Wednesday, October 17, 2018

377. Scholarly Attention for Charles Ricketts (3)

In the 1960s the appreciation for the 1890s, decadence, art nouveau and symbolism grew immensely, partly as a result of the V&A exhibition about Aubrey Beardsley (May-September 1966). The same year John Russell Taylor's The Art Nouveau Book in Britain was published by Methuen - it was profusely illustrated, and an eye-opener for some collectors; it had to be reprinted several times. James G. Nelson wrote another influential book in which Ricketts's work, though not the main subject, was treated extensively: The Early Nineties. A View from the Bodley Head (Harvard University Press, 1971). These two studies were greatly appreciated by curators, collectors, scholars, and book dealers. 


Geoffrey Perkins, A Collection of Books Designed by Charles Ricketts (deluxe copy)
Of course, there were already Ricketts collectors out there. In 1967 the UCLA in California showed books designed by Ricketts from the collections of Albert Sperison and Charles Gullans. In 1982 Carl Woodring had his collection on display at The Grolier Club of New York. Collections owned by public institutions, such as libraries and museums were discovered or described as well, an example being the Catalogue of the Works of Charles Ricketts, R.A. from the Collection of Gordon Bottomley (1985). Bottomley's collection ended up in Carlisle.

Book design remained the most often explored subject in relation to Ricketts, although new venues were found in this field as well. Giles Barber's significant article 'Rossetti, Ricketts, and Some English Publishers' Bindings of the Nineties' appeared in The Library in 1970, and bookbinding and book design were also the topics of Michael Brooks's article in Criticism (1970): 'Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and the Art of the Book'. One study after another was published in the USA, England and elsewhere. In Zurich, for example, the antiquarian book dealer Geoffrey Perkins wrote a catalogue for the firm L'Art Ancien: A Collection of Books Designed by Charles Ricketts. The collection was for sale, and in fact, sold to John Paul Getty Jr. before the distribution of the catalogue - corrigenda and addenda were issued a year later. Scholarly catalogues like this one by Perkins have become exceedingly scarce since then.

Theatre design remained another continuous theme for research. Ifan Kyrle Fletcher wrote about 'Charles Ricketts and the Theatre' in Theatre Notebook (1967), giving a chronological list of Ricketts's productions. Eric A.G. Binnie's dissertation on The Stage Designs of Charles Ricketts was defended at the University of Toronto in 1979. Sybil Rosenfeld published an article about 'Charles Ricketts’s Designs for the Theatre' in Theatre Notebook (1981): an inventory of 111 theatre designs distributed by the National Art Collections Fund. Another article was written by Michael Barclay: ‘More Ricketts designs for the theatre’ (Theatre Notebook, 1982), and he also published an essay in Apollo (1985). However, his dissertation has not been published, or made available in open access. Others wrote about specific performances and costume designs: Carl Woodring discussed John Masefield's The Coming of Christ and Shaw's Saint Joan (in Columbia Library Columns, 1986 and 1988), while Richard Allen Cave compared recent productions of Wilde's plays to performances designed by Ricketts (Modern Drama, 1994).


Charles Ricketts, Pages from a Diary in Greece (1978) (Proof Copy)
Book historical dissertations, such as Richard Harold Quinn's seminal work on Ricketts's and Shannon's magazine The Dial (1977), were followed by those about his work as an artist, such as Simon S.S. Driver's On Charles Ricketts. His Life, Works, and Contributions to the Arts (1977). The latter emphasized a lack of primary sources, and the need for a biography. In London, J.G. Paul Delaney embarked on a long series of articles about Ricketts leading up to his 1990 biography Charles Ricketts, published by the Clarendon Press in Oxford. He published such studies in Country Life (1975), Antiquarian Book Monthly (1978), The Connoisseur (1978), The Pen (1983), and Yeats Annual (1986), while he also acted as editor for Ricketts's diaries and letters issued by The Tragara Press in Edinburgh, starting in 1976 with Ricketts's essay about Michael Field, and followed by selections from the letters and diaries (1978, 1979, and 1981).

Meanwhile, the attention for Ricketts as a designer for the theatre didn't obstruct a growing awareness of his achievements as an art critic. Again, Denys Sutton was the first to devote an article to Ricketts's ideas about Titian: 'Charles Ricketts and Titian' (Apollo, 1978). In 1999, David Peters Corbett published an article on Charles Ricketts’s art criticism in Word & Image. Ricketts came to be seen as a versatile artist and personality, not just as a book and theatre designer. A more general approach of his work was imminent.


Leaflet poster for Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. An Aesthetic Partnership (1979)
The year 1979 was a watershed in the appreciation of Charles Ricketts. Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham hosted an all-round exhibition about Ricketts and Shannon: Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. An Aesthetic Partnership, the exhibition and the catalogue were curated by Paul Delaney and Stephen Calloway. Calloway saw his monograph Charles Ricketts. Subtle and Fantastic Decorator published by Thames and Hudson. Its modest price was directed at a potentially large audience. That same year, 1979, Joseph Darracott organized an exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge: All for Art. The Ricketts and Shannon Collection. The catalogue gave a major boost to the recognition of Ricketts and Shannon as art collectors, a new theme, as did his monograph The World of Charles Ricketts in 1980. This subject was related to another one, the art of the interior that was dealt with by Stephen Calloway in an article about the 'arrangement of a collection' (The Journal of The Decorative Arts Society 1890-1940, 1984). Ricketts was an art collector, but also an art adviser. Paul Delaney wrote about his work for the National Gallery of Canada (Museum Management and Curatorship, 1991).


Catalogue Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. An Aesthetic Partnership (1979)
Yet another subject was homosexuality - in the mid 1980s the Gay Times discovered the work, and especially the partnership of Ricketts and Shannon, and devoted a portfolio to their lives. Later, this subject would be connected to the art of the interior when Queer Studies took over (see next week's blog).

Collecting was a new theme, another was jewellery. Diana Scarisbrick opened the field with a beautifully illustrated article about Ricketts's designs for costly gifts to his friends in Apollo (1982).

New themes were explored, but articles about book design and illustration kept appearing regularly, and even more so during the 1980s and 1990s. Richard S. Field devoted a chapter to Ricketts in The Artistic Revival of the Woodcut in France 1850-1900, edited by Jacquelynn Baas and Richard S. Field (1984). Even in Russia, Ricketts's and Shannon's wood engravings for Daphnis and Chloe were appreciated: an article by T.F. Verizhnikova from 1989 is a testimony to that. The Netherlands always reported about the work of Ricketts and Shannon, and did so as early as 1891; the Dutch magazine Maatstaf published a portfolio of illustrations with an introduction by Ton Leenhouts and myself in 1989.

In 1991, in the scholarly series of Dictionary of Literary Biography, edited by Jonathan Rose and Patricia J. Anderson, volume 112 was published: British Literary Publishing Houses, 1881-1965. It contained a chapter about The Vale Press by Alice H.R.H. Beckwith. The lack of archival material on this subject was more obvious than before, and scholars knew that other venues needed to be explored to penetrate Ricketts's character as a publisher.

A general regard for the works of Shaw, Yeats, and Wilde, always helped to further the case of Ricketts, who designed their books or plays. Of these three, Wilde was the rising star as the 100th commemoration of his death in 2000 came closer. David Peters Corbett's '"Collaborative resistance": Charles Ricketts as illustrator of Oscar Wilde’ was published in Word & Image (1994), the same year as Nicholas Raymond Frankel's dissertation on Oscar Wilde’s Decorated Books was accepted at the University of Virginia. Frankel would publish articles in magazines such as Victorian Literature and Culture (1996) and Studies in the Literary Imagination (1997). I published an article on Ricketts's design for The Picture of Dorian Gray iThe Private Library (1998, distributed in 2000).

While some of these publications were meant for a large audience, many seemed to be written for a scholarly in-crowd. Exhibitions were on the other end of the spectrum: At the Sign of the Dial. Charles Haslewood Shannon & his Circle (Usher Gallery in Lincoln, 1987), ‘Elegante Engelse Boekkunst, The Vale Press 1oo jaar’ (Elegant English Book Art, The Vale Press at a Hundred) (Museum Meermanno, The Hague, 1996) - this was the occasion for my bibliography A New Checklist of Books designed by Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon - and De vrienden van Charles Ricketts (Charles Ricketts's Friends) (National Library of the Netherlands, The Hague, 1997).

The field was considerably widened, opened up to more specialised audiences, Ricketts was a popular subject for scholars. Still more was to come.