Wednesday, July 29, 2015

209. A First Visit from Ricketts and Shannon

The diaries of Katharine Bradley (1846-1914) and Edith Cooper (1862-1913) have not yet been published in their entirety, but they will be, 'soon', as The Victorian Lives and Letters Consortium assures on its website.

'Michael Field' (1891)
Bradley and Cooper published poems and plays under the pseudonym 'Michael Field'. Katharine was called 'Michael' and Edith 'Henry'. They were lovers and in Ricketts and Shannon they recognized a similar relationship. They were introduced to each other in January 1894, and on 22 May of that year Ricketts and Shannon paid them a visit in Reigate.

The account of this visit was not published in the heavily edited extracts from the journals in the posthumously published Works and Days (1933), edited by T. Sturge Moore, nor in a more recent anthology Michael Field, the Poet (2009), edited by Marion Thain and Ana Parejo Vadillo. A passage was quoted in Emma Donoghue's 1998 biographical sketch We Are Michael Field, and the complete entry was published in Ivor C. Treby's anthology Binary Star. Leaves from the Journal and Letters of Michael Field, 1846-1914 (2006). Treby (1933-2012), whose archive is available in the Bodleian Library, did much to make Michael Field's poems and diary notes accessible to a larger public, and although his editing method involved too many abbreviations and confusing cross references, we cannot be thankful enough for his dedication to the work of Michael Field.

It is from Binary Star (page 130) that I quote Michael Field on the first visit of Ricketts and Shannon. The entry is written by 'Henry', the younger half of Michael Field: Emma Cooper:

They bring their Vale Edition of Hero & Leander but will not have the parcel opened as long as they stay. ..(Ricketts) is an ardent lover of Shannon, his elder by a year - loving him as my Love loves me - following him about with rippling banter & eyes that deprecate the Beloved's wilfulness.. Shannon is called also "Hazelwood" & his second name manages to sum him up. ..I suspect he does not show the pagan fun in him, any more than I do, except in deep intimacy.. We persuade them to stay for our evening meal, & a walk around the garden is proposed.. Ricketts knows a great deal about flowers - Shannon asks the name of the buttercup every spring.. In the study we talk about art - Beardsley & Rothenstein (By the way, Beardsley, who gesticulates now & leads conversation is the only man who sits on Rothenstein with success).. At evening meal Shannon specialises in salmon, Ricketts in gooseberries & cream.. we bid our guests goodbye with a sense we have walked into friendship as deep as mowing grass.. These 2 men live & work together & find rest & joy in each other's love just as we do.. yet Ricketts lovingly teases Shannon because he works in a separate room - "I call Shannon sulky" he laughs.. (Michael) is happy in another's company - sometimes (as with "Dockie") the other takes it to mean more - & afterward is disappointed - no fear of this with Ricketts!'

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

208. From the Library of Gary Prouk

The sale of English Literature, History, Children's Books & Illustrations at Sotheby's in London on 14 July included books from the library of the late Gary Prouk (1944-2013). Prouk was a Canadian advertising man from Toronto who ended his career as creative director at Sebastian Consultancy, which he and his wife Susan Andrews had founded in 1998. There are several memorial pieces about him online.

Prouk's office was filled with art, but he was a book collector as well.

Gary Prouk in his office
Gary Prouk collected fin-de-si├Ęcle books and autograph materials, including first editions of Oscar Wilde and a copy of John Gary's Silverpoints alongside books illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley and letters from French and English artists. He also loved private press books and modern first editions. According to Sotheby's report of the sale, lots with these books 'were recognised for their quality and attracted international bidding.' 

That may be true, however, some lots remained unsold on the day of the auction, and among these unsold books were a number of lots with Vale Press books. The descriptions of these were not detailed enough to see why, but probably Prouk did not only buy pristine copies. Most of the VP books were not in perfect condition, and, moreover, they were ordinary copies. There were no vellum copies, dedication copies, or copies in special bindings, and his set of the Vale Press Shakespeare was far from complete: Prouk owned only eight volumes.

The market for ordinary copies of Vale Press books is not great at the moment, and Prouk may have paid far more for individual books than a series of twelve is worth now. 

Lot 205, for example, contained four works that used to belong to the most wanted Vale Press books: the English and Latin editions of Apuleius's The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche (1897) and De Cupidinis et Psyches Amoribus (1901), the edition of Ecclesiastes (1902), and The Parables from The Gospels (1903). The hammer price with buyer's premium for this lot was £688, being 
£172 a book. Only twenty years ago, The Parables alone fetched three times that price (£525). Anyway, prices are only one side of book collecting. Let's hope that Prouk enjoyed his books whatever their value.

All in all, Prouk acquired two pre-Vale publications (Daphnis and Chloe, and Hero and Leander), and 53 Vale Press books in 55 volumes, of which 28 did not immediately find a buyer.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

207. Charles Shannon's Portraits of E.J. van Wisselingh

The Dutch art dealer E.J. van Wisselingh (1848-1912) and his British wife Isa (Isabella Murray Mowat Angus, 1858-1931), daughter of a Scottish art dealer, moved to London in 1892. The same year, Van Wisselingh opened The Dutch Gallery at Old Bond Street 26. He showed and sold Dutch and French paintings. Ricketts and Shannon met the art dealer in the 1890s en he exhibited their drawings, lithographs, and wood-engravings, in London and in The Netherlands as early as 1895; later he would also put their pastels and paintings on show. In 1900, Van Wisselingh was the first to sell a Shannon painting to a public collection. Ricketts and Shannon befriended the Dutchman, and occasionally they made use of him, for example to bid for them at auction, or to buy furniture for trade prices. Ricketts had his first one-man show of paintings at Van Wisselingh's gallery in 1906, and when Van Wisselingh died, Ricketts designed the lettering on the urn. A Van Wisselingh show of works by Ricketts and Shannon was characterised in a review: 'This is modern of the moderns, as is always the case here' (The Times, 8 July 1902). 

Charles Shannon, portrait of E.J. van Wisselingh (1899)
[Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, see]
Shannon made several portraits of Van Wisselingh. In 1895 he executed two portraits in lithography, 'E.J. van Wisselingh' and 'E.J. van Wisselingh in a hat'. In 1899 Shannon finished and signed a portrait in black, white and red chalk (on pink paper) that originally was owned by Van Wisselingh, and in 1924 was still in the possession of his widow. In 2005 the portrait was bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York by its famous curator William Slattery Lieberman (1923-2005) who had worked for the MET since 1979.

Another portrait of Van Wisselingh was done by Shannon in 1900. It is an unsigned oil on canvas, 24 to 20 inches, that was given by the artist to the artist Francis Dodd (1874-1949), later given to Henry Rushbury (1889-1968), and through inheritance left to the painter Theo Ramos. The painting was sold by The Canterbury Auction Galleries on 8 October 2013, and is now offered for sale at The Maas Gallery in London for £8,500.

Charles Shannon, portrait of E.J. van Wisselingh (1900)
This oil portrait was exhibited in The New Gallery by The Society of Portrait Painters in 1902. In The Times (13 November 1902) a critic remarked that the hue was so sombre that it looked 'an exercise in black upon black', though it was 'most solidly thought out and executed', and would in future years be regarded 'as a noble "old master".' 

[Thanks are due to The Maas Gallery for the scan of Shannon's painting.]

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

206. A Dark Sketch of Medea

A small Charles Ricketts oil sketch will be auctioned today by Dreweatts at Donnington Priory in a sale of Fine Pictures (lot 160).

Charles Ricketts, 'Medea and her Children' (1903)
The sketch is painted in oil on board and measures 29 to 26 cm. The painting was exhibited in 1918 when The Goupil Gallery sold the collection of the Welsh county court judge William Evans (1861-1918). In the foreword of the Goupil catalogue Charles Aitken described Evans as 'a man who took a real delight in painting, and acquired the works of the younger artists as they painted them, instead of the safe, established dead'. 

The Evans collection seems to have started somewhere before 1900. The judge collected paintings by Wilson Steer and Henry Tonks before they became well-known. Aitken wrote: 'he secured works by Conder, Ricketts, Shannon, John, Orpen, Nicholson, Connard and Lamb in their early days, and most of the men whose work is now being more and more appreciated, found in him a genial patron in those trying days before their battle with an apathetic public was won ...'. (Charles Aitken, 'Preface', in Catalogue of a Collection of Oil Paintings, Watercolours & Drawings formed by the Late William Evans. London, Goupil Gallery, 1918, p.7-8).

The sketch of Medea and her children is rather dark and vague, but, according to Dreweatts's catalogue description, it 'captures the immediacy of the artist's creative process and draws inspiration from the working methods of Rubens and other old masters of the 17th century'. Estimated auction price: £1,200-£1,800.

[Note, 13 July 2015: The oil sketch was sold for £992 (hammer price: £800).]

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

205. A Sea Nymph by Charles Shannon

Today, an early painting attributed to Charles Shannon is included in an auction of Sheppards in Ireland.

There is no title, but the image is described as a 'Pre-Raphaelite study of a sea nymph in a cave'. The painting (90 x 70 cm or 36 x 28 inches) is signed with the initials CHS. There is a label on the back, but the image on the auctioneer's website is not clear.

Charles Shannon, undated painting of a sea nymph
The oil on canvas (lot 1070 in the sale of 'Glenmalire House, Laois and Other Important Clients' on 30 June and 1 July) has an estimated price of €4,000-€6,000.

[Note, 2 July 2015: Apparently this lot remained unsold.]