It is appropriate to dedicate this first instalment of the year 2012, and the first blog under the new title to Ricketts's partner Charles Shannon. The question is: Why Shannon?
Although Charles Shannon was primarily known for his lithographs and paintings, in the eighteen-nineties he showed a versatility that was comparable to that of Ricketts. He was a teacher at the Croydon Art School, he published magazine illustrations in the eighteen-eighties and supplied four illustrations for Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates; together with Ricketts he designed and cut the wood-engravings for Daphnis and Chloe and Hero and Leander, he was an art editor for The Pageant (1896-1897), and he did the ruling for Ricketts's book work (as Ricketts was 'a fool with a ruler').
|Cover for the first issue of The Dial (1889)|
Ricketts's versatility is shown in Charles Ricketts, R.A. (1933), which contains illustrations of costume and stage designs (8), woodcuts (10), oil paintings (15), sculptures (7), pen drawings for book illustrations (11), lithographs (2), a bookbinding design, and a locket. A similar book on Shannon in a series of monographs on 'Contemporary British Artists' (1924) had only illustrations of oil paintings (29) and drawings (6). His lithographs, magazine illustrations and woodcuts were not represented, nor were the four binding designs he did for the plays of Oscar Wilde.
|Charles Shannon, cover for Oscar Wilde's TheIimportance of Being Earnest (1899)|
The question has not been raised before, not even in Josephine M. Guy and Ian Small's fascinating Oscar Wilde's Profession (2000), which assembled all details about production, contracts and payments. I think that Wilde made the choice for Shannon, because he did not want the other designers to influence the sales of the plays. Wilde and his publishers intended the books with designs by Ricketts and Beardsley to be exclusive, and the print-runs were accordingly small, while the prices were high. The comedies, however, were intended for a wider audience: the prices were more moderate and the print-runs were doubled. Shannon was, possibly, hired to deliver less eccentric designs.
|Charles Shannon, floral design for the cover of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan (1893)|
|Charles Shannon, mirrored version of the floral design for the cover of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (1899)|
|Charles Shannon, floral design for the cover of Oscar Wilde's A Woman of No Importance (1894)|
|Charles Shannon, floral design for the cover of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband (1899)|
Obviously, Wilde was pleased with the Shannon designs for his plays, which cannot be said of Ricketts's design for The Sphinx or Beardsley's design for Salomé, which he disliked. After his release from prison, he asked Ricketts to design one book cover (again, an exclusive edition, for The Ballad of Reading Goal), which he detested, and he was anxious to have Shannon design the book covers for his last two society comedies, The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband, even though Shannon had designed no other books in the years between 1894 and 1899, as he devoted himself to lithography and painting, and had just embarked on a career as a portrait painter.
(*) James G. Nelson, The Early Nineties. A View from the Bodley Head. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1971, p. 244.
(**) The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde. Edited by Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis. London, Fourth Estate, 2000, p. 565-566.