Wednesday, May 6, 2015

197. Signed by the Artist

Tonight I will be giving a lecture about Flemish private presses around 1900 in the Nottebohm Room of the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library in Antwerp. There were three presses active at the time, the best known of them is that of Julius the Praetere. 

During the preparations, I read a book by Henry Nocq, Tendances Nouvelles. Enquête sur l'Évolution des Industries d'Art (1896) that discusses, among many other issues, the need for the artisan and the modern industrial artist to sign his work, and complaints about managers who signed the products as their own. Book artists knew the problem. Their illustrations were usually signed, and often a signature of the block maker was added, or the artist's signature was excluded. What was the private press practice at the time?

Sire Degrevaunt (Kelmscott Press, 1897): frontispiece by Edward Burne-Jones and borders by William Morris
William Morris never signed his decorative borders or initial letters. Edward Burne-Jones's monogram does not appear on, for example, the wood-engravings in the most famous Kelmscott Press book, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, for which he made the drawings, nor those for minor works of the press, such as Sire Degrevaunt (1897). His name does appear in the colophon, as does the name of the engraver. And, of course, Morris's name. In fact, the Chaucer mentions: 'Printed by me William Morris at the Kelmscott Press', which intellectually was true, but practically untrue, as he had a staff to print the books for him.

Lucien Pissarro, wood-engraving for Some Poems by Robert Browning (1904)
As a rule Lucien Pissarro signed his wood-engravings, even if the colophon of his books already stated that 'the frontispiece has been designed and engraved on the wood by Lucien Pissarro'. Charles Ricketts did not always sign his borders, decorations and wood-engravings, but frequently he did. As independent artists both Pissarro and Ricketts needed their work to be recognized as theirs. The border for the opening pages of Nimphidia and The Muses Elizium (1896) is signed by Ricketts in the lower right corner.

Michael Drayton, Nimphidia and The Muses Elizium (1896)
This will probably be mentioned only in passing during my speech, so if you want to hear the rest of the story, you will have some time travelling to do.