Wednesday, March 25, 2015

191. The Myth of Danaë (2): The Lily

Julia Köllner, in her thesis on the representation of Danaë (see blog No. 190), argues that the depiction of Danaë is as varied as can be, but that there is one constant image that allows viewers to recognize her, which is a golden rain streaming down into a woman's womb. This image identifies such a female figure as Danaë.

In her thesis, Köllner wishes to establish the common factor in the representation of Danaë, independent of the medium (text, painting, wood engraving, drawing etc.), and her research indicates that the myth of Danaë has survived thanks to its successful imagery, especially that of the golden rain, that has lent itself to contradictory interpretations in subsequent periods of western art and literature. The imagery served different masters: it helped to form a view of morality and virtue, or could masque the enjoyment of erotic pleasures. Furthermore, Köllner argues that the change of golden rain into golden coins, established another interpretation, based on trade, whereby both Zeus and Danaë exchanged 'goods', or gold for a child. That may be true, the Ricketts images, however, do not really support the last thesis, as both Sturge Moore and Ricketts who illustrated his friend's poem, held on to the image of the golden rain or golden light.

In some images of Danaë a parallel has been established between Danaë and Maria, or the Madonna in Christian art. Ricketts also alludes to the Madonna in his second illustration.

Charles Ricketts, wood engraving 'She kneels in awe beholding lavish light' (1903)
Köllner points out that the allusion to Maria is put into the right hand lower corner where a flower pot contains a lily, symbol of the annunciation (archangel Michael wearing a lily) and purity.

Charles Ricketts, wood engraving 'She kneels in awe beholding lavish light' (1903) [detail]
In Sturge Moore's poem, the lily is mentioned almost at the beginning, as a flower that grows, 'deep-delled and fragile', but 'very stilly', just like Danaë who is growing up unseen in her brass tower. Moore's lines sensuously describe her changing contours, as she becomes a teenager.

[To be continued.]

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

190. The Myth of Danaë (1): The Story

The representation of Danaë in art was the subject of a thesis by Julia Köllner (University of Vienna, 2013). The text is in open access under the title La Danae tra testualità e rappresentazione. It deals (according to its synopsis) 'with the myth of Danae in texts and images, with a focus on the Italian production', starting with an inventory of representations of Danaë, followed by an analysis, that is, 'a communicational concept'. 

Ricketts's illustrations for Thomas Sturge Moore's poem are listed as IMM 54 to IMM 56, and some details are discussed. 

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving 'Danaë at her twilit lattice ponders' (1903)
Danaë was the daughter of Acrisius, who was told by an oracle that he would be killed by his daughter's son. To prevent this, he enclosed her in a bronze tower or cave. However, Zeus came to her in the form of golden rain, and she gave birth to a son, Perseus. Mother and son were cast into the sea, in a wooden chest, but they survived, and washed ashore of an island that was ruled by Seriphos. Danaë declined the love of king Seriphos, and when Perseus had grown up, in order to prevent a forced marriage between his mother and the king, Perseus was tasked with bringing him the head of Medusa. 

Köllner's first illustration by Ricketts (IMM 54) depicts Danaë in her prison cell, standing on a flight of stairs, and staring out of a small latticed window. Köllner points at a vanitas symbol: 'uno specchio decorato con piumo di pavone. Immagine riflessa del suo volto visibile nello specchio'. The mirror is above the bed, positioned between two long curtains. A peacock's tail is attached to the mirror that reflects Danaë's face.

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving 'Danaë at her twilit lattice ponders' (1903) [detail]
Other features that are mentioned are a pair of slippers, a pillow, and metal walls. The image symbolizes, according to Köllner, lust and desire.

These illustrations by Ricketts have not been the subject of an in-depth study yet, however, in his 1988 work Five Centuries of English Book Illustration Edward Hodnett wrote about the wood engravings in some detail: 'They record moments during Danaë's immurement in a tower of brass [...]. The designs convey poignantly the claustrophobic effect of Danaë's imprisonment and the melancholy of Moore's lang[u]orous verse. The first engraving, familiar from reproductions, shows the lonely girl kissing her reflection - "In polisht walls a sister found is kissed." In the second, her lover Zeus visits her as a shower of gold - "She kneels in awe beholding lavish light." Danaë kneeling and holding her head suggests pain rather than awe. In the third design, Danaë stands on portable steps to look out [of] a small round barred window - "Danaë at her twilit latice ponders." In this series of three illustrations, the third one of Danaë alone in her small room seems repetitious, particularly since a few pages later comes the most graphic event in the poem and in Danaë's part of the myth: Danaë and her baby (Perseus) being set adrift at sea in a chest.' (p. 211)

Hodnett is critical of Ricketts's illustration 'Danaë at het twilit lattice ponders'. In comparison to Köllner's listing, some points should be made.

Firstly, Hodnett compares the illustrations in connection with the text of the poem, which Köllner does not do. This allows him to remark that an important dramatic scene in the poem has not been illustrated by Ricketts.

Charles Ricketts, 'In polisht walls a sister found is kissed' (1903)
Secondly, Hodnett has actually seen the book, while Köllner took her images from the British Museum website. Not only the relation between text and image is lost, even the order of the images has been confused. Köllner's first Ricketts image (IMM 54) is the last one in the book, and Köllner's last image comes first in the book. The use of a database for research on book illustration is not without its dangers, and even if one does not have access to the printed book itself (the book, however, is mentioned in the bibliography of this thesis), an e-version is readily available on the website of the Internet Archive.

[To be continued.]

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

189. A Portfolio of Five Photographs after Pictures by C.H. Shannon

This week's contribution is written by Vincent G. Barlow, whose website on '19th and 20th Century Books and Prints' is worth checking out.

A Portfolio of Five Photographs after Pictures by Charles H. Shannon

In my recent article on a rare Ricketts and Shannon portfolio publication (see A Portfolio of Woodcuts by T. Sturge Moore, blog No. 58) I described a copy of the portfolio 'Metamorphoses of Pan and other Woodcuts by T. Sturge Moore' published in 1895. This was one of a series of portfolios showing works by members and associates of the Dial circle of artists of the 1890s including as well as the Sturge Moore, two of wood-engravings by Lucien Pissarro, three of lithographs by Charles Shannon, and one of lithographs by William Rothenstein.

There is, however, one more portfolio in this series about which even less is known than those mentioned above. I refer to that entitled Five Photographs after Pictures by Charles H. Shannon published around August 1899. I shall give a description of a copy of this portfolio which I have in my collection later in this article.

I would first like to offer a little information and background leading up to its publication.

Although Ricketts and Shannon did, on occasion, exhibit works in the mid 1880s it was decided not to exhibit again for some time as stated in a letter sent from the Vale c.1889 to J.W. Gleeson White in which Shannon writes 'There is no great hurry with regard to the picture gallery prices etc. as we do not contemplate exhibiting ourselves for at least two or three years' (from a letter in my collection).

It was in fact not until the Summer of 1897 that Shannon began to exhibit his oil paintings in earnest when he was awarded a gold medal at the Annual Exhibition of the Fine Arts at the Royal Crystal Palace in Munich. The two paintings which won him the first class prize were 'A Wounded Amazon' and 'The Man with a Yellow Glove' both of which are included in the portfolio of five photographs.

Charles Shannon, 'The Man with a Yellow Glove'
(photograph from A Portfolio of Five Photographs)
In the meantime Ricketts and Shannon continued doing hack work, mainly illustrations and advertisements for magazines such as the Universal Review, Black & White, Atalanta, and others.

Shannon's last illustrative works were done for the books Daphnis and Chloe (published 1893), a joint effort in roughly equal proportions with Ricketts, and for Hero and Leander (published 1894) to which he contributed one of the seven illustrations namely 'Hermes disdains the amorous Destinies' (page 13). The illustration is very much influenced by Ricketts other drawings for the book and is almost indistinguishable from them. It remains, however, a very beautiful drawing in pen and grey ink on prepared paper. This drawing, a first state signed proof of the wood-engraving in black and a finished state signed proof in green are now in my collection.

Charles Shannon, original drawing for 'Hermes disdains the amorous Destinies' (collection of Vincent Barlow)
On the completion of Hero and Leander it was decided that Shannon would cease doing illustrations and concentrate on his painting becoming 'the complete and undeniable master', while Ricketts would continue to work at the decorative arts and drawing illustrations and anything else to bring in 'a little money' (C.J. Holmes, Self & Partners (Mostly Self). London, 1936, p.164).

A List of Books Issued by Messrs. Hacon & Ricketts (1899)
In 1899 the Portfolio of Five Photographs was probably published to show the artists' mastery of his art at this time. The only reference I have to it is in a Vale Press list of August/September 1899 which states "PHOTOGRAPHS. A Portfolio of five Photographs after Paintings by C.H. Shannon. Price three guineas net'.

The list is printed in Vale type. There is no mention of how many copies were published but due to its rarity, and taking into account the limited number of copies of the other published portfolios, one could guess at a figure of no more than twenty five copies or less.

A Portfolio of Five Photographs
The portfolio itself consists of a wooden-hinged lidded box (630 x 485 x 25 mm), deep covered in dark green cloth. We know the maker of the box because of a printed label attached to the lower right hand inside corner which states: 'W.A. Fincham & Co., Box Manufacturers, 172, St. John Street E.C.'

Box maker's label in A Portfolio of Five Photographs
On the inside of the lid is attached a piece of paper (c. 135 x 98 mm) with the title and list of contents and copyright statement ('Copyright reserved'), printed in Vale type. 

List of contents in A Portfolio of Five Photographs
The five photographs are laid down in closed grey paper fronted mounts measuring 605 x 455 mm each bearing the rubber stamp of the photographer on the back which reads 'Henry Dixon & Son, Photographers, 112, Albany Street, London. N.W.'

Photographer's stamp used in A Portfolio of Five Photographs
The five photographs are listed 1-5 in this order:

1. The Man in a Black Shirt. (A self-portrait, 1897).
2. The Man in an Inverness Coat. (A portrait of Charles Ricketts, 1898).
3. The Wounded Amazon (1896) [There is an earlier lithographic version of this painting entitled 'Atalanta', 1893, as published in The Dial, number 4, 1896).
4. A Souvenir of Vandyck (1897).
5. The Man with a Yellow Glove. (A portrait of Thomas Sturge Moore, 1898).

The paintings represented at 3 and 5, were awarded a first place gold medal at the exhibition in Munich in 1897.

I would be pleased and grateful if any reader can supply more information regarding this elusive publication.
         Vincent G. Barlow

Charles Shannon, 'The Man in an Inverness Coat'
(photograph from A Portfolio of Five Photographs)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

188. The Vale Press on YouTube?

The YouTube channel has always included advertisements. Recently, an entry on Maureen Watry's book on The Vale Press has been published on YouTube on 3 February 2015 as Synopsis: The Vale Press.

The 'film' is not a film at all; it consists of two 'stills', quoting the blurb (the text on the dust wrapper) and showing an image of the front cover. That is all. The internet keeps amazing us.

It is 'published' by 'Heavy truck', which seems to be related to 'Justasummary', and that is a website under construction... Etcetera, etcetera. The maddening labyrinth of commerce.