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.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

125. A new Charles Ricketts compilation

It is not every day that we can announce a new publication by Charles Ricketts, and strictly speaking, he is only indirectly responsible for the new book that has been issued by the Rivendale Press. Everything for Art: Selected Writings is a compilation of essays by the artist, that every scholar and eighteen-nineties enthusiast should acquire.
Dust-wrapper for Charles Ricketts, Everything for Art (2013)
The anthology includes published tracts on typography, reviews of exhibitions and art books, as well as memoirs of his friends and some pieces of original fiction, demonstrating the versatility of Ricketts, as a book designer, artist, writer, and critic.

The editor is Nicholas Frankel. The book is well produced, as are all books by the Rivendale Press, though I would have liked the colophon to state the typeface, the paper, and the number of copies printed. The publisher informed me that a 90gms Artic matt paper was selected; the type is Adobe Jenson. The book has, of course, not been issued as a paperback; the gatherings are bound in a brown cloth binding. The dust-wrapper shows four designs for initials that Ricketts did for his Vale Press books (now in The British Museum).

Spine of binding for Charles Ricketts, Everything for Art (2013)
I will quote from the texts in future blogs, because this book is of course an important contribution to Ricketts scholarship. Today, I will only say, that there are four sections and two appendices. 

The sections are: 'Writings on printing and book design', 'Writings on art', 'Memoirs and recollections', and 'Fiction'. The appendices unite two interviews from The Sketch and Bookselling, and an essay by Gleeson White on the work of Ricketts.

The readers of this blog will be pleased to see that the three essays on Egyptian art that I discovered a few years ago - they were not discussed before I blogged about them in November 2011 (see blog no. 16. Head in Obsidian) - have been included in full. Readers who do not have access to JSTOR can find the full text (not the images) in this new anthology.

I was surprised to see that Ricketts's essay on 'William Morris and His Influence on the Arts and Crafts' was selected for the 'Writings on Art' section when I would have expected this piece on book design to be in the first section that deals with this subject, and rightly so, because these articles helped shape Vale Press and other books.

I was also surprised to find no index in the book. We will have to compile that ourselves. We need a volunteer!

Starting next week, we will immerse ourselves in Ricketts's world by means of Nicholas Frankel's new selection of texts. Get yourself a copy, so that you can join the conversation!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

124. Ricketts in academia

Scholars have always corresponded with each other, exchanging articles, books, as well as thoughts (and gossip). An important and growing online site for finding and reading new scholarly papers is

The site also provides separate groups with a platform of their own to share papers on specific subjects. The reader of this blog will not be surprised that there is a special page for scholars who research the work of Charles Ricketts. The Charles Ricketts group, at this moment, has seven subscribers from America, England, and The Netherlands. There could be more. You are invited to join the group.

There is also a select Charles Shannon group (with two participants). In contrast to these small groups, there are huge numbers of scholars for 'Cultural history' (16.106), 'Literature' (more than 105.000), wheras 'Book history' unites more than 3.400 scholars. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

123. A Shannon lithograph in Holland

It was not often that lithographs by Charles Shannon turned up at auction in The Netherlands before World War II. Every now and then an auction catalogue listed one or two.

A sale at Van Stockum's Antiquariaat on 25-27 June 1918 contained one lithograph by Shannon, which was described in lot 462 as 'The Youth of Bacchus. - Litho. folio'. This probably was 'The Infancy of Bacchus' from 1897. Of this lithograph an edition in green was published in the fifth number of The Dial (1897).

Charles Shannon, 'The Infancy of Bacchus', lithograph, 1897
The catalogue contains old and modern prints, portraits and drawings from the collection of H. Dyserinck (1838-1906, minister of marine affairs) and of the artist ('kunstschilder') Th. van Hoytema (1863-1917), who became famous for his children's books illustrations in the nineties, The Ugly Duckling (1894). 

The catalogue contains etchings by Whistler and Haden, but no illustrations (or books) designed by Ricketts, and no other prints by Shannon. It is highly probable that the Shannon came from Van Hoytema's collection. On 18 December, Van Hoytema was born exactly 150 years ago.

Note, 18 December 2013: Theo van Hoytema's first children's book has been fully digitized by the National Library of the Netherlands: Hoe de vogels aan een koning kwamen [How the birds acquired a king].