Wednesday, September 27, 2017

322. Numbers and Letters for Gordon Bottomley

Charles Ricketts designed several bindings for plays by Gordon Bottomley (1874-1948). In November 1921, Constable & Company Limited published a volume containing two of Bottomley's plays, Gruach and Britain's Daughter.

The cover design by Ricketts looked like a stage design with a building, towers, a stable with a horse, steps, a door and the silhouette of a draped person. Ricketts's intention had been to have the design in gold on white buckram, but due to the cost of gold after the Great War, most copies were bound in red buckram having the design in yellow. Only sixty copies were bound in white cloth with the design in gold. 

Charles Ricketts, design for Gordon Bottomley,
Gruach and Britain's Daughter (1921) (detail)
As customary with deluxe editions, the limitation statement only appeared in the deluxe copies. The ordinary copies in red buckram mentioned the binding design and the copyright statement.

Gordon Bottomley, Gruach and Britain's Daughter (1921)
For the deluxe edition of sixty numbered copies four text lines were added stating:

Of this edition have been issued fifty numbered copies for sale, and ten (lettered A-J) not for sale. No. 

Gordon Bottomley, Gruach and Britain's Daughter (1921)
Bottomley numbered and signed the copies in brown ink, and he (or his publisher) added a line of dots on which Bottomley (or the publisher) placed the written number (the dots were not printed).

The ten lettered copies were individually lettered on the press.

Gordon Bottomley, Gruach and Britain's Daughter (1921)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

321. The 2017 Alphabet: O

O is for On.

On Hellespont, guilty of true love's blood,
In view and opposite two cities stood,
Seaborderes, disjoined by Neptune's might;
The one Abydos, the other Sestos hight.

Christopher Marlowe and George Chapman, Hero and Leander,
decorated by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon (1894)
In June 1894, the Bodley Head in London published an edition of Christopher Marlowe's and George Chapman's poem Hero and Leander. The book contained 7 wood-engravings, a border, and seven decorated initials.

Only four initials needed to be drawn, as one could be used four times: 'B' (page 26), 'C' (opposite page 5), 'N' (pages 41, 59, 75, 97), and 'O' (page 5). The letters 'B', 'N', and 'O' belonged to one family (29x29 mm), the 'C' is much smaller (13x20 mm), and somewhat different in design. These were not used in any other book by Ricketts and Shannon. There were two prospectuses for Hero and Leander, and the earliest of these contained an initial 'I' that had been used before, and would not occur in the book.

Christopher Marlowe and George Chapman, Hero and Leander,
decorated by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon (1894)
The initials depict leaves and stems of laurel, one of Ricketts's favourite design elements; he used it for several borders. The larger ones have a peculiar propeller pattern, especially the 'N' and 'O'.

Charles Ricketts, initials 'B', 'N', and 'O' (1894)
The 'O' is the first one to appear in the book, and the small black leaves are not very different from those in the smaller initial 'C'. However, the larger, white leaves form a centrifugal pattern, suggesting rotation, referring to whirling waters, the waves that will form the graves of Leander and Hero in this version of the poem.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

320. The 2017 Alphabet: N

N is for Noli me tangere.

And graven with diamonds in letters plain,
There is written her fair neck, round about;
Noli me tangere; for CAESAR's I am,
And wild for to hold though I seem tame.

Thomas Wyatt, sonnet decorated by Charles Ricketts (1892)
The initial 'N' appears in the 13th line of the sonnet by Thomas Wyatt, spelled Wyat by Ricketts in his rendering of the text for The Magazine of Art of September 1892. His calligraphy of the poem accompanied a large illustration, showing Anne Boleyn in The Tower of London before her execution.

Thomas Wyatt, sonnet decorated by Charles Ricketts (1892)
The sonnet is said to have been written by Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) for Anne Boleyn (1501?-1536). The phrase 'Noli ne tangere', meaning, Don't touch me, being a biblical reference, can also be read in association with King Henry VIII, whose deer one was not allowed to hunt. Wyatt compares his beloved to a hind, because although one can love the deer, the deer will not be aware of one's love for it. Best to give up.

The important message - don't touch the lady - appears only in the last lines of the poem, but Ricketts added the phrase to the initial at the beginning of the poem.

Thomas Wyatt, sonnet decorated by Charles Ricketts (1892)
Charles Ricketts, initial 'W' for a sonnet by Thomas Wyatt (1892)

The initial 'W' (13x12 mm) at the beginning of the sonnet illustrates the 'deer' (line 6). The initial 'N' is smaller (8x7 mm), and contains the illustration of a poppy.

The original drawing is in the collection of the William Andrew Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles, a gift of the Ricketts collector Albert Sperisen (1908-1999). 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

319. Celebrating the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection

On 17 and 18 March this year, a conference at the University of Delaware celebrated the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection in Newark. Alas, I couldn't attend the conference at the time. However, the talks have been recorded. Here is a link to the university's repository. The importance of the Mark Samuel Lasner collection is immense. I had the pleasure of visiting the library some years ago, see my 2013 blog No. 82.

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891): cover design by Charles Ricketts
One of the talks at the conference was given by Joseph Bristow, professor of English at UCLA. His talk focussed on Wilde's fairy tales from the first book editions in the 1880s and 1890s until about 30 years after the death of the author in 1900.

Here is a link to his presentation: 'Oscar Wilde, the Fairy Tale, and the Illustrated Book, 1888-1928'.

Listening to the audio presentation, a few comments touched base. The early editions of the fairy tales were, perhaps, intended for an audience of children, but they expressed a sexual undertone and demonstrated an adult 'impression of desire', as Bristow had it. Wilde's works were associated with insubordinate desire during his lifetime, years before he was convicted of 'gross indecency'.

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891): cover design by Charles Ricketts (detail)
Bristow's talk mentioned the 1891 edition of Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates, designed by Ricketts, and illustrated by Ricketts and Charles Shannon. The symbolism of the cover design that was criticized harshly by contemporary critics, was explained by Bristow as a sort of summary of the stories in the book. The peacock, the basket containing pomegranates, and the fountain, are related to themes in the stories. He wasn't the first to point this out, of course.

Oscar Wilde,
A House of Pomegranates(1891): cover design by Charles Ricketts
Bristow went on to argue that the artist was attached to his independence, and didn't merely illustrate the stories. This too, has become commonplace among Wilde and Ricketts commentators.

Interestingly, his main point was about the much discussed title page of A House of Pomegranates. In his view, this page addressed the issue of sexual desire in a way that the author hadn't done himself. However, this was exactly as his art was seen by his contemporaries, as belonging to the French decadent movement.

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891):
title page designed by Charles Ricketts (detail)
Comments from other Wilde and Ricketts critics spring to mind.

The illustration is complicated by the two figures depicted in it. There is a woman at her embroidery, but she is asleep. In 1970, Michael Brooks wrote: 'Ricketts’ Pre-Raphaelite maiden [...] lives only partly in the world of real time and real objects; her thoughts are in some infinitely distant, infinitely more enchanting universe.' The same goes for the other figure, a seated satyr playing the flute. The two don't seem to notice each other.

The embroidered roundels show scenes from Wilde's stories. The one at the top refers to the story of 'The Fisherman and his Soul'. The second roundel is about the story of 'The Young King', while the third one symbolizes the story about 'The Star-Child'. 

A fourth design is pinned to the frame. This one depicts a heart, a rose and thistles. A similar design is printed in the margin of 'The Birthday of the Infanta'.

Bristow focusses on other details. He argues that the togetherness of the faun and the woman suggests love, or, rather, lust. The satyr has her in mind, and her dreams are about the lust he represents, the unheard song of his flute, one might say.

The interpretation is partly based on criticisms after publication, and our modern interpretations of nineteenth-century imagery, but Bristow convinced his audience that contemporary readers would have understood the page's sexual innuendoes, and, as Oscar Wilde had not yet been convicted, they would not have felt threatened. Excited, perhaps, but not disgusted. A few years later, all that changed.