Wednesday, January 14, 2015

181. Théo Van Rysselberghe meets Ricketts and Shannon

The other day, I received an email asking for background information about a card written by Charles Ricketts to the Belgian artist Théo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926).

Théo van Rysselberghe, Self-Portrait (1916)
The correspondence card contains a short message, and is addressed to: 

T. Van Rijsselberghe Esq
c/o Mrs Morrell
1 Craven Street
Charing Cross

The card is postmarked with the date 6 June 1894. Mrs. Morrell was Charlotte Morrell, wife of William Morrell, a 'Private Hotel Keeper'. There were many small and quiet family hotels in the neighbourhood of The Strand.

Charles Ricketts, Autograph Letter to Théo van Rysselberghe, June 1894 (Private Collection)
In May 1894, Van Rysselberghe was in London. At the end of May, Lucien Pissarro wrote to his father Camille: 'Pas étonnant que tu n'aies pas de nouvelles de Rysselbergh[e] il est à Londres' (in reply of a letter of 26 May 1894): 'no wonder you haven't heard from Rysselbergh[e], he is in London'. Camille Pissarro, his wife Julie and their son Félix were planning a trip to Brussels, and on 25 June Théo van Rysselberge would greet them at the train station of the Belgian capital.

Before Van Rysselberghe returned to Belgium, he met Ricketts and Shannon. He was introduced to them by Lucien Pissarro. Contacts between Ricketts and Dutch or Belgian artists had already been established in the previous years. Leo Simons, for example, had been an intermediary between Ricketts, Shannon and the editors of Van Nu en Straks, a Belgian magazine that counted among its collaborators both Ricketts and Van Rysselberghe. The French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the Belgian poet Émile Verhaeren paid Ricketts and Shannon a visit in 1894. And Ricketts's books would be exhibited in Brussels by La Libre esthétique in 1894 and 1897.

In May 1894, Van Rysselberghe visited London with his friend Pierre-Marie Olin (1865-1931). In 1887 he painted a portrait of Olin and in 1891 he decorated his book of poems, Légendes puériles. Olin wrote about art and had been the editor of the symbolist magazine La Wallonie (1886-1892). Olin dismissed Lucien Pissarro's paintings as lacking in strength and character, but his opinion of Lucien's wood engravings had been favourable.

Pissarro received them in Epping. He and Van Rysselberghe discussed working with glass, but nothing came of this. 'Ce bon Théo est vraiment bien charmant', wrote Lucien: 'The good Théo really is a charming fellow'.

Lucien accompanied Van Rysselberghe to The Vale to meet Ricketts and Shannon, and apparently Van Rysselberghe asked Pissarro about their furniture. Ricketts wrote to him:

Dear Mr. Van Rijsselberghe
Pissarro tells me you are fascinated by our chairs.

Dining Room, The Vale, around 1890
Paul Delaney described their rooms of this period: 'Furnished simply with scrubbed wood furniture and a table later usually covered with wood-blocks and burins, this was their work-room as well as the place where they received their guests.'

The Parlour, The Vale, around 1889
Another room was discussed by Stephen Calloway: 'In the parlour at the Vale, a new uncluttered and deliberately unpretentious approach is apparent. The chimneypiece, screened with a good piece of eighteenth century needlepoint, is flanked by two plain chests of drawers of the same period and by a pair of simple wooden cottage armchairs of a type costing about five or ten shillings only, when a Morris Sussex chair was not so durable and could not be had for less than seventeen.'

Ricketts's letter is more specific about the chairs:

They are ordinary high-backed kitchen chairs but unvarnished [.] this necessitates their being ordered a few days before wanted [.] they cost 6 shillings & we attained ours at a little shop at the entrance to The Vale itself [.]  The name of the man is Brown.
Yours in haste
C. Ricketts

It is unlikely that Van Rysselberghe ordered new chairs from this shop.

The card testifies Van Rysselberghe's extended stay in London, and his visit to Ricketts. It is delightfully detailed about a minor point, the provenance of Ricketts's and Shannon's cheap furniture in The Vale.

Charles Ricketts, Autograph Letter to Théo van Rysselberghe, June 1894 (Private Collection)
[Thanks are due to the private collector for permission to illustrate Ricketts's letter to Van Rysselberghe.]
[The information about Mrs Morrell was provided by Michael Seeney.]

Stephen Calloway: ‘“Tout pour l’art”. Charles Ricketts, Charles Shannon, and the arrangement of a collection’, in: The Journal of The Decorative Arts Society 1890-1940, Number 8, 1984, p. 21.
Paul Delaney, Charles Ricketts. A Biography. Oxford 1990, p. 40.  
Adrienne et Luc Fontainas, Théo van Rysselberghe. L'ornement du livre. Catalogue raissonné. Antwerpen 1997, p. 54-55.
André Gide et Albert Mockel, Correspondance (
1891-1938). (Ed. Gustave Van Welkenhuyzen). Genève 1975, p. 50.
The Letters of Lucien to Camille Pissarro 1883-1903. Edited by Anne Thorold. Cambridge 1993, p. 363-368, 372, 383-384, 389.