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).