Wednesday, January 29, 2014

131. The Burlington Magazine Index Blog

Barbara Pezzini of the Burlington Index Project - she wrote for us about Ricketts and The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs in 2012 - has started The Burlington Magazine Index Blog in November of last year. Published on an irregular basis, seven blogs have now been posted on former editors of the journal, the use of photography to art critics, art dealers' advertisements, and a poem and a story by Robert Ross that make fun of art critics.

The Burlington Index Project discloses the hidden treasures in this art magazine, that in a certain phase of his life, was important to Ricketts. He wrote a series of articles for the magazine, and his name frequently figured in its columns.

Writing about his description of Titian's paintings three weeks ago, I was reminded of the review that was published by the Burlington on his book on Titian in 1910. It was signed C.J.H., Charles John Holmes (1868-1936), one-time manager of the Vale Press who had moved on to become co-editor of the Burlington Magazine. By the time of his writing the review of Titian, he was director of the National Portrait Gallery. In 1916 he was appointed director of the National Gallery.

Holmes wrote a review that showed his acute knowledge of recent publications in the field. He praised the writers' point of view 'of a working painter', which brought a 'true originality' to the book, he questioned the need for one of the illustrations, criticized the limited discussion of the problematic dating of Titian's birth, and corrected the occasional error:

Now and then he slips, as in the reference to Ruskin (p. 171), who from first to last never wavered in his wholehearted veneration for Titian, but such slips are rare.

An anonymous reader also noted this slip and made a marginal note on this page.

Handwritten note in a copy of Charles Ricketts, Titian (1910)
This copy was probably owned by a connoisseur, who used many pages for handwritten annotations, and inserted paper clippings about newly discovered paintings by Titian, or sale results, in the late twenties and thirties. 

 Annotations and clippings in a copy of Charles Ricketts, Titian (1910)
Blank pages were used for listings of paintings and galleries in addition to Ricketts's List of works, and newspaper articles were pasted over some illustrations, as in the case of Titian's portrait of Philip II.

Annotations and clippings in a copy of Charles Ricketts, Titian (1910)
The annotations in pen seem to be written by another reader than the pencil underscores and remarks that occur throughout the book, as page 106 shows. The Pencil Commentator adds information from a 1927 article, and refers to George Gronau's earlier work, Tizian (1900). The Pen Commentator, in a paragraph about 'Ecce Homo', inserts details about the 'Kunst & Wunderkammer' in Prague, wrongly 'correcting' Ricketts's phrasing of the transfer of the painting from Prague to Vienna.

Annotations in pen and pencil in a copy of Charles Ricketts, Titian (1910)
Alas, there is no name or bookplate, nor are there any personal references that can lead us to the writer(s) of these annotations. The only thing to go by, is a 'Presentation copy' stamp on the title page. 

'Presentation copy' of Charles Ricketts, Titian (1910)
Holmes review (The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, June 1910, p. 184-185) ended with a recommendation:

The book, in short, contains much that might assist the producers, the collectors, and even the critics of modern art, while we have said enough to show that to the library of the student it should become essential.

The 'Presentation copy' shows that the book was used as a work of reference for the twenty years that followed its publication.

And that, in a way, is the function of The Burlington Magazine Index Blog. It will publish details and stories about the magazine, while calling attention to new research, which will prompt you to visit a gallery or museum, or consult your bookcase, or to type up your findings and questions.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

130. Christ on the Cross

The Centrum voor Teksteditie en Bronnenstudie (Centre for Text Edition and Information Research) in Gent (Belgium) maintaines a website for the Flemish magazine Van Nu en Straks, which was issued between 1893 and 1901.

In January 1894, Ricketts published a drawing that was later used as the closing illustration for Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx in Van Nu en Straks. The book was published a few months later.

Charles Ricketts, illustration for Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (1894) [detail]
Letters concerning the illustration were published in a book on the genesis of the magazine, Het ontstaan van "Van nu en straks". Een brieveneditie 1890-1894 (Antwerp, 1988). The letters can be searched and consulted for Ricketts references online.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

129. A Landscape painted by Charles Shannon?

In the summer of 2013 one could find an oil painting by Charles Shannon on Ebay. It was offered by Colin's Antiques and Rare Books, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and praised as 'A Gorgeous Landscape in Nice Condition'. Priced at US$ 4,687,50, the painting was to be had for a reduced sum.  

Charles Shannon, oil painting of a landscape, 1891
The price is now back to its original of US$6,250,00, although the option'Best Offer' is available. The landscape was described as follows: 'A dirt path winds past flowers to a fence, a field with haystacks and figures. In the distance are mountains'. The signature appears to the lower right: CH Shannon 1891'.

Charles Shannon, signature on the oil painitng of a landscape, 1891
Is this a Shannon painting? The work is said to be 'in very good condition', in 'an age appropriate frame', that has a small area of loss. Buying paintings on Ebay, of course, is not without its hazards, and apart from that, it should be noted that landscapes are not the highest in ranking if it comes to Shannon's paintings. His evocations of women and children, and his portraits are more attractive.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

128. Titian's confession of faith as an artist

After the closure of the Vale Press in 1904, Charles Ricketts did not abandon book design. He was not only asked to design Oscar Wilde's De Profundis (1905), he also did the binding for Wilde's collected works (1908) and made illustrations and designed bindings for books by Michael Field, Gordon Bottomley, Laurence Binyon, W.B. Yeats, Bernard Shaw, and others. Almost every year, until the end of his life, he designed a book. 

However, it is quite right to state, as Nicholas Frankel does in his introduction to Charles Ricketts's Everything for Art: Selected Writings (recently released by The Rivendale Press), that Ricketts had turned his attention to other occupations, mainly painting and art criticism. Frankel reads between the lines of his farewell to the Vale Press:

We can already sense a diversification in Ricketts's interests written between the lines of the Introduction to A Bibliography. Ricketts was beginning to turn away from matters of printing and bookmaking to those broader questions of art that would preoccupy him for much of the next two decades. Indeed as the "Writings on Art" that follow show, Ricketts career as a book-designer and printer can justifiably be seen as something of a detour - albeit a vital and influential one - in a career that had begun by pressing questions about the constitution and basis of art. (p. 41)

Ricketts published three books of art criticism - The Prado and Its Masterpieces (1903), Titian (1910), and Pages on Art (1913) - and while he designed bookbindings for others in those years, he did not design these three.

Spine of Charles Ricketts, Titian (1910), printed with the series design in gold on blue buckram
With his early writings on art Ricketts introduced a symbolist influence in England. In these, and in later pieces, he stressed the importance of design, of harmony, skill and technique. According to the art historian Roger Fry, Ricketts was an exceptional writer on art, and one who 'talked of colour with such profound feeling for its imaginative significance'. Ricketts also emphasized the skill of the painter Rubens, whom he judged one of the best draftsmen (only Michelangelo was better): his figures are 'flexible solids seen in space, and influenced in their shape by the laws of balance and the actual facts of their substance'. Of all artists that he admired - Gustave Moreau, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Diego Vélazquez - Titian was his greatest example.

Spine of the rare dust-wrapper for Charles Ricketts, Titian (1910), printed with the series design in blue on brown paper
Nicholas Frankel writes about his love for Titian's work:

Both The Prado and Titian speak loudly of Ricketts's love of Venetian painting. But for Ricketts, Titian above all was "the father of modern interpretive painting". Both books contain judicious summations as well as startling readings of Titian's paintings, cloaked in a painterly prose that closely mirrors the experience of viewing the painting's canvas. No reproduction does justice to the textures and colours of Titian's Bacchanal, Ricketts observes for example, and poor restoration had weakened the picture by the time Ricketts viewed it in the flesh. (p. 49-50)

Titian's was "the faculty to order things with the power of selection which belongs to the poet," Ricketts observes, and "his gift of selection in the storehouse of Nature is so great that we are liable to forget the limitations and conventions which had existed before him." It would not be enough to say, however, that "he opened the window in the palace of Art upon the wealth of Nature" since Titian undoubtedly "shut them upon many details which earlier masters had noted." Titian's power, says Ricketts, lies in his grasp of "larger facts, such as the solidity of ground, the breadth and movement of the sky, the individuality in the structure of the trees, the balance and breadth in the construction of the human figure, and the moving mystery in the light and shade." The designs of earlier painters, and even those of the great Florentine primitives, affect us by comparison as "scenes upon a stage, where sky, trees, and buildings are represented at full size, yet actually dwarfed by comparison to the scale in nature. "Titian, by contrast, "reduced the size of his 'theatre,' and chose facts that would fall readily into relation." (p. 51)

Spine of a later binding for Charles Ricketts, Titian (1910), with the series design blind-stamped on blue buckram
When we come away from Ricketts's art criticism, it is his own prose that lingers in the mind (p. 51).

Frankel then quotes a passage that starts with:

The Garden of Loves, the Bacchanal, and the Bacchus and Ariadne were amongst those fine things which Michael Angelo saw and praised at the court of Ferrara, together with a portrait now unfortunately lost. Together they form what may be called Titian's confession of faith as an artist....

Frankel concludes his introduction to Ricketts's writings on art with:

The passage gives a clue to the peculiar genius of Ricketts's own writings about art: we admire the acute sensitivity and rich enthusiasm of Ricketts's judgments, forgetting that these are produced by artistic means no less than the paintings he criticizes. The interlocking rhythms and textures of Ricketts's prose capture the overall "design" of the painting, mirroring if not creating the experience of viewing it. Under the ease and apparent spontaneity of Ricketts's writings on art, we might say, lies a skill that is born from Ricketts's intimate familiarity with the literary arts no less than his encyclopedic knowledge of the visual ones. (p. 52)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

127. "The thread of the dreadful 'interview'"

Today, one hundred and ten years ago, Charles Ricketts sat to a portrait for Shannon, then wrote about the painter Watteau and read a book by Edmond and Jules de Goncourt. In the evening he wrote in his diary: 'Felt a sort of unreasoning pleasure at the old year being done with'.

As to things over and done with, during an interview with Temple Scott, given many years earlier, in 1896, Ricketts gave the impression that he would be glad if it was over. The interviewer commented that on 'a wintry Friday night' he visited Ricketts and Shannon in their house for an interview that was published in the December 1896 issue of Bookselling. At the time, they were living at 31 Beaufort Street, Richmond, where Ricketts had a first floor studio. The interview took place at Shannon's studio, which was upstairs:

A comfortable arm chair was found near a lamp, and Mr. Ricketts edged himself away into the shadow, prepared to stand the siege of "interviewing."

After a long talk, dinner was served, and:

Dinner being over, we surrounded the fire to resume the thread of the dreadful "interview." We had rather let the interview alone if we could have got Mr. Ricketts to go on without our questioning. [...] However, there was nothing for it but to go on. 

Ricketts was not that unwilling to be subjected to an interview, and he even gave 'a welcome for another visit', but it seems that the dinner talk was far more interesting than the answers about the Vale Press books. The 'reminiscences of past struggels', the 'shrewd remarks' on contemporary art, and the 'delightful stories told of days when the "heart was young"' had been freely distributed at the dining table by Ricketts, who obviously delighted in telling those entertaining stories, but was not that keen to speak about the work he had under hand.

The window of 'At the Sign of The Dial', Hacon & Ricketts's shop at 52, Warwick Street, London
Bookselling, December 1896, p. 506): alas, it is impossible to see what  exactly is on display
At the time of the interview Ricketts was 30. The first seven books of the Vale Press had been published that year, the firm Hacon & Ricketts had opened a shop at 52, Warwick Street (near Regent Street), and his business was in need of the promotion that an interview could bring. 

The interview has now been re-published (in a corrected and standardized version) in Nicholas Frankel's anthology Everything for Art: Selected Writings (2013). The illustrations, including the press mark, and five illustratrions from Vale Press books, as well as a rare photograph of the shop ('At the Sign of the Dial'), have not been reproduced with it. 

When the shop was opened, in April 1896, it did not yet have the sign board painted by Shannon, but by June it was in place. Temple Scott, the interviewer for Bookselling, told of his first impression of Ricketts, which I quoted in blog 29: The Beautiful Forehead.

The interview was followed by a bibliography (in Bookselling, not in Everything for Art), including a section of 'Books in preparation'. Only one book was never realized.

The interview is important for several reasons. For example, Ricketts was asked whether he would have his type 'used in the printing of all books', and the answer is rather vague and long, but it comes out that only texts that 'deserve being so embodied' would be set up using his type. Secondly, the interview contains early comments on the shape of his letters, on the texts he wanted to print, and on the intentions and reception of The Dial. The thread of the article was the position of the artist in contemporary society, and Ricketts's position in the book business was clearly not that of a printer or regular publisher, but an artist.

'Books in preparation' (Bookselling, December 1896, p. 512)