Wednesday, December 28, 2011

23. At the sign of the red lion

On 4 April 1887, the Prince of Wales and his wife attended the private view of the sixty-fourth annual exhibition of the Society of British Artists. James McNeill Whistler had persuaded the Prince to come, as he proudly wrote to Théodore Duret: 'J'ai fait venir Le Prince & La Princesse de Galles'. Whistler had been elected President of the society in Suffolk Street, Pall Mall, on 1 June 1886 and took office in December. His efforts to revitalize the organization were met with hostility and complaints, and he was forced to resign on 4 June 1888, staying in office until November.

The paintings and prints were arranged on eye-level in two rows, and this was a revolutionary change from the crowded exhibition rooms of the past. Whistler designed a new symbol for the society, a small red lion, which appeared on stationary and catalogues, as well as on the signboard.

James McNeill Whistler, red lion symbol for The Society of British Artists
A tent-like velarium, walls painted in light colours, gas-light, a limitation on the number of pictures on show, special invitations for art critics (such as Oscar Wilde), were all part of his scheme to make the society 'a powerfull rival of the Royal Academy' (*), and when he obtained a Royal Charter for the society, his work was done. The Society was to be called the Royal Society of British Artists. When Whistler resigned as President, he said that the 'Artists' had gone out, and that the 'British' remained...

Front cover for the catalogue of the sixty-fourth annual exhibition of The Society of British Artists (1887), designed by James McNeill Whistler
Whistler had invited foreign artists and followers to join the society, and during the Whistler years the young artists Charles Ricketts (he would turn 21 in 1887) and Charles Shannon (24) exhibited in the Suffolk Street rooms. In 1887, at the annual exhibition, a work by Ricketts was on show in the Large Room: 'The death of Abel', probably a water-colour or a pastel (present whereabouts unknown).

Page 10 of the catalogue of the 64th annual exhibition of The Society of British Artists (1887)
The catalogue's cover was designed by Whistler, and at the back was a list of prices, ranging between £5 and £1050 - the Ricketts work was priced at £30. The list of members and exhibitors mentions Ricketts's address as '164, Kennington-park-road, S.E.' - Ricketts was not a member and he never showed any other works at the Society. Shannon exhibited three works in 1887 and 1888, just before the two artists decided to cease exhibiting (according to C.J. Holmes) until Shannon was to appear as 'the complete and undeniable master, upon whose princely income Ricketts then proposed to live in ease for the rest of his life'. (**)
Page 40 of the catalogue of the 64th annual exhibition of The Society of British Artists (1887)
(*) See 'Whistler as Exhibitioner', in: Deanna Marohn Bendix, Diabolical Designs. Paintings, Interiors, and Exhibitions of James McNeill Whistler. Washington, London, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995, p. 239-245.
(**) Self & Partners (mostly Self), being the Reminiscences of C.J. Holmes. London, Constable, 1936, p. 164.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

22. Ч. Рикетс in Russian

Т.Ф. Верижникова, 'Из истории английской книжной графики рубежа 19-20 веков: иллюстрации Ч. Рикетса и Ч. Шенона к "Дафнису и Хлое" Лонга', in: Проблема интерпретации литературных образов в изобразительном искусстве. Ленинград: Институт живописи/скульптуры и архитетктуры АХ СССР, 1989, с. 62-68.
First paragraphs of T.F. Verizhikova's essay on Ricketts and Shannon (1989)
This essay on Ricketts and Shannon appeared in a Russian book on imagary and interpretation in 1989. It was written by T.F. Verizhikova and came to my attention as I was an editor of Book History Online in 1990 or 1991, however, it proved impossible to obtain a copy. When a colleague of the National library of the Netherlands went to Moscow in 2000, I asked him for a photocopy, which he got hold of, thanks to the cooperation of a Russian incunabulist.

The essay about the Daphnis and Chloe edition of the Vale Press does not contain anything new, and extensively quotes Stephen Calloway's Charles Ricketts (1979) and Joseph Darracott's The World of Charles Ricketts (1980). There are no illustrations.

This is how Ricketts and Shannon were introduced to a Russian audience in 1989, and isn't it nice to know that their names in Cyrillic characters are given as Ч. Рикетс and Ч. Шенон?

Daphnis and Chloe (1893) [Photograph: © Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands/Jos Uljee, 2010]

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

21. Patterned papers (b: The Suckling rose)

The first book bound in a patterned paper designed by Ricketts was published by the Vale Press in the Spring of 1896. The Saturday Review (4 July 1896) welcomed The Poems of Sir John Suckling as 'the best edition so far of this better known than edited English gentleman and poet', and considered it to be 'perhaps the most attractive of the first three of Messrs. Ricketts & Hacon's Vale books'.

Front cover of The poems of Sir John Suckling (1896)
The two earlier books (April 1896) were not issued in patterned papers. Early Poems of Milton was bound in white buckram and the next one, Landor's Epicurus, Leontion and Ternissa was issued in plain blue paper boards. At first, the books did not sell well, only an odd twenty copies were ordered, as Lucien Pissarro wrote to his father Camille in 28 April 1896.(*) He also reported that 'la Maison H & R m'achetera une presse de grande dimension pour l'imprimerie des choses en couleurs - Je suis en train d'imprimer pour eux un papier pour la couverture d'un de leurs volumes'. Although Hacon & Ricketts may have had the intention to pay for a large press, intended for colour printing, the plan fell through, and Pissarro printed his first books on a press he hired in the Epping based printing shop of Alfred B. Davis. We may assume that the patterned paper for the Suckling edition was printed in Epping as well.

One of Suckling's poems, 'Lutea Allison', addresses a girl of fifteen, who is 'still chast', but, as the writer argues, destined by nature to lose her virginity:

The roses on your cheeks were never made
To bless the eye alone, and so to fade;
Nor had the cherries on your lips their being
To please no other sense than that of seeing

These conventional symbols (roses, cherries) represent the only floral motives in this selection of Suckling's poems.

Colin Franklin described the patterned paper as 'a dianthus which seems to sprout rose leaves and oak leaves slants' (**). In his own bibliography of 1904 Ricketts described the bindings as: 'Bound in a patterned paper designed by C. Ricketts'; the design lacks a name. I am not sure about the dianthus, although a complex design incorporating more than one plant (dianthus, oak and rose) is not unlike Ricketts at all. Most commentators settle for a rose.

Patterned paper for The poems of Sir John Suckling (1896)

There are other floral patterns in the book. Illustrating the first text page is, what Ricketts called, a 'Border of Honeysuckle', and there are illustrated initials incorporating flowers and leaves. Roses (love), oak (immortality), and honeysuckle (devotion) - it is hard to see a connection between the poems and the pattern of the cover paper, and it is equally difficult to see a 'floral' relation between the paper cover and the opening border. For this publication, the private press law about the unity of the book seems not to have been obeyed by Ricketts in terms of symbolism, but then, this law was formulated only to advance the material unity of the book. Probably, Ricketts's intentions with the Suckling design were not to evoke Suckling's inner thoughts, but his own.

Ricketts's wish was 'to give a permanent and beautiful form to that portion of our literature which is secure of permanence', and his decorations were inspired by 'the desirability of a beautiful and permanent form for it', as he argued in his Bibliography of the Vale Press (p. v, xvi). He also insisted, 'that the decoration is in itself personal' (p. xv). All this may have been represented by the rose (Suckling's poems on love) and the oak leave symbol of immortality (the permanence of literature), but here we have entered the field of conjecture.

(*) The Letters of Lucien to Camille Pissarro, 1883-1903. Edited by Anne Thorold. Cambridge, 2003, p. 475, 477.
(**) Colin Franklin, The Private Presses. London, 1969, p. 88.
The first part in this series on patterned papers was published on 23 November 2011.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

20. A house in Geneva

A conference on book exhibitions in Lausanne brought me to Geneva, where Charles Ricketts was born on 2 October 1866. I had a few hours before the departure of the Amsterdam flight, which gave me ample time to walk to the house where Ricketts was born, 57, rue du Rhône.
Entrance of 57, rue du Rhône, Geneva
According to the date in a cartouche above the door, the building was erected in 1856, only ten years before Ricketts was born, and the young family lived in a relatively new apartment on one of the six floors, located only one block from the Promenade du Lac and the Jardin anglais.
Cartouche above the door of 57, rue du Rhône
To the left and right of the entrance on the ground floor are now fashion shops: Moncler, New Mouton and a 'spécialiste du costume'.
57, rue du Rhône, Geneva
Ricketts's father had been a First Lieutenant on HMS London, but had been invalided out of the service and retired on half pay, when he decided, with the help of an allowance of Ricketts's grandfather, to study painting in Geneva. His father specialized in seascapes and Ricketts would later declare that his father and he 'liked totally different things in the National Gallery'.* The Ricketts family did not spend much time in Geneva, as they moved to London in 1868, when Ricketts was barely a year old.

[* See Paul Delaney, Charles Ricketts, 1990, p. 5-12].