Wednesday, March 2, 2016

240. Vale Press Vine Borders (3)

Most vine borders designed by Charles Ricketts for his Vale Press books were made for one page only, but there is one exception. The border for the edition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that was published in 1901. The opening pages consisted of a combination of a title page and the first text page.

Title page with vine border designed by Charles Ricketts for Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1901)

Title page with vine border designed by Charles Ricketts for Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1901)
The review of the book by The New York Times, 12 October 1901, included a description of these opening pages: 

'The volume contains a striking frontispiece and border designed and engraved by Mr. Ricketts, which is worthy of being counted among the latter’s most successful work. The border, the same in design for both the frontispiece and opening page, is unusually fine. It shows interlaced vine leaves and bunches of grapes, so printed as to be unusually light and graceful in row, but wide and bold on the opening page. The latter also contains an unusually effective initial letter. The frontispiece shows finely designed lettering on a lower panel: the upper portion, about two-thirds of the entire page, containing a finely designed and engraved vignette, in which  the spirit of the text is appropriately shown.'

Interestingly, Ricketts designed the two pages as one whole without imposing a strict symmetry to it. The left page has a small vine border on all sides, to the left, right, top and bottom, which is quite unusual for his borders that usually echo the proportions of the margins as proposed by William Morris in his ideas about The Ideal Book. The page on the right perfectly mirrors these margins, that grow larger, clockwise from the left to the top to the right to the bottom of the page. 

The left page includes an illustration that throws the theme of vines into the face of the reader, with a title field below for the title. The page on the right shows Ricketts's monograph at bottom left: 'CR'.

The drawing shown last week showed grapes at the centre of the drawing. Ricketts managed to place them to the right and to the left, even in the small spaces, such as the borders to the left and right of the frontispiece of the Rubaiyat, in order to secure a pattern that evenly distributes lighter and darker parts. His bunches of grapes on the left page contain up to eight individual grapes, while those on the right page contain far more than that, ten to thirteen or more grapes. The leaves surrounding the grapes are smaller as well, of course. Still, on opening the book, the whole makes for a harmonious feeling.

Subtly, the colour of red appears as a numeral (II) on the right hand page, also balancing the weight of the pages. In the same way an equilibrium was reached by the introduction of a large illustrated initial 'A' on the right hand page, as a counterweight for the illustration on the left page. 

Even though colour (red/black), density (illustration/text), and proportions (small/broad) have been carefully considered, the Omar Khayyam opening pages show a relaxed and effortless unity of design.

1866 Charles Ricketts 2016

In 2016 this blog will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Charles Ricketts's birth on 2 October 1866.
Contributions are most welcome.