Wednesday, March 28, 2018

348. Couples at the Rosenbach

On show at The Rosenbach in Philadelphia is the exhibition Of Two Minds: Creative Couples in Art and History

This is a collaboration with the Free Library of Philadelphia, and includes works from their collections of children's literature, prints and pictures and rare books. Represented are actors and artists, silversmiths and monarchs, journalists and ornithologists. Among the book artists who closely worked together are William and Catherine Blake, Diane and Leo Dillon, Donna and Peter Thomas, and Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon.

William Blake, Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793) [Collection of The Rosenbach, Philadelphia]
On show is the Rosenbach copy of William Blake's Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793). The role of Catherine Blake - feeding the press with paper and hand colouring the prints - is not always acknowledged, and if so, the less subtly coloured prints are attributed to her, even though details about their collaborative efforts are non-existent.

The collaboration of Ricketts and Shannon was certainly intense in their early days. However, each was an artist in his own right, and both signed their own works. Only at the early stages of their careers, one can see a few truly collaborative works, such as Hero and Leander, Daphnis and Chloe, and A House of Pomegranates.

Charles Shannon by Elliott and Fry, albumen cabinet card, c. 1900
[National Portrait Gallery London]
The collaboration on Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates can also be seen as two artists working separately and following their own vocation. Ricketts designed the binding, title page, decorations, and illustrations, while Shannon produced four full page illustrations that were printed as etched relief prints by the Paris firm of Verdoux, Ducourtioux et Huillard.

Ricketts's illustrations can be found in between Wilde's words, on the same pages as the text of these fairy tales, but Shannon's prints are separately inserted.

At the Rosenbach, the beginning of the story of 'The Fisherman and His Soul' is on display. The pages show Ricketts's work only.

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891) [The Rosenbach, Philadelphia]
The Rosenbach copy is from the bequest of book artist Maurice Sendak - what would he have thought about Ricketts's and Shannon's illustrations?

[Thanks are due to Sara Davis and The Rosenbach for the illustration of the Blake and Wilde books.]

[My little series on Wilde's Poems - see blog 346 and 347 - will be continued.]