Wednesday, February 26, 2014

135. Ricketts in a Cathedral

When Eric Binnie published his book on The Theatrical Designs of Charles Ricketts in 1984, he listed three designs for The Coming of Christ by John Masefield, which was performed in Canterbury Cathedral on 28 and 29 May 1928: a costume for a Roman soldier (in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum), a design for Gaspar and one for an angel, both held by the Bell Estate, the executors of the Bishop Bell and Mrs Bell of Chichester.

George Bell (1883-1958) had married Henriette Livingstone in 1918, and was appointed Bishop of Chichester in 1929, but from 1925 to 1928 he had been Dean of Canterbury, which explains how he came into the possession of two of Ricketts's designs. He initiated the Canterbury Festival of the Arts, the first of which was the Masefield play in the summer of 1928, and the most famous one was T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral in June 1935.

Ricketts worked with colour schemes, as he recorded, and for The Coming of Christ he dressed Christ in white and red, the Virgin Mary in Gentian blue, the warriors in 'steel and blood', and the archangels in gold. The girl-angels were, like Mary, dressed in Gentian blue.

Charles Ricketts, costume design for 'Angel in the Myrrh' (1928) [Chris Beetles Gallery, London]
One of the costume designs has turned up for sale in London, where Chris Beetles Gallery offers it for £6,500.00. It is inscribed with the title (below the mount), and measures 12x12½ inches.

The 1928 performances by amateurs from Canterbury were well attended. A newspaper reported that beforehand 6,000 applications for tickets had been made (Dover Espress, 25 May 1928), as word was out that the play contained some revolutionary speeches. Indeed, some shepherds engaged in a debate of a communistic and atheist character. Masefield, confronted with protests, said: 'How do you expect shepherds to talk? I would have them talk something livelier than sheep' (Derby Daily Telegraph, 24 May 1928).

On both days, Whit Monday and Whit Tuesday, the play was performed before two audiences of 1,500 each, one in the late afternoon and one in the evening. A review was published in several newspapers, showing that the critic was in awe of the costume designs:

The rich colours of the costumes, blending effectively with the background of the choir screen, in front of the nave steps where the performance took place, made a magnificent spectacle. [...] The costumes, designed by Mr. Charles Ricketts, R.A., were made by Canterbury women, and the accessories by students at the Canterbury School of Art.'

Later, the play was performed by the Citizen House Players of Bath at the Wellington Town Hall (Monday 21 January 1929), using Ricketts's costumes. The music, as in the earlier performances, was by Gustav Holst.

Eric Binnie, The Theatrical Designs of Charles Ricketts. Ann Arbor, MI, Umi Research Press, 1985, p. 149, 151.
Joseph Darracott, The World of Charles Ricketts. London, Eyre Methuen, 1980, p. 175-178.
J.G. P. Delaney, Charles Ricketts. A Biography. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990, p. 366.
Carl Woodring, 'Masefield, Ricketts, and The Coming of Christ', in: Columbia Library Columns, May 1986, pp. 15-24.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

134. The cover design of James Thomson's 'Poetical Works'

This week an inquiry was made about James Thomson's Poetical Works, published by Reeves and Turner in 1895. In my exhibition publication A New Checklist of Books Designed by Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon (1996), I listed the cover design in 'Appendix 2. Books attributed to Ricketts, but not in fact designed by him'.

The question was raised by Simon Wilson:

[...] I was puzzled by the entry in Appendix 2 of the checklist where you say the Thomson Poetical Works (two vols incidentally) is not by Ricketts. As you can see the CR monogram is very clear in the lower left corner of the cover design. So what is going on? You cite information from Carl Woodring, to whom respect, but surely the monogram is definitive proof?' 

Monogram on the front cover of James Thomson, Poetical Works (1895) [image: collection Simon and Alessandra Wilson]
As I promised Simon, here is my answer.

The cover design was not mentioned in the advertisements for the book, see for example The Academy (26 January 1895): 'Now ready, price 12 s. 6d. The Poetical Works of James Thomson ("B.V."). The City of Dreadful Night, Vane's Story, Weddah and Om-El-Bonain, Voice from the Nile and Poetical Remains. By James Thomson ("B.V."). Edited by Bertram Dobell. With a Memoir of the Author. 2 vols., crown 8vo.' This was followed by a quotation from John Addington Symons's Memoirs, and by the publisher's address. Ricketts's name as a designer was frequently used by publishers for their advertisements, but not in this case.

The Publishers' Circular of the same day mentioned some more details: '2 vols. post 8vo. pp. 828, 12s. 6d.', but no specifics on the cover's design.

For a long time, nothing happened. Then, in 1966, John Russell Taylor published The Art Nouveau Book in Britain, his pioneering and highly acclaimed study on Art Nouveau book design, which became a guide for collectors worldwide. It was reprinted more than a decade later. In his chapter about Charles Ricketts, the cover for Thomson's Poetical Works was said to be by Ricketts, although the handwritten title in the upper left corner and the waves in the background do not seem to be examples of Ricketts's Art Nouveau styleTaylor used an illustration to point to the chronological puzzle that was posed by this design: 

'for the cover [...], where considering the subject-matter of the contents a morbid, decadent style would be thoroughly justified, Ricketts reverts unpredictably to a simple, artless, almost 1850-ish brand of Pre-Raphaelitism.'

This was quoted by other scholars. Giles Barber, in his defining article on the Rossettian influence on book covers in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, 'Rossetti, Ricketts, and Some English Publishers' Bindings of the Nineties' (The Library, December 1970), wrote about the design: 'At complete variance with The Sphinx he [Ricketts] could produce, in 1895, for The poetical works of James Thomson [...] a cover more reminiscent of the most Pre-Raphaelite of Rossetti's drawings'. 

Two years later, George Perkins, working for the Zurich based antiquarian firm L'Art Ancien, produced a new tool for the ardent collector, A Collection of Books Designed by Charles Ricketts (1972). The collection was sold to John Paul Getty Jr. (1932-2003), whose book collection is now in Wormsley. In the L'Art Ancien catalogue, the binding for The Poetical Works of James Thomson was listed in the section 'Books designed by Ricketts not present in the collection'.

James Thomson, Poetical Works (1895) [image: collection Simon and Alessandra Wilson]
In 1973, a leaflet with 'Corrigenda & addenda' was issued by L'Art Ancien, de-attributing the design, without mentioning the name of another designer. Perkins acknowledged Carl Woodring for the information about Thomson's poems.

In 1996, in my checklist, I quoted Perkins and, indirectly, Woodring.

Carl Woodring, in a letter dated 5 May 1997, wrote to the Dutch Ricketts & Shannon collector Ton Leenhouts about his de-attribution, and professed that, in turn, he owed his information to another collector and professor:

'Charles Gullans of UCLA first identified for me the initials, taken by Taylor to be CR, as GR for George Rhead'.

That would explain why the monogram in the design is not typical for Ricketts, who used other monograms in the nineties; Ricketts never let the bow of the 'c' intrude into the letter 'r'. It also explains away this unchronological design in Ricketts's career, and by naming Rhead explains its Pre-Raphaelitism. 

George Woolliscroft Rhead, design for plants
The 'monogram is definitive proof', as Simon Wilson argued, and he is absolutely right. If we look at the work of George Woolliscroft-Rhead (1855-1920), we come upon the exact same monogram from the early eighties to the Great War. See, for instance, his book on Modern Practical Design (London, Batsford, 1912), which is available on the Internet Archive. The title page was designed by the author, and signed GR in the decorative flowers and branches underneath the title shield. Other illustrations, for Alfred Tennyson's Idylls of the King (1898), and Studies in Plant Form (1903), display an identical monogram as the one used for the cover of Thomson's poems.

Several monograms used by G. Woolliscroft Rhead

The binding design of The Poetical Works of James Thomson should, therefore, definitely be attributed to George Woolliscroft Rhead. Charles Ricketts had nothing to do with it.

[Many thanks to Simon Wilson for making the observation.]

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

133. A painting attributed to Charles Shannon

On Saturday 8 February Thomaston Place Auction Galleries in Thomaston, Maine, sold carpets, paintings, statues and other antiques from local homes and from the Boston area. Among these was a small painting, attributed to Charles Shannon.

Charles Shannon (attributed to), 'Fox Hunter Watering His Horses' (oil painting, no date)
The scene was described as 'Fox Hunter Watering His Horses', and the miniature oil painting, measuring 7,6x10,4 cm, has an inscription on the back, attributing the painting to Shannon, whose signature CHS might be in the lower left corner on the front. 

Back panel to 'Fox Hunter Watering His Horses' (attributed to Charles Shannon)
If the painting can be attributed to Shannon, it certainly is an early work, from the eighties or early nineties of the nineteenth century. At auction, there were some bidders in the room and others on the internet, and for the small oil a price of US$ 475 was realized.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

132. A Lithograph for The Burlington Magazine

Every now and then, The Burlington Magazine reproduced works of art of which the originals were for sale to the subscribers. In December 1906 Charles Shannon contributed an original lithograph, called 'The Morning Visit'.

Charles Shannon, 'The Morning Visit' (Lithograph, 1906)
The Lithographs of Charles Shannon, a catalogue compiled by Paul Delaney in 1978, lists this lithograph, which was issued separately, as number 68, and states that for the annual subscribers of The Burlington Magazine at least 110 copies were printed. These were issued in a blue paper wrapper. A copy in a private collection has the number 292, and we may assume that at least 300 copies were printed.

Colophon for 'The Morning Visit' by Charles Shannon (Lithograph, 1906)
The reproduction in The Burlington Magazine (December 1906, p. [187]) was preceded by an introduction of C.J.H., Charles Holmes.

It is a commonplace of current criticism to speak of Mr. Shannon's painting as an echo of that of others, Whistler, Watts and Titian being the masters who perhaps are most generally assumed to be his artistic originals. [...] As times passes, however, the charges of imitation grow fainter, there is less and less inclination to label a painting by Shannon with another name than his, and the popular feeling about him is becoming the same as that which has long been held by those who have known his lithographs.
For a lithograph, like a drawing, is a more direct utterance of a man's self than anything which can be expressed in the more complicated and, even in the most skilful hands, more accidental medium of oil painting. Hence in his series of lithographs, which must now be about seventy in number, Mr. Shannon's personality shows more clearly, perhaps than in any other portion of his work, and this Morning Visit might almost be regarded as its embodiment. We see there an artist to whom instinct for design, for the airy spacing of the gestures of women and children, is the one thing of importance, to whom the inexpressive details and violent surprises of modern realism seem, if not precisely vulgar, at least alien to the temper in which great art is conceived. [...]
In Mr. Shannon's lithographs this fluent line is modified by the modern feeling for vibrant light; a feeling apparently not quite compatible with perfect use of the oil medium. Here then we have to recognise how marvellously belanced is this art which comprises such gracious amplitude of mass[,] such vital suppleness of contour, and such a charm of silvery atmosphere within its modest scope.

The lithograph depicts a female figure, with long unmade hair, lying on a bed, reaching for her baby that is held firmly by a nurse. Mother and child are naked, (the nurse is dressed), and a symbolism of purity seems intended. There is a curtain in the background.