Wednesday, June 17, 2015

203. Hand-Coloured by an Anonymous Artist

Last week I blogged about Miss Gloria Cardew. The name is a pseudonym for an artist who coloured black-and-white book illustrations, mainly for the London bookseller Frank Karslake. He organized exhibitions of bookbindings and books with coloured plates in 1897, and in 1898 created the Guild of Women Bookbinders. 

Cardew also seems to have coloured copies of Kelmscott Press books, ordered directly by some collectors, and this may well have been the case for Vale Press books. The article on Cardew (written by Denis Collins) notes that she always signed her work:

She always identified her work either by signing the book or by attaching, often to the verso of the front free endpaper, a small label stating: "The Illustrations in this Book were coloured by hand by Miss Gloria Cardew."'

The Vale Press books that were hand-coloured by Cardew were published around the time that she was active as a colourist (between 1897 and 1904). One of the coloured Vale press books was published in 1896, two others in 1897.

Vincent Barlow - who earlier this year contributed a blog about Shannon - wrote to say that he owns a coloured copy of another early Vale Press book, the 1897 edition of The Excellent Narration of the Marriage of Cupide and Psyches by Apuleius. The hand-coloured illustrations have not been signed by the artist, so it seems another colourist was trying her or his hand at colouring Vale Press books as well. The quality of the colouring is of a high standard.

All six wood-engravings in the book have been coloured (in watercolour), as well as the opening initial T. The initial was printed in red, the engravings in black.

Charles Ricketts, 'Love's Pact with Jove' (1897)
There is one important similarity between the illustrations coloured by the anonymous artist and those by Cardew: both artists leave parts of the design uncoloured. However, Cardew's illustrations display a quality that these do not have. Collins writes about Cardew's work: 'The colour was always kept firmly within the lines of the design'. In these illustrations the colouring does not have this flawless quality. In 'Love's Pact with Jove', for example, the red colour of the wings of Love has touched the naked body of Love.

Charles Ricketts, 'The Leap from the Rock' (1987)
Lucius Apuleius, The Excellent Narration of the Marriage of Cupide and Psyches (1897)
Cardew always coloured the images after the book had been bound. She did not colour separately issued proofs of the wood-engravings for Vale Press books. Of the wood-engravings for the Apuleius edition, Ricketts printed several proofs, on India paper, in grey, green, or blue, but these have not been hand-coloured by Ricketts, or by other artists. 

The coloured images change the book's appearance and design. The original colour scheme of the book was black (text and images), white (paper), and adornments in red: the title and initial on page 3, a song on page 7/8, notes and page numbers throughout the book, the 'finis' on page 56, and the two colophon pages with the publisher's device. The wood-engravings blend in with the text. In the coloured copy this is not the case; the images are more conspicuous, and disturb the original balance.

Charles Ricketts, 'Psyches' Invisible Ministrants' (1987)
If Miss Gloria Cardew did not colour this copy, the anonymous artist may have done it at the time of publication, or at any later time, around 1900, or much later, say, the fifties, or even more recently. Karslake sold such coloured copies because they fetched a higher price than the ordinary copies, and such mercantile thoughts certainly have not disappeared from the trade.

The colouring - though less harmonious than that by Cardew - not only displays qualities that testify of artistic talent, the fact that all six wood-engravings, and the initial have been coloured suggests that the colourist enjoyed a high degree of perseverance and purposefulness. Alas, we do not have a name to attach to the coloured images yet.

I think that Ricketts would not have liked these added colours, but one never knows. The initial on page 3 - a page that shows a carefully considered balance between black and red - has been gilded, while the branches and bunches of grapes have been coloured in green.

Lucius Apuleius, The Excellent Narration of the Marriage of Cupide and Psyches, page 3 (1897)
The hand-colouring of such pages does reflect a period in the history of printing that was studied by most patrons of private presses between 1890 and 1900. The earliest printed books in Italy for example imitated lavishly illustrated manuscripts, and the opening pages of these uncunabula were often hand-painted with striking scenes in many colours, including lapis lazuli and gold. The initials in those volumes were often hand-drawn and coloured as well. Printing multi-coloured illustrations was not possible at the time. In the days of the Kelmscott and Vale Presses colour printing was mostly confined to lithography, especially chromolithography, a technique that William Morris nor Charles Ricketts chose to use. 

The addition of colour in Vale Press books remains a question of taste, particularly the collector's taste, and in the last century that taste has changed radically. The modern collector prefers to see the book as it was issued, as a work of art of which all details are decided upon by one artist. A collaboration between artists and dealers usually diminishes the artistic value, while the interventions of collectors are mostly too personal to keep their value. That is to say that a unique coloured copy is not always more valuable than an ordinary uncoloured copy, on the contrary, but now that ordinary copies of Vale Press books are less valuable than ten or twenty years ago, such a copy might fetch a higher price.