Wednesday, January 25, 2012

27. Patterned papers (c: The ship)

For the cover of Fifty songs by Thomas Campion, published February 1897, Charles Ricketts designed a decorated paper that, in his bibliography of 1904, was labelled: 'the ship'. It was inspired by the last poem in the selection, 'A hymn in praise of Neptune', although it only made reference to 'the waves' (line 2). Ships are not mentioned in the poem, while 'Neptune's diadem' (line 10), 'Tritons' (line 11), 'Sea-nimphs' (line 15) and 'Syrens' (line 16) were ignored by Ricketts in his repetitive design of a sailing ship, wave-lines and wave-crests: 'a soft grey-blue ground which is decorated with rows of small sailboats riding gently swelling waves, indicated by a single undulated line'.(*)

'The ship', patterned paper for Thomas Campion, Fifty songs (1897)
This decorated paper stands out among the others, as it is one of only two that were signed by Ricketts; his initials 'CR' appear in a sail - once on the front cover and once on the back cover.
'The ship', patterned paper for Thomas Campion, Fifty songs (1897): detail with initials CR.
The designs were engraved on wood, 'from which they were printed in repeating patterns and then cast as electrotypes'.(**) Some proofs for the cover paper exist, and were described in a catalogue of Clare Warrack and Geoffrey Perkins in 1977: Short List Fifteen. The Vale Press. Trial settings, cover papers, labels, notices, prospectuses, book lists, occasional publications set in Vale type and Vale Press editions. One of the proofs showed two versions, with manuscript notes beneath each proof: 'old one' and 'new one', referring to the blocks. The block sizes were 249x160 mm and 244x159 mm. The dimensions of the paper on the front cover of the finished book are 234x120 mm.

Lucien Pissarro finished printing the paper in December 1896, and when stock of bound copies of the book (issued in 210 copies) had run out in 1899, he printed an additional hundred on a slightly different paper.(**) Perhaps these two binding editions can be distinguished from each other by the placement of the spine label, which for the first batch of copies was closer to the top (c. 9 mm) than for the later batch (24 mm).

This book and other Vale Press books were on show in 1899 at an international exhibition of book design in the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Museum in Krefeld, and Rudolf Kautzsch wrote about the decorated papers of the Vale Press in the Zeitschrift für Bücherfreunde (1899), that some of them had 'recht hübschen Papierbände', and: 'Die in der Farbe sehr anspruchlosen Papiere zeigen reizvolle Musters diagonal zum Format verläuft'. The design for the Campion was not  placed diagonally as most of the others were.

The paper was reprinted in grey for Gordon Bottomley's A stage for poetry (1948), but this paper does not show Ricketts's initials on the sail.
Back cover of Gordon Bottomley, A stage for poetry (1948)

(*) Susan Ashbrook, The private press movement in Britain 1890-1914. Boston, Boston University Graduate School, 1991, p. 150-151.
(**) Maureen Watry, The Vale Press. Charles Ricketts, a publisher in earnest. New Castle, DE, Oak Knoll Press; London, The British Library, 2004, p. 58, 125.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

26. Universal Disdain

Julian Corbett's story 'Jezebel' in The Universal Review of 15 August 1889 was illustrated by Ricketts and Shannon, who divided the four illustrations between them, and added an initial, signed by both. The pen drawings, reproduced as process illustrations, were received in the press with disdain.

Initial T, signed by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon for The Universal Review, August 1889
The Spectator (24 August 1889) noted about The Universal Review that 'it is necessary to speak first of the pictures, for they are always its chief feature'. The illustrations in the August issue were 'most remarkable', however: 'Clever, affected, and ugly are perhaps the words that express them best. There is a certain parade of Phoenician archaeology in some of the drawings; but it can hardly be said that the artists have very successfully managed their Sidonian local colour.'
Charles Ricketts, 'Astarté', in The Universal Review, August 1889
Two years later, Typo, a Monthly Record and Review (April 1891) lamented: 'The Universal Review is no more. It had much in its favor'. Typo was published at the other side of the planet, in Wellington, New Zealand, where The Universal Review was appreciated: 'Original in style, superbly printed, edited by an able art critic' - Harry Quilter was The Universal Review's editor - 'it ought certainly to have succeeded', however, the illustrations of Ricketts and Shannon were singled out for scorn: Typo ascertained that 'the "crank" element was too strong. It was too French for the English taste'. A story 'like Corbett's  "Jezebel", illustrated with art (?) works by Ricketts and Shannon, were enough to kill the strongest periodical ever offered to British readers'.

Note the question mark after 'art'. New Zealanders, posing as 'British readers', posing as art connoisseurs...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

25. Contact addresses

Ricketts lived and worked in London on several addresses:

164 Kennington Park Road, Kennington, S.E
[Shannon joined Ricketts in 1886]

164, Kennington Park Road
12a Edith Terrace, Edith Grove, Brompton
12A, Edith Terrace
No. 2, the Vale, King's Road, Chelsea
[from September? 1888]

31 Beaufort Street, Chelsea 
[from October 1894]

8 Spring Terrace, Richmond

[from March 1898]

Lansdowne House, Lansdowne Road, Holland Park  
[from 8 May 1902]

Lansdowne House (1905)
Townshend House, Albert Road, Regents Park
[from 23 May 1923]

After Ricketts had died on 7 October 1931, Shannon lived in Townshend House until 24 June 1933. He then moved to 21 Kew Gardens Road.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

24. Why Shannon?

The title of this blog has been changed from 'Charles Ricketts' to 'Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon' - it goes without saying that the name of Charles Shannon keeps popping up in stories about Ricketts. I could have added 'and their circle', as the names of their close friends, such as Michael Field, Lucien Pissarro, Richard Roland Holst, and Oscar Wilde, also frequently appear in these texts, and future entries will as a matter of course mention other friends as well: John Gray, Thomas Sturge Moore, Laurence Binyon, W. Llewellyn Hacon, Charles Holmes, Gordon Bottomley, J.W. Gleeson White, George Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats, Selwyn Image - and there are many others.

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)
They started a magazine of their own, The Dial, the first issue of which appeared in August 1889, and announced: 'This number is published by C.H. Shannon, The Vale, King's Road, Chelsea, S.W., from whom copies can be obtained; price seven shillings and sixpence'. Shannon was the publisher, not Ricketts, who was deemed too unpractical for the job. The Dial famously brought them the friendship of Oscar Wilde, who saw to it that Ricketts was to design most of his books, including The Picture of Dorian Gray, Intentions, and The Sphinx, and these designs encouraged his publishers to give more assignments to Ricketts.

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)
In 1893 Wilde suggested that Shannon should design the binding for his society comedies, starting with Lady Windermere's Fan. In advertisements these were described as having 'a specially designed Title-page and binding to each volume by Charles Shannon'. Although Shannon had been involved in five book design projects (all in collaboration with Ricketts), Ricketts on the other hand had designed illustrations or covers for sixteen books. The contract that agreed to have the designs done by Shannon, stipulated that two other books should be designed by Charles Ricketts and Aubrey Beardsley who had attracted far more attention as book designers than Shannon. So, why Shannon?

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)
Wilde went to the house in The Vale to discuss the book design and his thoughts will have been of importance to Shannon, who afterwards wrote to John Lane (probably in July 1893) that 'Oscar called tonight' and agreed to the prices of the ordinary and special editions. For the advertisements Lane could use Shannon's description ('In a binding & title page specially designed by Charles Shannon'), but it was obvious that Wilde influenced the design of the series of comedies, as 'Oscar is averse to the idea of their being all bound in the same cover', and on the other hand, that Shannon would not only become involved in the design of the binding and the title page; he would also supervise the printing. Lane was told, that as soon as the copy was ready, Shannon would take it to 'the Ballantyne' (the printers of Lady Windermere's Fan).(*) In fact, Shannon designed the volume, the dimensions, the page setting and the floral ornaments for the cover, although the contract only mentioned a cover design. Wilde asked John Lane (May 1893) to 'have some pages set up for Shannon to see - or ask him to choose type'. In June he wrote to Charles Ricketts: 'Tell Shannon I am quite charmed with the setting of Lady Windermere - it looks delightful and is exquisitely placed'.(**) We may suppose that the next play, A Woman of No Importance, was also to his liking.
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)
Ricketts must have liked them too, but it is unclear to what extent he was involved in the designs, as up to that point, Shannon's book designs had all been done in collaboration with Ricketts. When Ricketts designed the cover for The Pageant - the first issue appeared in December 1895; Wilde had been convicted and sent to prison during the summer - he used the same material, the same colour and the same pattern of small floral designs. This could be interpreted as a statement, either of his authorship of the binding designs for Wilde's plays, or, and this is more likely, as a joint statement by Ricketts and Shannon, which was meant to publicly show their sympathy for Wilde by publishing a magazine that had the same kind of binding design, and the same colour, as the books of Oscar Wilde.

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.