Wednesday, November 4, 2015

223. Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World (3)

The first contact between Oscar Wilde and Charles Ricketts did not take place because of Ricketts's drawings for the magazine that Wilde edited, The Woman's World. This is sometimes suggested, although there is no evidence for it. Moreover, the practice of editing a journal for a huge firm like Cassell & Company at the end of the 1880s was determined by the business model of the publishers with particular departments for the work in hand. Wilde was appointed literary editor for the magazine in 1888, but he was backed by the art editor, Edwin Bale. Bale was responsible for the selection of drawings, for soliciting illustrators and artists, and for decisions on practical matters, such as format, and fees. Alas, no letters between Ricketts and Bale have come to light so far.

Speculating on the role of Wilde as an editor, Petra Clark (in her essay ''"Cleverly Drawn": Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and the Art of the Woman's World' (see my two earlier blogs on Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World), concludes that Wilde's involvement in the art direction of the magazine was shallow. However, she states:

'It is easy to imagine why the ambitious young Charles Ricketts would have sent Wilde some drawings that ultimately earned him occasional work for Cassell & Co., but it is unclear what prompted Wilde to generously give a relatively untested and (to him) unknown artist several full-page commissions. What is clear is that by the time Wilde left Cassell & Co., so had Ricketts, as there is no evidence of any drawings by him in the magazine's final year (1889-90) under Fish's editorship. Such a coincidence suggests an affinity between the two men's artistic visions even before their official partnership began.'

As we saw in last week's blog, Wilde was not the editor who gave Ricketts these commissions. And I can add that Ricketts did not leave the publisher, as, from November 1889 onwards, he received commissions for quite a few illustrations for another Cassell magazine, The Magazine of Art. And, in fact, Ricketts made several contributions to the final year of The Woman's World. He drew a headpiece for each of the monthly instalments of 'The Latest Fashions' between November 1889 (Vol. III, No. 25) and July 1890 (Vol. III, No. 33). He did not contribute any full page illustrations, true, but then he had many other publishers waiting for him, including the magazine Atalanta (from December 1888) and The Universal Review (from August 1889), and, with Shannon, he had embarked on a magazine of his own, The Dial that made its first appearance in August 1889.

Ricketts's first illustration for The Woman's World appeared in the June 1888 issue (page 372), that is in volume I, number 8.

Charles Ricketts, illustration for an article by Wilhelmina Munster, in The Woman's World, June 1888, p. 372.
The illustration was a headpiece for an article by Wilhelmina Munster, 'A Woman's Thoughts upon English Ballad-Singers and English Ballad-Singing' (p. 372-374). Based on a pen drawing, the reproduction measured 131x163 mm. It was signed CR. The reproduction was also signed by the engraver, H.K. Davey [?].

If Ricketts had sent in drawings to an editor of The Woman's World, they would not have been addressed to Wilde but to Bale. On the other hand, it may not have been necessary for Ricketts to make a drawing and risking rejection by an editor. He may have received an assignment for a drawing, as he had worked for the publishers before, and the art editors knew his work. Cassell and Company employed a great number of artists for their large range of magazines and copiously illustrated works. As was the custom at the time, these art editors had a waiting room for aspiring artists, who with a portfolio of drawings waited for a call. Ricketts must have visited several of these offices when he tried to earn a living as an illustrator, but the situation at Cassell's was different for him. The drawings for The Woman's World were not the first ones he made for the firm, and that he immediately got several important commissions for the magazine testifies to the trust the art editor had in Ricketts's skills.

What strikes us now is that his illustrations for The Woman's World are much more artistic than the drawings of other contributing artists.

Charles Ricketts, headpiece for 'Decebal's Daughter' by Carmen Sylva in The Woman's World, July 1888
Ricketts's second drawing in The Woman's World shows his ability to illustrate a story, while keeping his own preferences for scenery, costumes, and capricious details. It is a headpiece for 'Decebal's Daughter' by Carmen Sylva, translated by E.B. Mawer (p. [385]-389): a war scene featuring Decebal's daughter Andrada on a fortified tower looking down on the Romans led by Trajan invading the city of Decebal. Nearby is a wooden tower with fighting soldiers, one fallen to the ground, another leaning over the wall to fight. We see an approaching army and the burning city walls. In the lower left is an initial 'T', decorated with a kneeling figure, a sword, a shield and (partly outside the border) a fish; underneath is a small compartment containing a garland. 

Charles Ricketts, initial 'T' for 'Decebal's Daughter' by Carmen Sylva in The Woman's World, July 1888
The other illustrations for the June and July 1888 issues of The Woman's World are neo-Renaissance initials and vignettes, realistic or slightly romantic sketches of buildings and landscapes, portraits after paintings or photographs, reproductions of paintings, drawn impressions of sculptures or other art works, middle-of-the-road illustrations for stories, or static drawings of posing models showing new dresses. Ricketts's illustrations are startlingly different: they show fantasy, and movement, a great feeling for drama (for example in the use of perspective in the Carmen Sylva drawing), and they contain details that are not mentioned in the story.

Charles Ricketts, full page illustration for 'A Lady in Ancient Egypt' by Helen Mary Tirard in The Woman's World, July 1888
The first full page illustration for The Woman's World was: 'The Toilet of a Lady of Ancient Egypt'. It was signed by Ricketts with his monogram CR, and in the 'List of Full-Page Plates' was mentioned: 'Drawn by C. Ricketts'. Other full-page images in this volume (1887-1888) were done by Walter Crane, Paul Destez, and Gordon Browne, who each did one plate, while Ricketts did two. The image contains more than was necessary to illustrate the article: the lady and her dress, attended by three servants in a palace garden with a pond. Added are doves and two cats in order to enhance the intimate, idyllic atmosphere, which we do not find in any of the other illustrations in The Woman's World at the time.

As I said, Cassell & Company knew what they could expect of the young Ricketts - he was 21 at the time of his contributions to The Woman's World. They had given him other earlier assignments for a substantial new publication for which a large number of younger artists made drawings.

See next week's blog.