Wednesday, February 25, 2015

187. A Passionate Pilgrim

A recent auction at Bloomsbury's contained a lot with a copy of the Vale Press edition of The Passionate Pilgrim and the Songs in Shakespeare's Plays (1896).

The Passionate Pilgrim and the Songs in Shakespeare's  Plays (1896) (label on front cover)
The hammer price was £600, the book was sold for £744. That seems a lot of money, even for a copy with a valuable provenance. This copy has the book-label of the writer Marguerite Radclyffe Hall and her lover Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge. Recently, the price of ordinary copies of this book have been around £200. 

However, the book was offered as part of a lot containing multiple items of which this title was mentioned first. Some of the other books in the lot were a Nonesuch Press edition of Milton's The Mask of Comus, and some publications of the Casanova Society. In fact, the catalogue description mentioned only six titles (in 20 volumes), while the whole consisted of circa 60 volumes in total.

Lot 370 in Bloomsbury Auctions, 'Bibliophile Sale', 12 February 2015
A private collector will not want to bid on a collection like this, but one never knows. Perhaps, a Radclyffe Hall collector wanted to have this copy, or, of course, a Casanova collector saw an opportunity to complete his collection. Probably, this lot was bought by a book dealer. Nowadays, buyer's names are not revealed. In the past, auction houses published the results in which the names of buyers were mentioned, which is now an important source for provenance research.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

186. Ricketts's Last Review

A few weeks before Charles Ricketts died on 7 October 1931, his last book review appeared. The Observer published it on 16 August 1931.

In this piece of criticism Ricketts turned to Egyptian art, one of his favourite subjects, which was treated by the authors of The Art of Egypt. Through the Ages, published by The Studio in London (1931). Ricketts's review, as usual, contains maxims and opinions that are highly quotable, such as: 'art has learnt to smile'.

The Art of Egypt. Through the Ages (1931, spine)
This particular review has never been reprinted, as was the case with many critical pieces that Ricketts wrote for magazines and newspapers.

Age-Long Egypt

Egypt has been described as the fountain head of ur Western civilisation; to-day other contributory sources are known; this has not invalidated her achievement. No other culture has shown so long a period of success; where Persia, India, and China can boast more than two thousand years of Art, Egypt can claim many millenniums. Two causes have saved the vestiges of this civilisation, a desire for the imperishable in the materials used, and the cult of the dead. Over the several schools of official and sacred  sculpture hung the rigour of ritual and rule, not in the same degree the service of the tombm and to this we owe the preservation of countless beautiful things of everyday use. It is often said that Art for its own sake, save in Greece, Italy, China, and Japan, is of modern invention; like all theories the exceptions prove the opposite to be equally true; necessity does not command a delight in technical beauty, and in all things of personal adornment we detect in Egypt the aesthetic impulse, divorced from utility. The volume under review fulfils a need for such a work in English, for, despite the epoch-making discoveries of our archaeologists, such as Sir Flinders Petrie and Mr. Howard Carter, an apathetic and somnolent British Museum has made the public indifferent to Egypt. Even in this book, outstanding treasures in our national collection are not included, such as the Lion found on the site of Gebel-Barkal, the world's supreme masterpiece in animal scripture, nor the head of Amenhotep III, the most technically perfect example of colossal sculpture known, while illustrating several things in Bloomsbury which most museums can rival or outclass. We miss the famous portrait of Nefretiti, besides some unique early base-reliefs also in Berlin. There is, however, a welcome avoidance of dry technicalities in the text, the preface by Sir Denison Ross is pleasantly lucid, Professor P. Newberry, Mr. Howard Carter, and Professor E.A. Gardner contribute short authoritative articles, while the anonymous paper on Muslim glass and ceramics is of the utmost interest.

The Art of Egypt. Through the Ages (1931, front cover, detail)

In this brief review it is impossible to discuss the blending of early cultures and races, which, about three thousand years B.C., resulted in works wherein Egyptian art seems to spring into spontaneous existence. From the second dynasty a dual character is ever present, one tending to formality, the other to greater realism; it is as if a compelling hierarchy strove constantly to control the expression of this artistic race with rigid laws impeding a free rendering of the human body, not so in the face, nor the character of animal life. The early period of the pyramids achieved masterpieces in realistic and idealised portraiture and narrative bas-relief, though our knowledge is confined to shattered monuments and rifled tombs.

Several centuries later, within the reign of a few kings, we reach the technical climax of Egyptian sculpture, in effigies of Sesostris III. and Amenemhet III.; in these a searching quality in facial modelling, an austere and ardent inner life makes us mourn the sudden eclipse of this noble phase of Egyptian art under a barbaric foreign invasion lasting over a century.

With the advent of a strong native rule (the eighteenth dynasty) sculpture, architecture, painting, and countless exquisite crafts display a variety which justifies us in calling this epoch the Egyptian Renaissance. Owing to the chances of preservation we know more about this period than about any earlier or subsequent time. A new vivacity, a conscious striving for grace appears, art has learnt to smile. The energy expressed in the earlier sculptures melts into sweetness, elegance, pensive charm, and even melancholy. Under the patronage of the heretic pharaoh, Ikhnaton, child, bird, and flower are given enchanted preservation, ceilings become  clouded with doves and butterflies, while fragile painted pavements recall gardens and flowering water pools, painting strives to break with dimensional convention in tangled growths, clustered flights of birds, and probably in genre subjects. No passage in history reveals the moral and artistic changes brought by Ikhnaton, whose personal effort, during ten years only, broke the encroaching power of the priest, and revolutionised an immemorial tradition.

Statue of Akhenaten (Ikhnaton), Aten Temple, Karnak

He built a city where the poor could be exalted and privilege given to Art, there he could brood on his vision of beauty and peace, when death struck him down before the recoil of a hostile world, who annihilated his work and strove to destroy every vestige of his name, even upon the ribbons of his shroud. The tomb of one of his immediate successors, Tutankhamen, has yielded a fabulous mass of treasure, which has transformed our conception of Egyptian art. Among masterpieces are even some things resembling Parisian articles of the Place Vendôme.

This heyday of artistic adventure gives way to the formal splendours of the Ramesides, and for centuries there were revivals, realistic and archaistic. Architecture develops, in Ptolemaic and even Roman times, the fantastic double capitals of Esna anticipating Byzantium. In fact, Egyptian architecture never died, it was killed by Christianity, which plunged the activities of the race into Coptic work which looks like the effort of an unhappy black beetle.

Francis Bedford, photograph,'The capitals of the Portico Temple of Khnum, Esna' (1862) (detail)
The crafts of the weaver and ceramist survive later to achieve success under Mohammedan rule, when the people of the Nile rose again to artistic magnificence in superb mosques, mausoleums and delicate domestic architecture to the very threshold of the last century, when the art of creative building vanished there as it has throughout the entire world.

The conclusion of this piece, as a matter of course, denies the values of modern architecture that emerged in the 1920s: Gerrit Rietveld's Schröder Huis in Utrecht (1924), Walter Gropius Bauhaus (1925), Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion (1929), and William Van Alen's Chrysler Building in New York (1930).

Ricketts's admiration for past masters did not always allow him to discern masters among his contemporaries.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

185. Type Found in the River Thames

In Blog No 44 (Printed on Vale Press Paper) I wrote:

'The Vale Press was the first private press to dispose of its type by throwing the punches into the River Thames, an example that was followed a decade later by T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, and ultimately by Esther Pissarro (crossing the Channel). The lead of the type itself was too valuable to throw away, the types were melted down.'

Ricketts himself wrote that he disposed of the punches and matrices in that way:

The punches and matrices are for the most part in the Thames, and on the completion of the last page of this pamphlet, the type becomes type metal again.
(A Bibliography of The Books Issued by Hacon & Ricketts, 1904, p. iv) 

A Bibliography of The Books Issued by Hacon & Ricketts (1904)
The phrase 'for the most part' is puzzling, however, in 1937, the British Museum Print Room Acquisitions Register recorded the deposit of the matrices for the Avon Fount, King's Fount and the Vale Founts, so it seems only the punches were thrown into the river (if at all).

Anyway, they disappeared, as the matrices in the British Museum were mislaid at one point, and have never surfaced again, while the punches in the River can not be found, as we do not know where to start the search.

Recently, some of the lead type that was given over to the Thames by Cobden-Sanderson has been discovered by a type designer who worked on a digital version of the Doves type. He carefully rethought Cobden-Sanderson's position on Hammersmith Bridge when he wanted to dispose of the type. Cobden-Sanderson could not have the type melted down - like Ricketts did - because he did not want to reveal his wish to dispose of it to Emery Walker, who was part owner of the type and with whom he had quarrelled about the ownership.

Robert Green searched for the type at the bottom of the river near the bridge, and instantly found some examples of lead type. See his extraordinary story on Creative Review, and some images of the recovered type. An amazing story that adds a new dimension to the history of the Doves Press!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

184. Some Marginal Recollections of the Nineties

When the painter William Rothenstein published his memoires Men and Memories in 1931, Ricketts was asked to write a review for The Observer. It was published on 15 May 1931. In it, Ricketts referred to himself as a 'belated witness of the 'nineties'; he was 64 years old at the time and many of the nineties' artists from the period had died, such as Beardsley, Condor, and Wilde. 

He introduced himself 'in my new capacity as a reviewer', but that was too modest as his first exhibition review had been published in 1897, and his first book review had appeared in 1904. At least twenty reviews had preceded this one, which I will quote in fullThe review contains some characteristic phrases and maxims, for example: 'criticism in England is mainly fault finding'. It makes an enjoyable read, with some anecdotes about Wilde and Whistler, including some instances of retaliation (Pennell).

[The illustrations and the paragraphs titles have been added by me.]

William Rothenstein [photo: Edwardian Culture]

Some Marginal Recollections of the Nineties

A belated witness of the 'nineties, I have been asked to write on Sir William Rothenstein's "Men and Memories," the many interests of his book needing more than a single notice. In my new capacity as a reviewer I will hasten to complain that too many minor personalities have been included who obscure the major interests. After this stricture, for criticism in England is mainly fault finding, I would hasten to add that nothing could be better than the portraits of several eminent men, the accounts of Verlaine, Whistler, and Wilde being of the utmost value. Remain charming impressions of older Englishmen of the Golden Age: Watts, Swinburne, Burne Jones, at that time about to disappear, leaving the field to a new generation to struggle under the shadow, not of these great Victorians but of their friends and parasites.

The fin-de-siècle in France
If in the 'nineties the terms "fin-de-siècle" or  decadent" (pronounced "dickeydong") were freely used in England as a reproach against new effort, in France both terms were used to describe the later tendencies of a splendid century, proud of its past, still intensely active, if conscious of a coming change, since nothing is permanent. France still claimed such masters as Puvis de Chavannes, Dégas, Gustave Moreau; still attracted the entire world by a flourishing and flamboyant Salon. The Impressionists, notably Monet, were becoming fashionable: those were the days when a drawing by Forain, mordant in line and wit alike, was a daily occurrence; while a society conscious of its elegance - the world of Proust, and his mentor Count R. de Montesquiou - recognised its smartness in the pictures of Whistler, Helleu, and in a lesser degree in the more cosmopolitan paintings of Sargent and Boldini. In literature the Realists still held the field, while Verlaine, the new Villon, Mallarmé, the verbal alchemist, poor gentle Laforgue, and the fastidious Villiers de l'Isle Adam, fascinated the younger men who had tired of realism and of the resonant verses of the "Parnassiens." The French stage was still unrivalled, with Sarah dominant, Rejane at her zenith, and Yvette Guilbert, immortalised by Lautrec, becoming famous.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 'Yvette Guilbert' (1894)
Into this charmed epoch the author carries us when, as an astonished young provincial, he left the frozen gloom of London for Paris, then called "La Ville Lumière." Among many others that are excellent, the portrait of Verlaine is perhaps the best in the book (this applies also to the illustrations). We realise the childlike morality and seeming innocence of the man, half angel, half faun, who would receive £3 in payment for a slim volume of exquisite verse about repentance, to be instantly spent by his parasites of all the known sexes. A friend once said to him, fascinated by the strange Socratic and Mongolian cast of his face, "You resemble a Chinese philosopher," "Un chinois, oui, mais si peu philosophe."

A Portrait of Whistler
With Rodin we witness the craftsman, not the later celebrity, exploited by all exploiters. Of Dégas, we would like to know more, for in these pages he seems kindlier than his legend, if a little pompous, a little professorial, or, as Legros said of him, "Un garçon trop enseignant." It is to Legros I owe Dégas verdict on his own work when, turning to stacks of unfinished pictures he exclaimed, "Mon Dieu, quel Gâchist"; for once his tongue was not turned against old friends, his peers, such as Puvis, Gustave Moreau, or Monet. If France during the 'nineties was still conscious of her past and proud of her present, these years in England mark the increasing isolation and disappearance of the major men, Watts remains, splendid and kindly; Burne Jones (like Moreau) was outwearing his vein of invention in a fever of work never to be completed. Millais, whom Dégas and Fantin still admired, has lapsed into a popular painter outwearing his popularity. Things were very stagnant, and current criticism praised only work reflecting a lagging phase of French realism, for the clock in England is always twenty years behind the time. In these art tendencies W.E. Henley helped, and alas! Whistler, in so far that his laughter was against all things. Of Whistler, Sir W. Rothenstein gives a carefully considered portrait, when he was as famous as Cézanne is to-day. I would add my personal tribute to Whistlers kindness to younger men, if the latter were not involved in some tedious feud or newspaper grievance, for, like Manet, Whistler believed in the Press; both kept torn press cuttings in their pockets to read to embarrassed friends. I remember Wilde once saying of Whistler, "Oh yes, yes, wonderful of course, but Jimmy explains things in the newspapers. ... Art should always remain mysterious and, like the gods, no artist should ever leave his pedestal." Belief in publicity was this painter's tragedy; embittered by the Ruskin law suit (where he had challenged a British idol before a British jury) he had made the discovery that when Whistler was laughing at the public the public was laughing at him. France had not yet rehabilitated the painter, and success came too late; his best canvases, done twenty years before, were half pawned, half lent, or "quaintly acquired" by half friends. In various troublesome transactions concerning the disposal of his work, Charles Howell had been invaluable, but also a danger; Howell was a new Cagliostro, spiritualist, dealer, expert blackmailer and whitemailer, whose known and unpublishable adventures could make a novel in the manner of Balzac. One of his mistresses forged Rossetti drawings, yet Rossetti declared, "Howell costs me £400 a year, but is cheap at the price!" Among his victims were Ruskin, Rossetti, Burne Jones, how many others! When I spoke to Whistler of Howell's death:  No, no, not he (was the reply); he has tried that game before; his ghost has appeared to Ada Cavendish, and after she had swooned away, a valuable bracelet was missing." In the estimate of Whistler's art, the uncouth praises of Joseph Pennell, one of his henchmen, was ill-timed. This man illustrated Whistler's confession: "My known taste for bad company." In Paris Whistler returned to a world in which his personality was perplexing, and his attitude incomprehensible, even to Americans  who dimly recognised traces of another generation dating before the Civil War. I have praised the reminiscences of Verlaine; next in value and importance are the pages about Wilde.

A Portrait of Oscar Wilde
That the wit of this extraordinary man surpassed his written work is common knowledge, but apart from André Gide's reminiscences, which describe the flow and magic of his talk, much that is remembered is not of the best. Like all brilliant speakers, Wilde was influenced by his listeners, sometimes he gave carefully-prepared impromptus, meant for public exhibition, but the appositeness, rapidity, and brilliance of his speech cannot be captured. Many a heavy paradox was said with humorous exaggeration, of which the British listener was not always aware. The author has stressed Wilde's kindliness to common people; it is not known that, even in prison, he won the regard of his warders, who brought him buns and scones when he was cold and hungry; for some of these men Wilde worked out prize-yielding word competitions, thereby securing a piano, a plated tea set, and, I believe, a bound set of Charles Dickens. It is rare to-day to find intimate biographical details concerning celebrities which do not belittle them, or else smooth out all characteristics like our public statues (approved by relatives). Rothenstein avoids both tendencies, though in the case of Verlaine and Rodin he shows these men at grips with the need for money, and this can  sterilise and corrupt the finest characters. Some of Wilde's letters belong to his period of poverty and disgrace, they shed light on this seemingly complex character, whose secret was that he never grew up when most men are born middle-aged. I believe this is the key to many exceptional men. Shelley died adolescent, Baudelaire was a spoilt child, while poor Verlaine needed a nurse. To one interested in the 'nineties the facts about Beardsley, at that time world-famous, will be interesting, for Beardsley, like Wilde, is typical of that decade which clothed its hedonism with brilliance, but also with the wish to astonish and "arrive." In this tendency Whistler had shown the way. A close friend of Beardsley, the author describes the draughtsman of "Salome" with great sympathy; this is generous, for Beardsley, intoxicated with success, was not always pleasant to his friends or appreciative of those who helped him to succeed. Wilde, for instance. There were important nobodies at that time who pontiffed on Literature, who cast their little shadow and have gone. To these lenient treatment has been given, for in these pages hostility, when shown, is expressed by implication so gentle that one pauses to wonder, "Was that all; did the oracle of the moment count so little?" I would add these Victorian parasites on the talent of others are of the past; to-day may lack many admirable things belonging to the great nineteenth century, but, outside politics, the utter humbug is no longer respected, and the critic powerless: he seems to have lost the use of his teeth in trying to bite Bernard Shaw.

William Rothenstein, 'Portrait of Charles Rickets' (1894)
Charles Conder
I must now recall Charles Conder, often classed with Beardsley, but different in every characteristic, both as a man and as an artist. It is in the estimate of this painter that I am in disagreement with Sir William; not on the point of his merit, but on the nature of his achievement. The Realistic school and its offshoot, Impressionism, were concerned in snatching from life elements which could be transmuted into Art. Toulouse Lautrec, in France, and Walter Sickert, in England, were then typical of this tendency.

Conder was different, he never saw life, not even the human face. This votarist of "La Vie Heureuse" moved, as an artist, in a coloured mist. To his memory, trees resembled clouds, and clouds were shaped like roses. The voluptuous ghosts who are the denizens of his world are shadows of romance, the wraiths of Lucien de Rubempré, Mlle. de Maupin, Fantasio, Cherubin. They move under the garlands of some imaginary festival where the flowers and violins have grown a little tired. Turner's visions of Venice, the Bengal fires of Monticelli, the vaporous apotheosis of Fragonard, all are too concrete for comparison. In the infinitely varying balance between art and reality, between things imagined and things seen, this charming minor painter ranks among those whose source of inspiration  was all for Art and derived from Art, and whose actual achievement is hardly more explicit than some music.

The author of "Men and Memories" must accept this criticism; it is made to show that "Anch' io son Professore." I have added it to temper my praises. Wilde once said: "To be praised in England is dangerous, you are not forgiven: to be admired you must be wrong sometimes." In his estimate of Conder Sir William Rothenstein has been mistaken and influenced by biographical facts, not by the painter's work.

[More reviews by Charles Ricketts will be listed in my forthcoming Bibliography of Charles Ricketts (see blog no. 180 if you wish to acquire a copy).]