Wednesday, January 13, 2016

233. Pleasantly Adorned by Mr. Charles Ricketts

While the Vale Press was in full swing - publishing one volume after another - Ricketts still managed to contribute drawings to magazines; he illustrated both articles and poems.

In August 1898 - the Vale Pres had recently issued Michael Field's The World at Auction and an edition of Shelley's Lyrical Poems was in preparation - Black and White published 'Cynthia and Alexis', a poem in medieval style, signed "G.", which was described as 'an elegant pastoral, pleasantly adorned by Mr. Charles Ricketts'.

Charles Ricketts, illustration for 'Cynthia and Alexis' (1898)
The poem is about a lover, who finds himself:

So near the Rose, and yet all thorn-entangled.

The drawing depicts him trapped between branches, out of reach appears his love, the Rose. Before his chest a heart-shaped cartouche contains the words: 'I am Heart-Broken'. The Rose knows no mercy, as she needs his blood to colour her leaves.

The drawing seems to be very much in style with the opening image of Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx, which was published four years earlier, in 1894, and indeed, the drawing may date from this period, only to be published in 1898. It might even be earlier, as the drawing resembles other pre-1894 drawings by Ricketts, and his earliest works for Black and White date from 1891. The art editors may have kept a supply of these early drawings, and published them in later years. During the early years of The Vale Press this kind of drawing by Ricketts appeared in several magazines, but all of these drawings had been published well before that time; all were reprints. The 'Cynthia and Alexis' drawing had not been published before, but must have been drawn years earlier, as Ricketts did not have the time for this kind of work when he was a publisher.

The frontispiece of The Sphinx shows the sphinx and a female figure with branches and grapes of the vine, intertwined with branches that bear no roses but show a multitude of thorns.

Charles Ricketts, frontispiece for Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (1894)