Wednesday, May 18, 2022

563. Flowers in Daphnis and Chloe and in Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

One of the cat images in Daphnis & Chloe (see blog 562) stuck in my mind because I don't quite understand what we are looking at. The action is clearly a reflection of the story, with Daphnis being served in the home of Dryas and his wife by his regained lover Chloe. But the setting: what time are we actually in?

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving in Daphnis and Chloe (1893, page 57)

The set table, the floral decorations on the floor, the cupboard with tableware on the left-hand side of the room somehow do not seem Greek or second-century Roman to me. Was it a custom in Greece to place bowls and plates like this in a cupboard? Were flowers scattered on the floors during festive meals?

It may well be that Ricketts went to see all these objects in the British Museum or in other museums for the edition of Daphnis & Chloe that he undertook with Shannon; he may also have looked around in his own kitchen. He also examined an extraordinary illustrated book from the Renaissance, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili from 1499. 

He may have ignored the Latin text, but the illustrations have taken root in his mind. Not all of them, of course; many are rather obscurely symbolic and formal, whereas Shannon and Ricketts, for their edition of the story of Daphnis & Chloe, looked more for representations of the narrative and for intimacy. The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili shows many more individual objects and scenes that take place outside, while Daphnis & Chloe displays more domestic scenes.

In the image of the festive meal, two lines seem to demarcate a rug. The decorations are not part of the rug on which the cat is sitting and which runs under the table. Some of the decorations - they are flowers, twigs and leaves - are next to the rug (if it is a rug).

I don't know if there is a Greek or Roman example for that, but we can turn to the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili for inspiration. One of the sparse intimate woodcuts in that book depicts a split-screen scene (like the one of the other cat in last week's blog) with a view into a bedroom. (See here for an online version of the 1499 edition.)

Illustration in Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499): page C7v

In the bedroom with bed and chest is a kneeling woman on a decorated carpet (I suspect) and there are the same twigs and flowers as in Ricketts's woodcut. They lie here in (what appears to be) a fixed pattern. In Ricketts's image, they are strewn haphazardly across the floor.

Ricketts reflected on the scattering of flowers during festivities. At the end of the book, he depicts the wedding of Daphnis and Chloe, in which a figure stands among the tables with baskets of flowers, which he scatters lavishly with his upraised arm.

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving in Daphnis and Chloe (1893, page 97)

The flowers fall onto the table and the floor, explaining the earlier image.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

562. Cats Depicted in Daphnis and Chloe

In the wood-engravings for Daphnis and Chloe (1893), Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon depicted a great many animals, some of which are mentioned in the story but others not. As the shepherd, Daphnis is of course depicted with a dog, sheep, goats and other livestock - we also see a cow, horses, pigeons and a dead dolphin.

Animals are also present in the domestic scenes, including dogs, chickens, a peacock and cats.

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving in Daphnis and Chloe (1893, page 11)


The first cat walks into the book on page 11. In a "split-screen" illustration, Daphnis sits on the floor on the left; in the right compartment Chloe sits upright in her bedroom. Both 'are tormented by an amorous melancholy'. They are in love with each other. As the cat appears in the open doorway (it is dark outside) and places its paws on the wooden floor, it looks straight at the viewer.

A cat
in Daphnis and Chloe
(1893, page 11)

A second cat appears on page 57 in the home of Dryas where the animal apparently feels right at ease. 

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving in Daphnis and Chloe (1893, page 57)

It is grooming itself, licking its paw.

A cat
in Daphnis and Chloe
(1893, page 57)


When Ricketts illustrates dramatic moments in a story, he often selects a moment after the climax, when the tension seems to have died down, but is in fact still in full force. And he accentuates the ordinariness of the drama through domestic elements like a pet.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

561. A Puzzle Involving Wilde and Ricketts

Every week, in response to the blogs about Ricketts and Shannon, questions are fired at me. Sometimes they are simple requests, other times they are difficult questions and occasionally they are puzzling queries. I received an example of the latter category on 21 April when Avery Garnett wrote:

I hope this finds you well. I realise this email may either be a very strange request, or something you're tired of receiving enquiries about (sorry if that's the case!). When doing research, I found your articles about the work of Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon: https://charlesricketts.blogspot.com/2021/03/503-designs-on-cover-of-bibliography-of.html.

I'm currently trying to identify a book that is 'blind-tooled on the green in a double circle was a single star above what was perhaps a sea' as well as 'It was the tenth edition, of 1917'. I found an ancient discussion on a web forum that seemed to lead nowhere, but with a post 3 years later saying "it was the importance of being earnest" with no further explanation. However, I cannot find any proof of a 1917 edition of that Wilde book, only one dated 1910 which seems to be part of the collected works.

These points led me to your blog and I am certain it is the mark I'm looking for - but you mention that the prints were used by Methuen for dozens of reprints.

So I was wondering: do you happen to know of a list of works that had this print? Or possibly if there indeed exists a 10th edition copy of ...Being Earnest with this publisher mark because many other people have stumbled across your posts and had the same idea as me? Thank you very kindly for your time!

The email refers to a blog about the vignette of a star above the sea designed by Ricketts and used by publisher Methuen for many years. The vignette (not a publisher's mark by the way) appeared edition after edition on the reprints of Oscar Wilde's works, including reprints of The Importance of Being Earnest

Charles Ricketts, design for Oscar Wilde,
Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories (1909)


Indeed, I was puzzled, so I answered:

It is not so much a strange request as a rather vague one, as you do not describe the book to me or send me images, and how it comes that you need identification: is there no binding, title page, is it incomplete?

Not much to go on. Anyway, I deduct from the spare facts that you have a copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and that it is not the first or second edition (1899 and 1908) but a later one.
After the 1908 collected edition, as you probably know, a second collected edition was issued in 1909, some new volumes added up to 1920 or so.
Initially these were issued in green cloth, gilt (1909) or green cloth, blind stamped, spine gilt, and even later (for example the 18th edition in 1924) in blue cloth, gilt, and still later in cheap green bindings. 

The IofBE was reprinted many times:
4th ed Feb 1910
5th ed Dec 1911
6th ed Nov 1912
7th, New cheap ed. (only spine in gold): Jan 1915
8th ed. July 1916
9th ed April 1917
10th ed Nov 1917
11th ed Dec 1917
12th ed July 1919
13th ed 1919
and so on. 

It suffices to buy one of those later editions to see how many reprints there were in between.

Some of those were advertised by Methuen in lists and newspapers. They were not collected by the main libraries and so no bibliographical record of them was kept. Up until 20 years ago they were easy to find in Great Britain, but they have become less easy to find due to the demise of small independent antiquarian book shops.

Did I answer your question?

Cover of Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
(Thirteenth Edition, 1919) with the vignette by
Charles Ricketts stamped in blind on the front cover

Shortly after I sent the reply, the response came:

Wow, thank you very much! I think that yes, it is indeed the IofBE; it ties up with what I was expecting and this cryptic, no source post on a mailing list from 15 years ago.

With regards to the vagueness, it's because I don't actually own a copy of the book. Rather, it's from a copy of Cain's Jawbone, which (if you've not heard of it) is a literary puzzle from the 1930s which is infamously difficult to solve and only 4 people have done so in the last 90 years: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cain%27s_Jawbone.


It so happens that on one page, the narrator describes taking a green book from his pocket... but that's all; given the nature of the puzzle, every detail seems to be important and I've been scratching my head at finding out what it is. The puzzle probably would have been easier in some regard back in 1933, because knowing a book published in 1917 would've been more common knowledge back then, at least among the middle to upper classes. The author (and by extension, the narrator) really seem to enjoy using Wilde and especially IofBE quotes in the prose, so it's lovely to be able to tick that puzzle off the list!

Well, this answer surprised me. I had no idea that this blog would serve the community of puzzle lovers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

560. Charles Shannon and the Seated Lady

Irregularly, but not even that infrequently, paintings by Charles Shannon come on the market. At the JS Fine Art auction house in Banbury, Oxfordshire, a 'Portrait of a Seated Lady', signed and dated 1905, will go under the hammer tomorrow.  

A week ago, the lady in the picture was not identified by the auction house, but by now it has been described as the portrait of Agnes Mary Goldman.

Charles Shannon, Portrait of Agnes Mary Goldman, 1905
[photos: JS Fine Art]

Agnes Mary Peel (1869-1959) was married to Charles Sydney Goldman (1858-1958) in 1899. The portrait was one of only two portraits Shannon completed in 1905, and this one was listed as 'The Hon. Mrs Goldman'. The provenance of the painting is Yaveland Manor, Isle of Wight, where Charles Goldman lived after a career as war journalist and ostrich farmer in South Africa and as a farmer in British Columbia.

Agnes Mary Goldman, her son Penryn, and her husband Charles Sydney Goldman

Charles Shannon, Portrait of Agnes Mary Goldman, 1905 (detail)
[photo" JS Fine Art]

Charles Shannon, Portrait of Agnes Mary Goldman, 1905 (detail)
[photo" JS Fine Art]

Shannon portrayed the sitter in profile with an elegantly draped pink curtain in the background and a convex mirror that he often showed in his paintings. The scene in the mirror is not entirely clear, but appears to be an ode to motherhood with a mother holding a young child.

PS, 30 April 2022:
Hammer price: £7,000.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

559. Leonard Smithers and An Ideal Husband

Some publishers' actions are so weird that after a century they become downright inexplicable. In 1899, the adventurous Leonard Smithers published a 'fairy tale' by Anthony Hamilton, The Four Facardins, printed for the (non-existent) Lutetian Society in London. The society was intended to publish the works of Emile Zola, and as a front for the distribution of erotic works, although this tale is barely erotic.

Nothing strange so far. This is what Smithers was accustomed to doing.

There are copies of this edition with a paper cover and a frontispiece after a design by Hugh Graham. But there are also copies bound in green linen, without Graham's design and without the frontispiece. So far, everything stays within the framework of what can be expected from this publisher of both literary and offensive titles.

Count Anthony Hamilton, The Four Facarins (1899):
upper board of binding

As I wrote in January in blog 545 (Leonard Smithers, Charles Shannon and An Ideal Husband), Steven Halliwell and Michael Seeney published a booklet on Smithers and the edition of Oscar Wilde's play An Ideal Husband whose binding was designed by Charles Shannon. This publication of The Rivendale Press contained a remark and some photographs about The Four Facardins.

Here is where the weird part begins.

Count Anthony Hamilton, The Four Facarins (1899):
spine


Halliwell and Seeney describe (and illustrate) a copy of this edition, which, like all copies in green cloth, has a red pasted-on spine label with the title of the book in gold. But after more than a hundred and twenty years, such title labels wear off, and when they come off (or are peeled off), beneath them emerges not an ordinary green spine, but a different title printed directly in gold on the green linen. The red title shield thus conceals a title that could no longer serve.

That title reads: An Ideal Husband.

The image below shows a title label that is damaged at the top. Part of the letter A (of An) can be seen.

Count Anthony Hamilton, The Four Facarins (1899):
spine label


A binding was therefore made with the spine title An Ideal Husband, but this was not actually used for Wilde's play.

Count Anthony Hamilton, The Four Facarins (1899):
spine label
[scan provided by Steven Halliwell]


Given the vignettes used (one five times on the front and another on the spine), this binding was not designed by Shannon, and the question is: why does it exist in this form? 

Why would Smithers first ask Shannon to design The Importance of Being Earnest, published early 1899, and An Ideal Husband, finished in June or July, and then have a completely different binding made, one that does not fit the "series" Oscar Wilde envisioned for his plays: cloth bindings in various shades of purple or brown, with the title and Shannon's designs in gold?

The only two reasons I can think of are not even likely to be the correct ones:
1. The binding was made for an intended reprint of An Ideal Husband. But this edition was cancelled. When the remaining copies of The Four Facardins were bound, this discarded binding was used. The cheapest solution was to paste a title label on the spine.
2. Shannon's designs did not arrive, despite agreements made, and in distress Smithers had this binding produced. However, just in time Shannon's sketches arrived after all causing this new binding to become obsolete. It was then used for remaining copies of The Four Facardins.

PS, 21 April 2022

One of my readers suggested the following:

Is it possible that whoever was making the bindings got the instructions for the two bindings confused? (Bruce Russell)

We cannot rule out this possibility, but it is unlikely that Smithers ordered two bindings. As for the Wilde edition, he was still waiting for Shannon's designs, and for The Four Facardins he initially commissioned a paper cover with illustrations by Hugh Graham. This edition appeared in April 1899, three months before The Importance of Being Earnest, and the bound copies of The Four Facardins are considered to be a later distributed portion of the print run.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

558. Decorative Wall Art and Colouring Books

Some artists sell their work through the website Etsy and when I saw some book art by French artists on this platform, I also searched for Ricketts's name. That's how I discovered a dealer who runs the Lithograph Library.

Search results in Etsy, March 2022: 'Charles Ricketts'

As always, this kind of site leads you to commercial producers of all kinds of reproductions. This dealer also appears to be an ordinary internet copyist, but claims to have spent a lot of time on his product that is called:

1889 – Collection of 51 Charles S Ricketts Vintage Illustrations – The Dial – SVG – Instant Digital Download
£ 10,06

The "instant digital download of this art work" is described as a unique offer: there is only one available (mind you, of a digital file!), about which the dealer writes:

I found these wonderful illustrations by Charles S Ricketts while looking through an 1889 book (The Dial). I have taken the time to clean up and vectorize these illustrations and have sized each to fit on a standard 8.5 x 11 page.

What is this all about? - Not a book, at any rate. These are illustrations from the various issues of Ricketts and Shannon's magazine, The Dial that appeared between 1889 and 1897: illustrations by Ricketts, Shannon, Thomas Sturge Moore, Lucien Pissarro, and Reginald Savage - whose names are not mentioned.

They are advertised as "vintage" works from 1889, but what do you really get?

Watermark does not appear on your downloaded images of course. Your purchase includes five zip files containing 51 SVG images (transparent background). These svg images can be scaled to your desired size (larger or smaller) without any resolution loss using inkscape (a free program you can find online) or any other graphics programs that handle svg files

Who is the intended audience? And what is the purpose?

Great for coloring book pages, custom craft ideas, decorative wall art, scrap-booking, greeting cards, iron-on transfers, etc.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

557. Charles Shannon's Lithograph 'Winter'

One of the readers of this blog approached me with a question about the paper on which Charles Shannon's 1898 lithograph 'Winter' was printed. 'Winter' shows a woman carrying a bundle of faggots through a doorway and a kneeling man, seen from behind, assembling another bundle. Shannon made only 25 impressions in grey, mostly on Van Gelder paper. A signed copy of this edition is in the collection of the British Museum. 

Charles Shannon, 'Winter' (Lithograph, 1898)
(Image: The British Museum: 1899,0321.9
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International 
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license)

Especially in the parts of the litho that are left blank (and of course also in the unprinted areas around the lithograph), the chain lines of this paper are clearly visible.

Charles Shannon, 'Winter' (Lithograph, 1898) [detail]
(Image: The British Museum: 1899,0321.9
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International 
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license)

Our correspondent reported that the paper of his copy of the lithograph did not have chain lines. He knew that the lithograph was also printed as a transfer lithograph in John and Elizabeth Robins Pennell's book, Lithography and Lithographers (1898). These prints were made by the firm of Thomas Way. However, the paper was not in accordance with this edition either. Way printed the lithograph on a smooth, white paper; a  yellowish frame of about 7 mm is clearly visible around the lithograph. The glazed paper sheet in this edition was smaller than the lithograph that our blog friend had acquired.

Charles Shannon, 'Winter' (Lithograph, 1898) [Detail]
Published in Lithography and Lithographers


The image measures 175 x 147 mm, the sheet in Pennell's edition measures 306 x 265 mm. 

However, apart from the ordinary edition a deluxe edition was published on Japanese vellum (a paper that was manufactured to imitate parchment). Only 16 copies of this signed large-paper edition were produced. The sheets in these copies are larger and measure about 343 x 272 mm. The paper has a yellowish colour (no chain lines). 

And these qualities did match the lithograph of our correspondent. Apparently it was a print intended, but unused, for the deluxe edition of Pennell's Lithography and Lithographers

The impressions in the deluxe edition, by the way, are much better and more detailed than those in the regular edition - see, for example, the depiction of the back of the kneeling man.

Charles Shannon, 'Winter' (Lithograph, 1898) [Detail]
Published in the deluxe edition of
Lithography and Lithographers

Charles Shannon, 'Winter' (Lithograph, 1898) [Detail]
Published in the regular edition of Lithography and Lithographers


Wednesday, March 30, 2022

556. Charles Shannon in Theosophical Company

Blog 552, The Wise and Foolish Virgins by Charles Shannon, promised more information about Joseph Bibby's acquisition of Charles Shannon's painting that eventually was given to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

Joseph Bibby (1851-1940), devoutly raised as a Methodist, was an English industrialist who, together with his brother James, built an empire around cattle fodder and Bibby's Pure Soap in Liverpool. James was the businessman, Joseph indulged in marketing and publicity. He was a generous benefactor of social causes. He developed an interest in theosophy and became a vegetarian.

Cover of Bibby's Annual (1921),
with an illustration by Ernest Wallcousins (detail)

Part of his advertising campaigns was an annual magazine, Bibby's Annual (1906-1922, 1938). He also published Bibby's Quarterly, Bibby's Almanac, and The Bibby Cake Calendar. He edited and subsidized the issues of Bibby's Annual that integrated theosophy with art and literature, incorporating plates after famous paintings and prints by Rembrandt, Reynolds, Dürer, Velasques, Gainsborough, Turner and Blake. Works by lesser-known modern artists, such as William Orpen and Charles Shannon, were also illustrated. 

A lithograph and a painting by Shannon were reproduced in the penultimate volume, 1921. The lithograph 'Tibullus in the House of Delia' received a short introduction which, together with the image, was given a corner in an article on 'The Source of Social Wellbeing':

Mr. Shannon is a master of the art of lithography, which, since the renewal of interest largely due to Mr. Whistler, is no longer regarded as a poor relation of the Graphic Arts. He is a poetic and subtle draughtsman, an absorbed student of beauty, a seeker after nobility of design who subordinates literary to pictorial requirements. For this reason it is vain to seek in our picture more than the slightest literary motive. "Delia" may be the lady referred to in Pope's lines - "Slander or poison dread from Delia's rage" - but we do not know. What seems suggested is one of those sinister beauties of the Renaissance, whom men admired and feared. we see a banquet where the guests are raising wine cups in her honour, while one whispers in her ear. It is just a fancy in which the artist has expressed his power of noble and rhythmic design. The subject was once admirably characterised by Sir Frederick Wedmore as "ideal and opulent and Titianesque."

The art-historical text and lithography are embedded in the world of theosophy. Already on the first page, above and below the table of contents, there are quotations from L.W. Rogers, long-time president of the Theosophical Society in America: 'Man is a God in the making. Latent within him are all the attributes of divinity.'

Charles Shannon, 'The Wise and Foolish Virgins'
(1919-1920) [detail]
Walker Art Gallery
(National Museums Liverpool)

Opposite the page with Shannon's lithograph is a full-page colour image, printed across, of Shannon's 1920 picture 'The Wise and Foolish Virgins'. Joseph Bibby must have purchased the oil painting in 1921 and immediately decided to use it for his annual because of its religious subject. The accompanying text is long, and we may assume that it was written by Bibby himself:

Mr. Charles Shannon is one of the most sensitive and distinguished of living artists. His art is the quiet product of study and dream; standing aloof from haste or turmoil or anything suggestive of sensation or notoriety. It reaches a region of pure beauty, beyond the world of reality or actuality; where mere events lose much of their significance, and cries of passion and emotion are but faintly heard. The theme of the "Wise and Foolish Virgins" has appealed to him solely from the point of view of the creation of pictorial beauty. His picture is frankly not very scriptural. We are not here much concerned with the Twenty-fifth Chapter of St. Matthew. This is no vision of sudden midnight alarm; of desperate appeals for what could not be spared; of the tragic doom that may befall innocent and well-meaning souls who lack forethought. The very choice of the banks of a river as the scene puts the Scriptural narrative far away; for what could the Virgins we know be doing there? If, however, we do not have a satisfying illustration of a familiar story, we get instead a noble picture. We think it was the rhythm of the interlacing figures, the haunting beauty and mystery of the night, with its fine yet austere harmony of colour that the artist aimed to achieve; and we gladly admit he has succeeded. Many an earnest thinker has pondered over the true inner meaning of this story, although its lessons of ready preparedness is obvious to all. This story of the coming of the bridegroom has in it a still deeper meaning to the devout mystic, who senses a parable of initiation, the first unfolding of the Divine super-consciousness within, which shall thereafter irradiate and illumine the whole of the inner and outer life. We cannot tell how near that moment is just when it will come, any more than a flower knows the moment when the glory of the universe will burst upon an opened heart that has at last unfolded. But it has to be watched for, prayed for, lived for; since until it comes a man lives but a darkened, divided life, seemingly cut off in consciousness from the true source of his happiness and power. So the lamp which shall light us to that supreme consummation is the vessel of consecrated thought and deed, and it must be filled always with the oil of human service, elsewise it were empty and useless indeed. To those whose light within is thus kept steadily trimmed and burning, there comes the day of Initiation, the reception at the marriage feast, and entrance into the joy of their Lord. The story also indicates that all ignorance and neglect invite a just nemesis.

So, after Bibby has detailed that this subject probably has no religious significance for Shannon - on the contrary - the explanation takes a turn towards pure theosophical thought halfway through, with which the painting ceases to exist as a work of art and becomes only a secondary illustration of a sermon-like story. Whether Shannon himself ever saw this issue of Bibby's Annual is not known to me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

555. Pricing a Copy of A House of Pomegranates

Last week I wrote about a podcast on YouTube that had been available for some time, but there is also a more recent contribution that has to do with Ricketts and Shannon. In a series of videos on rare book profit margins, American dealer Adam Weinberger talks about three books including, most recently, a copy of Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates (1891). The New York rare bookdealer explains he has acquired the Wilde book at auction, and paid around $700.  

Watch the video Rare Book Profit Margins by Adam Weinberger on YouTube.

Adam Weinberger discussing A House of Pomegranates

His brief explanation starts at 11.03 minutes from the beginning and lasts several minutes.

He says that these days one has to pay between $600 and $900 for a copy at auction. He bought this particular copy for about $700. In determining the selling price, he took into account the prices of other dealers, but he feels that he cannot go higher than $1400, a 100% profit margin (before deducting all kinds of additional costs).

Adam Weinberger
discussing A House of Pomegranates

The book cannot be found on his website, so we can assume that it has been sold.

There are several bookplates, one of which was made for Roy Norr from New York. Designed by Elisha Brown Bird (1867-1943), it dates from around 1910. Norr's collection was sold through Parke-Bernet Galleries in February 1956. 

Another copy with a bookplate of Roy Norr is part of the collection of University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana IL., Rare Book and Manuscript Library: Stacks Non-circulating 823 W64ho. 'Bookplate on front endpaper recto: "Roy Norr", inscription on front endpaper recto: W K Bixby'. Curious.

Bookplate of Roy Norr by E.B. Bord (around 1910)


Wednesday, March 16, 2022

554. The Voice of Paul Delaney

On YouTube, a podcast has been published by Nigel Beale. He interviews Paul Delaney, Ricketts's biographer, about Ricketts's life and art, but also about how the biography published in 1990 came about. The recording lasts just over an hour and the only image used is a recent portrait of Delaney.

See the podcast Paul Delaney on Biography & writing the fascinating life of Charles Ricketts.

Also available on the website 'The Biblio File', hosted by Beale, as Paul Delaney on writing the life of book designer Charles Ricketts.

Beale introduces the podcast as follows: 

I met with Paul Delaney at his home in Moncton, New Brunswick, where we talked about, among other things, his nom de plume (J. G. P. Delaney), about Ricketts of course, and his adventurous mother; about Ricketts' long time companion artist Charles Shannon; about publisher and editor Rupert Hart Davis, and about Paul's experience writing the biography of artist Glyn Philpot.

Paul Delaney (photo: Nigel Beale, 2021)

Copies of the Ricketts biography can only be bought second-hand, as Clarendon Press has not published a second edition of Charles Ricketts. A Biography after the first sold-out hardcover edition from 1990. Nowadays, copies cost anything between €44 and  €536, the latter price being ridiculous, of course. About €100 is the average price.

Also still available, but almost sold out, is the supplement Delaney (and Corine Verney) published a few years back. To buy a copy, see blog 277. An Indispensable Supplement to Charles Ricketts's Biography.


Wednesday, March 9, 2022

553. Faithful Servants: Percy and Matromia Nicholls

In response to my previous blog, I received some comments with more information that will allow us to get a fuller picture of Percy Nicholls and his Russian wife Matromia.

Nicholls and his wife joined the household of Ricketts and Shannon in January 1924 and after Ricketts died in 1931 they continued to care for Shannon, moving house with him to Kew where the artist died in 1937.

In his letters Ricketts regularly mentioned Nicholls, who clearly loved cats and the wireless:

Nichol[l]s, our excellent man, has stolen a charming half persian cat [...] This cat is amiable and affectionate it literally prevents one's watering the garden, by playing with the water, or else by caressing one[']s legs [...] and of course sleeps full length on anything newly planted. [...] A Wireless is being placed this moment to supply Nicholls with rag times & L[l]oyd George Speeches.
[Ricketts, letter to Mary Davis, June 1924]

During his trip to Canada and the United States in 1927, Ricketts bought stamps for the apparent collector of them, Nicholls:

I enclose a packet of Collonial [Colonial] stamps for Nicholls. I have bought him a packet of Canadians as well [...]
(Ricketts, letter to Charles Shannon, 4 November 1927)

Entry of Marriage of Percy Harold Nicholls and Matromia Kondratenka (1923) 


Percy Harold Nicholls was born in Wotton-under-Edge on 27 September 1890. His parents were Charles Beames Nicholls (1860-1915) and Alice Matilda James (1865-1931). In 1911 Nicholls was married to Lilian Daisy Blatch. At the time he was a private in the Scottish Rifles stationed in Colchester. The pair had three children: Hubert (1912-1913), Olive (1915-1985), and Joan (1921-1922). His wife died in August 1922, and he remarried the following year, on 28 April 1923, when he was listed as a Butler/Valet. His second wife, Matromia Kondratenka, was born in Russia (probably in Ukraine) on 22 November 1884. She was a domestic servant, and both she and Nicholls were then living at Chessington Hall, a country house in Surrey. Apparently, when they moved in with Ricketts and Shannon as their servants, they did not bring the only surviving daughter from Nicholls's first marriage with them.

However, after Shannon's and Nicholls's accident some family members came to assist Ricketts:

Did I tell you there is hope of a cousin of Nicholls coming here as house maid. I hope so, the family seem worthwhile though his young daughter proved a failure. I understand she is doing well in her new place.
(Ricketts to Mary Davis, 1930)

This was Olive, who was fifteen at the time.

Nicholls was mentioned in Ricketts's will. After Shannon's death, the Nicholls lived at 35 Jedburgh Street, Clapham Common (1939 census). That year Percy Nicholls received a copy of  Self-Portrait taken from the Letters & Journals of Charles Ricketts that was compiled by Thomas Sturge Moore. 

Percy Nicholls died in Clapham Common on 19 October 1947. He left the considerable sum of £1310 3s 11d to his wife and to the future husband of his daughter (Francis James Garrison, a locomotive fireman). Matromia Nicholls died in 1974.

It is highly likely that the assistant in Ricketts's studio, filmed for a D'Oyly Carte Promotional Film in 1926, is Percy Nichols.

Percy Nicholls in 1926
The Mikado - D'Oyly Carte Promotional Film 1926
Still from the film on YouTube



Charles Ricketts and Percy Nicholls in 1926
The Mikado - D'Oyly Carte Promotional Film 1926
Still from the film on YouTube


The preliminary study for Shannon's painting The Wise and Foolish Virgins (see last week's blog) in the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry was donated by his brother Alfred Edward Nicholls (1897-1969) and his wife Lillian Williams.

[Thanks are due to Mike Gunnill who asked the question about Nicholls and to Steven Halliwell and John Aplin for their information.]

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

552. The Wise and Foolish Virgins by Charles Shannon

A question about the couple who managed the household of Ricketts and Shannon led to a search for a study of Shannon's painting The Wise and Foolish Virgins. The painting, now in the Walker Art Gallery (Liverpool), is dated by Shannon: '1919-1920'. A large format oil painting, it measures 110.8 x 177.8 cm.

Charles Shannon, The Wise and Foolish Virgins (1919-1920)
Walker Art Gallery
(National Museums Liverpool)

The painting was donated by Joseph Bibby in 1934. 

A preliminary study for the painting is in the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry. This version of the oil painting is slightly smaller, measuring 58.4 x 95 cm.

Charles Shannon, The Wise and Foolish Virgins (1920?)
Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

This donation from Mr and Mrs A.E. Nicholls was added to the collection in 1962. Intriguingly, the donors bear the same surname as the servants of Ricketts and Shannon. These were Percy Nicholls and his (according to one source) Russian wife, who ran the household from January 1924 - they stayed until after Shannon's death. In January 1929, Nicholls was injured while hanging a painting, but not as seriously as Shannon who remained disabled for the rest of his life. For their good care, the Nicholls received paid vacations twice, one to Margate and one to Bognor and on the latter occasion 'Nicholls's cousin' came to help in the house.

Shannon needed constant nursing care and Ricketts himself was having a bad effect on his condition: 'Nicholls seems to have the best influence over him & I the worst' (letter to Mary Davis, 1930).

After Ricketts's death, friends arranged for Shannon to move to Kew (21 Kew Gardens Road), and the Nicholls also cared for him there until his death in March 1937. After Shannon's death, they continued to care for the house. It was bought by Sydney Cockerell who was eager for them to stay, probably to take care of his invalid wife, but they did not. They stayed until Cockerell moved into the house in August 1937 and still helped unpack and furnish.

On 30 May 1937, Thomas Sturge Moore wrote to Gordon Bottomley (see Gordon Bottomley-Thomas Sturge Moore correspondence, edited by John Aplin, published online by InteLex Past Masters):

Cockerell has bought the house and wanted to take over the good Nicholls too, but Mrs Nicholls put her foot down and said they must have a change. But after having a post at the Nat Gallery waved before him by Lowinsky and one at the Law Courts by Gilchrist he may be reduced to washing buses.

It is entirely possible that the generous Ricketts gave the preliminary study of the painting to Nicholls, but what the relationship between Percy and A.E. Nicholls is I do not know.

(About Joseph Bibby a next time.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

551. A Daphnis and Chloe Provenance (3)

The final episode on the provenance of the copy of Daphnis and Chloe in the collection of Arizona State University Library deals with the older bookplate of Charles Plumtre Johnson that was pasted into the book first, and later partly covered by Sperisen's ex libris (see blog 550) and Ricketts's postcard to Walker (see blog 549).

Arthur Robertson, Bookplate for Charles Plumptre Johnson (1889)

It is a rather nineteenth-century image, dated 1889, in which various neo-styles evoke the atmosphere of a cosy spacious reading room with fireplace, an oil lamp attached to a lectern with the ex libris inscription, a seated woman, a standing child, and a relaxed girl, all handling rather large-format books. To the left and right, books stand and lie, displayed, stacked or set aside. 

The ex libris, signed with the initials 'AR', was drawn by the  artist Arthur Robertson (1850-1911). [Brian North Lee wrote an engaging article about him for The Bookplate Magazine of March 1992.]

Fortunately, the name of the book's original owner has been given the less common middle name of Plumptre. Charles Plumptre Johnson can be identified quite easily as the son of Sir George Johnson (1818-1896), Physician-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria.

Charles Plumptre Johnson (1853-1938) was a yachtsman - for his yachting career see Maritime Views. However, he was also a bibliophile, a bibliographer of note, and an author of several books on collecting first editions of Dickens and Thackeray. Educated at Marlborough and matriculated at the London University in 1872, he was admitted a solicitor in 1876. At the end of his professional career, he was a director of the Law Fire Insurance Society.

Charles Plumptre Johnson by Bassano Ltd,
whole-plate glass negative, 20 April 1921
[National Portrait Gallery: NPG x120938]
(Creative Commons License)

He was a member of the Sette of Odd Volumes as early as 1891 and inscribed copies of this bibliophile society's publications are now in the Norman Colbeck Collection. He collected modern literary works, water-colours and prints of boats, and he donated his collection of Gilbert and Sullivan, including manuscripts, to the British Museum. Given in 1935, the collection was exhibited in the King's Library in 1936.

Initially, he lived in London at 14, Cavendish-Place, but he relocated to Sevenoaks in Kent in 1911 after acquiring the Park Grange Estate where he lived until his death in 1938. He bequeathed the house and estate to the Sevenoaks School of which he had been a stern supporter for years. His fortune amounted to £340.000 of which large sums went to hospitals, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, and the school.

On Monday 1 June 1942, Sotheby's organized the auction of his book collection: 'Printed Books, comprising sets of First Editions in fine Bindings of Charles Dickens, W.M. Thackeray, A. Trollope and many other famous English Authors, of the late Charles Plumptre Johnson ESO’ (Times, 19 May 1942). Newspaper reports also mentioned works by Walter Scott, Tobias Smollett, R.L. Stevenson, Thomas Hardy and J.M. Barrie: 'Some of them are accompanied by autograph letters of the novelists, as in the case of Barrie, who discloses that "in a vague sort of way Jamieson, who edited the Scottish Dictionary was the original Little Minister". There are 32 first editions in the Stevenson set, 74 volumes of Scott, 131 of Thackeray, 136 of Dickens (including 54 of Dickensiana), 51 of Hardy, and 32 of Smollett. A first edition of Sherlock Holmes, inscribed and signed by Conan Doyle is another rarity in the saleroom. It was published in 1894.' (The Scotsman, 19 May 1942).

But there must have been an earlier auction of his library. Bookseller and collector Norman Colbeck (1903-1988) remembered this in 1968:

[...] on his death I attended the sale (held by Maples) in his residence, Park Grange, Sevenoaks – a lovely manor house looking down on Knole Park. The occasion was indeed the most unforgettable event in my life as far as book sales are concerned: and though I do not suppose anybody present was more sensitive than I to condition in books of the eighteen-nineties, I am sure there are several collectors still living who recall those days as vividly as I do.
(A Bookman’s Catalogue. The Norman Colbeck Collection of Nineteenth-Century and Edwardian Poetry and Belles Lettres in the Special Collections of The University of British Columbia. Compiled with a Preface by Norman Colbeck. Edited by Tirthankar Bose, with an Introduction by William E. Fredeman. Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press, 1987, p. xxi.)

Unfortunately, I have not seen a catalogue of these auctions, but I assume that Daphnis and Chloe, an edition from the 1890s, was auctioned at the first auction in the house of the collector Charles Plumptre Johnson.