pigskin Binding

On 17 June, at Dominic Winter Auctions three lots of Vale Press books were sold, the last one being a copy of John Milton's Early Poems (1896), the first book of the Vale Press. The catalogue description states its condition: 'light toning to a couple of leaves, light spotting to endpapers, ink inscription to front endpaper, original cream blindstamped cloth gilt, gilding to spine rubbed in places'. The second part of the description incorrectly asserts that the copy was still in the original publisher's binding. I previously wrote about the variants of the publisher's binding for this book in blog 244, [more information including illustrations can be found in Binding Variants of the First Vale Press Book].

The picture in the catalogue Children’s & Illustrated Books, Private Press & Fine Bindings, Modern First Editions clearly shows a completely different binding.

John Milton, Early Poems (1896)

The provenance was based on an ink inscription: 'From the books of Arthur & Margaret Gillett, 21.4. 1962'. And, the catalogue continued: 'Probably Margaret Clark Gillett (1878-1962) botanist and social reformer, noted for advocating for women and children held in concentration camps after the Boer War.’ (Information taken from Wikipedia.)

Although her name does not appear in the index of Marianne Tidcombe's Women Bookbinders 1880-1920, it is nevertheless this essential reference work that can provide information on the name of the bookbinder.

Appendix 3 lists all Sybil Pye's bindings and the Vale Press Milton appears twice. Number 27 describes a bookbinding from 1918, made for G.E. Chatfield, and in style it is exactly what one imagines a Sybil Pye binding to be: 'White pigskin, inlaid with red and black pigskin, and gold-tooled'.

The Gillett binding has no inlays and is described as number 12. It is one of Pye's earliest commissions: 'White pigskin, blind- and gold-tooled. Bound 1909. A.B. Gillett.'

A.B. Gillett was Arthur Bevington Gillett (1875-1954), who married in 1909, the year he commissioned Pye to bind his copy of Early Poems. He married Margaret Clark (1878-1962), and they moved to North Oxford. His portrait is in the National Portrait Gallery.

Had the auction house known that this binding was by Sybil Pye, even if it was an early one, the estimate of £200-£300 would probably have been higher. However, during the auction, the price quickly rose due to a battle between two bidders and when that seemed to have ended, a third bidder stepped forward and paid the final price of £1,700 (amount without premium).

Apparently, the Pye binding had caught the eye of several interested parties.

The binding is stamped in blind and in gold with ovals, squares and leaves. The shapes in the centre suggest a portal, with a semi-circle above containing the title. The inner circle has the year of publication (1896), and the initials C (left) and R (right), referring (probably) to Charles Ricketts.