Wednesday, August 29, 2012

57. Curious errors (3)

Stephan Tschudi Madsen's phrase about 'Charles Ricketts and his pupil Robert Shannon' (see my comments in no. 55) was repeated literally in a Belgian publication about literary magazines around the turn of the twentieth century: Raymond Vervliet's De literaire manifesten van het fin de siècle in de Zuidnederlandse periodieken 1878-1914, published in Gent in 1982:

'Charles Ricketts en zijn leerling Robert Shannon' (p. 114).

At the time, Madsen's study about art nouveau was no longer the only book on the subject of art nouveau, and both Stephen Calloway and Joseph Darracott had published a book about Ricketts that could have been consulted by Vervliet, who, also, neglected to read John Russell Taylor's 1966 more general study on The art nouveau book in Britain, which by 1982 had reached an almost iconic status as a work of pioneering research and had recently been reprinted.

Dust wrapper for John Russell Taylor, The art nouveau book in Britain (reprint, 1980)
I suppose that Vervliet's work, which was an important contribution to our knowledge of fin-de-siècle periodicals in Belgium, will have been the source for another round of quotes containing Madsen's error.

And what about Madsen himself? Was he the source of 'pupil' and 'Robert Shannon', or was he also quoting a not completely trustworthy publication?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

56. Curious errors (2)

My summer series of curious errors continues today. In Simon Loxley's Type. The secret history of letters (2004) I came across a passage (on page 94) about the type designer Frederic Goudy, who was the owner of The Village Press, an American private press:

Inspired by Charles Ricketts's Songs and Poems of Sir John Suckling, designed by Ricketts and Thomas Cobden-Sanderson, Goudy now decided he wanted to set up his own press.
Patterned paper (detail), designed by Charles Ricketts, for The poems of Sir John Suckling (1896)
I wrote about the patterned paper for this book, The poems of Sir John Suckling (1896) in December 2011. This Vale Press book was, of course, designed by Ricketts alone. Cobden-Sanderson, at that time a bookbinder, who, in 1900, would become the co-owner of the Doves Press (with Emery Walker) had nothing at all to do with the design of the Vale Press books. Where did Loxley get this piece of misinformation?

It turns out, that Loxley, a graphic designer and writer on design and typography, quotes an author and editor of The New York Times Book review, D.J.R. Bruckner, who published a biography about Goudy in 1990: Frederic Goudy. Bruckner related on page 44:

One book Goudy encountered in the Saints and Sinners Corner was The Songs and Poems of Sir John Suckling, printed in the Vale type designed by Charles Ricketts and Charles James Cobden-Sanderson, with woodcut borders and initials by Ricketts.

Loxley corrected Charles James Cobden-Sanderson to Thomas [James] Cobden-Sanderson, but should have deleted his name completely. Bruckner's text contains more of such trivial errors, calling Ricketts Sir Charles Ricketts (as Walter Tracy pointed out in The new criterion); Ricketts was elected as a member of the Royal Academy, but the abbreviation 'R.A.' behind his name should not be confused with a knighthood. Elsewhere (page 38 and the index page) Bruckner refers to Ricketts as 'C.W. Ricketts', adding a puzzling initial 'W'.

Goudy himself wrote, in the introduction to A bibliography of The Village Press by Melbert B. Cary, Jr. (1938, p. 5-6):

I have told elsewhere how the sight of a Vale Press copy of the Poems of Sir John Suckling first stirred my imagination regarding its type, the hand-made paper and its general get-up as a private press publication. At that time this particular book, to me, was an aristocrat belonging to an aristocracy of craft and typographic art. A new leaf in the book of my life was turned and my interest in fine bookmaking was born; a wide prospect was disclosed and a world that lay beyond the horizon of my imagination invited exploration. [...] Two or three years ago, Miss Fanny Borden, Librarian of Vassar College Library, at a talk I gave before a group of Vassar College students, remembered that I mentioned this book as the earliest inspirer of my, as yet, unawakened taste and desire for greater knowledge of private press publications, and kindly presented me with a copy of the Poems; not, of course, the actual copy I saw at McClurg's [a bookshop in Chicago], but one of the same issue, which I note now is dated 1896, thus fixing the beginnings, the vision, it may be, of The Village Press itself.

Another copy of this book, inscribed by Goudy to Edmund Geiger Gress, is said to be in the collection of the Grolier Club, New York.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

55. Curious errors (1)

Now and then, one comes across a paragraph on Ricketts and Shannon in books about art and literature of a general kind, containing curious errors regarding biographical facts. One example is a monograph by Stephan Tschudi Madsen (1923-2007), Art nouveau, published in English in 1967. On page 80 we read:

'in 1889 the first number of The Dial appeared, edited by Charles Ricketts and his pupil Robert Shannon.'

One may wonder how Charles was rechristened Robert in the first place, and then - while he was two years older - became to be seen as his pupil. Of course, literature about Ricketts and Shannon was rare and not that well informed at the time. But still, the misguiding detail seems to betray a more than superficial knowledge about the pair.
Front cover for the Dutch translation of S. Tschudi Madsen, Art nouveau (1967)
The Dutch translator made it worse. Duco van Weerlee, in his 1968 translation of Art nouveau (published by W. de Haan/J.M. Meulenhoff), introduced several misspellings for Ricketts, such as 'Rickett' and 'Ricket' (p. 81) - as if losing the name, one letter at the time, - and he rechristened him as well, not to Robert, but to 'Thomas Rickett' (p. 56, 58, index p. 256). One finds these errors repeated by other writers.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

54. Queer domesticity

The July 2012 issue of the Journal of British studies (available through JSTOR) features an essay by Matt Cook, senior lecturer in history and gender studies at Birkbeck, University of London, about the 'domestic passions' of Charles Shannon and Charles Ricketts. An earlier presentation on the subject was given on 28 October 2010 at the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research and can be heard on the website of the Backdoor Broadcasting Company (BBC).

Homosexuality and home life in the twentieth century is one of Matt Cook's current projects, he is now writing a book on Queer domesticity, and he has published London and the culture of homosexuality 1885-1914 (2003) and A gay history of Britain (2007).

His article, 'Domestic passions: unpacking the homes of Charles Shannon and Charles Ricketts', opens with a description of their activities at Chilham Keep in Kent, which they used as their country retreat.
The interior of the Keep at Chilham Castle
Their redecoration of the Norman tower was illustrated in an article in Country life (June 1924) written by Christopher Hissey. Matt Cook analyzes Hissey's words:

'Shannon and Ricketts aligned themselves with [...] a particularly British and especially late Victorian and Edwardian middle- and upper-class domestic culture. If their investment in the home was in many ways typical of their class and of this period, however, it also spoke of them a little queerly - and not only because the home was increasingly seen as a feminine preserve and passion. Hussey hints at this in his mention of the keep's association with Edward II and the final (unnamed but notorious) "crisis" of his reign (the king was purportedly murdered by the anal insertion of a hot poker [an uncorroborated story]). This was, it seemed, an appropriate domestic heritage for the new residents. By imagining them in a "peacock bower," meanwhile, Hussey nodded to late nineteenth-century Wildean aestheticism. Having established the couple in their ancient setting and rendered them respectable in that way, he then signals and also legitimizes their queerness. The couple, I argue in this article, did something similar for themselves in the way they decorated, furnished, and lived at the keep and in the London homes they shared from 1886 in Kennington, Chelsea, Richmond, Kensington, and Regent's Park.'

Art reproductions pinned on the wall of Ricketts and Shannon's home at Kennington Road
One might have issues with the argumentation, and Matt Cook seems to realize that when he says:

'Neither Shannon nor Ricketts described themselves as homosexual, Uranian, or inverted, nor did they allude to the sex they might have had together. Ricketts playfully refused to answer the classicist John Addington Symonds's pleading questions on the subject, though in relaying the anecdote down the years indicated an ease and a certain mischievousness about the topic. Instead, Shannon and Ricketts's bond and relationship was articulated by the men themselves and by their circle of friends in terms of their coresidence; their emotional, practical, and aesthetic investment in their homes; their vast collection of art and antiques; and the artistic and design work that was closely identified with the places where they lived (their Vale Press, for example, was named after their first Chelsea home). [...] I examine some of the ways in which home functioned for the couple as a symbol and material indicator of queer alienation, belonging, difference, and normalization in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.'
Original prints or drawings hanging on a door in the dining room of Lansdowne House (enlarged)
Cook realizes that we know little of Shannon's sexual tastes, apart from his heterosexual adventures and his contemplating marriage on several occasions. The intensity of their bond is of course difficult to understand. Ricketts and Shannon had an unconventional life, certainly, but that their connections and affections 'cut across gender, sexuality, age, and class divisions' can not be seen as typical of homosexual or homosocial couples alone, as a lot of artists gave over to a nonconformist way of living.
A table with objects in Lansdowne House, drawing room, c. 1907
Cook has a tendency to interprete all Ricketts's sayings as official communications of the couple, while he also goes back and forth in time, negating the different circumstances of their lives, that underwent some radical changes after 1900. However, Cook belongs to a group of scholars that have come to study Ricketts and Shannon's work and life from an angle that may well lead to new discoveries, and the rearrangement of known facts brings up to date insight in the extraordinary lives of both artists.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

53. A medal for a portrait

On Saturday 5 February 1898 a private view at the Dutch Gallery in London introduced the guests to medals, plaques, seals, and some drawings, paintings and other objects at the First exhibition of the Society of Medallists. A catalogue was set in Ricketts's Vale type and printed on Vale Press paper by the Ballantyne Press for E.J. van Wisselingh's small gallery that, according to a later commentary in Literature, 'seldom fails to interest the visitor' (8 December 1900).

Catalogue of the First exhibition of the Society of Medallists (1898, p. 4-5)
The Dutch art dealer had opened a London shop in 1892 (it was to be closed in 1916), hoping to broaden the scope of his stock and to represent English and Scottish artists. He mounted three to four exhibitions a year at 14 Brook Street, which, however, were less successful than his shows in Amsterdam. He also introduced the work of Ricketts, Shannon, Rothenstein and others to the Dutch audience in the late nineties, but, although much effort was put into it, moving the exhibition from Amsterdam to The Hague and Rotterdam, sales were far from impressive.

Ricketts was a member of the Society of Medallists, when Alphonse Legros was its president, and Charles Shannon a committee member. In 1897 Legros had made a medal with a portrait of Ricketts and an image of a woodcutter on the reverse. Legros had also made a portrait medal of Shannon, and these two medals, along with a medal of the Duke of Devonshire, 'were hung by themselves; twenty-five others inhabit one case', as the Pall Mall Gazette reported (7 February 1898). The same paper wrote about a portrait of Shannon, a pencil drawing by Legros, 'a most excellent likeness admirably modelled'.
Alphonse Legros, 'Ch. Shannon', 1897, cast bronze (scanned image from The studio, 1898, by George P. Landow, see The Victorian Web)
The portrait of Shannon on Legros' medal was appreciated by the sitter, but not that much by Ricketts, who thought it a little dull or quiet. Ricketts later reworked the portrait as a wood-engraved frontispiece for the Catalogue of Mr. Shannon's lithographs (1902).
Charles Ricketts (after a medal by Alphonse Legros), 'Ch. Shannon', wood engraving, frontispiece for A catalogue of Mr. Shannon's lithographs (1902)
In Ricketts's version the lettering is cluttered, and the face looks less fair, a bit older, with the hair curling more lively and wild than in Legros' portrait. Shannon's face in Legros' version is more or less blank, while in his partner's case, the expression has a stern, or even disapproving, look. The mouth in the wood-engraving is different. The lips are opened, but as if Shannon is withholding comment. The eye, too, has a more tired look to it than in the sportsman-like version by Legros, as if Ricketts wanted to picture a man who has experienced life instead of studied it. It also seems that Legros saw Shannon as a somewhat prim English artist, and Ricketts preferred to see Shannon as a Roman emperor.