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.]