Wednesday, February 17, 2016

238. Vale Press Vine Borders (1)

A vine border was a popular decoration in private press books around 1900. William Morris designed a border of grapes and leaves of the vine for several books, including his edition of Chaucer.

William Morris, border for The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1896)
The antiquarian book dealer Ed Nudelman (check out the website of Nudelman Rare Books) recently found a drawing for a vine border in a vellum copy of the Vale Press edition of Michael Field's play Julia Domna, and as this copy came from the famous Hodson collection, he was tempted to think that the design was by Ricketts himself. Meanwhile, he has changed his mind, and I agree with him. The sketches - there are three small drawings on three small slips of tracing paper - cannot be ascribed to Ricketts, for several reasons, which I will discuss in next week's blog. 

Ricketts designed quite a few vine borders for the Vale Press. There is a small one in Rossetti's Hand and Soul (1899), there are three medium sizes borders for Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1901), The First Part of King Henry IV (part of the Vale Shakespeare edition, this volume appeared in 1902), and finally in A Bibliography of Books Issued by Hacon & Ricketts (1904). There was one large format vine border, used to decorate Thomas Browne's Religio Medici, Urn Burial, Christian Morals, and Other Essays (1902).

Some of these borders are delicately designed, intricate, crowded and lively borders. Others are more sparse in detail, less artificial, and almost naturalistic, like the little design for Hand and Soul that measures 130 x 95 mm.

Charles Ricketts, vine border for D.G. Rossetti, Hand and Soul (1899)
The text on this page (page 3) refers to art of painting in Florence. Ricketts remarked in his bibliography that the block for this border 'was burnt at the printers'.'

Ricketts's border was repeated on page 37. The text on that page begins as follows: 'In the spring of 1847, I was at Florence.' This is intended to be an Italian vine border.

Small as it is, it shows some hallmarks of Ricketts's border drawings. The space between the curling stems, forming knots, has been filled in with black, subtly changing the density of the drawing. The balance of black and white is carefully considered, the grapes show their weight, some of them slightly tilted to one side, all pointing downwards, as they do in reality. The pattern is simple, alternating leaves (with their surface made white and their black nerves) and bunches of grapes (all similar but different, individually drawn).

The other designs, such as the paragraph marks and the initials, have not been adapted to the grape motive.