Wednesday, April 25, 2012

39. Charles Ricketts and The Burlington magazine

This week's contribution to the blog has been written by Barbara Pezzini, index editor of The Burlington magazine.

Charles Ricketts and The Burlington magazine

Between 1904 and 1909 Charles Ricketts wrote twenty articles for The Burlington magazine, starting in June 1904 with a brief, dismissive review of a book on Velazquez by W. Wilberforce and A.R. Gilbert, to conclude in 1909 with a long eulogy in memory of his recently deceased friend, the painter Charles Conder. These two pieces are representative of Ricketts's writings for the Burlington, which span between old-masters and modern art and endeavour to construct a dialogue between them. Ricketts was interested in and equally able to engage with artists as diverse as Dalou, Pisanello, Conder, Meunier and Velàzquez. A successful painter himself who collected and studied ancient art, Ricketts's passion for old-masters paintings and his preference for a style of art which still followed the ancient figurative canon has been so far interpreted as a late product of a Victorian Aestheticism - Ricketts himself described his works as by 'an undiscovered master of the nineteenth century' (*).

But there are more timely aspects in Ricketts's writing and the fact that he chose to contribute to The Burlington magazine is significant, as this newly founded journal had a novel approach, for Britain, to art history. Since its first issue in March 1903, the Burlington proclaimed its interest for ancient art and the most current subjects of art historical debate: Italian and Northern European art, especially the late medieval and early Renaissance artists then known as 'primitives'. The Burlington introduced document-based, historicist art writing indebted to formalist 'new criticism', German scholarship and Morellian connoisseurship.

This was based on the works of the Italian scholar Giovanni Morelli who had developed a 'system' to identify the authors of works of art based on the analysis of small pictorial details such as nails, ears or folds in the drapery. The focus in the Burlington was to reconsider artists, such as Leonardo and Botticelli, treated as emotional cult figures by the poetic criticism of the aestheticist movement, with a new formalist and documentary methodology and taking full advantage of the new comparative possibilities offered by photographic reproductions of works of art. For Ricketts, the main method of study of ancient art was a detailed formal analysis which would lead to its attribution. In a letter of September 1906 (The Burlington magazine, September 1906, p. 426) Ricketts recurs to the very contemporary vocabulary of Morellian analysis to confute an attribution to Hubert van Eyck as he invites the viewer to examine 'the hands, the feet, the folds of the drapery' of this painting (Stigmatization of Saint Francis, now attributed to Jan van Eyck).

'Stigmatization of Saint Francis', photograph as published in The Burlington magazine (work now attributed to Jan van Eyck, Philadelphia Museum of Art)
This philological approach found its parallel in contemporary art practice: there was a similar interest in renewing art through the investigation of its primary sources and the rediscovery of long lost techniques, as expressed in the work of Christiana Herringham, her translation of Cennino Cennini and her revival of the ancient technique of tempera. Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon too had similar aims in their revival of painting. Likewise, in Ricketts's writings on contemporary art modern masters were inserted in a chronological formalist reading of art history and compared to ancient artists.

For instance, the sculptor Constantin Meunier is seen as similar to those 'sober craftsmen who carved the Labours and the Months in Gothic cathedrals' and carrying the same 'male energies as Donatello' (The Burlington magazine, June 1905, p. 182). A similar need to understand the formal components and subjects of ancient art and transform them in a contemporary emotional statement can be seen in his series of the passion of Christ of 1902-1905. In his 'Descent from the Cross', the colouring, foreshortening and grouping recall clearly Italian Venetian art, but the lack of eye contact, absence of facial expression, the highly idealised, gloomy landscape create an atmosphere of reverie closer to early twentieth-century sensibility.

Charles Ricketts, 'Descent from the Cross' (William Morris Gallery, London) (another work of this series in The Tate, London)
Ricketts ceased to write for the Burlington following his disagreement with Roger Fry, one of the magazine's most influential founders, when Fry assumed the joint editorship of the magazine with Lionel Cust in 1909. As Fry wrote to R.C. Trevelyan: 'Ricketts has resigned from the Burlington Consulting Committee because I am editor! Isn't he funny? I hope I may persuade him to relent; not that he is important but I have a foolish liking for him' (**)

Famously Kenneth Clark had described Fry and Ricketts as critics belonging to two opposite schools (***), but for a few years shortly after 1900 Fry and Ricketts had much in common and were active in the same milieu. They exhibited their work in the same gallery, Carfax and Co., wrote for the same journal, The Burlington magazine, and their writings on art had much in common too. Fry and Ricketts both favoured the period between 1400 and 1700, Italian art in particular, and both had an understanding of the importance of the art of the past for the present, that Ricketts poetically defined as 'nothing beautiful and welcome in human endeavour is without ascendancy in the best of our experience, which we call the art of the past' (The Burlington magazine, April 1909, p. 8).

This common ground was to find a fraction since Fry had embraced the art of Cézanne and Post-Impressionism, favouring a visual vocabulary of formal primitivism that still recourred to ancient art but avoided the old-master inspired subjects, composition and subtle tonal colourism still preferred by Ricketts. Fry's support for Cézanne was 'The last straw', Ricketts wrote: 'There are frigid forms of mental prostitution which no lover of the old masters and fine moderns ought to abide' (****). Ricketts was never to write for the Burlington again.
(*) J.G.P. Delaney, Charles Ricketts. A biography. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990, p. 142-143.
(**) Letters of Roger Fry. Denys Sutton (Ed.). London,  Chatto and Windus, 1972, vol. 1, p. 309.
(***) Kenneth Clark, 'Foreword', in: Stephen Calloway, Charles Ricketts. Subtle and fantastic decorator. London, Thames and Hudson, 1979, p. 6.
(****) Delaney, p. 246 (letter to Sidney Cockerell, 6 January 1910).

A list of articles and letters by Ricketts in The Burlington magazine, compiled by Barbara Pezzini, will be published in next week's blog.
See also the website of The Burlington magazine.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

38. Those vanished hours of the rich Vale

The poet Gordon Bottomley (1874-1948) admired Ricketts and Shannon and collected their works, which he donated to the Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery in Carlisle. He  dedicated one of his plays (Gruach) to Ricketts and Shannon and reprinted the dedicatory poem in a collection, Poems of thirty years (1925).

Earlier, Bottomley had written four poems 'after the design of Mr. C.H. Shannon, R.A.'. This referred to a lithograph, 'The white watch' (1894) that was listed by Ricketts in his Catalogue of Mr. Shannon's lithographs as number 27: 'Two girls sleep side by side lit by splashes of moonlight falling from a casement outside the picture. On the right a third girl in her night-shift looks out into the night. A small lantern is fastened to her wrist.'

Charles Shannon, 'The white watch', lithograph, 1894
The first two poems with the title 'The white watch' were published in Bottomley's book The gate of Smaragdus (1904), p. xii-xiii and p. lx-lxi. Only the first one was reprinted in his Poems of thirty years, with an additional sub-title, 'Opus Juvenis' (p. 47-50); the first line is: 'I do not know how I came here'. It was undated in The gate of Smaragdus, but dated in Poems: 1900. The second poem in The gate of Smaragdus is sub-titled 'Op. 24, No. 3' and here the first line reads: 'The lonely house was down large trees'. Three women are described:

They brooded many a faint design
Charles Shannon some day will divine
to paint if he lives long enough.

In Chambers of imagery (1907) Bottomley published two further poems with the same title. The first one (p. 14-18), sub-titled 'Opus 28. No. 3', began with the words: 'Apple boughs lie in the eaves'. It was reprinted in Poems (p. 41-44) and there dated: 1904. The last poem in this series had yet another sub-title, 'Opus 27. No. 2' (p. 31-33) and the opening line read: 'O lifeless garden of the moon'. It was reprinted in Poems (p. 45-47), also dated 1904. The opus numbers probably refer to the music of Frédéric Chopin.

Bottomley's play Gruach was dedicated to Ricketts and Shannon, and published in 1921, together with Britain's daughter. Paul Delaney pointed out that Ricketts asked Bottomley to use only initials ('To C.H.S. and C.S.R.'), 'so that the dedication would be obvious only to the initiated'. In the dedicatory poem, dated, 'August 16th, 1919', Bottomley remembered his visits to the artists in their house in The Vale, Chelsea, where he found 'assurance that romance is wisdom and truth'. The modern reader of Bottomley's poems will have to conjure up the patience, as the poet is slow in coming to the point. In the fourth part of his long poem, he expresses what he expects from art, and what he learned from Ricketts and Shannon, and in the fifth part he expresses his friendship and remembers the mutual friends from the 'Paragon' (Michael Field).

To C.H.S. and C.S.R.

Now, when my life is more than half consumed,
And my yet steady flame gathers its force
More to aspire before the vague, last flare
(That lightens nothing) gutters in the night-wind,
Upon the midway ridge of my short days
I turn; I would not know what is to come,
Down the far slope of the withdrawing wave;
I would remain at this conspiring height,
Whose upward motion seemed my own, and keep,
Keep mine the swift doscoveries of life,
The passionate, the unexpected moments
That now, as I look back, are all I have,
And I have longed for, all I have to lose,
All, all I shall regret when I must leave them.

And first, after the daily use of love
That is not to be told, the common joy
Of life shared with the natural, earth-born forces,
I think of him who from Italian seed
Was born an English man, him who renewed
By moody English ways, at English tension,
For English unilluminated hearts like mine,
The lost Italian vision, the passionate
Vitality of art more rich than life,
More real than the day's reality.
Before I knew his name and his great acts
Of true creation done on God's behalf,
Within himself the assurance of a God,
I lived in the stale darkness of my kind;
And it was his sole deed that I have known
The power of loveliness, the power of truth,
And of imagination that concentres
Life into more than one life ever gave.
By nameless lovers, lovers with great names,
By fabulous ladies dreamed and almost seen,
By Dante's lost love Beatrice and his own
More wonderful and more desireable
Lost love Elizabeth, created once
For him, and once by him in recollection;
And by his rarer light; I learned to live.

The first amazement as of a spirit seen,
When in the arts that man has perfected
Beauty is known, is not maintained. The past
Must be resumed in each of us, to each
Deliver its attainment and its hope;
But every man to his own generation
Nearer approaches than to father or child,
And apprehends more intimately by it
The reality of vision and life; and it
More certainly divines the truth of him:
And so, when I had turned the last bright page
Of that dead painter of a keener life,
And felt that the dark mirror of his vision
Was broken, and knew I should not see again
Any new shape of that mysterious beauty
(Which by a heart-ache still brings back my youth),
I kindled with more life because I came
Of the same miracle of enhanced life
Continued and renewed in acts of yours.

Upon the Dial of the vanished Vale
Were counted chosen fortunate hours alone;
And there began the invention and the mood
That by the shapes of colour and air and light
Has made a life men might begin to-day,
yet fit for a lovelier earth that is to be,
Out of the England that is here and now -
A region better than dreams, a drawn-lit state,
Wherein the daily Greece Theocritus
Through his half-open door in the same way
Shews us is mingled with succeeding life,
Siena, Avalon, and the Western place
Where Deirdre learned to move and look at men,
And with the garden of living ladies where
A silvery bearer of a cyclamen
Looked at her painter and shall be remembered
With the Gioconda; and in this state I found
Assurance that romance is wisdom and truth.
And in those vanished hours of the rich Vale
One in whose birth England and Italy
A second time had kissed was also known;
One who received my first enchanter's force
Of vision to create a keener life;
In whom the knowledge of materials
Leads to design as form leads into colour.
Wherever human days and acts have burned
By breeding and great race to salient height
Of suffering or rapture or quivering
Domination they are subject to his mind:
He has made manisfest the shape of Silence:
By beings that never were, centaur and sphinx,
He has made clear the composition of life,
The nature of vitality: and by him
I have understood that I desire from art
And from creation not repeated things
Of every day, not the mean content
Or discontentof average helpless souls,
Not passionate abstraction of loveliness,
But unmatched moments and exceptional deeds
And all that cannot happen every day
And rare experience of earth's chosen men
In which I cannot, by my intermitting
And narrow powers, share unless they are held
Sublimated and embodied in beauty.

Dear Masters, in the acknowledgement of debt
There may be grace; but not enough for payment.
I write your names before this meditation
On an old theme, a birthright of our race,
Because I have put theirin all that is mine;
And so I give it to you, as I would give
All that is mine to you, recognisance
Of what I owe and have no means to pay.
You love the arts so well that you preserve,
Within your treasure-house that seems to rise
In clarity and in tranquillity
Above the impermanence of time, true works
That still are less than those you do yourselves:
Content me by receiving this among them
For your own sake and that of certain dead -
And, most for the two friends of Paragon
Who sought perfection and achieved far more;
And by my poem's admittance recognise
The duty that I offer, I too your friend.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

37. Patterned papers (e: A flowered paper)

Literature, in its 30 October 1897 issue, listed as a recent publication a new edition of the Vale Press: Henry Constable's Poems and sonnets. A later review (15 January 1898) mentioned the annotations to the text, which was edited by John Gray, as correct and austere. Type and paper were also mentioned, but, obviously, the editors of the academic journal thought these details of printing beneath them: 'We do not know whether it would be correct to say that it is printed in black letter; at any rate it is black lettery. The paper is rough and tough, a papier de luxe; and you might think from the look of the page that you were reading an old volume that had been sent to Messrs. Pullar and subjected to some cleansing process.' The reference is to Pullar's Dye Works in Perth.

The border for the first text page was later the subject of some comments, but the patterned paper for the cover was largely ignored. Charles Ricketts, who designed it, mentioned it in his Bibliography of the Vale Press: 'Bound in a flowered paper'.

Cover paper for Henry Constable, Poems and sonnets, designed by Charles Ricketts (1897)
It seems to be a repetitive design of a leaf and an acorn connected by a twisted curled stem, but a closer look reveals that the pattern is irregular, and although the small acorn device can usually be found at the lower part of a curl, in some places it has been omitted. 
Detail of cover paper for Henry Constable, Poems and sonnets (1897): the acorn in row 3, left, is omitted.
 In some parts of the design, there was hardly enough room for the acorns, and instead of being positioned at the bottom of the curly stem, they were placed to the left of the curl (see the image), again omitting one acorn due to lack of space.
Detail of cover paper for Henry Constable, Poems and sonnets (1897): the acorns in the upper row are placed to the left of the curved stem, or omitted; in the lower row they are placed at the lower end of the curve.
These tiny details (the image above is of an area of 50x20 mm) are responsible for the liveliness and individuality of the patterned paper; all rows - horizontally and diagonally - contain deviations and are not the straight lines they at first may appear to be. This can be seen in the light of the Arts and Crafts Movement's inclination for hand-crafted books, as opposed to the industrial production processes. Ricketts, however, used modern techniques whenever he thought them fit, as in this case: the design for the cover paper was first engraved in wood and then cast as an electrotype.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

36. An artists' presentation copy

Some private collectors are open about their purchases, others not. Some have lended their most exclusive books for exhibitions, others keep them in a room, which even their intimates (if any) are forbidden to enter. There are collectors who have become famous during their life time, others disappear without a trace.

In New York, Sotheby's will sell the library of Jacques Levy on 20 April. The catalogue explains that this will be the first time that the collection can be seen by the public. Levy died more than 30 years ago, in 1980. He was born in Istanbul in 1905 - he shared the dates but possibly not the ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre.

Levy was 'educated in French schools', lived in New York, but travelled in Europe and South America. His eclectic collection was started in the 1940s. In 1948, for example, he acquired a copy of Oscar Wilde's The importance of being Earnest; this was one of only twelve copies on Japanese paper, bound in full vellum, with the author's dedication to Robert Ross.

Longus, Daphnis and Chloe, illustrated by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. London, The Bodley Head, 1893, p. 60-61.
Somewhere along the line he acquired an extraordinary copy of Ricketts' and Shannon's early masterpiece, Daphnis and Chloe, which was published for the artists by Mathews and Lane at the Bodley Head in June 1893. There are a few copies, in which Thomas Sturge Moore later ascribed the design of the individual wood-engravings to either Ricketts or Shannon. The Levy copy also has marginal pencilled notes to identify the artists, who divided between them the design of the illustrations, which were subsequently drawn on the wood by Ricketts and cut by Shannon. It took them about eleven months to finish the job.

The Levy copy has some unique selling points: the book is accompanied by a set of 27 proof impressions of the wood-engravings (on 26 sheets), 14 are signed by Ricketts, 10 by Shannon, and 2 sheets are signed 'C.H. Shannon & CR'. The provenance of this copy is known, as it was once owned by the New York banker and collector Joseph Manuel Andreini (1850-1932). Andreini was a member of the Grolier and Rowfant Clubs and one of his bookplates was designed by Lucien Pissarro whose Eragny Press books he bought at the time they appeared. He also collected Vale Press books, such as the volumes containing Chatterton's poems and Tennyson's lyric poems.

Before Andreini took hold of the copy, however, it was given by the artists to one of their publishers, (Charles) Elkin Mathews (1851-1921). The Levy copy has been inscribed on the front free endpaper by Shannon: 'To C Elkin Mathews May 19th 1893', and the inscription is also signed by Ricketts. Sturge Moore (to whom the book had been dedicated) also signed this copy. The dedication is dated almost three weeks prior to the publication date.

Who will be the next owner?