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).