Wednesday, November 28, 2018

383. A Simple Story by Charles Shannon

The first number of The Dial contained one story by Charles Shannon - I don't think he ever again tried to write a literary contribution for a magazine, or a book, and that the only genres he explored were diaries and letters. 

The story was called 'A Simple Story', and the first word of the text was embedded in an illustration: 'Batilda': 'Batilda had risen earlier than usual, for this was the long-expected day when the Holy Father Hilarion would stop and bless her hearth.' (See my blog about the initials in The Dial, No. 1: blogpost 381: The 2018 Alphabet: T.) Charles Ricketts made the drawing and signed it in the upper left hand corner. 

The story is about a visit of the bishop, the Holy Father Hilarion, to an island. One remembers that some of Shannon's earliest drawings were of saints. Hilarion came to the island for work: 'There were two couples to marry and their little children to baptise; three quarrels to arbitrate, and much kindliness to teach'. The Saturday Review (14 September 1889) said it was 'gracefully written'. The Athenaeum (23 November 1889) judged otherwise: 'There are touches - we were going to write splashes - of intense local colour in the terribly confused and confusing narrative Mr. C.H. Shannon calls "A Simple Story," but all there is to tell might have been given in ten lines.' In 2009, David Peters Corbett saw 'A Simple Story' as an example of 'an intense registration of experience that either is exotic or is allowed to be banal or abject in order to reveal or evoke unspecified but resonant meanings and emotions located beneath the surface of events'. In his 1977 thesis, Richard Harold Quinn remarked that the story witnessed Shannon's interest in colour and light, quoting many examples, such as a polished wreath, a red cross, but also a pale blue sky, a green sea turning silver towards noon, and a violet horizon.

Charles Ricketts, 'Batilda' (The Dial, 1889)
The illustration of an interior house shows features mentioned by Shannon in his story. There is a 'wreath of polished ivy leaves', but other elements such like 'a cross painted in red above the hearth' are lacking. However, a lamp said to be placed at the foot of the cross is present in a niche. 

There are small birds on the roof top, garlic is hanging from the door post, a bundle of sticks lies next to the house. Inside, Batilda sits in front of the hearth, anxiously drying her tears. In the room are three other people, probably her girls, Matilda and Basine. In their midst is probably their younger brother Felix in the bath tub before he runs out to see if the bishop has arrived already - the washing scene is not in the story.

This was a reproduced drawing by Ricketts, and the original drawing is in the private collection of Vincent Barlow, who kindly procured an image of it, which is reproduced below.

Charles Ricketts, 'Batilda', original drawing (collection of Vincent Barlow)
In wood engravings, Ricketts frequently forgot to reverse his initials; in this case there was no need to pay attention to mirror effects. Obviously, the lettering of the word 'Batilda' is rather clumsy, and awkward. Some of the letters look like they should have resembled printed letters, such as the 'A' and 'T'. But the large letter 'B' doesn't seem to belong to the same family, and the splitting of one name over three lines is unusual. However, in print, the earliest Vale Press books displayed a similar - debatable - arrangement of letters and words over several lines. 

The original drawing looks like a finished sketch for the slightly reworked definitive drawing which may not have survived, some details have been touched upon later. Look at the birds!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

382. The 2018 Alphabet: T (Always)

T is for Ton.

Ton will be celebrating his birthday on 22 November.

Initial 'T' in Daphnis and Chloe, illustrated by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon (1893)
Ton Leenhouts will be eighty-four this Thursday. In a way, he is the instigator of this blog, as he put me on the path of Ricketts and Shannon way back in the early eighties. His collection started in the mid 1970s, before major exhibitions and publications drew attention to these artists.

It all started with a poster that has since disappeared. In about 1977, Ton bought it in a Verkerke shop that specialized in modern reproductions, most of which were published by this Amsterdam firm. This poster was of an imitation brown packing paper with a blown-up image from a Ricketts woodcut for Hero and Leander (1894) printed in gold and blue. It was one of a series concerned with Aubrey Beardsley and art nouveau. In London these posters were advertised by Gallery Five and presented as wall panels in the late sixties or early seventies. For many years Ton's poster must have decorated his office at the Netherlands Dance Theatre in The Hague where he was director of publicity and public relations, but when I met him it had vanished.

Initial 'T in Daphnis and Chloe, illustrated by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon (1893)
Shortly afterwards Ton started a collection of Ricketts's books. In November 1977 he procured his first Vale Press book, T.S. Moore's DanaĆ«, which incidentally was the last book published by this private press (followed later by a bibliography). Ton must have thought this book a nice acquisition for his collection of 19th- and 20th-century illustrated books. Over the years he bought quite a few Vale Press books, mostly illustrated with wood engravings by Ricketts. One of the earlier purchases was a copy of Daphnis and Chloe (February 1978) with pencilled notes by T.S. Moore; other acquisitions included Beyond the Threshold (May 1978) and the two volume Vale Press edition of Chatterton's Rowley Poems (July 1978). Subsequently Wilde's A House of Pomegranates (July 1978), Ricketts's Recollections of Oscar Wilde (August 1978) and a proof copy of Symonds's In the Key of Blue and Other Prose Essays (October 1978) were added to the collection. 

One day Ton read a short notice in a Dutch newspaper about an exhibition in London. He rushed over to Orleans House Gallery at Twickenham and arrived just in time to see the show before it was taken down that same afternoon, the 20th of May 1979. This of course was the important exhibition mounted by Stephen Calloway and Paul Delaney, who thereby changed the appreciation of the work of Ricketts and Shannon. 

Correspondence with the curators of the exhibition (also the authors of several books on Ricketts and Shannon) helped to direct Ton on his collector's path. Catalogues by dealers such as Robin Greer in London, Blackwell in Oxford, Horodisch of Erasmus in Amsterdam, Warrack & Perkins (who offered a wealth of rare Ricketts materials until the untimely death of Geoffrey Perkins) and the London based dealer Eric Stevens (who sadly died recently) helped to inform him of possible acquisitions for his growing collection. Parcels arrived, sometimes more than two months after ordering a book. Many times catalogues were received in The Hague days after the most desirable books had already been sold in London. Still, new catalogues arrived in the post the following morning.

Exciting years. Fond memories. 

Many happy returns, Ton!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

381. The 2018 Alphabet: T

T is for The.

The sound rolls through the reddening air, the muffled thum! the dumb! of a monotonous drum.

Initial 'T' (The Dial, 1889)
There is a small series of illustrated initials designed by Charles Ricketts that is often overseen. They appeared in the first issue of Vale coterie's magazine The Dial. There were eight literary and critical contributions of which the design was not uniform. 

One opened with a headpiece similar to those designed by Ricketts for the popular magazines:
Ricketts's story 'A Glimpse of Heaven'.

There were two contributions that started with the first word of the text incorporated in an illustration:
Charles Shannons's story 'A Simple Story: the illustration contains the name 'Batilda', which is the first word of the story.
An essay by John Gray about 'Les Goncourt': the illustration contains the first word of the text: 'Never'

There was one contribution that opened with a headpiece with an initial:
John Gray's story 'The Great Worm': initial V.

There is one contribution that opens with an illustration that has its own title, independent of the contents:
Reginald Savage's art notes: 'Notes'. The illustration is titled 'Spes'.

There were three contributions - one essay and two stories that started with an illustrated initial.

The initial 'T' (see above) opens Ricketts's story and play 'The Cup of Happiness'.

Initial 'P' (The Dial, 1889)
The first contribution in the issue opens with a similar illustrated initial 'P' for the essay about the French painter Puvis de Chavannes.

Initial 'L' (The Dial, 1889)
The last piece in The Dial is Ricketts's (anonymously published) story: 'Sensations'. There is one illustrated initial L.

These initials deserve a more elaborate study.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

380. Ricketts at the Turn of the Century

The current exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland is called 'At the Turn of the Century'. The introductory texts suggest that the museum has taken the opportunity to show works from the collection that seem not to be related to each other in any way except for the time of their creation: 'Art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was both forward and backward looking. Some artists developed aspects of impressionist and post-impressionist painting, and moved further in the direction of abstraction; other artists, turned towards spiritual values and created symbols of a purer world; other artists continued with traditional artistic practices.' - That includes almost everything.

Charles Ricketts, 'Don Juan and the Commander' (National Galleries of Scotland)
Ricketts's painting in the exhibition is one of his evocations of the Don Juan story, in which Don Juan invites the statue of the commander (whom he had killed earlier) to his dinner table. 'Don Juan and the Commander' was presented to the gallery by Ricketts's friend John Gray. (See my earlier remarks about the description of the painting in blog 299: 'Don Juan in Edinburgh'.)

On display are paintings by Edouard Vuillard, William Nicholson, Walter Sickert, Mabel Pryde, and other artists, and there is no hurry, as the exhibition can be seen until 28 February 2020.