Wednesday, December 27, 2017

335. The 2017 Alphabet: Q

Q is for Quite.

Quite spent with thoughts I left my Cell, and lay
Where a shrill spring tun'd to the early day.

Charles Ricketts, initial 'Q' in The Sacred Poems of Henry Vaughan Silurist (1897)

The initial 'Q' appears in the 1897 Vale Press edition of the sacred poems of Henry Vaughan (1621-1695). Edited by Charles Ricketts, this collection of poems by one of the metaphysical poets appeared in October 1897. There is no (modern) title page, and the titles on the label on the front cover, the spine, the opening page, and the colophon are all different: (1) The Sacred Poems of Henry Vaughan Silurist, (2) The Sacred Poems of H. Vaughan, (3) Vaughan's Sacred Poems Being a Selection, and (4) Sacred Poems Chosen From The Works of Henry Vaughan Silurist

The word 'silurist' refers to Vaughan's native Wales, and to a Celtic tribe.

The poem 'Vanity of Spirit' is about the child-like question: Who made the world? A thorough analysis of this poem can be found online in Thomas Healy's essay 'Performing the Self: Reformation History and the English Renaissance Lyric'. He argues that the apparent naiveté conceals a darker layer of a satanesque questioning of knowledge: 'Imagining himself on a heroic quest for the heavenly, the narrator is unsuspectingly confirming a hellish identity to the observant reader.'

The initial 'Q' only appears once in this publication of the Vale Press, and the design has not been used since. Ricketts had no use for a second 'Q'. However, he drew another initial 'Q' that probably was never cut in the wood. This second 'Q' was reproduced to illustrate an essay by Gleeson White: 'At the Sign of The Dial. Mr. Ricketts as a Book-Builder', published in The Magazine of Art of April 1897. 

Charles Ricketts, initial 'Q' (in The Magazine of Art, April 1897)
This initial seemed to be intended for an series of letters with laurel decorations - there is not a complete alphabet of these: A, E, I, O, T and W occur in several books. A drawing for three similar letters, 'Q', 'T' and 'R', is in the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library (reproduced in Maureen Watry, The Vale Press, 2004, p. 223). These initials are approximately 48x55 mm.

Charles Ricketts, initial 'Q' in The Sacred Poems of Henry Vaughan Silurist (1897)
The only initial 'Q' used by Ricketts appeared in the Vaughan edition (page xxx), and measures 25x30 mm.

This series will be continued as The 2018 Alphabet.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

334. The 2017 Alphabet: P

P is for Poor.

Poor Psyches perceived the end of all fortune, thinking verely that she should never returne, and without cause, when as she was compelled to go to the gulfe and furies of hell.

Charles Ricketts, initial 'P' (The Dial, No. 4, 1896)
The initial 'P' was designed for a specimen of the Vale Type that was included in the fourth number of The Dial in March 1896. The image consists of three vertically arranged fields: (1) the halted and naked figure of Psyche, (2) a static brick wall, and (3) the moving, threatening dragon-like dog heads of Hades. The wall functions as a border between the two antagonists. They meet in the middle: the basket containing seductive barley cakes is close to one of the hound's heads that is attracted by its smell.

Type specimen included in The Dial, No. 4, 1896
The folded specimen, printed on a sheet of Unbleached Arnold (Ruskin) paper, was pasted in the fourth issue of the magazine of the Vale Press group. A proof for the specimen is dated 18 December 1895. The initial was used twice, on page iii (text in lower case Vale Type) and iv (text in upper case Vale Type).

An image of the original drawing for the block had illustrated an article about Ricketts by his friend, the art critic Gleeson White. This was published in a new annual The Pageant. The first volume was dated '1896' and published in November 1895. The Dial appeared a few months later.

Charles Ricketts, initial 'P' (The Pageant, 1896, published 1895)
The original image and the wood engraving are quite similar. 

Finally, when The Vale Press published the edition of Cupid and Psyches in 1897, the initial was discarded except for the image. The roundel illustrations (that part of the design was preserved) in the book are larger (81 mm diameter as opposed to 31 mm), and the image of Psyche descending into Hell was thoroughly worked over and changed, as can be seen very clearly in an anonymously coloured copy of the book (for this image thanks are due to Vincent Barlow; see more pictures of this copy in blog no. 203). A stairway to the left has been added; there is another stairway leading to a stone gate in the background, and although the main figures of Psyche and the three-headed dog remained the same, this wood engraving involved a newly drawn design and a new wood block to be cut. 

Charles Ricketts, illustration in The Excellent Narration of the Marriage of Cupide and Psyches (1897)
The text in the book edition was different as well. For the Vale Press edition William Adlington's translation of 1566 was chosen, while the words in the specimen were taken from an 1893 reprint based on the 1639 edition.

The image was no longer used to illustrate an initial; it had evolved into an art work in its own right. 

The preparations for the descent into Hell are described on pages 51-52 - the roundel can be found on page 41. Between this particular paragraph in the text and the corresponding roundel illustration, one finds another roundel illustration depicting the final scene in the book ('Love's Pact with Jove'). All roundels are positioned on the first page of a gathering, which disturbs the relation between text and image. 

Ricketts didn't mind this at all. It helped to create an atmosphere of independence. The wood engravings became autonomous works of art, based on Apuleius's original story, but showing a distinctly original interpretation, as Colin Franklin argued (in Golden Asses at the Private Presses, 1969).

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

333. Snow

Two days of snow in The Netherlands - hundreds of flights cancelled, public transport came to a halt, one can imagine the situation - some find it hard to remember the joy of snow. 

The Hague in the Snow (photo: Ton Leenhouts, 2017)
Here is how Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon depicted snow in the early 1890s.

In 1887, an illustration by Charles Ricketts was published by Cassell & Company: 'Flight of Matilda from Oxford Castle'. (See blog 224.)

Illustration by Charles Ricketts (1887)
Empress Matilda was said, in one of the more popular versions of this medieval story, to have escaped from the castle in December 1141, while the Castle Mill Stream was frozen over. According to myth, she was dressed in white as camouflage in the snow. Ricketts depicted her, wearing a white mantle over her dark dress, to stress the camouflage.

Two years later, Charles Shannon did a first attempt at lithography, and produced a limited edition of 'The Vale in Snow'. (See blog 85).

Charles Shannon, 'The Vale in Snow' (1889)
The lower half of the image is empty, that is, full of snow, while in the background, every object is only visible because of it being covered in snow: the garden wall, the roof, the trees.

In 1894, Ricketts and Shannon collaborated on Daphnis and Chloe. A scene, called 'Love in the Snow' was designed by Ricketts.

Charles Ricketts, 'Love in the Snow' (1894)
The Hague, situated near the coast, can never boast of a long snow season...

The Hague in the Snow (photo: Ton Leenhouts, 2017)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

332. A Charles Shannon Painting of Ashtoreth

Last week's blog about two Charles Shannon paintings on show at the National Gallery prompted a reader of this blog to send me an image of an early painting by Charles Shannon, 'Ashtoreth'. This private collector apologizes for the image that reflects other pictures opposite; still, we do get a fairly good impression of the pastel that was exhibited in 1888.

Charles Shannon, 'Ashtoreth' (c. 1888) [Private collection]
According to the label on the reverse, the pastel was first exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery's Pastel Exhibition in 1888. It is quite large, measuring 112x51 cm. The label on the back mentions the name of the artist ('Chas.H. Shannon'), the title ('Ashtoreth'), and the artist's address ('The Vale Kings Road Chelsea').

Label on the reverse of Charles Shannon's 'Ashtoreth' (c. 1888) [Private collection]
Ashtoreth is also known as Astarte, a deity associated with war, sexuality and fertility. One could have expected Shannon to symbolize her by depicting a horse, a lion, a sphinx, a dove or a star within a circle. None of these associations appear in the image. We see a red-haired naked woman at the bath.

A year after the picture was exhibited (and probably drawn), Ricketts and Shannon collaborated on an illustration job for Harry Quilter's magazine The Universal Review. [See blog No 26: Universal Disdain]. Julian Corbett's story 'Jezebel' was decorated with an initial, a frontispiece, and three illustrations by Ricketts and Shannon. Ricketts depicted 'Astarté', as a god of fertility, surrounded by heart-shaped symbols of love, and with doves in the sky.

The body shape of Ricketts's 'Astarté' is sketchy, and symbolic, while Shannon's image is more realistic, and erotic, turning her head to the viewer. 

Recently, this pastel was sold by Eastbourne Auctions in a Fine and Antique Sale (lot 1165).

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

331. Charles Shannon In The Mirror Exhibition

The National Gallery in London devotes an exhibition to the influence of Jan van Eyck's painting known as the Arnolfini Portrait on the Pre-Raphaelites: Reflections. Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites. The five rooms contain 43 sketches, paintings and mirrors, and although the title is too grand for the occasion, the show is interesting for the inclusion of two paintings by Charles Shannon. 

Charles Shannon, 'The Bath of Venus' (1998-1904)
The unusual perspective and the reflections in the circular mirror in Van Eyck's painting have been imitated in many nineteenth-century paintings, and as the Pre-Raphaelites's influence continued in the early twentieth-century, later paintings remind us of the fifteenth-century masterpiece.

Shannon's paintings are both on loan from the Tate Britain. One is 'The Bath of Venus' (No. 35 in the catalogue), the other one is 'Les Marmitons' (No. 36). The presence of a circular mirror in these paintings is quite different. In the first one, as the catalogue note explains, 'the circular mirror reflects the backs of the attendants and echoes the reflections seen in the water, basin and ewer'.

Charles Shannon, 'Les Marmitons' (1897)
The function of the mirror in the second painting, 'Les Marmitons' is not related to reflections; it is about disguise, and concealment. Two girls in fancy dress imitate kitchen helps ('marmitons'). The mirror is hazy, the reflection confusing, the view is obscured; the disguise has been enforced, acknowledged, and supported. 

This is echoed in the poses of the two girls, their bodies forming two demi-circles. This yin-yang-like arrangement stresses their intimacy, and questions their sexuality.

Ricketts and Shannon were under the spell of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Ricketts more than Shannon), whose house was full of circular mirrors. However, the meaning of Shannon's mirror is different from the connotations it had in Rossetti's work, and far removed from the significance of the mirror in Van Eyck's original painting.

The exhibition has its flaws - it was not well visited while we were there - but it is worth seeing the Van Eyck, and an opportunity to study the Shannon paintings. Photography is not allowed, but why? Images abound on the Internet.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

330. One Sketch for Two Bindings by Ricketts

The British Museum has digitized numerous archival materials by Charles Ricketts, and published images on the website. One of those is an image of a design by Ricketts for a binding.

Charles Ricketts, drawing for a binding (British Museum)

This preparatory drawing (Museum number 1962,0809.1.13) has been described as a 'pattern of leaves and flowers amongst grid of vertical and horizontal lines', executed in 'pen and ink with graphite and touches of pink watercolour and white bodycolour'. The drawing survived in an album of 46 drawings that was donated by Riette Sturge-Moore in 1962.

There are at least two bindings for Vale Press books for which this design has been used.

The first application of this design for a binding was for Shakespeare's The Passionate Pilgrim (published 1896) bound (in or after 1898) in red morocco.

Binding for The Passionate Pilgrim (Vale Press, 1896)
A copy of the Vale Press edition of Blake's The Book of Thel (published 1897) was bound in white pigskin after the same design. This raises some questions about the colour and materials used.

Binding for The Book of Thel (Vale Press, 1897)
The assumption was that white pigskin bindings were not unique bindings, but bindings that used the same design in small series. However, if a design was used again, the earlier one in red leather may have become less exceptional, as the design no longer could be termed unique. 

It is not possible to date these bindings. Originally, these early Vale Press books were only printed on paper, and published in plain paper covers. As soon as the Vale Press started to print a small amount of copies on vellum, in 1898, the publishers announced they would accept commissions for specially designed bindings. Collectors immediately picked this up, and asked for leather bindings designed by Ricketts for the earlier paper editions.

It is quite a puzzle, involving a colour code, specific use of materials, etcetera. To date, alas, there is not enough published evidence of those bindings.