Wednesday, June 26, 2013

100. Francis Ernest Jackson and the Ricketts Legacy

To celebrate the hundredth contribution for 'Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon', J.G. Paul Delaney wrote a guest blog about their friend Francis Ernest Jackson:

Francis Ernest Jackson
Among Ricketts’s closest friends in his later years was the artist F. Ernest Jackson (1872-1945). It was in some ways the attraction of opposites. As opposed to the aesthetic Ricketts, with his passionate collecting and his extravagant purchases of flowers to decorate his house, Jackson was a down-to-earth Yorkshireman, who was very sensible and could be a bit gruff. However, they shared important values. Ricketts had been partly brought up in France and had an attitude to art that was more European than British, while Jackson had trained in Paris, could speak excellent French and remained a strong Francophile all his life. In France, he had come to see lithography as more than a reproductive medium, and, as both artist and teacher, he had become a founder of the revival of artistic lithography in England. Indeed, it was through lithography that he met Shannon, who was also involved in reviving this medium, and thus came into the Ricketts and Shannon circle.

Charles Shannon teaching at the Byam Shaw. Students left to right: Richard Finny, winner of the Prix de Rome, Stephanie Cooper, Nancy Brockman, CHS, Unidentified, Francis Cooper
More importantly, Jackson, who was professor of drawing at the Royal Academy Schools, was considered by many to be the finest draughtsman, and the best teacher of drawing of the human form, of his generation. He was a strong supporter of the Classical Tradition in art. Despite his years in France, he had not been ‘tainted’ by modern movements in Art, like Post-Impressionism, that Ricketts so detested. What’s more, Jackson was a competent administrator, and in 1926 became Director of the Byam Shaw School of Art, which under his leadership became one of the leading art schools of its time in Britain, producing between 1926 and 1945 two winners of the Prix de Rome and two runners-up for this prestigious scholarship as well as a winner of the Abbey Scholarship. 

Jackson teaching at the Byam Shaw
No doubt it was this competence as an administrator that led Ricketts to name Jackson one of his executors. This role had always unofficially belonged to Thomas Sturge Moore, one of Ricketts’s oldest friends and disciples. However, with the years Sturge Moore had become rather vague and muddled, and with Shannon having suffered brain damage in his fall from a ladder in 1929, the estate needed someone who was efficient and strong-minded. His choice proved to be right, as in administering Ricketts’s estate, Jackson did his best to do what Ricketts would have wanted, in both preserving his and Shannon’s collection as much as possible, while at the same time selling some things to make sure that Shannon received the best care possible. In doing this, he had to put up a great deal of interference both from Sturge Moore and from the Master in Lunacy, who had legally become involved in Shannon’s care, but who knew nothing of Ricketts and Shannon and their values.

F. Ernest Jackson
In the years after Ricketts’s death, the Byam Shaw School under Jackson’s direction, remained one of the few places in London where the names of Ricketts and Shannon were still revered. Shannon had taught there for a time, and Ricketts had made a practice of having a weekly lunch with Jackson. Jackson often spoke of them to the students, some of whom like Brian Thomas, winner of the Prix de Rome, and George Warner Allen, became devoted to Ricketts and Shannon and to the artistic values that they represented. Jackson gave each of them a postcard that he had received from Ricketts. Warner Allen, who knew whole sections of Ricketts’s books on the Prado and on Titian by heart, continued to paint in the manner of Titian, while Thomas, who realized that there was no money in such painting, became a leading decorative artist for churches and older buildings, one area where the classical tradition still survived. Thus it was partly through Jackson that Ricketts and Shannon were able to pass on their artistic values, however unpopular and old-fashioned they seemed to the artists of the modern movement, to the new generation.
      J.G. Paul Delaney