Wednesday, December 25, 2013

126. An interview with Charles Ricketts

Charles Ricketts, Everything for Art: Selected Writings contains two 'interviews' with the artist in the appendices.
Detail, showing the Adobe Jenson, used in Charles Ricketts, Everything for Art: Selected Writings (2013, p. 331)
These texts have been taken from Bookselling and from The Sketch. Between 23 January and 24 April 1895, The Sketch published a series of four pieces on 'The Vale Artists'. In the first article, devoted to 'Charles Hazelwood Shannon', the group was introduced:

The little coterie with whose labours I am about to deal has forced itself into public notice. Appealing at first to but a small section of the cognoscenti, Charles Ricketts, Charles Hazelwood Shannon, Lucien Pissarro, Reginald Savage, Sturge Moore, and others, have slowly but surely advanced. True is that the man in the street knows them not, nor does the Philistine aspire to understand them; but that is because they have not courted the glare of publicity, and have been content to discover and emend their own imperfections, to work out their own artistic salvation, unknown, save to a few.

Portrait of Charles Shannon (The Sketch, 23 January 1895, p. 617)
One of these few was 'Theocritus', a pseudonym for an unknown writer whose elaborate style demonstrates that useful information is not his core business. Readers of The Sketch had seen the names of Ricketts and Shannon in an earlier article on their friend Raven Hill (who was by then already a well known illustrator) [see The Sketch, 14 November 1894, p. 136]. In his first article (based apparently on an interview), it takes Theocritus a full column to reach the work of Shannon, who, he says 'draws his design upon the stone with lithographic chalk; he puts it under acid to render it insensible to water; he presses and prints the limited number of impressions, and then removes the design from the stone, so that no success, however great, can result in the publication of more than the advertised number of copies'. Theocritus goes on to explain the history of lithography. All in all, only half of the piece is actually about Shannon. Though the text about Ricketts (published 13 March 1895, p. 350) is shorter, it is more to the point. It discusses his cloth bindings, his illustrations for The Dial, and the pre-Vale books.

Nicholas Frankel, in his comments, does not reproduce (or mention) the two illustrations that were published with 'The Vale Artists. II. - Charles Ricketts'. There was a reproduction of Shannon's portrait of Ricketts, a lithograph called 'The Wood Engraver' (originally published in 1894). There was also a pen drawing by Ricketts, 'Phaedra and Ariadne', that had been published before in The Dial, Number III (1893). Frankel's rendering of the text is true to the original (except for a small change in the title), and he silently corrects spelling errors in the original text. He has standardized the rendering of titles in italics ('the "House of Pomegranates" has become A House of Pomegranates), some words and comma's have been deleted. 

A whole phrase was suppressed: 'A specimen of his work is given here, and admirably illustrates his qualities.' This, of course, referred to the pen-drawing from The Dial. Text editions always involve tough decisions. Personally, I would have preferred to have the authentic text, including errors and inconsequential punctuation, as footnotes can explain those, and I prefer to have a trustworthy text that can be quoted without having to go back to the original source (which is usually hard to find). Nowadays, of course, many of these texts are (or will be shortly) available in digitized form on the internet, however, not by rule, nor are they always freely accessible. Anyway, a note on the editorial principles is lacking.

Detail, showing the first page of the interview from Bookselling in Charles Ricketts, Everything for Art (2013, p.333)
The most intriguing aspect of Theocritus's account is about Ricketts's 'modus operandi'. He relates that Ricketts did not use zinc plates for his book bindings, but brass plates, 'and the work is all the better'. A brass plate for Silverpoints in the collection of the Bodley Library can attest to this. 

Also, 'he draws his designs in gold, and not in black, so that they are seen from the very commencement in the form they will ultimately retain'. I have never seen a drawing for a binding by Ricketts that was done in gold, but of course they may still exist, and I would love to know the whereabouts of any remnants of such book designs. It should be noted, that this text is based on what Ricketts had told The Sketch, and it may well be that other designers used the trick as well. If you know, please enlighten us. 

The second appendix of Everything for Art contains a real interview, which will be the subject of next week's blog.