Wednesday, June 27, 2012

48. Ireland where I have never been

I am in Dublin to present a paper at the annual conference of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP), and although I will not speak about Ricketts, there are many reasons to write about Ricketts and Ireland. He designed books, costumes and theater sets for the works of three major Irish writers, Oscar Wilde, G.B. Shaw and W.B. Yeats.

Writing about the scenery he designed for Yeats's play Well of the Saints he confessed to another Irish writer, J.M. Synge: 'I wish I had been given the time to reason it out properly. I had to work from Yeats's descriptions of Ireland where I have never been' (letter, c. May 1908). It seems his travels always led him in the opposite direction, to France, Italy, Spain and other continental countries.

That aside, he was not very interested in the Irish cause, and would be bored by Yeats's nationalism, but had sympathy for the Irish stage and when the actors came to London he was in the audience. Yeats became the first playwriter for whom Ricketts designed costumes and Yeats and Ricketts worked together on several occasions.

Cover for W.B. Yeats, Essays (1924), designed by Charles Ricketts
One of his later book designs is for Yeats as well, and it was used for six volumes of the collected works that were published by Macmillan from 1922 onwards. The books were bound in green cloth, with a blindstamped design of architectural elements, roses in the four corners (sometimes wrongly identified as birds), sprays of yew and their berries in the corners of the central panel, which also contained circles and circled dots. The design was also used for the dustwrapper. 
Dustwrapper for W.B. Yeats, Essays (1924), designed by Charles Ricketts
Yeats found the designs 'perfect and serviceable', especially the bookplate-like decoration on the endpapers, depicting 'a unicorn couching on pearls before a fountain, backed by a cave full of stars', as Ricketts wrote to Yeats: 'On the crest of the cave is what I believe to be a hawk contemplating the moon'. These symbols were very dear to Yeats, who had wanted them on the cover, which Ricketts found unsuited for the material: a cover stamped in blind required a formal and abstract treatment, or it would look 'poor and ambitious'. It shows how practical Ricketts was as a designer, and also that his later designs are less crowded and much more clear than his very early designs, although his roses can still be taken for birds and his pearls for pebbles.

Decoration on the endpapers of W.B. Yeats, Essays (1924), designed by Charles Ricketts

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

47. English art and the Netherlands

Rythmus, a yearbook for the study of the fin de siècle, was published earlier this month. It contains twelve essays about English art and literature in relation to art and literature in the Netherlands and Belgium around 1900: Lopende vuurtjes (publisher: Verloren). The contributions are based on papers given at a conference in Groningen (see my blog of 14 September 2011).
Cover of Lopende vuurtjes (2012)

The essays are divided into two categories, one of which is concerned with 'tranfer'; the second theme is 'integration'.  My essay is about the integration of the private press movement in the Netherlands. The abstract reads:

Between the foundation of the first modern private press, William Morris's Kelmscott Press (1890), and the foundation of the first Dutch private press, De Zilverdistel (1910), the private press ideals were introduced in the Netherlands. In the process these ideas were transformed, English ideas were translated into Dutch practices and only partly realized by a small number of presses. A lively debate on modern typography ensued, and the relation between professionals and amateur printers was difficult: the private press was seen by some as a superfluous movement. In this essay, the transition of the private press ideas from the United Kingdom to the Netherlands is described from a personal, semantic and technical perspective. Generation gaps, terminological evolutions, and technical developments influenced the outcome. Contacts between British and Dutch artists were frequently based on one-way traffic, and fuelled by a conscious transnationalism. Delaying factors were diverging literary and artistic goals, as well as divergent commercial motifs. In both countries the ideals of the private press contributed to the design in commercial publishing and the ideals in book design were realized by the 1950s.

The essay frequently mentions the names of Ricketts and Shannon, as the Netherlands is the only country where Ricketts and Shannon were written about earlier than the founder of the Kelmscott Press. However, after his death in 1896, Morris became the major influence on book design for a while, until his books went out of fashion and the pages of Cobden-Sanderson, whose pure typography was better suited to the Dutch taste, became a model of fine printing.

Paul van Capelleveen, 'Van private press naar eigen pers en retour. De introductie van de private press-gedachte in Nederland, 1890-1930', in: Lopende vuurtjes. Engelse kunst en literatuur in Nederland en België rond 1900. Anne van Buul (ed.) Hilversum, Verloren, 2012, p. 197-214, colour plate 11.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

46. Sorrows, prayers, gaiety, and consolations

In his diary for 13 June 1900, Charles Ricketts wrote:

With Beethoven the conscious intellectual effort is more apparent than in Bach. I believe that Robert Browning's verdict on Shakespeare's amazing facility is applicable to Bach. Beethoven, with his sorrows, prayers, gaiety, and consolations urges you to endure the possibilities of passion and regret. Was Bach, the sedentary and solitary Bach, even more sensitive? Sensitive is not the word, possibly. "Sentient" is better. In a formula of pure pattern and ornament one becomes aware of a thousand exquisite things crumbling away like the glittering mist from a fountain. The Adagio of the D Major Concerto left me almost shattered as if I had been listening to the nerve-racking sounds of Wagner, in which physical strain counts for so much. Baudelaire compared Chopin's music to the flight of a glittering bird over an abyss. This summarizes the effect of a great deal of the finest music - the first movement, for instance, of Beethoven's great concerto for the violin.

[From: Self-Portrait taken from the letters & journals of Charles Ricketts, R.A. London, Peter Davies, 1939, p. 38].

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

45. Lux, Ars, Spes and Night

The first issue of the magazine Black and White was issued on February 6, 1891. The masthead for volume 1, number 1, was especially designed by Charles Ricketts and incorporated the words 'LUX' (as 'LVX'), 'ARS', 'SPES', and 'NIGHT'. The 'weekly illustrated record and review' carried this masthead for a short period only. It was not used after 13 June 1891.

Nameplate, designed by Charles Ricketts, for Black and white, 6 February 1891

The pen drawing, 90x232 mm was signed, lower left 'DEL C RICKETTS'. In advertisements (11 July and 7 November 1891) Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon were mentioned among the artists 'who have aided "Black & White" with brush, pen and pencil', which was true, as they had published a number of drawings in several issues.

For the advertisement leaves another illustration was in use from the beginning:

Nameplate for the advertisements in Black and white, 6 February 1891

This was not signed, and much more academic in style. After six months another masthead made its appearance on the opening page:

Nameplate for Black and white, 20 June 1891

In 1900 yet another masthead was in use:

Nameplate for Black and white, 7 July 1900

The later mastheads have a more restraint, businesslike character, while the first one, which was meant to disseminate the involvement with art work, was done in Ricketts's early drawing style, with crowded images and complex symbolism, filled to the brim with detail, figures and objects, while the lettering was placed a little too loosely, the individual letters sometimes being obscured by other parts of the drawing. The title Black and White did not stand out clearly, and obviously, the sales department did not approve.