Wednesday, September 28, 2022

582. An Early Portrait of Charles Ricketts by Charles Shannon? (Continued)

Following the blog about an early portrait of Charles Ricketts by Charles Shannon - see blog 578. An Early Portrait of Charles Ricketts by Charles Shannon? - Anna Gruetzner Robins wrote to me that she also does not think that portrait could have been painted at Kennington Road, and that Brompton is more plausible: 'I feel fairly certain that it was painted at 12 A Edith Grove', mainly because ,'the surround looks Victorian.' 

12, Edith Grove, Brompton (in later years)

Other issues I touched on in the blog can also be complemented, albeit with little conclusive evidence. 

The catalogue Semi-Detached. Pictures of People and Places, the 1984 exhibition, indeed lists the painting, as number 38: 'Portrait of Charles Ricketts pre-1900 | oil on canvas 41.4 x 48.9 | private collection'. The label mentioned as owners 'Vint Hill and Killock of Bradford, but in the list of lenders their name is anonymised as 'a private collection'. According to the catalogue, this was the only painting from a private collection; otherwise, one work was made available by an artist and all other works came from museum collections.

About collector B.W.T. Vint (1882-1959), Anna Gruetzner Robins wrote that he was a 'big collector who left part of his collection to Bradford Art Gallery, the rest went to his son who kept it in a store near Heathrow airport so I expect that is where the picture came from.

Anna additionally discovered that the painting was not only owned by Gleeson White in the years up to his death in 1898, but that Shannon subsequently owned it. Indeed, it came back on the market after his own death in 1937. This is evident from some sheets in a catalogue published after his death, probably from Sotheby's (unfortunately unidentified). 

Catalogue (1937 or later) containing a description of 
'Interior of a room, with a man seated at a table'

I think Shannon possibly bought it back after Gleeson White's death in an attempt to help the widow who was left penniless. It was listed as number 113: 'Interior of a Room with a man seated at a Table'. The catalogue gives no title, only a description and leaves open who the person portrayed is. However, the provenance Gleeson White is given here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

581. A Sketch by Charles Shannon (continued)

After the publication of last week's blog, 'A Sketch by Charles Shannon', the new owner of Shannon's drawing contacted me. Thanks for that, Michael Seeney, and congratulations.

He provided additional information about the condition of the drawing and sent an image of the back of the frame with the gallery's label that unfortunately gives little information: no year or catalogue number, or previous owner, but only the name and years of the maker and the address of the gallery.

Charles Shannon, sketch of a woman brushing her hair (undated)
[Collection Michael Seeney]

The Ruskin Gallery Ltd. was located in 11 Chapel Street, Stratford-on-Avon [for an image of the building see British Listed Buildings], and definitely still active in the 1960s.

Seeney's account of the condition is as follows:

"I took the picture out of the frame and the sheet is unfortunately laid down on backing board; there is no signature but the right hand long edge of the sheet is perforated, I assume from being detached from a sketch book. The paper is very thin, but without being able to lift it from the backing means I can give no more information."

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

580. A Sketch by Charles Shannon

Last Monday, in the Gorringe's Weekly Antiques Sale, a not very large and apparently unsigned or dated sketch by Charles Shannon was sold. 

Charles Shannon, sketch of a woman brushing her hair (undated)

The image, rather vague, shows a woman combing her hair. It is a pencil sketch on buff paper, 24 x 17 cm. The attribution to Shannon was supported by the Ruskin Gallery label on the reverse.

It is a theme that Shannon used frequently, for example in two lithographs from 1896 ('The Hand-Mirror') and 1897 ('The Dressing-Room').

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

579. Black and White Stall in 1892

For the first issues of the weekly Black and White a masthead (or nameplate in American English) was designed by Charles Ricketts in 1891. Due to the complexity of the drawing, in which the title almost seemed to be hidden, it was only used for a short time. 

Charles Ricketts, masthead for Black and White, 1891

Of course, the title had to be immediately legible and recognisable, even from a distance, in order to speed up the sale of individual issues. There were probably complaints about Ricketts's masthead, and a more straightforward (anonymous) drawing was made. [Read about this masthead and its replacement in blog 45: Lux, Ars, Spes, and Night.] 

Black and White was an expensive production and of course had to sell well, targeting an international audience, or at least British citizens visiting other countries. It was on sale at Neal's English Library in Paris, at Saarbach's American Exchange in Mainz, and could be bought in the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. 

However, it is quite possible that Ricketts had already drawn other advertising material for the weekly magazine before his masthead was rejected for prolonged use. The issue of 23 April 1892 includes an image of a sales booth at Venice, London, Olympia, that seems to confirm this.

'Black and White' stall at Venice in London, Olympia
Black and White, 23 April 1892, p. 543

'Venice in London' was a spectacular indoor aquatic show at Olympia opened on 26 December 1891, and attracting huge crowds for more than three years. 

Venice in London, souvenir programme 1891-1892
[Collection V&A, London]

There were canals and buildings that represented the Rialto Bridge, shops, glass-blowing manufactories, Venetian pleasure gardens, thirty specially made (shorter) gondolas, serenades, concerts, and a 'Grand Aquatic Carnival Ballet' with a thousand dancers. A 'Majestic Aquatic Pageant' was presented four times a day. [Read V&A curator Cathy Haill's blog about the event.]

The organisers needed £60,000 for this spectacle and advertising revenue was more than welcome. This was the ideal place to attract more customers for any product, and Black and White magazine must have paid a nice sum of money to set up a sales stall there.

'Black and White' stall at Venice in London, Olympia (detail)
Black and White, 23 April 1892, p. 543

A detail of the image of this stall shows a saleswoman with some bound volumes of the weekly magazine. The publisher sold cloth covers for bound sets (Volume I and II, at the time) for which a frontispiece, title page and index were supplied free of charge. On the left, a prospective buyer is leafing through a bound volume. But what I am interested in now is the front of the stall with a shield that contains text: '4 Weekly ILLUSTRATED RECORD & REVIEW'. 

The lettering with the long tail of the 'R' for record and a similar but different tail of the 'R' for review, but especially the idiosyncratic shape of the letter 'C' after which the letter o is drawn as an afterthought, as well as the slightly to the left tilted ampersand look very much like Ricketts lettering in those years.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

578. An Early Portrait of Charles Ricketts by Charles Shannon?

A year ago, an enigmatic painting was auctioned at Christie's. At the time, I missed its advertisement as the 'property of a gentleman'. The painting was sold on 15 July 2021 as lot 139 in live auction 20111, 'British and European Art'. Described as a painting by Charles Hazelwood Shannon, it was said to be a 'Portrait of Charles Ricketts, painted at Kennington Road, Lambeth'.

Charles Shannon, 'Portrait of Charles Ricketts,
painted at Kennington Road, Lambeth', before 1900

The title in the catalogue was dictated by an inscription (in capitals) on the back of the frame: 'Portrait of Charles Ricketts RA Painted at Lambeth By Charles Shannon RA Before 1900'. The figure portrayed, given the red hair, could indeed be Ricketts, whose beard, incidentally, is hidden behind his hand. But the inscription is not an early one. Behind both names is the abbreviation RA, because of their election to the Royal Academy, which for Ricketts only occurred in 1928, three years before his death. The date 'before 1900' is probably based on the provenance: apparently this painting belonged to J.W. Gleeson White, a close friend of Ricketts and Shannon who died quite young in 1898.

A similar early painting by Shannon - a breakfast scene, a figure with half-hidden face, a painting that looks sketchy, swiftly painted, summery and light - is not known to me.

The reverse side of the painting tells many other stories, that is, fragments of stories, by means of labels. (For an image, see Christie's website.)

The most worn label is that of the frame maker: Müller & Co, based at 62 High Holborn with branches elsewhere. Above the address, the words 'Forty Years' seem to be decipherable, and as the firm was founded in 1847 this would indicate a year after 1887. That year Ricketts and Shannon moved from Kennington Park Road to Edith Terrace, Brompton.

A second label dates from later times and has been pasted over another label that states the name of the then owner: Wyndham T. Vint: 'This Picture is the Property of Wyndham T. Vint Commercial Bank Building'. The label, partly pasted over it, shows a number and an address, is further torn and scuffed, but the address is clearly that of another frame maker and fine art packers: James Bourlet & Sons at 17 & 18 Nassau Street, London. Bourlot may have packed the painting for transport to an exhibition.

There are also two labels that have been applied for exhibitions. The first dates from 1954 when the Bradford Art Gallery held a Jubilee Exhibition to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Cartwright Memorial Hall. 

The second exhibition was called 'Semi-Detached. Pictures of Peoples and Places', and was held from 7 April to 13 May 1984 in the Southampton City Art Gallery. This label states that the owner is a firm of solicitors: Vint Hill and Killock of Bradford - originally: Charles John Vint (died 1944), Frank Herbert Hill, Henry Killick (left the partnership in 1924) & Wyndham Theodore Vint (the name Vint, Hill & Killick continued to be used after 1924). 

Benjamin Wyndham Theodore Vint's collection of paintings led to exhibitions at Airdrie Public Library (1936), Whitechapel Art Gallery (1939), the Aberdeen Art Gallery (1944) and Dundee Public Libraries (1944). In 1956 works from his collection were exhibited at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull. Vint lived at Thorn Cottage Farm, Wroot, near Doncaster, and he collected works by Maurice de Vlaminck, Augustus John, William Orpen and others. He was born in 1882 and died in 1959. (Vint had other interests; he won many a prize with his pigs.)

Another label seems to be related to an auction and states something quite different from the first inscription: 'Charles Hazelwood Shannon Self Portrait', with the numbers '349' and 'WTV221'. Let us assume that this - the assumption that it is a self-portrait - is a mistake.

In summary: previous owners were Gleeson White and Vint - but who is the owner now?

What do we actually see in the painting? Ricketts or Shannon? Kennington Park Road or Edith Terrace? 

Are there any other clues - perhaps in the catalogues mentioned, to which I do not have access here in The Hague?

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

577. A Summer Anthology (6): Sun Burnt a Bright Pink

In February and March 1905, Ricketts and Shannon enjoyed vacations in Rome and Florence, and in August of that year they kept it closer to home. They bivouacked on the English coast for a prosaic reason: their house at Lansdowne Road was being painted. Their accommodation was The Albany Hotel, that curves around Robertson Terrace in Hastings. The hotel had opened in 1885 under the name Albany Mansions.

Albany Mansions, c.1890

Charles Ricketts to Michael Field, 1 August 1905

[British Library Add MS 58088, ff 152-4]

Dear Poet
We are here the house painters at the Palace having driven us away. On transplanting I of course shrieked like an uprooted mandrake, but I have become reconciled mainly owing to the good local grub. [...]
"Choose a friend as you would a book" – I have this on the tip of my pen as I spent quite a considerable time in spending 1 & 6d on a book this morning, at the local library, fixing finally on Emerson’s Essays, a purchase which I now rather regret. I had exhausted tedious spectacled Suetonius whom I had bought in a new translation. I quite understand St Augustine’s defence of him, this author whom I confused with the great Tacitus is a transparent journalist of the oh fie! oh my! type and now, would write for the Standard, which Shannon is now reading – the rest of his time is spent in pretending to read the great Bernhard, Bernhard Shaw that is, not the other, though both are moralists in disguise.

The two Bernards were Bernard Shaw and Bernard Berenson - and the added "h" in their names is due to Ricketts's imagination.

I am just now quite great at whitewashing the C[a]esars, only one seems to have been really bad & a monster & that is Calligula [sic] who reminds me of Michael. On my return I shall look up Tacitus.

Michael was Katherine Bradley, the older half of the writing duo Michael Field.

I have become sun burnt a bright pink, the pink of pink flannelette, Shannon is a deeper hue like a ham, or the Roast beef of old England. [...] 
I send you a sea greeting
The Painter
This place is a long stretch of seafronts some miles long, steady & continuous like the Earthly Paradise of W. Morris but not quite so monotonous.

The Albany Hotel, 1906

Thanks are due to John Aplin for providing the transcription of this letter.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

576. A Summer Anthology (5): Cold Beer

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

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

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

Charles Ricketts to Michael Field, 29 July 1904

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

575. A Summer Anthology (4): The Heat is Noble

Ricketts and Shannon visited Venice at least three times, beginning in 1899, then in 1903 and in 1908; on the latter occasion staying at the House of Desdemona on the Grand Canal owned by their friends Edmund and Mary Davis, and more commonly known as the Palazzo Contarini Fasan. 

Paolo Salviati, photo of Palazzo Contarini Fasan, c. 1891-1894[detail]
Boston Public Library: William Vaughn Tupper Scrapbook Collection]

It would not be their busiest holiday; there was plenty of idling and lazing around, as a letter to Michael Field indicates.

Charles Ricketts to Michael Field, 20-21 May 1908

[British Library Add MS 58089, ff 93-5]

Dear Poet

[...] We passed through a northern Italy empty of field flowers but agre[e]able with tall green corn and grapes of white Accassia [sic], this is splendid this year and saturates the Lido where we go to bask in steady after lunch boredom every day. The heat is noble and the air superb. I like the Palazzo immensely and we shall stay on here after the departure of our hosts, – that is if Shannon is still of the same mind. We shall lunch at the Guadri [sic] and dine among the trees at the Lido, which is a vulgar place.
We went for a wonderful night trip in the Gondola round a Ghostly island to St Giorgio, the sky was dominated by a perfectly flagrant Hesperus or Venus. I forget which but some unabashed star three times its normal size; the water like velvet became alive with diamond insects (some sea fire fly) while the air vibrated with the noise of countless grasshoppers, metal[l]ic & persistant [sic] like the sound of a bronze Sistrum echoing from some garden. At night the summer lightening [sic] threads a great wall of which hangs over the city for a while, then the place melts into wonderful deeps of rich gloom and varied lights, while the falling stars shoot out about the dome of the Salute which becomes at night a palace of frosted silver locked till an angel shall arrive. Our balcony faces the Salute and I spend a great part of the night there.
Our vast bedroom overlooks the charming well like garden, with a Syringa clambers [sic] against our window & a tree of the enclosed (this is new to me): remains a huge larch and a real well for the encouragement of mosquito[e]s. On the ceiling of our room a late pupil of Tiepolo has painted Fame driving Time away from a lady holding a book of poetry or accounts. It seems the upper flat is covered with Longhi-esque frescoes, the interior having been entirely rehandled in the 18th Century. Duse stayed here and her presence has succeeded in scaring away what remained of the ghost of Desdemona.
We are leading a bestial life. I have not once been inside St Marco & nearly fell asleep in the Accademia, which has been entirely rehandled since our time. Venice is crowded & rents enormous, which is not interesting.
The Painter
A tiny scorpion was found this morning and drowned in a tumbler of old Venetian glass.

Indeed, the actress Eleonora Duse stayed at the Palazzo, in 1893, long before Edmund Davis bought the property: "She thought that she had found the perfect refuge in Venice when she rented an apartment in the Palazzo di Desdemona adjacent to the Grand Hotel on the Grand Canal but it proved to be uninhabitable", and a friend offered her "an apartment on the top floor of his own residence, the Palazzo Barbaro, situated between San Vio and the Catecumini [...]. This was to be Duse's refuge for the next three years." She left this suite of rooms on the top floor" in July 1897. (Giovanni Pontiero, Eleonora Duse. In Life and Art, 1986, p. 107; William Weaver, Duse. A Biography, 1984, p. 108). 

Thanks are due to John Aplin for providing the text of this letter.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

574. A Summer Anthology (3): The Torrid Heat

On August 9, 1911, a heat record was set in the United Kingdom: a temperature of 36.7 degrees Celsius was recorded for the first time in history. The previous letter in this summer series (Purgatorial London) was set during the same heat wave, but focused on domestic scenes. In this letter, the world beyond is brought in.

Louis Béroud, 'Mona Lisa au Louvre' (1911)
[Wikimedia Commons]

The letter is addressed to Mary Davis, artist and wife of Edmund Davis who had commissioned the building of Lansdowne House for a number of artists including Ricketts and Shannon. It was from this flat that Ricketts wrote the letter to Davis, who was apparently traveling and thus provided with Ricketts's version of some news.

A lot had happened. 

On July 20, the newspapers reported that Herbert Trench had resigned as director at Haymarket Theatre. There were many strikes that year, including those of railroad staff, which brought transports to a standstill, caused shortages in stores, which caused prices to rise, and drove housekeepers to despair - like Ethel, the loyal servant of Ricketts & Shannon (who continued to work for them until 1923). On 18 August, the House of Lords was forced to pass a new Parliament Act to curb its power. On 21 August, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre; on 26 August, reports circulated that the director of the Louvre, Théophile Homolle would be fired, as, indeed, he was, two days later.

Charles Ricketts to Mary Davis, [Late August-Early September 1911]

[British Library Add MS 88957/8, f23]

Dear Mrs Davis
Every day I have intended writing to you, we were both charmed to hear that you have liked what you have seen and enjoyed your change for the open road and broader skies. We are stuffed up in London with our noses glued to our canvases, and the torrid heat you have read about in red hot articles in the newspapers drying up the paint as it should be dried. You have heard lurid accounts of the fall of the house of Lords, of strikes & revolutions and about Herbert Trench being sacked from the Haymarket. London underwent these convulsions with its habitual stodgy aspect. Ross turned pale in the Gallery of the House of Lords when the ballot began; the spectators were deeply moved, the lords behaved as usual, they passed into an historic past like policemen returning to the bosoms of their several families. The strikes affected Ethel, who wanted to lay in a hoard of potatoes – this was suggested by the imaginative greengrocer boy, it was brought home to us when our sacred Rossetti drawings became marooned in the Station at Manchester, but all this is ancient history now, it will seem much more interesting to historians. One single fact brought home the sense of siege and suspense, the flower shops became quite empty, like the florists at the seaside, and for three weeks the drawing room was without flowers.
I was insensible and unable to focus the loss of the Mona Lisa. Shannon rushed into my bedroom with a white face, just as I was washing my teeth, and produced no impression, I thought it a hoax like the rumour that the Rembrandt Mill was painted by Lord Lansdowne [the Marquess of Lansdowne once owned the painting]; even today I cant imagine Paris without it; it is an age since we stayed there, it seems almost a part of a past which is growing ever more distant. I am glad they have sacked the director. I feel a general mas[s]acre of all Museum officials might do good [...].
Yours sincerely
C Ricketts

Shannon had to go to some meeting at the R A, at the door he was asked his business and name.


            Your name Sir?


            O, I am Mr Shannon!


            Oh no Sir, you are not Mr Shannon

Within the Royal Academy the name Shannon had long been synonymous with that of the painter Sir James Jesuba Shannon (1862-1923) who had been invited to become an 'associate' in 1897 and had become a full member in 1909. Shannon had become an associate (ARA) in 1909, and had to wait until 1920 to add RA to his name.

Thanks are due to John Aplin for providing the text of this letter.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

573. A Summer Anthology (2): Purgatorial London

The summer of 1911 was hot. Edith Cooper and her aunt and lover Katharine Bradley - their nom de plume was Michael Field - had fled London and were staying in a cottage near Armitage near Hawkesyard Priory, before spending three weeks in Malvern. They enjoyed the attention not only of the prior, but also of the Dominican novices, especially Brother Bruno and Brother Bertrand. In their diary they noted the constant heat, while 'the cedars are loaded with aroma'. Brother Bertrand swam the lake to bring them 'a glorious armful of yellow waterlilies' (see 'The Diaries of Michael Field', August, 1911, at the online edition at Dartmouth College). In one of his letters, Ricketts responds to the company of young men surrounding Michael Field.

Charles Shannon, portrait of Edith Cooper, 1900-1910,
black and red chalk drawing, touched with white on brown paper
[Birmingham Museums: 1914P246]

Charles Ricketts to Michael Field, 14 August 1911

[British Library Add MS 58089, ff 172-3]

My Dear Poet
I wish for your sake the hot wind would cease, even I who am half Salamander have found London almost purgatorial. I hope among the hills it is cooler. I hope the visit of your new young friends was a success, and that the number was the same on their return. I suppose labels were fastened to their necks like the children in school treats to save counting. Shannon grew troublesome and rebel[l]ious the other day with a large desire for a tame Squirrel; the fault was partly mine, as I had been enraptured by a cage of them in the Brompton Road, and my description was the cause of his desire. He left me in the street purchased a squirrel and a lordly cage and became enamoured with a Mongoose. The squirrel (name Carrots) is now in the house, it is so tame, affectionate and so passionately attached to humanity that it has to be covered with a cloth to quiet the nerves. It is very young and greedy, with huge claws, it tests every thing with its mouth, which is its intellect[;] for the first day it found it difficult not to eat our fingers and ears, the face he recognizes as a personality, our bodies are mere landscape stuff, the human hand is merged in its conception of things with nuts, pieces of apple and eatables generally the fingers are viewed as stalks, not quite eatable after all. It accompanies its exercises in its treadmill and about our clothes with little suffering cries of pleasure and is removed with difficulty from our coats and trousers. When you return you must be introduced to Carrots who probably by then will be a married person and settle down in a larger cage. [...] The proposal is on foot to turn Shannon[']s balcony into a menagerie. [...]

Thanks are due to John Aplin for providing the text of this letter.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

572. A Summer Anthology (1): In Need of a Long Holiday

Heat waves and holiday traffic jams - it's time for an anthology of Charles Ricketts's letters with references to heat, summer and holidays. 

This first letter in the short series was written to artist Thomas Lowinsky (1892-1947), who had attended the Slade School of Art in London before the Great War, and at the time of this letter was serving in the Army of Occupation, stationed in Cologne, before being demobilised in April 1919. The date is uncertain, but the letter probably dates from January 1919. Here are some excerpts from this letter, including a fantasy of a tropical destination.

Eric Gill, portrait of Thomas Lowinsky,
'Thomas Esmond Lowinsky',
wood engraving, 1924
[National Portrait Gallery: NPG D5127]

Charles Ricketts to Thomas Lowinsky, January 1919[?]

[From a typed transcription, British Library, BL Add MS 61718, ff 208-11]

Since the Armistice letters seem to take longer [to arrive] and not to reach their destination [at all]. [...]

I don't know how Cologne stands in the new movement of quite excellent recent German architecture of a neo-classical type, or if any can be seen there; the description of what you have seen suggests the neo-Klinger work of sixteen or more years ago, before quite new elements had arrived – some of them post-impressionistic – which I don't dislike. German work is always over forcible, just as ours is too vague. Even the early masters, Holbein excepted, had this fault. With modern haste and bad taste this overforcefulness is distressing, it hurts the music of Richard Strauss, some of which I like immensely. Apropos of music, the more Russian music I hear more I like it, it is marvellous in its pace, response to sincere and varied emotion and original use of means without German overemphasis or the dryness of the new Frenchmen. I hope you go to concerts and operas; these before the war were first rate in Cologne. The theatre has a stupendous stage over 130 feet deep and a rising and sinking floor for rapid changes. But possibly military etiquette prevents your going – does it? [...]

Poor Philpot is ill. He had a sort of nervous breakdown, his eyes went wrong. He is now in Bath; like all of us he needs sun and a long holiday. I think we ought all to retire to a nice island like Haiti, where the women wear flowers in their hair and have no moral sense, and where we could wear no clothes or bright clothes, canary yellow trousers with pea green spots or else have sun flowers painted on larger portions of our person and coral beads where privacy is desired. I was once shown the photo of a Sicilian boy with a rose petal stuck up 
–  well, that might be chosen for very hot weather. Davis would of course have to wear thick bathing things covered with camouflage triangles, spots and stripes in the worst modern colouring. We are threatened with coloured clothes; imagine its effect on the city – emerald green spats and flesh coloured or apricot coloured waistcoats and magenta ties. Perhaps it would feel nice and you will see me yet in cobalt or dove colour.
C Ricketts

In August 1903, Ricketts visited Berlin and Dresden. Given his comments about the theatre in Cologne, he must also have visited that city on his way to Berlin or on his way back.
The painter Glyn Philpot (1884-1937) was also a protégé of Ricketts and Shannon.
Ricketts's reference to a photo of a Sicilian boy is remarkable: among homosexuals, nude photos by, for example, Wilhelm von Gloeden were circulating. Lowinsky, himself not a homosexual, probably knew about Ricketts's inclination.
Davis was the name of Sir Edmund Davis (1861-1939), a mining financier and art collector.
The colourful outfit Ricketts describes here is in stark contrast to how Max Beerbohm sketched his daily clothing style (see blog 571).
Thanks are due to John Aplin for providing the text of this letter.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

571. Two Portraits of Charles Ricketts by Max Beerbohm

In 1928 Robes of Thespis: Costume Designs by Modern Artists, a book on modern costumes for plays, revues, operas and ballet, was published. It included seven costume drawings by Charles Ricketts (only one of which was in colour) for 'The Merchant of Venice', 'King Lear', 'The Winter's Tale', and Yeats' 'King's Threshold'. Ricketts was no longer a 'modern artist' in 1928; the hefty book focused on a younger generation. More interesting than the commentary on his costumes is the illustrated introduction by Max Beerbohm.

Beerbohm had lived in Rapallo since 1910, but, he was briefly back in London in 1925. From a taxi, he saw Ricketts and Shannon walking in the street, apparently on their way to the opera:

[...] though I waved my hand wildly to them they did not see me. An any rate, Shannon did not. Ricketts may have, perhaps, and just ignored me. For I was not wearing a top-hat. And Ricketts was.

It was an opera hat - 'a thing that opens with a loud plop and closes with a quiet snap'. Beerbohm remembers the days in the 1890s when he himself always wore a top hat - and Ricketts and Shannon did not. And now that nobody wore top hats anymore, Ricketts did.

I wonder, does Ricketts wear that collapsible crown of his only when he dines out? Or does he, when he comes home, close it with a quiet snap and place it under his pillow, ready for the first thing in the morning? Some painters wear hats when they are working, to shade their eyes. Does Ricketts at his easel wear his gibus?

The answer is no. Rickets painted bare-headedly.

Beerbohm then turns to the use of colour in clothing and laments the fact that since 1830, men's fashion has turned into the tyranny of black and white. Only on stage did the colours shine, at least since 1900, when Gordon Craig and Ricketts designed costumes. Still, the stage designers themselves, walk around in black and white. Beerbohm made a drawing to show it: William Nicholson, Albert Rutherston, Edward Gordon Craig, R. Boyd Morrison and Charles Ricketts - only the last three are shown below. 

Max Beerbohm, 'Here are Five Friends of Mine'
(from Robes of Thespis, 1928)
© Copyright of the Estate of Max Beerbohm

Ricketts, with his reddish beard, stands on the right in a characteristic pose: gesticulating and talking. The others are silent. Beerbohm remarks on this portrait:

I have given Ricketts the small sombrero that I had always associated with him. When one does a drawing, what is one glimpse as against the vision of a lifetime?

Beerbohm understands young people's desire for colour and fantasy and believes that stage designers should set a good example.

I appeal to the designers of theatrical costumes. Doubtless they have hoped that the orgies of colour and fantasy with which they grace the theatres would have a marked effect on the streets, instead of merely making the streets' effect duller than ever by contrast. I suggest to these eminent friends of mine that they should design costumes not merely for actors and actresses, but also for citizens. [...] Let them go around setting the example. This is a splendid idea. I am too excited to write about it. I will do another drawing.

Max Beerbohm, 'Why Not Rather Thus?'
(from Robes of Thespis, 1928)
© Copyright of the Estate of Max Beerbohm

I just clothed them hurriedly in anything bright that occurred to me. Only once did I pause. I was about to give Ricketts an opera hat of many colours. But this would have been to carry fantasy too far; and I curbed my foolish pencil.

Ricketts now looks like a courtier from the Renaissance, his preferred period, with colourful rings on his fingers, a straight high feather on his cap, a green tunic and tights in blue and white. He also carries a sword.

It is fortunate that Ricketts did not carry a sword in real life.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

570. Shannon's Drawings for Hero and Leander

For the 1894 edition of Hero and Leander by Christopher Marlowe, completed by George Chapman, Charles Shannon produced one wood-engraving; Ricketts created another six. The preliminary studies are in the collection of the British Museum. 

Charles Shannon, 'Hermes Disdains the Amorous Destinies' (woodcut, proof)
British Library, London: 1938,0728.9
[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

Why Shannon limited himself to this one image is unclear. Of Ricketts's wood-engravings two have four figures and four show only two figures. Shannon's image depicts five figures. To the right: Hermes/Mercury. In the middle: the three Fates, or Moirae (called Destinies in the poem), who are charged with the destinies of living beings, all holding a string: Clotho (the spinner), Lachesis (the drawer of lots) and Atropos (the cutter of the life-thread). On the left is a male figure bearing Mercury's torch.

Shannon made extensive preliminary studies of which at least two have survived. One shows Hermes or Mercury - in the poem, the Greek and Roman names are used interchangeably, even on one page.

Charles Shannon, Sketch of Mercury/Hermes for Hero & Leander (red chalk drawing)
British Library, London: 1938,1008.31
[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

As in the wood-engraving, Mercury raises his hands above his head, wears a short tunic, and holds his caduceus, albeit more obliquely than in the final print. His hat is not included. His winged foot is only sketchily indicated. The tunic has an opening from neck to navel (in the wood-engraving it is a high closing garment.

Charles Shannon, Sketch of one of the Fates for Hero & Leander (red chalk drawing)
British Library, London: 1938,1008.30
[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

The other sketch depicts the middle figure facing Mercury with outstretched arms. The handwriting on both drawings is by Ricketts, who later in life arranged many drawings in albums.

Charles Shannon, 'Hermes Disdains the Amorous Destinies'
(original drawing)
[from the collection of Vincent Barlow]

After his preparatory sketches were finished, Shannon could make his final drawing for the wood block. This drawing is in Vincent Barlow's collection and has previously been featured in his guest blog about a portfolio of photographs of Shannon's paintings (blog No. 89).

Ricketts then, most probably, prepared this drawing for the wood-engraving. This is a full-size drawing on tracing paper, so that it could be transferred to the wood block by tracing, in mirror image. It is a pen and ink drawing, with white bodycolour.

Charles Ricketts or Charles Shannon, Preparatory drawing for 'Hermes Disdains the Amorous Destinies'
British Library, London: 1946,0209.89
[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

The wood blocks for Hero and Leander are part of the collection of the British museum, but are not yet available digitally.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

569. Ricketts's Review of the Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450-1900

From 4 January to 9 March 1929, the 'Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450-1900' was on view at Burlington House, home to the Royal Academy of Arts. Only recently I found out that Ricketts published a review of the exhibition  the article is missing in my 2015 list A Bibliography of Charles Ricketts. It was an extensive exhibition. The catalogue lists 921 numbered objects (the last of which consists of 43 separate items).

Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450-1900 (1929: second edition)

The review appeared in The Observer of 13 January 1929, less than ten days after the opening. I found it through a remarkable re-print in La Gazette de Hollande, 1 February 1929. This Dutch newspaper, since its foundation by O. van Beresteyn in 1911, published news about the Netherlands. The paper was published for an international audience in French, but, after 1913, also contained an 'English Section'. Here follows the text as it was printed in The Observer. (The illustrations are added by me.)

The Dutch Pictures at Burlington House. An Artist's Impressions.

The Editor has asked me to give my impressions of an artist before the miracles of his craft to be seen at the Exhibition of Dutch art at the Academy. In so doing the editor is a sentimentalist, since, a little more than a year ago, when in America, I was assured by one of our dealer Maecenases that "you painters never know anything about old pictures." I will not discuss the sources of Dutch painting, and will accept the common view that is arrives and dies within the seventeenth century. In the space of some seventy-six years the artists of Holland created one of the most homogeneous averages known to painting, gave an image of their time which no other school has equalled, and achieved a technical excellence which, of its kind, has never been surpassed. In achieving this they observe great limitations in aim and in effort. They are painters of one race, almost of one family, and, with the exception of Rembrandt, they have remained unconcerned with anything more than the rendering of things seen. There are Dutch pictures where the illusion is of reality itself, focussed and harmonised as if in the surface of a mirror; this is the case with Ter Borch and Vermeer. Outside the paintings of Rembrandt Dutch art is untouched by passion, imagination, and religious thought. This tranquil and accomplished school blossomed after a tragic struggle for religious and racial freedom, and one wonders if that struggle had not exhausted those deeper passions which find expression in the art and literature of a nation. Of these there is no trace till we come to the gigantic effort of Rembrandt, who is unique in his time and country, and, for that matter, in the world of Art itself.


If I have stressed  the temperate and placid outlook of most of these artists, allowing for a little more in the finer landscapes of Ruysdael and perhaps Van Goyen, the technical science of these men remains amazing in its directness and precision. The pigment in Ter Borch's pictures has the fused texture and luminosity of a pearl; he dips his brushes, not in varnish or paint, but in some living substance, nacre, or the air itself. With Vermeer the very light has become an integral part of his pigment, and for directness and economy of means Frans Hals is foremost in the history of painting. A few earth colours, the direct handling of a scene-painter, and, behold, a vivid masterpiece of characterisation: a living face rises before us, stamped with its age, temper, cast and habit in life. My one complaint against the management of this well-hung exhibition is that his many canvases have not been grouped into a single room to show his development from a literal and explicit rendering of fact, which characterises his early manner, to such masterpieces of expression and representation as No. 356.[1]
To the average lover of pictures Frans Hals remains the painter of the "Laughing Cavalier" and of the nobler portrait groups at Haarlem, with a dim impression that in his old age the artists attempted something different. It is when Hals refrains from swaggering that he becomes a great master; it is when the cold clarity of his colour turns to grey and his perfect draughtsmanship takes on a more emotional aspect that he touches us most. No. 356 fulfils these conditions﹣we have here more than mere forceful representation; this has become tempered by gravity in mood and a more sensitive vision of life.
Rembrandt fills the big room No. 3. Let us look carefully, and a little wistfully. Most of these masterpieces are here for the last time. They will never be seen together again, save, perhaps, in America, which already holds more than one-third of the master's noblest canvases. What elements in his temper and practice link Rembrandt to the art of his country? Hardly anything, save in his earliest works, where he is influenced by Hercules Seghers and Honthorst in his slightly theatrical rendering of things half imagined, half seen. It is in the rapidly increasing torrent of his practice and, later still, under the stress of sorrow and debt, or yet later, when oppressed by the sordid difficulties of a tragic life, that his art stretched out into the realms of spiritual adventure, that he gains an inward and expressive force which has never been surpassed.
The "Oriental" (No. 169), the "Toilet" (No. 130), the "Man with a Hawk" (No. 98), and the "Lady with a Fan" (No. 99) show the brilliant climax of his early manner.[2] 

Rembrandt van Rijn and (mainly) workshop,
'Portrait of a Woman with a Fan', 1643

In these pictures he has already accomplished enough to secure him the premier place among the painters of his nation: romance, the gift of fascination are here present, but the fused golds and ambers of his pigments will melt later into some rarer substance, the craftsmanship become touched with magic and mystery, the sense of form become simpler and nobler, and we have seen such works as No. 124, No. 128, No. 111, and, better still, such masterpieces of narrative painting as the "Adoration of the Magi" (No. 91).[3] It is as a subject painter that Rembrandt remains unapproachable, and in his etchings and countless drawings his gift for narrative finds a directness and variety which more than rivals his painting.

Lent by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon

What Ricketts did not disclose was that two of Rembrandt's drawings in the exhibition came from the collection of Ricketts and Shannon. They were displayed in the Large South Room. A drawing in pen, brown ink and brown wash, 'The Agony in the Garden', was acquired by the artists during the sale of the Lord Leighton collection (listed as no. 586). The second loan was 'Christ at Emmaus', also a drawing in pen, brown ink and wash (No. 589). [In 1929 the brown ink was labelled 'bistre'.]

Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450-1900 (1929: second edition),
p. 228, No. 589: 'Christ as Emmaus'

These two drawings, and one other from their collection, were bequeathed by Ricketts and Shannon to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

No. 356: Frans Hals, 'Portrait of a Lady'. Lent by M. van Gelder. C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. London, 1910, Volume III, p. 113, No. 394.
Rembrandt van Rijn, No. 169:  'An Oriental with a White Turban'. Lent by the Duke of Devonshire. Now called: 'A Man in Oriental Costume', see online at Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth; No. 130, 'The Toilet'. Lent by Sir Edmund Davis. Stolen from Chilham Castle in 1938, and subsequently destroyed; No. 98: 'The Man with a Hawk'. Lent by the Duke of Westminster. Now in the private collection of the Duke of Westminster; No. 99: 'The Lady with a Fan'. Lent by the Duke of Westminster. Now in the private collection of the Duke of Westminster.
Rembrandt van Rijn, No. 124 'Presumed Portrait of Aert de Gelder'. Lent by Otto Gutekunst. Now in the collection of Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis (Missouri) [see website RKD]; No. 128, 'Portrait of Catharina Hooghsaet (1607-after 1657). Lent by Lord Penrhyn. Now in a private collection, see Wikipedia for an image]; No. 91: 'The Adoration of the Magi'. Lent by H.M. the King. From Buckingham Palace. Now dismissed as a work by Rembrandt [see Royal Collection Trust]

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

568. André Gide's Copy of An Ideal Husband

When Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband was published, deluxe copies were sent at the author's request to a small group of friends, including Robert Ross, Alfred Lord Douglas, Reginald Turner, and Charles Shannon. The latter had designed the binding.

Ordinary copies were sent to twenty acquaintances, including quite a few French friends such as Félix Fénéon, Ernest La Jeunesse, and André Gide.

Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband (1899):
autograph dedication to André Gide

Many of these will have been signed with a dedication by Wilde. The dedication in Gide's copy reads:

my friend 
André Gide : 
of friendship : 

A date or place name is missing.

The copy is part of the currently auctioned collection of Pierre Bergé, it is lot 1634 in
The Pierre Bergé Library, Part 6 (Paris, Pierre Bergé & Associés, 6 July 2022). The estimate is  €6,000 - €8,000.

Wilde was important to Gide: he changed his life. Gide was 22 when they met in 1891. In 1895 they met again in Algeria and Wilde introduced him to homosexuality, or as the auction catalogue discretely says: 'thanks to Wilde, who played the role of matchmaker, Gide was able to become what he was'.