Wednesday, April 24, 2019

404. Shannon's Prices for Portraits

In November 1901, Robert Ross - the manager of Carfax Gallery - asked Charles Shannon to quote him prices for portraits; Shannon's answer wasn't serious:

With regard to my prices for portraits:

I charge:
                    250 to 300 for 1/2 length of ugly people.
                    200 to 250 for beautiful ones.
                    Full length life size fat man 400 guineas.
                       "         "        "     "    thin man 350    " 

Charles Shannon, 'Souvenir of an International Ball (Portrait of Miss Kathleen Bruce)' (1907)
[Cleveland Museum of Art]
The letter was published by Margery Ross in Robert Ross. Friend of Friends. Letters to Robert Ross, Art Critic and Writer, together with extracts from his published articles (London, Jonathan Cape, 1952, page 72).

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

403. Vellum Copies of the Vale Press Cellini Edition (3)

Earlier, I have written about the vellum copies of the Vale Press edition of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (see particularly the second blog: 199. Vellum Copies of the Vale Press Cellini Edition).

We can now add another vellum copy to the list, located at Houghton Library, Harvard. In an essay about bookbindings for Country Life (March 1928), E.H.M. Cox wrote:

Finally, we come to the particularly bold decoration designed by Mr. Philpot on the Life of Benvenuto Cellini: translated by John Addington Symonds, two volumes, imperial 8vo, one of ten copies printed on vellum by the Vale Press in 1900. In this the symbolism is especially cleverly worked out with the lightning of his fiery career and the dagger. This binding is carried out in blue niger morocco, and is extremely successful.

For the life of Cellini, see Wikipedia. The binding was ordered by collector Harold Wilmerding Bell (1885-1947), whose books are now at Houghton Library. 

Vale Press edition of Cellini (1900), volume 1:
binding designed by Glyn Philpot
The binding's designer was Glyn Philpot (1884-1937), a painter, who sometimes digressed and designed costumes and interiors, painted murals, and worked at sculptures. At the start of his career he imitated book designs by Charles Ricketts. Bookbinding came much later, during the 1920s, and it seems that all of his binding designs were done for books owned by Bell, who himself designed some bindings for books in his collection.

In his biography of Philpot, Paul Delaney mentioned these bindings in passing; other publications about Philpot do not. There is only this fugitive article by E.H.M. Cox, published with the vague title 'Some Fine Modern Bookbindings', accompanied by eight illustrations of bindings, five of which were designed by Philpot, while all were executed by the London firm of Robert Riviere and Sons. 

Philpot's designs were for books printed by the Doves Press, the Ashendene Press, the Eragny Press, and the Vale Press.

The Bell copy went to the Houghton Library in 1948 as part of his bequest (accession number is *47-712 F). Philpot signed both volumes of this copy that was printed on vellum.

[Thanks are due to Susan Halpert, Reference Librarian, Houghton Library].

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

402. A 1916 Sphinx Drawing by Charles Ricketts

On 22 March, Princeton University Library has published a blog about a book illustration by Charles Ricketts that 'does not seem to fit any published project', as the Graphic Arts Curator Julie Mellby wrote to me. (See the Graphic Arts blog.)

The drawing is in style with Ricketts's later drawings, apart from one detail: this drawing is dated: 1916. This is not only unusual - Ricketts's drawings for Beyond the Threshold for example were not dated, nor were his series of drawings for Poems in Prose and a similar series inspired by Wilde's The Sphinx that the artist undertook in 1920s - this drawing predates these drawings by five to ten years.

Charles Ricketts, drawing dated 1916 (Princeton University Library, Graphic Arts)
Is this another Sphinx drawing by Ricketts, or not? The double-lined border, the details in the architecture and landscape, and even the colouring are in style with these later drawings, but the subject of the sphinx had been explored by Ricketts long before, the sphinx being a subject for symbolist painters all over Europe, and especially for Ricketts's example Gustave Moreau. An early drawing of the sphinx, 'Oedipus and the Sphinx', modelled after a drawing by J.A.D. Ingres was bought from Ricketts by Frederic Leighton, and later was reproduced in The Pageant.

The Princeton drawing bears a date and the artist's monogram 'CR', but not a title. It could be called 'Silence', after the bronze sculpture with that name that Ricketts had finished around ten years earlier (now at the Andrews Clark Memorial Library). The fingers pointing to the closed lips suggest the same title 'Silence'. The figure is that of the winged Hermes, who not only is the messenger of the gods, or the conductor of souls into the afterlife, but is also associated with rhetorics and pleading.

The figure of Hermes stands on a stone block next to a skull that belongs to a victim of the sphinx. To the right side of the face of Hermes is the statue of the sphinx on a pedestal. The empty space (half of the image) suggests great height in a steep mountain area.

The date 1916 is puzzling. However, I think there may be an answer for which we have to combine letters from Ricketts to Robert Ross, and a note in his diaries concerning the Red Cross Sale at Christie's. The book and manuscript committee for this sale was chaired by Edmund Gosse. Contributions were to be sent in by the end of February 1916, and the auction took place over several weeks in April.

Initially, Ricketts thought of sending in his copy of Wilde's The Sphinx, as he mentioned to Ross:

Do you think my suggestion would be acceptable at the moment and make money for the Red Cross Sale if I sent up my signed copy of The Sphinx (not the edition de luxe) the dedication is quite simple, to C. Ricketts etc. and without the comments by Oscar I have in the Poems and the Intentions.
[Letter to Robert Ross, February 1916, see Robert Ross, Friend of Friends (1952), p, 281].

In the end he withdrew the book, and the Wilde letters that were to accompany it, but meanwhile he had been working on some drawings. First of all, there was a vellum envelope that was to hold the Wilde letters. 

His diary note, as presented in Self-Portrait (1939, p. 254), reads: 

Drew the vellum envelope for the Oscar Wilde letter. Found the vellum at first trying; and I actually squinted with application like a child with its tongue out, and found afterwards that the seat of my breeches was quite moist. After all, the work came more easily than I had anticipated.

Ross and Shannon objected to selling this at auction, Ricketts already had his doubts, and the valuation of a bookseller distressed him, so he backed off. But there was more, and that concerned the 'drawings' he had been making:

Probably a touch of sentiment enters into the selfish reasons for my retention of the signed Sphinx – the other signed books are so much less my books. Possibly a certain coldness on the part of Holmes and Binyon when I showed them the vellum drawings helped also. 
[Letter to Robert Ross, February 1916, see Robert Ross, Friend of Friends (1952), p, 284].

The puzzling element here is the word 'vellum'. The Princeton drawing is on paper. Obviously, Ricketts would have made several sketches for the design he wanted to draw on vellum, a material that prompts the artist to use all his skills. The whereabouts of these vellum drawings is unknown. The Princeton drawing may have been one of the preparatory drawings. The colouring may or may not date from the same year; the addition of the monogram seems to imply that Ricketts considered this to be a finished drawing, or that he prepared this drawing for presentation. 

Charles Ricketts, drawing dated 1916 (Princeton University Library, Graphic Arts)
We can't be certain, but the date 1916 does relate to drawings by Ricketts that were directly associated with Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx, drawings that were not intended for a proposed new edition of the book, but were made with the 1916 Red Cross Sale in mind. The copy, the letters, and the decorated envelope could be anywhere now. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

401. Exhibition at the Heath Robinson Museum

Some works by Ricketts and Shannon are on display during the exhibition 'The Beardley Generation' at the Heath Robinson Museum in London (see here for the museum's website). 

William Heath Robinson (1872-1944), trained at Islington School of Art, was an illustrator who showed influences of Aubrey Beardsley, Walter Crane, Arthur Rackham, and others - there seems to be no direct link between Heath Robinson and Ricketts or Shannon. 

Heath Robinson Museum (website)
'The Beardsley Generation', curated by Geoffrey Beare, displays works by Beardsley, Ricketts, Laurence Housman and the Robinson Brothers (Heath Robinson had two brothers who were also illustrators). (See Beare's video on the show.)

The focus is on the implications of new technological possibilities, as the museum's website explains:

The exhibition will explore the impact that new photographic means of reproduction (process engraving) at the end of the 19th Century had on illustration. Older artists who had relied on the craft wood-engraver to work up their sketches for publication were swept aside and a new generation of artists, well versed in the requirements of process engraving, were much in demand. The new technology also resulted in an expansion in the production of illustrated books and periodicals.

The work of Ricketts and Shannon is represented by one book and two drawings.

In one of the cases lies the well known edition of Daphnis and Chloe - the subject of last week blog 400 by Rebecca Mitchell. 

Number 21 and 22 in the show are original drawings by Ricketts. Both were reproduced in The Pageant of 1896: 'Psyche in the House' and 'Oedipus and the Sphinx'. The second drawing was reproduced in photogravure (by the Swan Electro Engraving Company). The first one was reproduced as a half-tone.

The image of 'Psyche in the House' is now better known for its publication in The Vale Press edition of De Cupidinis et Psyches Amoribus in 1901, five years later. The book contained five illustrations, four of which were based on earlier designs and some had been published in magazines. 

Charles Ricketts, 'Psyche in the House'
(The Pageant, 1896)
The image of 'Psyche in the House' had been reworked as a wood-engraving with considerable changes. Most importantly, the pair of hands holding a chalice (on the left) and the black surface around the open window (on the right). The format is different: Ricketts added a section to the left, and made the second version a square drawing.

Charles Ricketts, 'Psyche in the House'
(De Cupidinis et Psyches Amoribus, 1901)
There are many other changes, such as the position of the flowers on the tiled floor, the lever on the right hand hatch, and the cut-off upper side of the image. However, the main symbolism of the illustration remained untouched.