Wednesday, January 25, 2023
Wednesday, January 18, 2023
One day in March 1900, Charles Ricketts went to Kew and saw the penguins. The writers 'Michael Field', recalled in their diary notes for 19 March 1900, his impersonation of the bird (Michael Field journal 1900, British Library BL Add MS 46789, 38v-39r):
|A penguin seen at Kew Gardens|
(Evening News, 29 June 1899)
He has been to Kew & carries about with him always his passion for the penguin – he must find a place for it in his art. He becomes the penguin – he flaps, he coughs ironically, he fixes a golden eye on his mate & says 'Let us go hence' – wobbling along & superciliously shaking his flappers above the common ducks.
The Penguin! – he is supreme in the quality that attracts Ricketts to all birds – their ridiculousness, their light comedy. The Penguin! – what are the peacocks – trailing over the ivy, their necks like serpents & their bodies like mountains – what are they to the Penguin? He has fur like a seal & a golden eye & he is absurd.
Penguins at Kew Gardens? Indeed. A man who had formerly worked at the gardens, accepted the post of gardener to the governor of the Falkland Islands, returned to London in 1899, and presented a couple of penguins to the curator of Kew Gardens.
|A penguin seen at Kew Gardens|
(Evening News, 29 June 1899)
There is a fat big one who is called Peter, and a smaller, less dignified bird who possesses as yet no name. (Evening News, 29 June 1899)
They were kept in an enclosure near Palm House, and let out in the pond each afternoon at two o'clock to the enjoyment of 'nursemaids and children', and people like Ricketts. At three o'clock they were fed on fish.
However, it appeared there must have been three penguins, two of which died in September 1899 (Globe, 21 September 1899).
Wednesday, January 11, 2023
A new research source on Oscar Wilde came online in April last year: 'Oscar Wilde. An Annotated Bibliography of Manuscripts and Their Provenances' [see: wilde.manuscripts]. The website is the work of Wolfgang Maier-Sigrist, a German Oscar Wilde aficionado, who writes:The present platform is an attempt to provide a table of manuscripts, typescripts and provenances of major works of Oscar Wilde from as many reliable sources as possible. Because of the great number of extant manuscripts (and the many manuscripts that cannot be located), I am obliged to restrict this table for the present to specific works by Wilde.
The site contains information about Wilde's plays, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, his long poem The Sphinx, and his essay The Soul of Man under Socialism.
All of these works and their manuscripts are listed with their histories and provenances in full detail. They are augmented with dealers’ catalogue entries and other informative notes on each item.
|Search result for 'Ricketts' on Wolfgang Maier-Sigrist's Oscar Wilde site|
The site includes lists of auction houses and catalogues. It also lists dealers, managers, publishers, collectors and others involved in Wilde's work. The names of his designers (Beardsley, Ricketts and Shannon) are missing from this Index of Names. Nevertheless, they do feature which is easy to discover by using the excellent search function.
Wednesday, January 4, 2023
In some European countries, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, Ricketts and Shannon's early publications were noted, and sometimes more positively received, than in Britain. This is less so in Mediterranean countries, such as Spain and Italy, where occasional attention was nevertheless paid to these artists.
|Emporium, August 1895: cover|
In 1897, Andrea Mellerio devoted an article to the new book arts in the UK for Emporium magazine, ‘Il rinnovamento della stampa’ (Emporium, March 1897, pp. -336), illustrating the title page of the first Vale Press edition, Milton's Early Poems.
Earlier, in August 1895, Emporium contained an essay by the Italian art historian Giulio Carotti (1852-1922), 'Della decorazione moderne in Inghilterra' (Emporium, August 1895, pp. -129), illustrating works by Edward Burne-Jones (1), Walter Crane (10), William Morris (4), H.B. Scott (4), Aubrey Beardsley (1), R. Anning Bell (2), Oliver Brackett (1), and Charles Ricketts (1).
|Cover for The Dial, No. 3 (1893)|
in Emporium, August 1895
The cover of The Dial No. 3 (1893), designed by Ricketts, was shown. Its style and symbolism was not (like, Walter Cane's art) associated with the Florentine Renaissance, but with that in Germany:
Tal altra volta ci danno reminiscenze dell'antica arte tedesca, come nella copertina del "Dial" splendida revista che pubblicasi ad intervalli irregolari dal Ricketts e dal Shannon, due dei migliori e più stimati illustratori contemporanei, oppure inspirata alla vecchia arte dei miniatori inglesi del medio evo. Di questo stile abbiamo un saggio nel titolo o frontispizio dei componimenti poetici di Dante Gabriele Rossetti dipinto dal Morris. (At other times they give us reminiscences of ancient German art, as in the cover of the splendid 'Dial' magazine published at irregular intervals by Ricketts and Shannon, two of the best and most esteemed contemporary illustrators, and sometimes inspired by the old art of the English illuminators of the Middle Ages.)
It was just one illustration and it did not bring about a breakthrough in Italy: the influence of Ricketts and Shannon would not extend to modern Italian book art.
Wednesday, December 28, 2022
It may seem at times that Ricketts and Shannon did nothing but work seriously and hard in their studio, or build exhibitions, participate in art committees and devote themselves to art matters in general. But there was relaxation too: Ricketts loved concerts, Shannon who was not musically inclined preferred to stick to bike rides. Sometimes we catch glimpses of Ricketts and Shannon playing and only rarely of a joint game.
But around 1900 - we read in the diaries of Michael Field [Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper] - they were playing dominoes. The first time, the game takes place in one of the rooms in the Fields' house, as Bradley records:
And after tea in the grot, we fall cosily to dominoes, with white port to console the losers. Shannon is looking exquisite. His lids have the swell of full-orbed buds that must let loose their flowers next day. His gay, resolute face shines clear. His fellow is of a white flecked with wind & agitated. I watch & enjoy through the excitement of the game. I am wearing a little rose-chintz blouse. I am warm as its tints with pleasure.
[Michael Field journal 1900, BL Add MS 46789, 177r, 22 December 1900.]
Group of 21 dominoes made of wood, with painted spots, from Burma [now Myanmar] (19th-20th C.)
© The Trustees of the British Museum [British Library, London]
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license
The second game takes place at Ricketts and Shannon's house, when the Fields (and Chow, their dog) seek safe shelter there because of a fire on their street. Edith Cooper wrote the report:
Michael fronts the Painter at the Door. “We are come for shelter – there is a gt. fire in our road; we have come away from it & ask you to let us stay by your fire & to guard our most precious possessions.” Most cordially, we are taken in to the drawing-room. Two chairs & a little table covered with the design of a finished game of dominos stand in the hearth. Above upon the mantel-shelf two oranges each absorbing a lump of sugar are ready – On a satinwood Table-top a little sugar-basin between the players gives the only note of luxury. The fire is bright; & we have come upon the artists like thieves in the night from our own game at cards to find them as simply occupied & putting our daintiness to shame.
With fear of their bulk we drop our wraps. At once sloe-gin & hot cognac are offered, the boxes & books placed in safety, the Chow regaled with all the milk that can be spared from the cats’ breakfast. Seriously, allayingly, they listen – Shannon suddenly composed, Ricketts a little anxious, Martha-like at moments, but unfailingly perfect in his care & entertainment. [….] Shannon goes back with Michael – I am left, still in the midst of furs, with Ricketts, who is specially delighted to see us, like Sarah Bernhardt, covered with rings. “And the Pendant?” he questioned Michael before she left. She gave ocular proof of its preciousness by taking it off & leaving it in a safe drawer.
[Michael Field journal 1901, BL Add MS 46790, 9v-10v: 7 January 1901.]
Wednesday, December 21, 2022
At the beginning of the 20th century, significant works of art came onto the market, partly as a result of taxes that forced new generations to dispose of paintings. These works could not be acquired by public collections as prices were pushed up by wealthy American private collectors, and oils by Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Reynolds moved across the Atlantic. The Morning Post (4 January 1912) interviewed two leading experts about their thoughts, 'Mr. Charles Ricketts' and 'Mr. D. Croal Thomson'. Thomson (1855-1930) had been the first director of the Goupil Gallery, and later worked as an art dealer for Agnew, before he became the proprietor of the French Gallery. We leave aside his judgment on the matter.
As for Ricketts, what did he think? Ricketts opposed overly strict regulation. He felt that revenue from high export taxes could provide a fund for purchases (even if there was already one: the National Art Collections Fund had been founded in 1903). Moreover, the British had to grant the Americans their share of masterpieces, and owners their right to sell a picture.
|Rembrandt, 'The Mill',|
acquired from the collection of the Marquess of Lansdowne
by P.A.B Widener (1911)
[National Gallery of Art, Washington]
Mr. Charles Ricketts (*)
Mr. Charles Ricketts, the well-known artist and writer, was in favour of some legislation having for its object the restriction of the exportation of works of art which it is really desirable to retain in this country. "At the same time, I do not think," he said, "that it would be desirable to adopt such a measure as the Editto Pacca, which brought about a position in Italy that was simply intolerable. Not only did it operate greatly to the detriment of the owners of pictures, since they were unable to sell them anywhere but in one country and that country a poor one, but it made it impossible for them to lend them to foreign galleries for purposes of exhibition.
Since then the Italian law has been modified, but even now it is not altogether satisfactory. If a person wishes to dispose of a work of art abroad he must give notice to the Government, which, if it thinks proper, can purchase it at a fair price after it has been valued by experts. The trouble is that the Italian Government, like most Governments, suffers from chronic impecuniosity, and therefore, it pays when it likes, which is a great injustice of course to the seller.
What I should propose is this: that our own Government should put a substantial export duty on all acknowledged masterpieces. The money thus obtained would form a valuable fund for the purchase of other art treasures on behalf of the nation. It may be said that it would be easy for owners to set a merely nominal value on their property. Such a ruse, however, could be easily defeated by enacting that the Government should have in every case the option of purchasing any work of art at the declared valuation. This would not have the disastrous consequences of the Pecca law, or of a similar law in Greece which has practically put a stop to excavation in that country. (**)
Really, it does seem to me that the desire to keep works of art in one's own country is apt to degenerate into what I may call a dog-in-the-manger spirit. After all if pictures had always remained in the country of their origin we should not have in our galleries and museums any specimens of the great painters of Italy, Holland, France, and other countries. One would think, to judge from some comments one hears, that what we have done in the past, and are still doing at the present day, Americans have no right to do. America is a living nation, and as such is entitled to its share in the living art of the past.
As a matter of fact the dispersal of works of art is not a bad thing from one point of view. I mean that it may result in their being saved from destruction by fire. It was touch and go with the Louvre in Paris in 1871, and who knows that all the treasures which are stored up there may not be destroyed in the next French Revolution?
As regards the Americans, what they have acquired is really insignificant as compared with what we have got. What the Government ought to see is that the number of old masterpieces can never be increased, but, on the contrary, is bound to diminish in the future. It is the story of the Sibylline books over again: every one that disappears enhances the value of those which remain.
As it is the annual grant given to the National Gallery for the purchase of works of art is not sufficient to purchase, I will not say a picture like Rembrandt's 'Mill,' but even a representative work of the English or French school. And remember that, as Keats said, a thing of beauty is a joy for ever. A masterpiece of painting is not like a man-of-war which is beginning to get out of date even while it is under construction. Yet while we spend millions and millions on men-of-war we can spare only a few paltry thousands for art. We shall discover our mistake when it is too late.
In a few years time there will be no more masterpieces to buy. The prices that are bid for them nowadays offer an almost irresistible attraction even to noble and wealthy owners. Our aristocracy are not like American millionaires, whose most engrossing occupation is giving 'monkey dinners'. The owners of British broad acres have duties and responsibilities to fulfil, and nowadays the demands upon them are becoming greater and greater every day. It is to be wondered at that they listen to the voice of the tempter who offers them a fortune for a single canvas? I fancy I can hear one of them say, 'After all I did not buy the picture, and it is not indispensable to my existence. People come in in muddy boots to see it, and they say: "It is very good," or "It is not genuine." That is what I get out of it.' There is a good deal in this point of view. Certainly no one thanks him for keeping it if he does do so.
In Germany, I believe, orders are conferred on very rich men who undertake to buy particular pictures for the nation. Our Government does practically nothing. Here it seems to be assumed that our hospitals and other great public institutions must necessarily be supported by charity. To my mind such a view is appalling - it is positively indecent. With regard to the management of the National Gallery under existing circumstances I disapprove of the Trustees and Committee principle altogether. In all matters of art I believe in an autocracy, tempered by the fear, not of assassination, but of dismissal. You should put a man in power and trust him implicitly until you find it expedient to get rid of him. Burton practically had autocratic power, and he made the National Gallery what it is. Similarly in Berlin Dr. Bode has had a perfectly free hand at the Kaiser Friedrich Museum with the happiest results."
(*) Division into paragraphs was made by me and did not appear in the newspaper columns.
(**) We may assume that Ricketts's opinion about illegal exportation of ancient art from Greece and Italy would be different today.
Wednesday, December 14, 2022
Robert Leighton was born in Lambeth (15 June 1884) and died in Ealing, Middlesex (24 July 1959). In 1918, he married Married Janet Wotherspoon.
|Binding ticket of Leighton Straker|
(posted by Edmund King on Pinterest)
The Catalogue of Leighton's Collection
Leighton possessed French and Italian Renaissance and English Restoration bindings, including bindings by or for Farnese, Wynkyn de Worde, Aldine, Elzevir and Baskerville, as well as continental embroidered bindings, examples of the work of Edwards of Halifax, and a presentation binding for Louis XVIII.
Leighton's collection of the first hundred Nonesuch books and some later ones was sold by Christie’s (Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts, 9 July 2022, lot 61).
|Catalogue of the Valuable and Extensive Library.|
The Property of the late Sir Robert Leighton
(Sotheby & Co., 1960)
[Collection KB, national library, The Hague]
Robert Leighton's Vale Press Collection
Wednesday, December 7, 2022
|Walter James Leighton|
(detail of a wood-engraving,
The Graphic, 26 May 1888)
There were a few distinct firms with the name Leighton active in the bookbinding business. For example, the Leighton firm that was responsible for bindings designed by Charles Ricketts for The Bodley Head of John Lane and Elkin Mathews was called Leighton, Son & Hodge.
Auctions of 'The Famous Stock'
|Walter James Leighton|
[from: Book-Auction Records,
ed. Frank Karslake (1918)]
|Catalogue of the Fourth Portion of the Famous Stock of the Late Mr. W. J. Leighton [...].|
London, Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, 1920, detail of page 536
Wednesday, November 30, 2022
This week's blog is written by John Aplin, who, with a little help from me, is editing Charles Ricketts's letters for publication. It is his fifth blog post for 'Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon'.
|Rare Book & Collectors Sale.|
Dublin, Fonsie Mealy's, 6-7 December 2022
The Irish Side of Charles Shannon
But what he may have regarded as the thinness of his Irish blood certainly did not inhibit him from showing his work in exhibitions with an Irish theme. He featured prominently, for example, in the June 1904 exhibition at the London Guildhall of 'pictures of artists of Irish nationality', which The Times heralded with an article which manages to pinpoint the ambiguous position of some of its contributors – perhaps not least that of Shannon himself.
The Guildhall exhibition certainly shows that a number of very clever artists of Irish birth or descent have existed in the past and exist to-day; the worst is that the world, which knows them very well, does not know them as Irishmen. They may have been born in Dublin or Limerick, or, as is the case with some of them, in London or New York; but if they have worked in London, exhibited constantly in London, and been elected into the Royal Academy we have somehow come to regard them as Englishmen.
Own portrait in Striped Shirt
'The Bunch of Grapes'
Two small Toilet pieces
Miss Pickford Waller
Circular portrait recently at New Gallery
'Mother & child'
'Toilet' at International
Souvenir of Van Dyck
Hugh Lane the man who is getting it up is tremendously enthusiastic & swears that he wants some that can't be sold so that they may not all remain in America (I'm not Irish enough to believe this), but it never does to damp people's energy.
But the forthcoming Dublin auction features a commission offered to Shannon on the basis of his Irish credentials. With the formation of the Irish Free State in December 1922, it became necessary to establish a functioning judiciary. This work was overseen by Hugh Kennedy, Chief Justice of Ireland from 1924 until 1936. He put in hand the commissioning of a range of judicial robes for the various Courts of Justice, and approached Shannon to undertake the designs.
|Charles Shannon, design for robe, c.1922-5|
[Rare Book & Collectors Sale.
Dublin, Fonsie Mealy's, 6-7 December 2022]
It was the poet W.B. Yeats, a friend of Ricketts and Shannon and with an impeccable Irish pedigree, who recommended that Kennedy should ask Shannon to take on the project. The first of Shannon's surviving letters to Kennedy shows that he treated the commission seriously from the outset, had started researching an area unfamiliar to him, and was wanting to use traditional Irish materials.
Dear Chief Justice
W B Yeats told me when I last saw him that you contemplated a visit to London & that you would take the opportunity of seeing me concerning the designing of Robes for the Courts of Justice. I should be most pleased to see you & discuss the matter but I think it is only right to tell you as I told Yeats at the outset that I could not possibly hope to do the work by the Autumn. I explained to Yeats that I was going to Italy to keep a long standing engagement, in fact that I proposed to visit a number of towns in Italy & that I could not be back till about the first week in November. I have done all I can in the way of looking up things that may bear on the designing of the Robes, but it is quite impossible to make the actual drawings until I have every possible [piece of] information as to what is required. [….] I have discussed the matter unofficially with Yeats & explained the difficulty of constructing an entirely new series of Robes that would be a complete change in tradition which means that I have nothing solid to work upon. I have got one or two books which may be useful & I have friends in the British Museum & the South Kensington Art Library who may be useful (so far they have been able to show me very little of any great use). I also explained to Yeats that I must have some kind of Robe made or hired & that I ought to see beforehand specimens of the materials that Ireland can supply. Yeats has handed over to me your letters to him bearing on these matters so that I know already something of your views.
Believe me yrs sincerely
[Charles Shannon to Hugh Kennedy, 14 September 1924, University College Dublin, P4/1165 (30)]
Kennedy sent Shannon three examples of Irish poplin, and after his return from Italy Shannon began to work on preliminary designs.
|Charles Shannon, design for robe, c.1922-5|
[Rare Book & Collectors Sale.
Dublin, Fonsie Mealy's, 6-7 December 2022]
I have made several drawings of robes all very rough purposely in execution. I propose to send you about six which I think the best. I think they may convey something of the general appearance that I wish to give. There is nothing at all final about them but I think they look dignified. I have not attempted to allot them to any particular Courts though the red one I imagine would do for the Criminal Court. I should like to hear your opinion on these, that is if they are not too rough to convey anything to you at all. I would not suggest showing them to anybody in this rough form. If you approve of the general lines of these I will carry them out clearly. The colouring I have put on is merely to help to convey the density & variety of the material. In two instances I have given trains. This of course gives dignity but it may be impossible for ordinary use. Ricketts seems to think that trains could be attached for state functions. What form do you suggest the Insignia should take? Is it to be on a chain hung round the neck? This always looks impressive. I will send these sketches on in a few days.
I originally designed this for the Judge presiding in Criminal cases, the other Judges to be perhaps without Ermine cape & in another colour possibly but I am not sure that it is not the most imposing & ought to be for the Chief Justice, possibly in red when you are presiding on a case of criminal appeal & some other colour for other cases.
As an alternative No 3 design in red could be used for criminal cases in the High Court with ermine lining to the sleeves. The black undergarment would be a kind of cassock or else a kind of false lining projecting from under the robe & buttoning down the front. This is done in most cases to hide the trousers which otherwise always show & look out of place.
It is not necessary to have a train but of course it adds greatly to the splendour.
Concerning the number of colours to be used for the different grades would it not be possible to restrict them to 1 2 3 4. The linings would supply opportunities for adding to the number required. One has to remember that it is an easy matter to produce a number of colours where brocades & patterns generally are used but when one is dealing with plain material as we must it would tend to make the colour schemes of the robes 'mixed up' & this would lead to a great loss in breadth of effect. I am wondering if it would not be much more effective to have a badge of some sort attached to a broad ribbon. It always looks extremely well when it hangs over a flat surface like a cape the buckle used as such would be almost invisible I imagine & if a collar was used at the lip of the cape interfere with the fall of the tabs or lace. When Ireland becomes wealthy as I am told she will a very expensive gold chain could take the place of the black ribbon though I doubt if it would look really more 'telling'. I have looked through the Book of Kells but frankly I cannot see that it really suggests much in the way of colours certainly it would be very useful in the way of metal designing for badges & ornaments generally. The red Criminal Court robe with full sleeves would have to be pleated at the back of the shoulder as in a university gown. I take it there would be no objection to this, this is the only way to give sufficient bulk to the folds.
Re The Book of Kells. To return to the matter of the badge of office I feel that a beautiful disc could be made by founding it on the circle given at the foot of St Matthew (Bk of Kells) on the right hand side possibly the shamrock could be combined with it though I know nothing of the date of the shamrock as a national symbol. It is one of the most decorative of all leaves for ornamental purposes.
It seems that when wider consultation of judges and courts took place, a consensus view became difficult to achieve, and it was not until the following year that Kennedy was able to tell Shannon that the design for the robe for District Justices had been approved and manufactured, and worn for the first time on 12 March. But he had to confess that neither of Shannon's two designs for a cap had been favoured, one by a female Irish designer being chosen instead. Shannon took no offence.
|Charles Shannon, design for cap, c.1922-5|
[Rare Book & Collectors Sale.
Dublin, Fonsie Mealy's, 6-7 December 2022]
I am very glad to know that some of the designs have been started & are actually in use. Yeats wrote me about the same time that I received your letter & enclosed some press cuttings. I think the dress looks very well & I agree with you that the cap chosen suits the dress it is worn with. I can sympathise with you in the matter of the difficulties you have had to encounter. I am glad that a start has been made. This may lead to the speeding up of the rest. I have not forgotten that I have one or two books you kindly lent me when I was making the designs.
Whilst his Irish roots made him eligible for the commission, it is curious nonetheless that Shannon agreed to undertake it, for I am not aware that he had any previous experience in costume design. As he himself was quick to admit when setting out on the task, an opportunity had been missed.
Wednesday, November 23, 2022
A drawing by Charles Shannon will be auctioned tomorrow evening at Bubb Kuyper Auctions in Haarlem. In the catalogue, the description of lot 77/4598 reads as follows:
Shannon, C.H. (1863-1937). (Three studies of a woman). Drawing, red chalk, 44x59.7 cm., on brown wove paper. Laid down on mount. Old flattened middle-fold. Sl. soiled; tear in lower right margin. With collector's mark "G.R". in lower left corner (not in Lugt).
It is estimated to fetch €500-€700.
|Charles Shannon, drawing, undated (Bubb Kuyper Auctions, 24 November 2022)|
Since the three sketches were made on one sheet of paper, they are clearly preliminary studies. How many sketches would Shannon have made in total? Incidentally, it is not easy to determine for which painting these could be preparatory studies - women were his main subject.
Note, 24 November 2022:
During the auction, the drawing was not sold.
Wednesday, November 16, 2022
|'The Palace': Lansdowne House,|
Lansdowne Road, Holland Park
Ricketts's & Shannon's home
(from May 1902 to May 1923)
Next year will be to us of “the Dial gang” a tumultuous year – river-beds exposed & lands flooded – great upheavals.
The telegram was sent after both Shannon and Ricketts received a poem from Michael Field and disputed each other's poems:
In the afternoon this telegram. Battle raging over respective poems. Casualties later. Ricknon.
[Michael Field, Journal, 5 January 1900: British Library BL Add MS 46789, f 2v.]
This merging of the names Ricketts and Shannon into Ricknon seems unique.
Wednesday, November 9, 2022
Recently, the Oscar Wilde Society published a book about Constance Wilde's autograph album, Constance Wilde's Autograph Book 1886-1896, comprising reproductions of the autographs, dedications, poems and drawings from a circle of her acquaintances. Editor Devon Cox reveals that it involves different groups of friends, starting with famous figures, such as politicians, musicians and writers: Walter Pater, James McNeill Whistler, John Ruskin, William Morris, Pablo Sarasate and others.
|Constance Wilde's Autograph Book 1886-1896 |
(edited by Devon Cox, 2022)
Then the focus shifted to women scientists and authors, such as those who could possibly contribute to the journal that Oscar Wilde edited, The Woman's World, including Marie Corelli and Alice Meynell. From 1889, representatives of two other groups followed: those of spiritualism and women's rights. Lady Georgina Mount Temple was one of them.
Some wrote their name on a separate page, even if they added few words. Others wrote their contribution on a page that already contained an inscription, such as Arthur James Balfour who ironically commented on an older contribution by T.P. O'Connor. But such need for commentary will not have been the only reason for filling up a page; sometimes the idea that you did not then have to fill a whole page may also have helped.
The inscriptions between 1891 and 1895 show who Constance Wilde saw as her own friends at a time when she and Oscar were drifting apart relationally. Not included was her husband's most famous lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, nor was his first lover Robert Ross, although he was a dear friend of hers.
In 1894, Constance Wilde asked artists Ricketts and Shannon to contribute to her book. This is rather surprising - I have little further evidence of their dealings. Ricketts has shared memories of Wilde, but not of his wife.
|Charles Shannon's contribution to|
Constance Wilde's Autograph Book 1886-1896
Ricketts and Shannen shared a page in the book (page 45). They are both roundels, Shannon's being at the top, a drawing in blue pencil of three winged boys representing cupids, their heads close together, in a wicker basket, signed and dated: 'C.H. Shannon | July 12. 94.'
|Charles Ricketts's contribution to|
Constance Wilde's Autograph Book 1886-1896
Underneath, Ricketts drew a circular drawing in green, grey, blue, brown and white pencil. Against a background with a flowering hedge (roses?) sits a veiled woman, with a naked child at her feet, on her lap rests the head of a second child, and standing next to her is a third child whose hand and cheek touch hers. The three children are depicted in a vertical column next to her own body. The drawing is signed and dated: 'CS Ricketts | 1894.'
Nothing is known about a possible friendly relationship between the two artists and Constance Wilde. Franny Moyle mentions some early contributions to the autograph book in her biography Constance. The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde (2011), but she does not mention the contributions of Ricketts and Shannon. Ricketts's biographer, J.G.P. Delaney, does not mention her name at all. Only one source is known to me, but it is interesting because it contains a - later - description of these drawings, namely the 1900 diary of Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper ('Michael Field'). Ricketts referred to Wilde's ruined marriage.With reference to Mrs Oscar, Ricketts dwells on the great opportunity she lost. She was urged to act with spirit, with breadth – she failed – & ever after she was nothing; her husband was an unpleasant subject & she a ghost it was not pleasant to meet. Had she given him limitless devotion she wd have had the sympathy & admiration of all. She once called at the Vale with a Charity Album – Ricketts did a landscape, Shannon some charming Cupids. She was much pleased & they most anxious to [do] anything they could for Oscar’s wife.
[Michael Field, Journal, Sunday [9 December] 1900 [BL Add MS 46789: f 166r-166v].