Wednesday, June 5, 2013

97. "Pen and ink drawings in my earliest manner"

I received an inquiry about Charles Ricketts's illustrations for Oscar Wilde's poems in prose. The question came down to: were these illustrations ever published, and where are they located?

Wilde's Poems in Prose include 'The House of Judgment', 'The Disciple', 'The Artist', 'The Doer of Good', 'The Master', and 'The Teacher of Wisdom'. As a group, they were published by the author in The Fortnightly Review, July 1894.

Oscar Wilde, 'The Disciple', in Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Prose Pieces (London, Methuen and Co., 1908, p. 206-207)
It seems that Ricketts planned a series of drawings for an illustrated edition shortly afterwards. They were stored away and found, in 1918, in 'a batch of old Vale scraps, tracings and drawings, published and unpublished', as Ricketts wrote to his friend Gordon Bottomley (27 July 1918). The drawings were among those for the first issue of The Dial (1889), for Daphnis and Chloe and The Sphinx.

In 1924 Ricketts produced a new series of drawings (letter to Bottomley, 13 June 1924): 'Recently I executed eight drawings in my old manner illustrating Wilde's Poems in Prose'. This was suggested to him by his American dealer Martin Birnbaum. He also produced a new set of drawings for The Sphinx. As Paul Delaney wrote: 'Both sets were sold by Birnbaum in America, but when one of the Poems in Prose was eventually returned Bottomley snapped it up, as well as some of the first sketches for The Sphinx designs.'

The 1924 illustrations were sold by Birnbaum to American collectors and, to my knowledge, they have not been recorded since. (See note.)

Thomas Sturge Moore argued that 'only the preparations remain with us. In them, lyrical felicity is replaced by grander conceptions and a line richer in suggestion: the artist had matured.' This series of sketches is now in the Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery in Carlisle. They are collected in an album that was purchased by Bottomley at Sotheby's in 1938. He bequeathed it to Professor Claude Colleer Abbott, his literary executor, who in turn left it to Tullie House in 1971. A catalogue of the Ricketts items in the Bottomley collection was published by Michael Barclay in 1985.

Oscar Wilde, 'The Teacher of Wisdom', in: Selected Prose of Oscar Wilde (London, Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1914, p. 128-129)
Jeremiah Romano Mercurio, in his recent essay about two of the remaining sketches, wrote that Ricketts did 'nine pen-and-ink illustrations - one for each of the six prose poems Wilde published, with two designs and three drawings for 'The Doer of Good' and an additional sketch of three dancing figures, which might have been intended to serve as a frontispiece'. He noted that the illustrations have not yet been published as a set.

The sketches for Poems in Prose (c. 1924):
1. 'The House of Judgment'.
Reproductions: Moore, 1933, plate XXXVII; Calloway, 1979, p. 90; Barclay, 1985, p. [46]; Mercurio, 2011, p. 14 (in colour). 
Bibliography: Barclay, 1985, p. 65: No. 15 in Album.
2. 'The Disciple'.
Reproductions: Barclay, 1985, p. [44]; Mercurio, 2011, p. 10 (in colour)
Bibliography: Barclay, 1985, p. 65: No. 14 in Album.
3a. 'The Artist'.
Reproductions: -.
Bibliography: Barclay, 1985, p. 65: No. 9 in Album.
3b. 'The Artist'. (Another version, framed). 
Reproductions: -.
Bibliography: cf. Barclay, 1985, p. 43, No. 2: 'one framed': Acc. No. 125-1949-341 (not in Album).  
4a. 'The Doer of Good' (a standing figure, two figures on a couch).
Reproductions: -.
Bibliography: Barclay, 1985, p. 65: No. 18 in Album.
4b. 'The Doer of Good'. Preparatory sketch.
Bibliography: Barclay, 1985, p. 65: No. 17 in Album. 
4c. 'The Doer of Good'. Second design (a standing figure of Christ, a kneeling figure in front, two angels in the top corner)
Reproductions: -.
Bibliography: Barclay, 1985, p. 65: No. 12 in Album.
5. 'The Master'.
Reproductions: -.
Bibliography: Barclay, 1985, p. 65: No. 13 in Album.
6. 'The Teacher of Wisdom'. 
Reproductions: Peppin, 1975, p. 51; Darracott, 1980, p. 30; Barclay, 1985, p. [42].

Bibliography: Barclay, 1985, p. 65: No. 16 in Album.7. Sketch of three dancing figures.
Reproductions: -.
Bibliography: Barclay, 1985, p. 65: No. 10 in Album.

Michael Richard Barclay: Catalogue of the Works of Charles Ricketts, R.A. from the Collection of Gordon Bottomley. Stroud, Glos, Catalpa Press Ltd., 1985; Stephen Calloway: Charles Ricketts. Subtle and fantastic decorator. London, Thames and Hudson, 1979; Joseph Darracott: The World of Charles Ricketts. London, Eyre Methuen, 1980; Jeremiah Mercurio, 'Charles Ricketts' illustrations for Oscar Wilde's Poems in prose: an unrealized project', in: Victorian Network, vol. 3 (2011) No. 1 (Summer), p. 3-21; Charles Ricketts, R.A. Sixty-Five Illustrations. Introduced by T. Sturge Moore. London, Toronto, Melbourne & Sidney, Cassell & Company Limited, 1933.

Note, 2023
Three drawings from the 1924 set have been traced since this blog was written.