Wednesday, March 27, 2019

400. A Wildean Daphnis and Chloe

Blogpost number 400 is guest written, on my invitation, by the eminent scholar Dr. Rebecca N. Mitchell of Birmingham University, Department of English Literature, where she is reader in Victorian Literature and Culture and Head of Research of the School of English, Drama, American and Canadian Studies.

Her research interests reflect her 'interdisciplinary background in literary studies and art history'. Her latest book, co-written with Joseph Bristow, contained notes on the Vale Press edition of The Rowley Poems, and was published by Yale University Press: Oscar Wilde's Chatterton: Literary History, Romanticism, and the Art of Forgery (2015). Mitchell, Bristow, along with Yvonne Ivory, will edit the final volumes of the Complete Works of Oscar Wilde for Oxford University Press. 

A recent essay including comments on the designs of Ricketts and Shannon was published in The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 112 (2018): 'The Century Guild Hobby Horse: Crafting Generic Networks in Fin de Siècle England'. 

It is both an honour and a delight to publish her contribution on Daphnis and Chloe as a very special, celebratory blogpost.

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving for Daphnis and Chloe (1893)

Charles Ricketts, engraved by Charles Shannon, Trial Proof No. 1 (first state). 
Charles Ricketts Collection, Series 4, Box 3. The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library,
University of California, Los Angeles. Used with permission.

 A Wildean Daphnis and Chloe

The many lines of direct influence between Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and Charles Shannon are well documented in this blog and in the critical and biographical literature. Most prominent are the commissions: the Ricketts-designed edition of Wilde's The Sphinx (1894), the Ricketts-painted portrait of 'Mr. W. H.' in the style of a Clouet, and Shannon's designs for the bindings of Wilde's Society plays were produced in response to the author's requests. But there are other, less obvious patterns of influence that also illuminate the relationships between the author, artists, and their audience. As Joseph Bristow and I have documented, in February 1895, on the very night that the Marquess of Queensberry left the accusatory calling card that would precipitate Wilde's doomed libel lawsuit against his lover's father, Wilde stopped by Ricketts and Shannon's home and encouraged them to produce a volume of Thomas Chatterton's poems for their Vale Press (see note 1). They seem to have followed through on his advice, as their glorious two-volume edition of The Rowley Poems was published in 1898.

Ricketts and Shannon returned the favour of inspiration, planting a seed for a later work of Wilde's with their edition of Longus's Daphnis and Chloe printed in 1893 by the Ballantyne Press on behalf of the Vale, a still-nascent operation. Ricketts supplied a pithy plot summary of Longus's story in a letter to Cecil Lewis in 1920: 'Two foundlings brought up by shepherds fall in love, but, like the Young Lady of Slough, they found they didn't know how.' A few lines later, Ricketts concludes that 'The story is curiously silly, corrupt, fresh, and exquisite.' (see note 2). That mix of characteristics appealed to a number of fin-de-siècle writers and artists: the hapless young lovers stumble through a number of erotic (and homoerotic) sexual encounters, all with the plausible deniability of ignorance. Before the Ricketts and Shannon edition was produced, David Nutt offered an edition in his 'Tudor Library Series' in 1890, and Henry Vizetelly's translation from the Greek appeared in the same year, with illustrations based on eighteenth-century antecedents. Though never one to shy away from scandal, Vizetelly was careful to note in his Preface that 'the language of Longus [had] in certain instances, been very considerably chastened.'

Daphnis and Chloe (David Nutt, 1890)
The market was thus newly primed to Longus's story, and welcomed Ricketts and Shannon's illustrated edition; critical response was uniformly positive. Remarking on the Daphnis and Chloe woodcuts in a 1903 exhibition, a reviewer gushed that the volume was: 'an extraordinary production for the present age, not unworthy of being considered beside the cuts in "Poliphilus" and other Italian book-illustration of the great period.' (see note 3).  Another critic described the unified style of Ricketts and Shannon's efforts in Daphnis and Chloe with real sensitivity: 'In research for linear rhythm and logical design, in a disposition of figures that is at times so deliberate as to obtrude deliberation on one's notice, and in the choice of darkened light as the envelope, these two artists are as one.' (see note 4). It is a comment that raises another valence of meaning: the co-production of the edition, produced by a pair who were partners in life as well as art. The final printer's page indicates that 'The Woodcuts drawn on the wood by Charles Ricketts from the Designs by Charles Shannon and Charles Ricketts have been engraved by both,' though the printed book does not distinguish which scenes are by which artist (see note 5). As Paul van Capelleveen has shown in an earlier post in this blog, the work was self-referential in other ways, with Ricketts, Shannon, Sturge Moore, and Lucien Pissarro all seated at the banquet table in a two-page illustration of the Wedding Feast. As a site of mutual collaborative creativity, Daphnis and Chloe chimed with others in their circle and beyond.

Colophon in Ricketts and Shannon's edition of Daphnis and Chloe (1893)
Perhaps it was this positive model of collaboration that inspired Oscar Wilde to take up Daphnis and Chloe himself. After his release from Reading Prison, Wilde left England for the continent, settling in Berneval-sur-Mer in late May, 1897. There, he wrote to friends that he expected a visit from Ricketts and Shannon in September (see note 6). It is unclear if he was visited by the duo (though Ricketts later remembered they didn't meet each other after Wilde had been released from prison, see note 7), but in August Wilde did entertain artist and composer Dalhousie Young, whom he had met in person earlier that summer. Wilde devised a plan to collaborate with Lord Alfred Douglas and Young on an operatic setting of Daphnis and Chloe, some four years after the Vale produced its seminal version of the story. Wilde's correspondence suggests that he and Douglas were to share the responsibility for the lyrics and that some work, at least, was completed on the project. Whatever Wilde's artistic intention, he managed to leverage the promise of collaboration (his and Bosie's; theirs and Young's) on Longus's story for a much needed £100 courtesy of the composer, procured only after a series of strained letters that evince equal parts genuine interest and desperation. After those letters, the trail on the Wilde/Douglas/Young collaboration goes cold. Unlike Ricketts and Shannon, Wilde and Douglas were never to see their joint efforts on Daphnis and Chloe through to completion.

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving for Daphnis and Chloe (1893)

Charles Ricketts, engraved by Charles Shannon, Trial Proof No. 2. 
Charles Ricketts Collection, Series 4, Box 3. The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library,
University of California, Los Angeles. Used with permission.

The tantalizing suggestion that the pair had undertaken much work is belied by Wilde's tendency in those years to exaggerate his progress as a way of subsidizing his increasingly dire finances (see note 8). Still, intrigued by the promise of existent work from Wilde's final years, in 1935 the radio performer and director and ardent Wilde fan Léon Guillot de Saix contacted still-living members of Wilde's circle for any information that might inform his biography of the author. Guillot de Saix's letters are held in the Richelieu branch of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and among them is correspondence from Young's widow. Edith Young's response puts an end to speculation that Wilde and Douglas ever sent Dalhousie Young draft content for a libretto. Though she remembers visits with Wilde, 'Nothing ever came of' the Daphnis and Chloe project, she writes; 'I think Wilde got tired of the idea.' (see note 9).

     Rebecca N. Mitchell


I would like to thank Leonie Sturge-Moore for permission to reproduce the Daphnis and Chloe proofs by Ricketts, and the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library for their generous consideration. Some content from this post was presented at the May 2018 'Curiosity and Desire in Fin-de-Siècle Art and Literature' Conference at the Clark, hosted by the International Walter Pater Society, and I am grateful to the hosts and the audience for their support and feedback. 

Charles Ricketts, Oscar Wilde. Recollections by Jean Paul Raymond and Charles Ricketts. London, 1932, p. 41. See also Joseph Bristow and Rebecca N. Mitchell, Oscar Wilde's Chatterton. Literary History, Romanticism, and the Art of Forgery. New Haven & London, 2015.
Self-Portrait. Taken from the Letters & Journals of Charles Ricketts, R.A. London, 1939, p. 324-325.
The artists have since been identified through trial proofs held at, among other archives, the William Andrews Clark library at UCLA, as well as in hand-annotated copies.
'The Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers', in: Western Daily Press, Bristol 19 February 1904, p. 9. 
'Woodcuts, Lithographs, and Fans', in: Morning Post, 11 December 1903, p. 6.
Letter to Carlos Blacker, 12 July 1897 and Letter to Laurence Housman, 9 August 1897, The Complete Letters. (Ed. Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis). London, 2000, pp. 911, 923. 
Charles Ricketts, Oscar Wilde (see note 1), p. 49: 'We exchanged a few letters. I never saw him again.'
See Nicholas Frankel, Oscar Wilde. The Unrepentant Years. Cambridge, 2017, pp. 140-141.
Collection Guillot de Saix, COL-31/302, Box 1 Folder 1. Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving in Daphnis and Chloe (1893)

Note by Paul van Capelleveen
I was curious when the self-referential character of Daphnis and Chloe, in particular the wood-engraving of the banquet scene that includes portraits of the Vale Press artists, was mentioned for the first time. It turns out that it was referred to, very early, in 1896, as part of a much-needed advertising campaign for the Vale Press. 

Temple Scott published an interview with Ricketts in Bookselling (December 1896), 'Mr. Charles Ricketts and the Vale Press’, and in the accompanying bibliography Scott's description of the book was obviously based on Ricketts's clarifications. He wrote that there were thirty-six wood-engravings, 'counting a double page on pp. 96-97 as one', and he added: 'This double-page engraving contains portraits of the wood-engravers of the Vale set.'

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

399. Charles Shannon. Cancelled Stone

A lot of Charles Shannon's lithographs are portraits of friends, others depict nude women; there are genres such as landscapes, street scenes, cartoons or interiors that apparently didn't inspire him. Shannon owned a litho press and could print his own lithographs using heavy stones for the process.

Charles Shannon, 'Portrait of the Artist'  (1905) [British Museum]
After the print run was finished, the stones were cancelled. It is extremely rare to find prints of cancelled stones, but the British Museum owns a 'Portrait of the Artist', a lithograph printed in 1905, that has been printed from the cancelled stone.

Charles Shannon, 'Portrait of the Artist'  (1905) [British Museum]
By way of a cross Shannon had cancelled the stone. A print of a cancelled plate may be uncommon, this example is even more poignant. Shannon will have printed the self-portrait himself, which makes this survival from the printing studio extraordinary as well as slightly lugubrious.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

398. Gleeson White's New Ideal Book

Gleeson White (Joseph William Gleeson White, 1851-1898) supported the work of Ricketts in many ways, and managed to squeeze in his name in quite a few essays on art and book art that he published mainly during the 1890s in magazines such as The Studio, The Magazine of Art, The Pageant, and The Decorator and Furnisher.

The Journal of the Society of Arts of 15 February 1895 published a paper that Gleeson White had read to the Society ten days earlier. It mentioned Ricketts and Shannon among the few artists that revived the art of wood-engraving by engraving their own blocks in a time that was 'in full swing of process reproduction'. (See Gleeson White, 'Drawing for Process Reproduction', in: Journal of the Society of Arts, 15 February 1895, p. 277-286).

Gleeson White (photo: Frederick Hollyer)
The essay is interesting for several reasons, it touches on the subject of book design, commercial publishing, and modern printing processes. (A 2013 blog post discussed a bookplate for him, designed by Charles Ricketts.) In 1897, Gleeson White would use the term 'book-builder' for lack of a better word - 'graphic designer' is how we would call a 'book-builder' now.

In 1900 - Gleeson White died in 1898 - the French publisher Vollard published an artist's book with poems by Paul Verlaine and lithographs by Pierre Bonnard: Parallèlement.

Parallèlement (1900) [copy: Princeton University Library]

In this book, illustrations and texts frequently share the same space, with the rose-coloured lithographs intruding into the lines of poetry. This was quite unusual, revolutionary even, and would become a starting point for artists' books in which image and text intertwine, and fuse materially, while artists and writer collaborate on a new concept that merges words and imagery.

However, in 1895 Gleeson White already noticed that this kind of fusion was about to happen, and he didn't approve. He wrote:

It would be hard to think of any artistic topic with ideals more widely separated than, say, the Kelmscott Press edition of Chaucer, with its hand-made paper - archaic ornamentation and antique type, symmetrically disposed on its pages - on the one hand, and the latest French or American edition de luxe, with its shiny paper, its fine woodcuts, or half-tone blocks, and its erratically arranged page, with illustrations splashed here and there, straying into the margin and at times, in pale shades, wandering underneath the type itself. 
('Drawing for Process Reproduction', p. 278).

This is an interesting depart from the common assumption that the intertwining of image  and text took form around the time of Vollard's publication in 1900. Gleeson White, apparently, doesn't like the intertwining of illustration and story, and he was not alone, but he was remarkably early to see it happening in magazines in France and America.

Furthermore, when Gleeson White published this essay in February 1895, William Morris was very much alive (he would die a year later), working on his Kelmscott Press books. Morris, of course, had been the author of a famous essay on 'The Ideal Book'. 

William Morris, 'The Ideal Book' (edition in A. Marta Ferreira, A Book on Books)
Gleeson White argues that the private press book is not the ideal book:

Instead of trying to raise illustration by retracing our steps, and trying to make a system which sufficed for a simple civilisation work under quite new conditions - would it not be better logic to accept machine printing, shiny paper, the process engraver and his works, and by mastering these new conditions - as the artist most assuredly can master any conditions if he set his mind to the effort - to create new ideals, and set up new standards of taste and beauty. [...] To create a new ideal of a perfect book, with its pages illustrated by modern methods, printed by steam-power, and produced at moderate prices; to leave such a standard, that future ages, removed from the strife of tongues to-day, should deem characteristic of the twentieth century, and beautiful because it fulfilled harmoniously the conditions which called it into existence, seems worth trying for - worth many failures by the way.
('Drawing for Process Reproduction', p. 278).

I guess that Ricketts and Shannon had found an intellectual patron in Gleeson White and discussed each and every idea that he published. In fact, while they had in a way followed the path of William Morris, and had published their own magazine The Dial with original wood-engravings and lithographs instead of reproduced drawings and paintings, they were on the verge of issuing another magazine that would make use of the modern processes, The Pageant. Some critics (the Dutch artist Jan Veth among them) would deplore the use of process blocks, and indeed, when Ricketts and Shannon embarked on their most ambitious book art venture, The Vale Press, they retraced their steps, and decided to include wood-engravings in these privately printed books. All this shows that there is not just a straight line, from the publication of The Dial to the establishment of The Vale Press; there were by-ways, diversions, meandering of thoughts. The issues were part of an ongoing debate about the art of printing, book art, and modern printing. For the books of the Vale Press, we are reminded, Ricketts didn't always print from the wood blocks, he used electrotypes. 

The ideal books, according to Gleeson White, needed a book-builder, a term that he would coin in an 1897 essay. In 1895, he wrote:

One mind should be apparent through a book or periodical. If it could be the artist, it would be ideally the best; but a number of artists must needs be employed on a single volume in certain cases, and, as their time is too valuable to be spent on practical details outside their craft, even if one granted their agreement in these matters, there must needs be an actual art-editor - not merely one nominally so-called, but a man fairly conversant with all those questions involved - one who could be trusted to consider every one of the thousand and one items which go to build up a beautiful book. The binding, the end papers, title-page to colophon, arrangement of blocks, every detail small or great - all should be in accordance with one standard of taste.
('Drawing for Process Reproduction', p. 284).

One mind should design the whole book, he argued, and Ricketts adopted this idea when founding The Vale Press, not only designing the type himself, or the watermark, but also ordering the paper, ink, and binding materials, and designing the page layout and the illustrations.

Gleeson White deserves a monograph of his own, although archival material is scarce, and it will be a hell of a job to write a book about his life and his views on art and book design. Anyone?

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

397. The 2019 Alphabet: &

& is for &

& art thou dead, thou much loved youth
& didnt thou dye for mee?
Then farewell home, for ever more
A pilgrim I will be.

Charles Ricketts, 'The Friar of Orders Grey' (1890)
The June 1890 issue of the magazine Atalanta included an illustrated poem for which Charles Ricketts did the handwriting and the illustrations, The Friar of Orders Grey (misspelled on the first page as 'Gray'). The poem was printed on five subsequent pages, and the design of these was varied.

Charles Ricketts, 'The Friar of Orders Grey' (1890)
The opening page was designed as a title-page which gave away that the designs had been done two years before. Ricketts had signed the page with a clover leaf containing his initials, the whole dated '1888'. At the top was a dark opening vignette of the friar near a tree next to a stream meandering towards a bridge in the background. On three sides of this page a border of violets intrudes into the border of the opening vignette.

There is no border on the second page that has a large free standing image and an initial L. The third page has an illustration for which Ricketts drew a two-sided border consisting of a single line. The next page, again, is different: it has two separate drawings, both enclosed in a drawn border of multiple thin lines, and there is an illustration that appears to be a corner decoration with a border on two sides. The last page has no borders. On that page Ricketts has instead drawn an ampersand for an initial, which, of course, is quite unusual.

Charles Ricketts, 'The Friar of Orders Grey' (1890)
The illustration shows a landscape with a church and houses on a hill in the background; in the foreground is the edge of a forest, with a girl, holding a child, near two other children. A lady in long garments is being watched by two rabbits. There are violet decorations to the middle right and to the lower left. The initial contains two compartments, one for the ampersand, and one for a violet. The violet borders on some page look different in style from the other drawings, but the inclusion into the ampersand initial suggests that they were not added at a later stage. The cropping of the line endings of the first stanza on this page also suggests that the illustration had been finished before Ricketts wrote the selection of verses from this long poem.

The six verses on this page are in Ricketts’s script, containing leaf ornaments, a flower, or other decorations below each verse.