Wednesday, June 26, 2019

413. Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (4)

When The Tribune announced that the writer Stephen Phillips (1864-1915) was working on a new play on Faust, Robert Ross answered with a version of his own: 'A Little Doctored Faust' (Masques & Phases, pp. 209-223). 

Ross starts with a quote from the dramatist:

Stephen Phillips
In the version of Faust which I am going to prepare there will be nothing spectacular, nothing to overshadow or intrude upon an immortal theme. As to how I shall treat the story, and as to the form in which it will be written, I am not yet sure—it may be a play in blank verse, or in prose with lyrics. 

Ross's prologue transports us to The British Museum where Phillips got a special room to work on his play, implying that he intended to use earlier plays about Faust. Indeed, Goethe, Marlowe and the composer Gounod join him there, and Phillips tells them:

Of course, I treat you as material
On which to work; but then I simplify
And purify the story for our stage.
The English stage is nothing if not pure.
For instance, we will not allow Salomé.

Wilde's Salomé was banned on the basis of an old law that prohibited the depiction of  Biblical characters on the stage - there were performances in Paris and some private ones in London, the first public performance took place in 1931. 

Faust (1908)
When Phillips's version of Faust was published two years later, in 1908, the title page mentioned a co-author, J. Comyns Carr, and the subtitle was: 'freely adapted from Goethe's dramatic poem'.

In 1906, Ross wrote his version that consisted of the British Library prologue - one remembers of course that Goethe's prologue to Faust was set 'In Heaven', - followed by two acts that are as compact as the introductory scene. The issue of authenticity is ridiculed:

. One of your lines strike my familiar spirit.
Surely, that does not come from Stephen Phillips.

Marlowe. No matter; I may quote from whom I will.
Shakespeare himself was not immaculate

And borrowed freely from a barren past.

But how barren was Philipps's past who could take his lines from the likes of Goethe and Marlowe? 

Act I brings us to Faust's Studio where Faust speaks to a servant, using Phillips's words:

Faust. If anybody calls, say I am out;
I must have time to see how I will act.
As to the form in which I shall be written,
I must decide whether in prose or verse.

Eugène Delacroix, 'Méphistophélès apparaisant à Faust' (from Goethe, Faust. Paris, Charles Motte, 1828)
National Gallery of Victoria]
Mephisto enters and tells he is not impressed by the British audiences and their so-called love for the theatre.

Mephisto. The stage is now an auditorium,
And all the audiences are amateurs,
First-nighters at the bottom of their heart.
What do they care for drama in the least?
All that they need are complimentary stalls,
To know the leading actor, to be round
At dress rehearsals, or behind the scenes,
To hear the row the actor-manager
Had with the author or the leading lady,
Then to recount the story at the Garrick,
Where, lingering lovingly on kippered lies,
They babble over chestnuts and their punch
And stale round-table jests of years ago.

Mephisto and Faust agree to pay a visit to Lord and Lady Walpurge - she an 'intellectual', and:

The husband rich, dishonest, a collector
Of objets d’art, especially old masters.
He got his title for his promises
To England in the war; financed the raid

The party, says Ross, is not very sophisticated, attended by second-rate literary people, an Irish peer, and some well-known musicians. But then, the Princess Salomé is announced by the footman. He has misheard her name and announces her as:

'Er 'Ighness the Princess Swami.

A Lady Journalist, talking to Faust, remarks:

Fancy having that woman here. She is not recognised in any decent society, she is nothing but an adventuress; talks such bad French, too.

(Oscar Wilde had been criticised for his French when the first edition of the play was published.) But Faust answers that the Princess has many admirers in Germany.

Lady Journalist (hedging). I wonder where she gets her frocks? They must be worth a good deal.

Faust. From Ricketts and Shannon, if you want to know.

Lady Journalist. Dear Doctor, you know everything! Let me see: Ricketts and Shannon is that new place in Regent Street, rather like Lewis and Allenby’s, I suppose?

Faust. Yes, only different.

Lewis & Allenby, London (1866) [image: Victorian web]
Lewis and Allenby were famous silk mercers and retailers of ladies' clothing.

In the next two pieces by Ross, 'Shavians from Superman' and 'Some Doctored Dilemma',  Ricketts and Shannon would, again, play a role.

[This modest series of Robert Ross blogs commemorates his birth 150 years ago.]

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

412. Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (3)

Robert Ross frequently referred to his closest friends in his critical and prose pieces written for periodicals and newspapers and collected in Masques & Phases in 1909.

Robert Ross, Masques & Phases (1909)

In a review of an exhibition of the work of Holman Hunt at Leicester Galleries in 1906, he asserted that every critic invents his own brand of Pre-Raphaelitism and believes 'he knows the great secret'. Following Ruskin, Rossetti and Hall Caine tried their hand at definitions. However, even if these critical approaches would be helpful, Ross insists on examining the individual paintings, not the 'movement', and he finds that in almost all genres other painters were better than Holman Hunt. With his religious subjects, he complains, Hunt is the most popular of them all, 'a scapegoat sent out to wander by the dead seas of popularity', and he frames him as 'the missing link between art and popularity'. The painter William Richmond has 'brandished Excalibur in the form of a catalogue for Mr. Hunt's pictures'. Obviously, that was too much for Ross.

William Holman Hunt, 'Self-Portrait' (1867) [Uffizi Gallery]
At this point, the essay takes a turn and ends like a medieval story about a 'good knight and true', who, as a Knight for the Royal Academy of Art battles against modernism in its many forms.

Through the broken tracery of the Italian Gothic window a breeze or draught comes softly and fans his strong academic arms; he feels a twinge. Some Merlin told him he would suffer from ricketts with shannon complications. Seizing Excalibur, he opens the door cautiously, "Draw, caitiffs," he cries; "draw." "Perhaps they cannot draw; perhaps they are impressionists," said a raven on the hill; and he flew away.
('Mr. Holman Hunt at the Leicester Galleries', p. 179-180).

Ricketts with shannon complications! As if 'rickets' disease is not worrying enough.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

411. Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (2)

Robert Ross - born 150 years ago - published art criticisms in several periodicals, and collected a few of them in a volume called Masques & Phases (London, Arthur L. Humphreys, 1909), a book that is difficult to find these days. However, the complete text is available online at

Robert Ross, Masques & Phases (1909) [cover: detail]
A few weeks ago, I quoted a piece in which Ricketts made his appearance as a character, even one that wrote poetry. (See: Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (1).)

A second time that either Ricketts or Shannon's name turns up in the book is in a column called 'Going Up Top' (pp. 116-124). It is based on the old game of making lists of excellent poets, politicians, etcetera. Ross writes:

During a New Year week I was invited by Lord and Lady Lyonesse to a very diverting house-party.  This peer, it will be remembered, is the well-known radical philanthropist who owed his title to a lifelong interest in the submerged tenth.  Their house, Ivanhoe, is an exquisite gothic structure not unjustly regarded as the masterpiece of the late Sir Gilbert Scott: it overlooks the Ouse. Including our hosts we numbered forty persons, and the personnel, including valets, chauffeurs, and ladies’-maids brought by the guests, numbered sixty.  In all, we were a hundred souls, assuming immortality for the chauffeurs and the five Scotch gardeners. On January 2nd somebody produced after dinner a copy of the Petit Parisien relating the plebiscite for the greatest Frenchman of the nineteenth century; another guest capped him with the Evening News list. The famous Pall Mall Gazette Academy of Forty was recalled with indifferent accuracy.  Conversation was flagging; our hostess looked relieved; very soon we were all playing a p. 120variation of that most charming game, suck-pencil.

Lord and Lady Lyonesse - a name that evokes a sunken land from Arthurian legend as well as hosts that throw the best of parties - invite their guest to list the ten greatest living Englishmen, and when the votes are counted the guests have included the writers Marie Corelli and Rudyard Kipling, the newspaper magnate Lord Northcliffe and the actor George Alexander, among others. 

Robert Ross, Masques & Phases (1909, page 122)
The list drawn up by Ross himself is quite different. From the general list, it only includes the name of Nortcliffe. His eminent men - no women indeed! - are mainly writers, six of them: H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Thomas Hardy, Edmund Gosse, Andrew Lang, some of whom are intimate friends such as Reginald Turner. There is one physicist (Oliver Lodge) and one cardinal (Dom Gasquet), and, for an art critic, oddly enough, there is only one artist on his list. This, of course, is Charles Hazelwood Shannon.

The other guests are not familiar with the names of the physicist and the cardinal. Some believed that Lang had died long ago (he would die in 1912, three years after Masques & Phases was published). Only the one artist in the crowd knows the name of the painter Charles Shannon, the others assume that the portrait painter James Jubusa Shannon is intended.  

Shannon, all too often, was approached by people who wanted him to paint their portraits, only to withdraw the assignment after discovering their error. The wrong Shannon!

When this piece was published in Masques & Phases Shannon wrote to Ross:

Your book is too delightful. I don't get much chance of seeing it because Ricketts is generally curled up on the sofa convulsed with laughter.
[Letter from Charles Shannon to Robert Ross, 13 October 1909, published in: Robert Ross. Friend of Friends, 1952, page 167].

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

410. The Ricketts Medal by Alphonse Legros

At Lyon & Turnbull, Edinburgh, in a furniture sale on 14 May, one lot contained medals depicting the artists G.F. Watts and Charles Ricketts. Both medals were designed by Alphonse Legros. The first one was gilded and quite large (8.5 cm diameter), the second one was a cast bronze medal 'with brown patina' (6 cm diameter). The set was estimated at £600-800, and fetched £1,125 (buyer's premium included).

Alphonse Legros, 'Charles Ricketts' [medal, 1897]
The Ricketts medal dates from 1897. The front shows the artist in profile, the reverse depicts a woodcutter, axe raised, chopping a tree. 

How many copies of this medal were made is unclear. However, Philip Attwood, in his catalogue Artistic Circles (1992) stated that this kind of medal was expensive and issued in 'small editions' (page 11).