Wednesday, April 22, 2015

195. Charles Ricketts in Japan

Recently I examined a copy of the Souvenir of Rupert D'Oyly Carte's Season of Gilbert and Sullivan Operas illustrating the New Dresses Designed by Charles Ricketts, A.R.A. for The Mikado, issued for the Princes Theatre London in the Fall of 1926. Before the opening night a short promotional film was released that featured in an earlier blog, Charles Ricketts on film.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive (seen: 19 April 2015)
A quick scan of internet sources on the programme leaflet uncovered some rather surprising 'facts' about Ricketts, who, according to The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive was 'a front-rank English artist who had lived in Japan and who was an authority on Japanese costume and art'. The fact of course is that Ricketts never lived in Japan, and never visited the country, although he was a keen collector of early Japanese prints by Hokusai, Utamaro, Harunobu, and others. 

But Ricketts, living in Japan? Who invented that story? It is, by all means, a lovely phantasy. One could imagine Ricketts in a Japanese studio, writing in his diary, contemplating art, painting, and entertaining guests.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive (seen: 19 April 2015)
The promotional film is introduced on the same website with another puzzling Ricketts commentary: 'In 1926 Rupert D'Oyly Carte decided to have The Mikado Re-dressed with new costumes. He chose to use Charles Ricketts to make new designs. Ricketts was trained at Dartington as was Bridget D'Oyly Carte and they knew each other. Ricketts was an ARA and getting well known in the arts world.'

Ricketts trained at Dartington? Of course not, the paragraph has Ricketts mixed up with a later Mikado designer, Peter Goffin. Bridget D'Oyly Carte (1908-1985) was only 18 when the re-dressed Mikado was launched.

In a letter to Gordon Bottomley, Ricketts wrote about the first night:

In the Mikado everything turned out perfectly in execution, the dresses being the most successful I have so far done. With the exception of Katisha - who hated her dress - all the women looked exquisite. Binyon was overwhelmed. The men, I regret to say, excepting Koko and Pooh Bah, were paralysed by their clothes and looked dressed up. The house on the first night, and the public since, have been enthusiastic. The hostility in the Press was, I think, due to some dozen interviews I gave to as many Pressmen at Townshend House in the dining-room before D'Oyly Carte. I think they thought me a gentle lunatic, but praised the drawings; hence sniffs and dispraise among the musical critics.
[Quoted after Self-Portrait Taken from the Letters & Journals of Charles Ricketts, R.A., 1939, p. 368-369.]

Binyon was Laurence Binyon,  (1869-1943), poet, and keeper of (oriental) prints at the British Library. He was a connoisseur of Japanese prints who visited Japan in 1929.