Wednesday, May 31, 2017

305. The 2017 Alphabet: F

F is for From.

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beautie's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heire might beare his memory:

Charles Ricketts, initial F (published 1899)
One of the larger initials that Ricketts designed for the Vale Press books was published in 1899. The 'F' for the first line of Shakespeare's Sonnets measures 75x48 mm, and is placed at the beginning of line 3 to 18. The initial takes up so much space, that the first four lines of the sonnet have been dispersed over eighteen text lines on this page that has room for only five lines of the first sonnet, the other nine lines appearing on the next page.

That was due, not only to the initial of course, but also to the border, and an extra outer border that take up much space as well. This is a remarkably black, profusely decorated, almost neo Gothic page in a book that, apart from two small decorative borders on page 6 and 133, is only sparsely decorated. There is the occasional paragraph mark on the title, section title, the explicit, and the colophon pages, and a publisher's device of a burin occurs on the verso of the colophon page. There are two paragraph marks on the spine of the binding. Otherwise, this is an example of typographie pure.

The text on page 5 (the first text page with the initial F) has been assigned an area of c. 60 cm² which is less than 20% of the page, while for the decoration an area of around 196 cm² had been reserved, which amounts to 66%, or two-thirds of the page.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

304. The Earliest Review of The Dial No 1?

As a curator in a national library I see how much research profits from digitization projects on a national scale, as long as the data are in open access. The British Library gives access to hundreds of newspaper pages, and it is worthwhile to repeatedly conduct searches in the online files.

Take a question such as: what was the earliest review of Ricketts's and Shannon's magazine The Dial that was published in August 1889?

Most researchers can't spend months on end leafing through old newspapers, even if allowed to do so by the wary librarians who see the pages crumble when touched. In the past, scholars took their refuge to references in later publications. The announcement of the second issue of The Dial, for example, lists seven quotes under the caption 'Some Press Cuttings', some positive, some negative.

Announcement of The Dial, No. 2 (1892)
In studies about The Dial, these quotes find their way, and serious scholars have, on the basis of the announcement, found the original reviews, and their dates of publication. The earliest one, I have seen quoted, appeared in The Pall Mall Gazette of 24 August 1889. The copy of the first issue of The Dial in the British Library collection has a slightly earlier date-stamp: 21 August.

It now turns out, that an earlier review was published on the basis of an 'advance copy'. This review was published in The Glasgow Herald of 17 August 1889.

It is a hesitantly positive review: 

One must go back to “The Germ”, with its band of ardent young Pre-Raphaelites, to parallel a venture so unique and individual as “The Dial,” of which an advance copy lies before me. This sumptuously produced quarto emanates from The Vale, Chelsea, heretofore the residence of Mr Whistler, where its co-editors, Charles H. Shannon and C.S. Ricketts, now reside. It is a periodical quarto in size, and illustrated with lavish outlay, with designs in colours and black and white. The editors’ “apology” explains the position adopted by its projectors, who say, “The sole aim of this magazine is to gain sympathy with its views. [...]. 

The reviewer then quotes in full the 'Apology' that Ricketts and Shannon had printed on the last page.

'Apology' by the editors, The Dial (1889)

The review then continues to say:

The whole of the designs and texts are the work of the editors, with two other contributors, and are singularly novel in idea and conception. While obviously influenced by such different masters as Rossetti, Millais (in early black and white work), Willette and Puvis de Chavannes, there is a distinct quality unlike these, or, indeed, any other decorative artist, throughout the work. The influence of the latest French mood in letters and art is as evident as that of the early Italians and their followers. Among the many full-page plates that adorn the first number, one in colours and gold illustrating “The Great Worm and a very beautifully wrought “Circe,” both by C.H. Shannon – may be specially noticed.

A small mistake: the colour illustration for “The Great Worm” was by Ricketts.

The articles include a delightful rhapsody on Puvis de Chavanni [sic], another on the Goncourts, and a series of “Sensations.” This feature is probably without parallel in any kindred enterprise. The cost of the magazine is 7s 6d.

This doesn't change the actual date of publication, but from it, we may assume that the number must have been for sale around 17 August.

Ricketts and Shannon didn't quote from this review; they may have missed it, although they personally must have send the advance copy to the newspaper.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

303. The 2017 Alphabet: E

E is for Empress.

Empress, you bade me leave my orb├Ęd temple,
And leave my Vestals. Sudden the command.

Initial E in Michael Field, Julia Domna (1903)
For Michael Field's play Julia Domna, published by the Vale Press in 1903, Charles Ricketts designed a border for the beginning of the text. The text itself begins with the name of the first speaker, Varonilla, who addresses Julia Domna, the empress. The initial E on this page was not a new design; the initial had been used since 1896, but there is a difference.

Initial E in The Poems of Sir John Suckling (1896)
Originally, the initials appeared in a black field that gave the letter a square format, and acted as its own border. For the Michael Field play, Ricketts decided to draw a separate black lined border around the initial. This isolates the initial from the text lines (more so than originally), and it underlines the overall construction of the page that consists of two longitudinal illustrated black borders on each side with four horizontal fields in the middle. It also isolates the black fields from each other, so that they stand out on their own, and don't fuse into one large black block.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

302. A Painting by the Father of Ricketts

After many blogs about the mother of Charles Ricketts, there is some news about his father. Not much though. A painting came up for auction in Birmingham. Fellows Auctioneers had it for sale in their auction of 9 May.

Charles Robert Ricketts, 'Stormy coastal scene' (undated)
The painting has seen better days. It is in quite a rough state. The auctioneer describes it as follows:

A stormy coastal scene, with French steam tug approaching a French fishing boat, both flying the tricouleur, oil on canvas laid down onto plyboard, signed to a piece of driftwood lower left, 23 x 34, (58.5cm x 86cm), in flower- and shell-decorated giltwood and gesso frame. Has been cleaned - some layers of paint lost. Evidence of some creasing/cracking to canvas which has been mitigated by laying onto plyboard in recent years

Not particularly a must-have, but the seascape is exactly the kind of work that Ricketts's father excelled in: stormy waves and ships in distress. 

His signature is on a piece of driftwood, as if another vessel recently had not survived in similar circumstances, predicting a rough ending for the ship in the centre of the picture, notwithstanding a close-by steam boat coming to the rescue.

Signature by Charles Robert Ricketts
Initially, the estimate was low (£0 - £200), but, the auction approaching, it was raised to:  £200 - £300.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

301. The 2017 Alphabet: D

D is for Dost.

Dost see how unregarded now

That piece of beauty passes?

Initial D in The Poems of Sir John Suckling (1896)
The early Vale Press books contained numerous decorated initials, often one on each page. There was some variety in the initials within one book. The 1896 edition of The Poems of Sir John Suckling, for example, counted 77 initials on 117 pages. However, there were six larger variants (for the letters A, I, O, S, T, and W), while there were also two variants for the small initial A.

In the distribution of the larger and smaller variants, a scheme was not strictly adhered to, not even regarding the length of the lines, allowing for the space to be filled with either a smaller or a larger variant. The use of two similar small initials A seems to be at random, or may have been an error, or indeed a conscious choice.  

Even so, in some cases surely the variation was based on typographical issues, and did not have to do with matters of aesthetics.

Sonnet I on page xiv opens with the small initial D. On the opposite page Sonnet II opens with a large initial O. The opening lines of the first sonnet occupy one line each. In the second sonnet the lines had to be broken up three times, which is shown by an indentation. Ricketts did not use the smaller initial on that page, because, even if he had, he would have had to break off most of the lines. These are not Shakespearean sonnets with lines of equal length. Some of the lines of the second sonnet are longer than those of the first sonnet. The white spaces after the line breaks would have been too large if the smaller initial had been used. These have been avoided by the use of the larger initial of 40 mm width - the smaller initial would have taken 27 mm.

Initial O in The Poems of Sir John Suckling (1896)