Wednesday, May 8, 2013

93. Did not sleep last night

During the First World War Charles Ricketts was, as we have seen in blog number 89 (A costume correspondence), engaged in charity activities, and he wrote letters and post cards to several friends who were in the trenches in Flanders or France. His diary frequently mentions or describes disturbing events, such as air raids on London, or casualties at the front, or elsewhere.

His diary note for May 8, 1915, reads:

Did not sleep last night, thinking of Lusitania and poor Lane, who, to-day, is among the missing. Have been depressed and disturbed with burst of anger - near to tears at the thought of the danger to Venice. How will the world be able to look itself in the face when the war ends?

The New York Times reported the fate of the Lusitania
The Lusitania had sunk the day before in the waters of the Irish channel. A U-boat had fired torpedos, and there were two explosions noted by the captain before the ship went down in about 20 minutes. Sir Hugh Lane - born in 1875 and knighted at 33 - was among the casualties. Lane was an art dealer and collector, whose collection of impressionist paintings is now, for the greater part, housed in the Dublin City Gallery. He grew up in England, but regularly visited the house of his aunt Lady Gregory in Ireland. 

The threat to Venice that Ricketts reported was related to the Treaty of London, which had been signed on 26 April 1915. Italy joined the side of Allied countries hoping to gain parts of the Austrian-Hungarian empire close to Northern Italy. At the Italian Front battles were fought between 1915 and 1918. Strategic bombings by the Empire were few, but Ricketts's fears were not unfounded, as two frescoes by Tiepolo in the Chiesa degli Scalzi were damaged by bombs. The remains are now in the Gallerie dell'Accademia.

Lane was 'a very old friend' of Ricketts and Shannon (as Ricketts wrote to Rik Roland Holst in June 1915), but the friendship had only started in 1904, when Shannon was invited by Lane to participate in an exhibition in St Louis, Missouri. The exhibition was cancelled, and Shannon's paintings went to the Guildhall in London for an exhibition of Irish artists, after he had been assured by family members that there was a drop of Irish blood in his veins. Ricketts had no Irish roots whatsoever. Lane brought them buyers for their paintings. 'The Parable of the Vineyard', a painting by Ricketts that he donated to the gallery that Lane was planning at the time, is now in the Dublin City Gallery.

Charles Ricketts, 'The Parable of the Vineyard', oil on canvas,  c. 1912 (Photo: © Dublin City Gallery)
On 13 May 1915 Ricketts wrote in his diary that he noticed that thoughts about Lane and his tragic death were slipping into the past. But a short while later, other events brought them back to the foreground, when he had to report 'sad deaths among young soldier friends', such as Cyril Holland, the eldest son of Oscar Wilde, 'who was charming', and who died on 9 May 1915.