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].   

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

19. The Carl Woodring collection

Nature into Literature (1989) by Carl Woodring (1919-2009) devoted several pages to Charles Ricketts in a chapter on the 'Aesthetes'. Woodring argued that the aesthetic movement 'was a reaction against perceived insolence in the language of utilitarians, industrial capitalists, and scientific positivists, a rejection of respectability in morals and of democratic leveling, athleticism, imperialism, policy toward Ireland, and illusion as an aim in arts and manufacturing' (p. 229).
Carl Woodring
The chapter on the 'Aesthetes' is mainly concerned with photography, as at the time, 'a drawing had to be made of a photograph in order to print it' (p. 240), and later, 'photography took away engravers' jobs as artisans', however, 'the solution, for a few, was to declare themselves artists' (p. 241), and Woodring mentions the magazine The Century Guild Hobby Horse as 'the first periodical of a more strictly artistic kind'. The editor, Selwyn Image, was an early friend of Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon, who were trained as engravers and modelled their magazine The Dial after the Hobby Horse.

Cover for J.A. Symonds, In the Key of Blue
Woodring mentioned several book designs by Ricketts, such as the cover for John Addington Symonds In the Key of Blue (1893) and the endpapers for Oscar Wilde's Poems (1892). Both designs were signed by Ricketts, who deliberately managed to present himself as an artist. Woodring acquired a series of Ricketts's Vale Press books and other book designs, a collection that included letters by Ricketts and Shannon, as well as oil paintings and lithographs, which he donated to Rice University in Austin, Texas, in 2004.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

18. Patterned papers (a: Mouse and nut)

Almost thirty years ago, I was introduced to the work of Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon by Ton Leenhouts, who collected illustrated books, and had become enchanted by Ricketts's books before Paul Delaney and Stephen Calloway mounted their influential exhibition in the Orleans House Gallery in the Spring of 1979.

Yesterday, Ton celebrated his 77th birthday. The Japanese insist on a special rite of passage to pray for long life at several ages: 60, 70, 77, 80, 88, 90 and 99, and the celebration at 77 is called kiju. Vale Press celebrations are suitable for any season, however, to introduce what might be called the Ricketts kiju, I asked Ton for a list of favourite Vale Press books. His answer was: the Vale Press publications bound in patterned papers. It is his wish, that this episode of the Charles Ricketts blog will be the first in an intermittent series about the paper-covered Vale Press books.

Front cover of Michael Drayton, Nymphidia and the Muses Elizium (1896)
The first Vale Press book with a decorated binding paper was published in the Spring and the second one in the Autumn of 1896. It is not clear whose idea it was to design patterned papers, as Lucien Pissarro, who used Ricketts's Vale Type for his Eragny Press books and had his books issued by Hacon & Ricketts at the time, also used such papers. It might well have been his initiative.

A few years later, another patterned material was suggested, both by Ricketts and Pissarro, as they considered using decorated cloth for their bindings. Pissarro's father, the impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, wrote to Jean Monet (2 September 1897): 'Un des amis de mon fils Lucien, Monsieur Ricketts artiste et patron de la maison Hacon et Ricketts éditeurs à Londres [...] nous demande si vous ne pourriez pas recommender une maison qui voudrait se charger d'imprimer des cottons pour la reliure dans le genre de l'échantillon ci-inclus qui est imprimé sur papier' (see catalogue 926 of the antiquarian firm Erasmushaus in Basle, 2007). Apparently, Ricketts wanted to have his designs printed on cloth as well as on paper, and an example of the decorated paper was sent along with the request. Interestingly, two years later, Pissarro also planned to use cloth for his bindings, and asked his father for an instruction book for printing on cloth (see The Letters of Lucien to Camille Pissarro 1883-1903, edited by Anne Thorold, 1993, p. 604). In the end, neither the Vale Press, nor the Eragny Press, used decorated cloth for bindings.

Back to the decorated Vale Press paper. In his prospectus for The Poems of Sir John Suckling (Spring 1896) the patterned paper was not mentioned. Nor was it mentioned in the prospectus for Michael Drayton's Nymphidia or the Muses Elizium (Autumn 1896). Ricketts did not mention the patterned paper in any of the Vale Press prospectuses for that matter, only (some of) the plain buckram and cloth bindings. The paper bindings were not considered to be permanent; it was customary for the book collector to have them replaced by a leather or vellum binding. However, the collectors quite liked these decorated paper bindings and when Ricketts edited his Vale Press Bibliography in 1904 he did mention the specially designed decorated papers, and the second one was called 'mouse and nut'. The binders did not always understand which way the paper was to be used, and copies with the paper upside down can therefore be found.

'Mouse and nut' pattern, used correctly and upside down

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

17. An Unpublished Symposium

For the Vale Press Ricketts projected quite a few publications that never saw the light of day, one of which was an edition of Plato's Symposium. He officially announced the book in a Notice, which was issued after April 1895: 'During the year a want will be met by the publication of an edition of Propertius, the text of which has been prepared by Mr. Owen. We feel that the nineteenth century should not allow an exception to the hitherto invariable coincidence of a re-edition of the classics under current scholarship with revival in printing. The Symposium of Plato, for instance, will follow shortly after the Propertius.'

Notice of Vale Press publications, 1895 (detail)
These editions did not materialize. Earlier, Ricketts had mentioned the Plato edition to the American publisher F. Holland Day (a letter from October 1894) and, before that, to his new Dutch friend, the artist and book designer Richard Roland Holst, who visited Ricketts and Shannon in London at the end of the year 1893. Roland Holst wrote a long letter about this visit to his fiancée: 'hij sprak over Plato, dat hij de oude Eng. vertaling van de Symposium wilde uitgeven, met hoofdletters, en met een band die heelemaal bij dat wonder pastte...' Ricketts had told him about the Plato edition, for which he wanted to design initials and a binding that would fit the wonderful text.

No initials, nor a binding design, have survived, but there is a silent witness of Ricketts's intentions: he finished one drawing (sold at auction in 1986, and, again, in 1997), he made the woodblock for the illustration (now at the Fitzwilliam Museum) and in 1917 a number of proofs were printed from the block (one copy now in the British Library). This illustration was published by Malcolm C. Salaman in The Graphic Arts of Great Britain, a special number of The Studio in 1917.

Wood-engraving for Plato's Symposium by Charles Ricketts (from The Graphic Arts in Great Britain, 1917)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

16. Head in obsidian

The art collection of Charles Ricketts and his partner Charles Shannon contained more than a thousand items, including paintings, Egyptian, Persian, Greek, and Roman objects, as well as hundreds of English drawings and Japanese prints, which were documented in Joseph Darracott's catalogue All for Art (1979). Among the Egyptian artifacts were jars, vases, boxes, jewellery, gaming pieces, statuettes, such as the head of a woman in painted pink limestone (72 mm) from around 2490 BC.

Ricketts wrote about Egyptian art, though not about objects from his own collection, in four, previously unrecorded articles, that appeared in The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology in 1917 and 1918. Before I will quote the first article in full, I will list the four items, which were all illustrated with black and white plates:

1. 'Head of Amenemmēs III in Obsidian: from the Collection of the Rev. W. MacGregor, Tamworth', in: The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 4 (1917) 2/3 (April-July), p. 71-73.
2. 'Head in Serpentine of Amenemmēs III in the Possession of Oscar Raphael, Esq.', in: The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 4 (1917) 4 (October), p. 211-212.
3. 'Bas-Relief Figure of a King of the Ptolemaic Period in Blue Faience', in: The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 5 (1918) 2 (April), p. 77-78.
4. 'Two Faience Chalices at Eton College from the Collection of the Late Major W.J. Myers', in: The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 5 (1918) 3 (July), p. 145-147.

Head of Amenemmēs III (or Amenemhat III) from the Journal of Egyptian archaeology (1917)

Head of Amenemmēs III in Obsidian. From the Collection of the Rev. W. MacGregor, Tamworth. By Charles Ricketts

It is a common tendency among students of Egyptian Art to praise the superb creations of the Memphite epoch to the detriment of all that came afterwards and to view the huge space of succeeding centuries as a period of artistic immobility or decline. If the first six Dynasties are illustrated by many works which, in their kind, have remained unsurpassed, the craftsmen of the Twelfth Dynasty carved portraits of a yet more introspective or imaginative cast than heretofore; with the Eighteenth Dynasty Egyptian art made new experiments, both in aim and in modes of expression, each of these subsequent phases being marked by technical developments needed by the aim to be achieved; for centuries Egyptian architecture was to develop in magnificence, resource and even in invention to the very sunset of its time, while in the Saitic revivals - possibly in the old Theban workshops - a series of realistic portraits (such as the Mentemhēt, Taracos and Nesptah) were destined to rival in power of characterization and intense inner life the finest works of the past. It is doubtless the rugged force shown in these works dating from the Twenty-fifth Dynasty which has led Hedwig Fechheimer (Die Plastik der Aegypter, p. 46) to place the superb obsidian head from the fine collection of the Rev. W. MacGregor at Tamworth among these later masterpieces of Egyptian sculpture, instead of classing it in the singularly fine series of portraits which have come down to us of the great Pharaoh Amenemmēs III of the Twelfth Dynasty, among which it is one of the best both in artistic merit and iconographic interest.

Contrary to the impression conveyed by the reproduction, this admirable work is not life-size but 130 millimetres from top of head to chin; a few breakages have affected both ears, thereby lessening what seems to have been a characteristic of the Twelfth Dynasty Pharaohs, namely ears of huge size, placed high and very projecting. One of the elements of interest in this relic of one of the finest epochs of Egyptian art lies in the fact that the king is represented as an older man than in all but one other monument - that from the Karnak cache now at Cairo; the expression is more pensive or less energetic than usual in his portraits; and the general resemblance to his father Sesostris III is so marked as to give rise to some hesitation in identifying it, though this hesitation is dispelled on closer examination, the nose and jaw being fuller or more massive than in the three granite statues of Sesostris III in the British Museum and the magnificent portrait from Karnak now at Cairo.

A severe and brooding expression marks all the portraits of Amenemmēs III, who was a ruler, warrior and builder in a family which had numbered warriors, rulers and thinkers before him. To his reign belongs the yet extant wall of El Kab; he was, in legend at least, the maker of the great Lake Mœris and the Labyrinth, and reigned for some forty-eight years powerful and prosperous. Yet on all his energetic effigies is cast a shadow as of one who had lived to see the extinction of some great hope, or the dawn of some great threat; it is doubtless a mere idle flight of romantic fancy to believe that he noted the first mutterings of the storm before the downward rush of the Hyksos invasion which, some years after his death, was to overwhelm his kingdom and whose forgotten princes were to carve their obscure names upon his very statues and royal sphinxes. Even in the studied simplicity and austerity of his seated effigy at Cairo, where he is represented in the flower of youth and with a sweeter cast of face than is his wont, he seems to brood upon some bitter thought of his ancestor Amenemmēs I, upon the illusions of kingship and the loyalty of men: "Know not a friend nor make for thyself intimates, wherein there is no end."

In the small statue at Petrograd and three other portraits at Cairo his expression is leonine and ardent; he is more grave and austere in the admirable granite statue in Berlin. In the superb "Hyksos-Sphinxes" his glance is thrown upwards and is more tense; the best preserved of these sphinxes ranks in the successful rendering of superhuman power and majesty with the great Khephren, and is unsurpassed in the art of Egypt or any other country.*

A head, in schist, preserved in Berlin, represents the king grown thinner and older, the general aspect being more marked and more sparse and very like his father. The resemblance of the profile of this important fragment to the Tamworth head is very great, yet in this last I believe the king is older still, the eyebrows project and are insisted on by the sculptor, the glance has become more sedate; it is, however, without the heavy furrows and a sort of sullenness of the least artistic of his monuments, namely the walking figure from the Karnak cache now at Cairo, which probably represents him as a yet older man.

The British Museum owns a superb Colossus in grey granite which has been tentatively described as Amenemmēs III. This, like the fine fragments in the same material from Bubastis (now at Cairo), would seem to represent some other king of the Twelfth Dynasty. There is undoubtedly a great resemblance to him in the construction of the head, but something less noble and less energetic in expression and implied character. Is this his son Amenemmēs IV or some later prince? A marked resemblance to Amenemmēs III is shown, also, in the older of the two princes in the striking group at Cairo known as "Les Deux Statues Jumelles"; these figures have been tentatively described as Neferhotep I and Sebkhotep III, who may after all have usurped an earlier work representing Amenemmēs III and one of his sons. We are here in the field of pure conjecture. 

* Hyksos Sphinxes. The interesting suggestion has been made that the sphinxes of Amenemmēs III generally known as the Hyksos-Sphinxes do not represent him but are, in fact, masterpieces of the Old Kingdom. Even during the Twelfth Dynasty research was made into the past for the form of the gods, and some such "archaizing" aim may have been deliberately adopted for the mythical shape of these composite creations in which realism and formality are in such perfect balance. Against all ascription to an earlier epoch counts their great resemblance to Amenemmēs III, and more significant still is the fact that the facial modelling shows the conscious study of the inner structure and renders bone, cartilage etc. This is new in Egyptian Art, for the startling realism of earlier masterpieces is based upon outward appearance only; even the face surfaces of the Khephren, Mycerinus and Ranofer are of one substance throughout: there is, in fact, between works of the old Empire and the finest portraits of the Twelfth Dynasty that difference which exists between the finest or most realistic French Gothic statues and any head by Donatello or Verrocchio; the character of the realism is different and the sense of plane unlike. 

Ricketts wrote about this head of Amenemmēs III (usually spelled Amenemhat III) in 1917. MacGregor's collection was sold at auction by Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge on 6 July 1922, when the New York Times reported that the head from the collection of William MacGregor had been sold to A.S. Harris for £10,000, and although the paper did not quote Ricketts's article, referring instead to the Egyptologist prof. Sherberry, who described it as 'a masterpiece that has not been surpassed by any sculptor of any country or age', we may recognize Ricketts's opinion in his words.

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)