Wednesday, March 29, 2017

296. Charles Shannon's Earliest Published Illustration

The January 1886 issue of The Magazine of Art published an early drawing by Charles Shannon to illustrate 'The Art of Sketching' by R.A.M. Stevenson, possibly his earliest publication. [See last week's blog about the earliest Ricketts drawing that was published to illustrate the same article.] 

The printed version of what originally was a sketch measures 137x93 mm. It had been turned into a wood-engraving by the art department of the magazine. Erroneously, Shannon's name was mentioned as 'Walter Shannon'.

Charles Shannon, 'By the Seaside' (1885, published 1886)

The caption reads:

By the Seaside.

(From the Prize Sketch, "Figure," by Walter Shannon. Lambeth Sketching Club, 1885.)

Stevenson's criticism is detailed, but on the whole friendly:

Mr. Shannon's, more distinctly seen as a whole than Mr. Ricketts’s, has greater unity of impression, and, with less padding, contains fewer weak spots. He has devised rather an ungainly line of distant hills, unnecessarily black and unnecessarily high; it would not have been amiss, too, for some of the wreck to come against the sky. One might add that, for the sake of a certain grouping, he has made the action of the figures carrying the body somewhat capricious and unnatural. It would, however, be wrong to attach much importance to all this in a sketch; such points can be remedied by thought and study in a picture without departing from the general sense of the rough draught. 

The contents of The Magazine of Art was reviewed by other magazines that also copied the wrong name of Walter Shannon, an example being the Royal Cornwall Gazette in January 1886. 

The same newspaper would, several months later, publish a devastating review of a water colour on the same subject. 

What had happened? Supported by the kind review by Stevenson and by the illustration in The Magazine of Art, Shannon had decided to execute the same subject in watercolour, and, with Reginald Savage (1862-1937), made a little group of drawings of saints. These were selected for display by the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in London in the Summer of 1886. 

Shannon's new version of 'By the Seaside' was one of a large number of works relating to Cornwall: 'Altogether, there are close upon fifty Cornish subjects in the present collection.' The Royal Cornwall Gazette published an article about these works that was 'Written expressly for the "Royal Cornwell Gazette"', as the newspaper reported proudly, by William Gilbert.

Thus, Shannon's small Cornish coast scene came under scrutiny of the Cornish critic.

Exhibited as number 498, Shannon's work was listed as 'Saint Olaf Burying Waifs on the Coast of Cornwall'.

The Royal Cornwall Gazette didn't like it.

Of all weird, harrowing, impossible conceptions of a Cornish coast scene this surely is the most unaccountable. Sky black as night; howling winds; maddened waves, breaking without reflux; wrecked ship, date of build about 1860; (!) monks bearing naked corpse; the good saint "nimbused" before canonization, wearing gorgeously worked cope, grey hair and beard streaming in the bitter blast - performs his pious duty under conditions most unlikely possible to be conceived. And, too, surely Olaf was a Northumbrian saint. If my hagiology be wrong, there are many readers of the Royal Cornwall Gazette who will quickly set me right. In perfect contrast to such a lugubrious, distorted, imaginative subject is the charmingly fresh crisp, spring-like representation entitled "Cottage Steps" (177), by Mr. A. Quinten.

Lugubrious, nakedness, too modern a ship, too early a nimbus...

And this newspaper wasn't the only one to dislike Shannon's works. Apart from No 498, Shannon also exhibited another painting of a saint, 'Saint Isidore and the Angel' (No. 623). The Era called this work 'quaint' (24 April 1886), The Graphic thought Shannon's and Savage's drawings 'thoroughly unconventional' (24 April 1886), and by The Glasgow Herald (16 April 1886) Shannon's painting of Isidore was singled out for abuse: 

If any visitor wishes to see how far astray an attempt at imaginative art may lead a weak draughtsman, let him seek out number 623, "Saint Isidore and the Angel," by C.H. Shannon, and let him wonder at the judgment of a committee that would allow such a grotesque imbecility to hang upon the Institute walls. This ill-drawn daub is a perfect caricature of modern French notions of art.

In the same exhibition, Ricketts showed '"Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi." Byzantium, 668' (No. 201). The critics ignored it.

Notwithstanding the harsh criticisms, Shannon send in his Isidore painting again, and, that Fall, it was on display at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool (see Cheshire Observer, 18 September 1886).

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

295. Charles Ricketts's Earliest Published Illustration

It is often thought that Charles Ricketts's earliest illustrations were published in a now extremely rare short-lived periodical called The Alarum. This cheap magazine published five drawings by Ricketts in October and November 1886.

At the time, Ricketts was just twenty. But this wasn't the first time that he saw his name in print, and surprisingly Ricketts's first drawing was published in quite an important art magazine, The Magazine of Art. The January issue of 1886 contained an article by R.A.M. Stevenson, 'The Art of Sketching' (pages 124-127), and Ricketts's drawing was published to illustrate this art form.

Stevenson (1847-1900) was a Scottish art critic, who studied painting in Edinburgh and Paris, but was advised to turn to criticism instead. From 1883 onwards, he published articles in several magazines, such as The Saturday Review, The Magazine of Art, and Pall Mall Gazette.

Charles Ricketts, 'The Building of the House' (1885, published 1886)
His essay on sketching served as a general introduction to the subject: 

It may be defined as the art of jotting down, without regard to accidental facts, an ensemble in drawing, chiaroscuro, or colour, or in any one alone. In sketching, only the greater facts are relevant, only the complete scheme is essential.

A sketch proper, then, is always the record of an impression: if from nature, of an ensemble perceived; if from chic, of an ensemble imagined.

In London, as in Paris and other large cities, sketching from the head is practised in regular clubs, started ad hoc. Some are associations of artists among themselves for amusement and practice. Such used to be the Latin Quarter Club in Paris; such is the Langham in London.

But there were other clubs as well, such as School Clubs:

Of school clubs - used as a direct means of education, supervised by professors, and kept going by a system of competition and reward - are the Lambeth, the Gilbert (St. Martin's), the West London, and the South Kensington.

The Lambeth Sketching Club was founded in 1861 by John Sparkes of the School of Art, South Kensington. With the Lambeth Sketching Club, Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon are introduced, as examples of artists whose work is evidence of the merits of prize sketches.

Two of these we engrave — Mr. Shannon's under the head "Figure," and Mr. Ricketts's under the head "Design." 

Both were illustrated; the original sketches had been reworked by artisans, and turned into wood-engravings that could be used as illustrations. Ricketts's illustration (125x162 mm) was not signed by him, but the caption mentioned his name:

The Building of The House.
(From the Prize Sketch, "Design," by C.S. Ricketts, Lambeth Sketching Club, 1885.)

From this publication he may have learned that it was adviseable to sign the drawings, as in Shannon's case the caption misnamed the artist:

By the Seaside.
(From the Prize Sketch, "Figure," by Walter Shannon. Lambeth Sketching Club, 1885.)

Walter Shannon! Ricketts have been horrified by this mistake. And started signing his work with his full name.

Stevenson's judgment of both drawings was kind, although he could find faults in both works.

Mr. Shannon's, more distinctly seen as a whole than Mr. Ricketts’s, has greater unity of impression, and, with less padding, contains fewer weak spots. 

About Ricketts's drawing he wrote:

Mr. Ricketts, though more unequal than Mr. Shannon, exhibits in places somewhat stronger and more realised work. The distant hills and architecture are keenly felt, and represented with breadth and spirit. The group in the foreground has considerable animation, and some of the modelling is very accurately realised; but as a whole it is not seen under the same conditions of strong Oriental sunlight as the distance. The masses of light and shade in the group might be more broadly contrasted, the east shadows darker and firmer, and the near architecture more illumined with reflected light. In fact, the ensemble is less distinctly felt and less exclusively aimed at than in the work of Mr. Shannon. However, as these artists have competed for different prizes, and have aimed at different objects, any close comparison of their merits would be manifestly unfair.

This seems to be the earliest published criticism of Ricketts's work, and must have made his name known in publishers' circles. From now on, Ricketts and Shannon could mention this criticism as a reference; to have been published in The Magazine of Art with a favourable report, was a triumph for a student of his age, as the contents of this magazine was widely advertised and noticed in many other magazines and newspapers. It was certainly the start of Ricketts's career. 

Although this was the January 1886 issue of The Magazine of Art, it was published in December 1885, as The Pall Mall Gazette can testify: an advertisement, published by Cassell and Company on 22 December 1885 stated:

The JANUARY PART of "The Magazine of Art" is now on sale, price 1s.

Ricketts's age at the time: nineteen.

[Next time: Charles Shannon's prize sketch.]

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

294. An Early Drawing: Those Servants Again

At Dominic Winters Auctions, on 2 March, an early drawing by Charles Ricketts was sold for £620. The drawing was signed 'C. Ricketts'. There is an inscription on the back, probably intended as a caption to the illustration: 'Those Servants Again'.

Charles Ricketts, 'Those Servants Again!', undated original drawing, c. 1886-1887

The caption reads in full:

'Those Servants Again! 

First fair Patrician 
- Positively refused to fight in the arena, my dear, and that sweet nubian lion doing nothing. What are we coming to next. For not one of them has been thrown into the Lamprey pond, since Old Pollux. 
2nd fair Patrician 
- Ah! Slaves are not as they were.

Old Pollux and the lamprey pond refer to Vedius Pollo (died 15 BC), a Roman of some authority in the Roman province of Asia. He was known for his cruelty to slaves. He would punish them by feeding them to his lampreys that were especially kept for the purpose. Seneca wrote down what happened to Vedius when the emperor Augustus visited his house (On Anger, III, 40):

He [Vedius] ordered him to be thrown to the huge lampreys which he had in his fish pond. Who would not think he did this for display? Yet it was out of cruelty. The boy slipped from the captor's hands and fled to Augustus' feet asking nothing else other than a different way to die – he did not want to be eaten. Augustus was moved by the novelty of the cruelty and ordered him to be released, all the crystal cups to be broken before his eyes, and the fish pond to be filled in...

The literary reference had a certain actuality attached to it, as it could be read as a modern complaint about domestic servants.

The cartoon has never been published. For the early published drawings by Ricketts all originals seem to have disappeared, part of the process possibly, as the they were considered to be sketches that were engraved on the block by artisans in the publisher's studio. The survival of this (hitherto unrecorded) drawing itself suggests that it was never published.

The signature, with Ricketts full name and the backward pointing stroke of the 's', was used by the artist for his early drawings (after 1885; the earliest drawings have not been signed at all). The stroke of the 's' varied in length, sometimes approaching the first 't', often even underlining the 'k'. Drawings by Ricketts, having this signature, were published in Cassell's series History of England in 1887 and 1888. Some of these drawings must have been made in 1886; these were all realistic, historical scenes. 

Ricketts also published five drawings with this signature, and with a caption, in the elusive cheap magazine The Alarum. These were intended as cartoons, and contained a rather long text that was meant to be a joke of some sorts. The 'slaves' drawing was not published in that magazine.

It may have been intended for The Alarum, that was stopped short after six months in March 1887. Many other magazines at the time contained such 'funny' drawings, such as Judy. Ricketts tried his hand at this type of illustration, although he would soon find out that his specialty lay with costume drawings and historical sketches of Egyptian, Roman, and Renaissance scenes.

This drawing clearly is a sketch for the kind of drawing that he wasn't excelling in, but that might bring in money. The scene displays his knowledge of Roman history, architecture, and  dresses, build up as a classic composition with two diagonal lines (from bottom left to top right and from top left to bottom right). Ricketts's sketch of the black maid holding a large parasol and the woman in front of the little group shows delicately drawn details, especially those of the patterns of the fabrics. The woman in the middle, in contrast, wears a plain shirt, so that the other two stand out more. The architecture is sketchy, with a partly depicted statue of Dionysus, some people in the background, and a man sitting on a bench to the right of the drawing (again showing a costume pattern).

The white spaces in the drawing would have been filled in by the engraver: thinly drawn lines indicate the artist's intention. The drawing can be dated to 1886-1887.

The capture on the back was first written in pencil, and then traced in black ink. It cannot be established who wrote the text. Was it given by the magazine's art editor, or invented by the artist?

Thanks are due to Dennis T. Lannigan, who provided the images after he acquired the drawing at Dominic Winters Auction. Lannigan is a collector of nineteenth-century British drawings. He donated part of his collection of Pre-Raphaelites and their contemporaries to the National Gallery of Canada. The collection comprises drawings by Edward Burne-Jones, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and others. Lannigan, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon by profession, has been a collector of drawings for over  forty years.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

293. A Shakespeare Heroine Without a Name?

Recently, I was asked to identify a plate in the publication Shakespeare's Heroines. The book was issued as a contribution towards the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Fund, and as a memento of some Sunday afternoon broadcasts. Twelve short anonymous texts about these heroines are accompanied by mounted reproductions after drawings by Ricketts: eleven plates printed in sepia, and one colour plate. Although the publisher's name or date of publication are lacking, the oblong book (according to the British Library catalogue) was published by the BBC in 1926.

After the title page - containing only the title - another colour plate is pasted in. This one doesn't have the landscape format, and had to be placed across. The contents page doesn't mention this illustration that depicts an actress in a costume designed by Ricketts.

Charles Ricketts, costume design from Shakespeare's Heroines (1926)
The illustration is reproduced in Stephen Calloway's Charles Ricketts, Subtle and Fantastic Decorator (1979), and tentatively described as being 'probably for Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, c. 1919'. However, the dress is similar to a design by Ricketts for another costume, that of The Doge in The Merchant of Venice.

Charles Ricketts, costume design for 'The Doge' in The Merchant of Venice

These costumes were both described and illustrated in Richard Allen Cave's book Charles Ricketts' Stage Designs (1987). Both were intended for a 1918 production of The Merchant of Venice, the dress  was for Portia. Ricketts's friend and admirer Gordon Bottomley, who collected much valuable material evidence of Ricketts's several careers, wrote, as early as 1932, about the frontispiece in Shakespeare's Heroines: this 'coloured costume-design for Portia (one of the set done for Mrs Wheeler) is an admirable example of his costume designs'. (Theatre Arts Monthly, May 1932).

However, there is one remark by Charles Ricketts that may complicate the identification of this costume. In September 1918, working on the costume designs, Ricketts wrote in a letter to Laurence Binyon: 'Portia has a dress covered with mermaids'. No mermaid on this costume, so far as we can see. So is this Portia, or not?

The costume designs were for a series of Shakespeare plays performed for the British and French soldiers in France by a company managed by Lena Ashwell. In an earlier blog I wrote about these performances: 89: A Costume Correspondence. (For a general story about war time performances, see L.J. Collins's Theatre at War, 1914-18, published by Macmillan in 1998). 

Ricketts designed around fifty costumes for a series of three plays: Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, and Two Gentlemen of Verona, although the last play was never actually produced. For economic reasons Ricketts designed at least twenty costumes with interchangeable parts that could be used for several of the plays.

For this project, Ricketts corresponded with the actress and co-organizer Penelope Wheeler. Wheeler would play the role of Portia. In her article about these productions, Margaret Mitchell, wrote: 'Prior to packing the production, Penelope Wheeler's own costumes for Portia were sent to her home with Ricketts's instructions on how to wear them. [...] He instructs Wheeler to try on the costume and then use the sketch to understand carriage, posture, and the emotional quality of the character'.

A more detailed description of the Portia dress dismisses Ricketts's later claims for mermaid designs. The description perfectly fits the frontispiece illustration for Shakespeare's Heroines:

I want Portia's white dress to be slipping off the shoulder, the stomacher low and the green veil has two wing like strips to give line, and to cover back of corsage...

All the details can be found in the drawing:

The text speaks of 'the golden Portia' and she is usually given golden hair in consequence, but unless you wish to wear a yellow wig, I should prefer your own hair. I admit I had yellow hair in view, in designing the dresses, but dark hair is safe; possibly the dark red hair might look well on you and not dislike your eyes and eyebrows, should you find it does, use it, but wigs are troublesome things though actors like them.

The blond hair in the drawing illustrated his point. Wheeler did not wear a wig for the performance, as we can see from a photograph that is kept in the Mander and Mitchenson Theatre Collection at the University of Bristol. It is posted at the Daily Mail website.

A wonderful testimony of a performance at the fringe of the art world, in Le Havre, for the troops. In black and white, alas, but one can surmise the splendid array of colours that must have mesmerized the audience, especially as the actress moved on the stage.

Unfortunately, the University of Bristol doesn't allow me to reproduce the image that is based on the original photograph in their collection. They insist on a significant fee payable to Arenapal.

[Thanks are due to June Samaras of Kalamos Books for her inquiry.]

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

292: Hero & Leander: a Partly Blind Stamped Cover

In the summer of 1893, an announcement of 'The Vale' was issued about an edition of Hero and Leander that was said to be in preparation. The book would be 'bound in English vellum and gold in a design by Charles Ricketts'. The preparation took longer than expected, and a second announcement was distributed, probably early February 1894. The binding design remained unchanged, although a name was now given to it: 'Bound in English Vellum and Gold in a design of "Pearl and Thread" by Charles Ricketts.'

Announcement of Hero and Leander (1894) [detail]
The book's colophon doesn't mention the binding design or material. The edition (there were 220 copies of which 200 were for sale) was bound in vellum with a gilt-stamped design, which was signed 'CR' [for Ricketts] and HL [for the binder, Leighton, Son & Hodge].

An early bibliographer mentioned a separate edition of ten copies that were bound otherwise. Temple Scott (1864-1939) interviewed Ricketts, and published 'A Bibliography of the Books Issued by the Vale Press' in Bookselling (December 1896). According to his list: 'Ten copies were bound with the design in blind, the others have the design in gold.'

Three years later Ricketts, in his book A Defence of the Revival of Printing (1899), wrote: 'Six copies exist bound as originally intended in blind tooling and gold'.

Ricketts's remark led to confusion. Copies in vellum were thought to be exceedingly scarce, but they are not; all copies had been bound in vellum, the difference being the decoration. There are copies with the design printed in gold, but there are no copies with a blind-stamped design. There are some hybrid copies: they have most of the design blind-stamped, and only a few dots and circles in gold. These appear on the front and back of the binding. The spine of those copies has the title in gold as well.

The question is: how many of these hybrid copies are in existence? Six (Ricketts) or ten (Scott)? My guess is that Scott was right.

Hero and Lander (1894)
[photos: Nudelman Rare Books]
An agreement between Ricketts and Shannon and the Bodley Head was signed on 5 February 1894, shortly followed by the announcement stating the name of the binding design 'Pearl and Thread'. It is a fine linear design with leaves, dots, circles, lines and triple lines - the kind of drawing that he would repeat many times for the special bindings of Vale Press books, and also for commercial bindings. But why 'Pearl and Thread'? Are the small circles to be seen as 'pearls' and the thin lines as 'thread'? The spine design contains two lines in a V-shape; they come together, and end in a small leaflike ornament that could be seen as a pearl. Perhaps this is due to the obscure subtlety that Ricketts loved.

Perhaps, Ricketts had wanted this design at first, the 'Pearl and Thread' design, blind-stamped on vellum with only dots and circles in gold. And, perhaps, the Bodley Head didn't like this much. The publishers may have insisted upon a more luxurious binding design, and subsequently the entire design was executed in gold. The bindings that were gilded and blind-stamped can be divided into two categories: copies destined for the copyright libraries (Oxford, Cambridge), and personal copies for Ricketts and Shannon.

Where are these copies? In general, library catalogues do not include illustrations of the bindings, or annotations that make it possible to distinguish the two binding editions.

There may be more copies. So far I have traced six copies that are partially blind-stamped and gilded.

The British Museum, London. Shelfmark C.99.e.20. From the library of Campbell Dodgson (1867-1948), keeper of prints and drawings at the British Museum, 1912-1932.
The Bodleian Library, Oxford. Shelfmark 2798.e.21. 
Cambridge University Library, Cambridge. Shelfmark Syn 7.89.164.
Private Collection, London. Dedication copy, inscribed 'To Mrs. Van Wisselingh | with the compliments of the season | C.S. Ricketts & C.H. Shannon'. Described in Warrack & Perkins's catalogue 33 (April 1980).
Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge MA. Shelfmark Typ 805V.94.559 (A). Gift of Philip Hofer. This was Charles Shannon's copy that was owned by Henry W. Bell (1885-1947) (according to a note in Charles Ricketts's copy).
Nudelman Rare Books, Seattle, WA. Charles Ricketts's copy, according to a note by Henry W. Bell (1885-1947). Bookplate of art historian John A. Gere (1921-1995).