Wednesday, October 3, 2018

375. Scholarly Attention for Charles Ricketts (1)

My impression is that the last twenty years scholarly publications about Charles Ricketts have broadened their scope. In order to find out if there is any truth in this assumption, I have looked at all articles and books about Ricketts, and divided them into several sections. We will start with the publications during Ricketts's life. 

What were the subjects of serious essays about the work of this versatile artist, who was a wood engraver, editor, publisher, type designer, graphic designer, painter, sculptor, collector, stage designer, art critic, art adviser, and writer?

During the early years, before 1900, Ricketts was discussed in relation to two subjects only, art and book design. Serious articles were, for the main part, not written by scholars, but by reviewers, art critics, and journalists, such as the influential Dutch artist and critic Jan Veth who was one of the earliest supporters of his work. In June 1894, he published an article on the 'new book art' of the Vale artists ('Nieuwe boek-kunst', in De Amsterdammer of 17 June 1894), a review of Hero and Leander and The Sphinx.

Jan Veth, self-portrait, 1887 (Drents Museum)
The artists of The Vale were introduced to a large audience in Great Britain by The Sketch in 1894 and 1895, a short series of four essays. Charles Shannon was the first one, discussed by 'Theocritus' in January 1895; Ricketts was the second one, in March of the same year. 

The more interesting essays were written by J.W. Gleeson White, one of the founders of the art magazine The Studio, who died in 1898. In December 1895, the first number of The Pageant (for 1896) appeared. It contained his essay about 'The Work of Charles Ricketts'. The Magazine of Art of April 1897 published a second important essay by Gleeson White, 'At the Sign of The Dial, Mr Ricketts as a Book-Builder'. The term 'book-builder' was an early attempt to define 'graphic designer'.

J.W. Gleeson White (photo: Frederick Hollyer)
An interview and a bibliographical study were written by Temple Scott for Bookselling in December 1896, while another list of Ricketts's publications at the Vale Press was written for The Book Buyer in March 1900 by Ernest D. North. Book design was the subject of an essay that placed Ricketts firmly within the William Morris/Kelmscott Press tradition and the 'revival of printing': H.C. Marillier's 'The Vale Press, and the Modern Revival of Printing', published in Pall Mall Magazine (October 1900).

After the closure of the Vale Press in 1904, Ricketts devoted himself to art, painting, art criticism, and stage design. An essay about 'his Activities' was written by C. Lewis Hind for The Studio of January 1910. Ricketts's versatility was its main subject, while his paintings, bronzes, and earlier book designs were commented upon.

Art and theatre design became the main topics for the articles about Ricketts until his death in 1931, and most of these appeared in the 1920s. Between 1910 and 1920 not much of importance was published about his work, although there were many exhibitions, such as the one introduced by Martin Birnbaum at the Rhode Island School of Design and at the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy in 1914. 

Ricketts's theatre designs were highlighted in articles in Theatre Arts Monthly in 1924, and in Apollo in 1925. However, his illustrations and binding designs were not ignored.

In 1927, The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art published an article about Ricketts's bookbindings in conjunction with an exhibition of bindings collected by Harold Bell. The same year, The Print Collector's Quarterly published Cecil French's essay about 'The Wood-Engravings of Charles Ricketts', and this attention for Ricketts as a graphic designer (avant-le-mot) was crowned with A.J.A. Symons's long essay in The Fleuron (1930) about 'An Unacknowledged Movement in Fine Printing. The Typography of the Eighteen-Nineties'. Ricketts was his main subject.

Charles Ricketts, illustration for
Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891)

During Ricketts's life, serious essays were written about some of his activities, such as wood-engraving, publishing, graphic design, and stage design, but most of these were not really scholarly articles; their main function was to promote his work. Ricketts's qualities as an editor, publisher, painter, sculptor, collector, art critic, art adviser, and writer were not analysed; this would take another fifty years or so.