Wednesday, October 26, 2011

15. Rivers of disappointment

On 6 December 1889, the Publishers' Circular contained an advertisement of Cassell & Company, Limited, for The Rivers of Great Britain: Descriptive, historical, pictorial. Rivers of the East Coast. The volume, 'now ready', was part of a series of cloth bound topographical publications 'with numerous highly finished engravings'. The advertisement illustrated a view from the old bridge of Invercauld, Braemer, and the volume was said to contain 'illustrations from original drawings' by twenty-one artists, including the 23-years old Charles Ricketts.

Advertisement for Rivers of the East Coast (Publishers' circular, 6 December 1889, p. 33)

Chapters on the Tay, the Tweed, the Tyne, the Wear, etcetera, were illustrated by R. Randoll, W.H.J. Boot, R. Jobling, and other artists, but Ricketts did not contribute to the book, in spite of the advertisement. Perhaps he did not deliver a drawing, or his drawing was rejected; the realistic, topographic illustration was not his forte. It is interesting to read, though, that the publisher used his name in the advertisement, albeit it among twenty others.

Front cover of Rivers of the East Coast (1892 edition)
I have a copy of the 1892 edition, not the first 1889 edition. As Cassell's regularly published revised editions, with new illustrations by younger artists, perhaps Ricketts's drawing (or drawings) was (or were) discarded in the 1892 edition? It is now possible to check this, as many books from the period have been digitized and the Internet Archive gives access to the 1889 edition in several formats. The 1892 edition is identical to the 1889 edition, except for the advertisements at the back. Alas, Ricketts did not do a drawing for  the book about East Coast rivers.

Illustration by R. Jobling (Rivers of the East Coast, 1892, p. 169)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

14. Beauty, volupté, and jewellery

'The Cult of Beauty', an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum earlier in the year, has crossed the Channel and in an attempt to seduce the French, changed its name to 'Beauté, Morale et Volupté dans l'Angleterre d'Oscar Wilde'. The show in the Musée d'Orsay located in the heart of Paris started on 13 September and will close on 15 January 2012.

Catalogue The Cult of Beauty (2011), p. 228-229.
The new title indicates that France and England were culturally different territories in the nineteenth century. While English artists penetrated French literary and artistic circles, and French artists visited London on many occasions, the great artistic movements of the days developed separately and were connected only through individual artists, such as Oscar Wilde. This is probably why his name pops up in the French title of the exhibition, along with the French quote 'volupté' from Charles Baudelaire ('L'invitation au voyage': Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté, Luxe, calme et volupté). Pre-Raphaelite ideas, the aesthetic movement and Arts and Crafts did not invade France at the time, which was totally immersed in Impressionism.

Catalogue The Cult of Beauty (2011), p. 254-255.
Several Ricketts items were included in the English version of the exhibition: a bronze sculpture, 'Silence', the bindings he designed for Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx and John Gray's Silverpoints, a copy of The Dial (no. 2, 1892), as well as the drawing 'Oedipus and the Sphinx' that was acquired by Frederic Lord Leighton and after his death bought back by Ricketts.

Not illustrated in the catalogue is a brooch that Ricketts designed for Edith Cooper's birthday in 1900, now in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum: 'My love has given me L'Oiseau bleu - the brooch designed by Ricketts -- Byzantine, wonderful' (Binary star. Leaves from the Journal and Letters of Michael Field, 1846-1914, 2006, p. 149). The gold brooch, enamelled and set with a garnet, was made by Carlo and Arthur Giuliano in London and depicts a bluebird on a spray of berries. Charlotte Gere and Geoffrey C. Munno wrote that 'consciously or unconsciously' Ricketts based his design on one by Burne-Jones and even followed his example in employing the Giuliano firm (Artists' Jewellery, 1989).

Brooch made by Carlo Giuliano after a design by Edward Burne-Jones (c. 1885)
The original sketches for the brooch are in an album of Ricketts's jewellery designs in the British Museum. Diana Scarisbrick stated: 'The subject derives from Roman Mediterranean art and there are four versions of it in the album. The brooch, worn so often "nestling in real lace" had to be repaired', which Edith Cooper saw as a sign that she had been faithful in wearing it. (The Apollo, September 1982). Edith Cooper and her aunt Katherine Bradley wrote jointly under the pen-name Michael Field.

There is some confusion over this piece of jewellery: Scarisbrick reported its loss (based on the diary notes of Michael Field: 'Returning home I find my Blue Bird Brooch gone', 11 April 1909, Binary star, p. 183), while the Fitzwilliam Museum describes the brooch as part of a bequest by Katherine Bradley. Darracott illustrated the brooch from the Fitzwilliam collection, dating it as 1899; Denys Sutton dated it as 1903-1906; Calloway dated it as c. 1904, and stated that this item was intended for Laurence Binyon's wife, Cicely. However, Paul Delaney wrote that the Binyon brooch was 'a version of the bluebird brooch, in white with a blue spray in its beak'. Anyway, Ricketts was so disappointed with that brooch that he did not give it to Cicely Binyon, but to his model, Hetty Deacon. There must have been at least two brooches based on the bird designs, and apparently, the Michael Field brooch was lost in 1909 but found again before Katherine Bradley died in 1914.

Between 1899 and 1904 Ricketts designed jewellery for his friends, Michael Field (Cooper and Bradley), Marie Sturge Moore, and Mrs Llewellyn Hacon, and some of these were donated to the collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Ashmolean Museum, while others seem to have disappeared. As a stage designer, later in his life, Ricketts also designed jewellery to go with the dresses of actresses and actors, and these gems reached a wider audience than the private circle of his friends, although the spectators may not have been aware of the intricate details when seeing something sparkling on the stage.

Colour illustrations of the bluebird brooch can be found in Stephen Calloway's book on Charles Ricketts and in Joseph Darracott's The World of Charles Ricketts. 

From: Stephen Calloway, Charles Ricketts (1979, p. 28: sketch) and Joseph Darracott, The World of Charles Ricketts (1980, p. 65: brooch).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

13. New books in Vale type

Designers of exhibition catalogues on Art Nouveau and programs for conferences about the Arts and Crafts movement seem unable to resist the temptation to use initials, types or page borders from the period. Some designers apparently think that these visual quotations help us to remember what the book is about, or possibly they think we need a form of nostalgia to lure us into buying their books. Do they really think we must love Art Nouveau to read about it?

Several publications about Ricketts in the past have included such quotes, usually too many of them, crowding the pages with designs that were not meant for these books in the first place, and frequently mixing designs by Morris, Ricketts, and others, in order to approach the atmosphere of the 1890s. And it gets worse, now that modern digital techniques have provided new attributes. It is possible to print your own book with Ricketts's types, or you can use them for menus, letterheads, visiting cards or e-mails, as two of his types are available at My Fonts
King's Fount: 'e' with diaeresis (My Fonts version)
The digital fonts include letters that Ricketts did not design, such as ligatures, or special symbols, for example the copyright and euro symbols. Ricketts did not draw numerals for his fonts (Vale Type, Avon Type and King's Fount), but the digital version can supply them. The modern user can now write about any given subject in Vale Type or King's Fount, discarding the many modern types that are at his disposal, however, what this new use of these types really demonstrates is that the writer is not modern and that he has no regard for the 'unity of the book' that Ricketts stood for.

Vale Type: fraction, a quarter (My Fonts version)
Vale Type, paragraph mark (My Fonts version)
King's Fount: question mark (My Fonts version)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

12. The Legion Book

In August, Peter Harrington's catalogue 78 offered for sale a copy of The Legion Book and only one month later the same copy turned up in a catalogue issued by the London bookseller Henry Sotheran Limited. The price went up from £5,000 to £8,500. This copy is one of a hundred special copies reserved for presentation by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, bound in white pigskin, decorated in gilt and blind after a design by Charles Ricketts. It was auctioned earlier in the year on 4 May by Lyon & Turnbull of Edinburgh, fetching no more than the lower estimate of £1,500.

Upper cover of The Legion Book, special edition (1929)
The copy on offer is number 23, signed and dedicated by the Prince to George, Earl Haig, who was the son of Douglas. Douglas Haig (1861-1928) was commander during the Battle of the Somme, the third Battle of Ypres and the Hundred Days Offensive during World War I, and he was given an earldom in 1919. The reputations of both the commander and the Prince were not rock solid, and Haig's suffered a blow in the sixties when it was argued that he had been responsible for the highest number of British casualties during the war, while the Prince (King Edward VIII) went into exile in France after his abdication in 1936 and turned out to be charmed by Nazi politics. Long before all that happened, Haig was involved in the creation of the Royal British Legion, of which the Prince acted as a patron. The Legion Book helped to raise funds and the special edition was not for sale as all hundred copies were 'held in the gift of H.R.H. Prince of Wales'. The Prince dedicated number 23 to the eleven year old son of Haig, George, second Earl Haig (born 1918) and apparently the family sold this copy after his death in 2009.

Signature of Edward, Prince of Wales, 1929
Over the years special copies of this edition have appeared on the market, such as one with a unique trial binding of quarter-inch oak boards, the spine and paste-down endpapers of cloth, stamped with Ricketts's design, and a binder's copy that during the Second World War had been given to J. Cheney for safekeeping. The pigskin edition was bound by Wood in London.

Binder's stamp, inner lower cover.
While Peter Harrington listed copy number 23 under the heading of the editor, Captain H. Cotton Minchin, adding a caption printed in red alerting prospective buyers that this copy was 'Signed by everyone involved' (not all copies bear the signature leaves), Henry Sotheran Limited decided, at the last moment, to insert this copy in their catalogue on private press publications (part of their series of anniversary catalogues), listed as number 1a, under the heading 'Churchill, Sir Winston'. Churchill contributed a two-page essay on Haig. The difference between Minchin and Churchill amounts to £3,500. When the renowned firm of Warrack & Perkins offered a copy in 1982, the price was less than this difference, they offered it for 'a mere' £2,750.

The binding design has been called a perfect example of Ricketts's geometrical style, but obviously it has partly been based on a compromise, as the mascot of the legion had to be included in the design. Should we recognize a goat - the official mascot - or rather a cat in the curious central figure on the upper cover?

Upper cover of The Legion Book (detail)