Wednesday, July 31, 2019

418. Eight Copies of John Keats's Poems Printed on Vellum

When the Vale Press announced a two-volume edition of John Keats' poems of which eight copies would be printed on vellum, the enthusiasm was so great that this luxury edition was completely subscribed before publication in December 1898. H.C. Marillier called this edition the 'cream of the whole series' of Vale Press up to that date.

Photo of a binding designed by Charles Ricketts,
The Poems of John Keats,
said to be commissioned by Walter Noble
[British Museum]
The vellum was supplied by Henry Band and Co of Brentford and was called 'Roman Vellum' since the firm had produced this vellum sheets for William Morris (who preferred to have Italian vellum that was unavailable because the Pope needed it for his many encyclicals. So goes the story.) 

The eight copies on vellum were not delivered in a publisher's binding - whereas the ordinary paper copies were all bound in white buckram. Vellum editions were published by the Vale Press from December 1897 onwards, and Ricketts announced that he would specially design bindings for these books for a price that could range from three to twelve guineas. Initially these leather bindings were executed by Riviere and Son, but later he transferred the binding work to Zaehnsdorf. If a special binding was not commissioned, the vellum copies were issued as folded gatherings in a protective paper wrapper. At auctions held before the publishing house was dissolved, such non-bound sets were sometimes described. 

Vellum copy of The Poems of John Keats
(Vale Press, 1899)
[Wellesley College, photo: Ruth Rogers]
Copies on vellum were owned by the wealthier Vale Press collectors, such as H. Sidney (sold 1903), and Laurence W. Hodson (sold 2013), and of course by Ricketts and Shannon themselves (Shannon's copy was sold in 1937).

Some of them were bound after a design by Ricketts, such as the Shannon and Hodson copies, the latter one in red morocco. One copy was thus bound for William Noble, like the Hodson copy the design incorporated his initials. Others were bound by the London firms of Riviere and Son, Ramage or Sangorski and Sutcliffe.

By now, I have been able to locate five of the eight vellum copies, two of them in English collections, and three of them in East-Coast libraries in the USA. The numbering is random (the copies are not numbered in the colophon).


The University of Liverpool Library, Special Collections, Class No: SPEC Noble A.16.41-42. Gold-tooled in red morocco by Zaehnsdorf, 1899. Bound for William Noble, bearing his initials in the design.

University of Manchester Library, John Rylands collection, Manchester: R31745: From the library of D. Lloyd Roberts M.D. F.R.C.P. Ravenswood Broughton Park Manchester. Late nineteenth-century full red goatskin; gilt-rolled floral and foliate border, enclosing gilt-tooled corner-pieces; goatskin doublures; gilt-tooled at foot of front doublure: Bound by Ramage London; five raised bands to spine; gilt-tooled decoration within compartments; title gilt-lettered in second compartment; top edge gilt.

Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Cambridge, MA: GEN Keats *EC8 K2262 B898p3. Bound by Rivière & son in green morocco, gilt; vellum doublures; top edges gilt, with designer's autograph note in each volume. Binding designed for H.W. Bell. Glyn Philpot, in morocco cases.

Special Collections, English Poets, Margaret Clapp Library, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA.: Call: Vellum binding, gold lettering, by Sangorski & Sutcliffe, London. In green cloth slipcase. Purchased from George Herbert Palmer Fund.

Smith College, Special Collections, Northampton, MA: Rare Book Room Stacks, 825 K22p 1898. Full dark green morocco by Riviere & Son (front cover of volume 1 detached; other hinges cracked; largely faded to brown. Gift of Henry L. Seaver, 1954.

Vellum copy of The Poems of John Keats
(Vale Press, 1899)
Bound by Sangorski and Sutcliffe
[Wellesley College, photo: Ruth Rogers]
The three other copies have interesting provenances:

Charles Shannon's copy. Morocco binding, auctioned at Sotheby's on 1-2 November 1937. Acquired by Sawyer.

Edward Smith Willard's copy, in a vellum binding, containing his autograph signature or bookplate. Auctioned by Sotheby's, 17 July 1907. Acquired by Edwards.


These three copies are probably in private collections. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

417. Charles Ricketts in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Last week's blog included a portrait of the Earl of Arundel by the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, and this week another portrait of the Collector Earl illustrates a blog about Ricketts in Boston.
Peter Paul Rubens, Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (c. 1629-1630)
[Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston]
[Wikimedia Commons]
I visited the area (Amherst and Boston) because of the book-historical congress SHARP and afterwards, waiting for my flight, I had time to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston which is conveniently close to that other great museum, The Museum of Fine Arts. (My colleague and friend Ruth Rogers of Wellesley College advised me to visit the Gardner collection because of the Italianate-style villa that houses it.) Boston experienced the usual hot summer weather, and the air-conditioned museums were crowded. 

The intimacy of Gardner's museum did suffer from the hustle and bustle - there were queues of people waiting in front of some special and not very large rooms: you had to make an effort to be able to stand face to face with a painting by Henri Matisse or the mysterious 'Nocturne, Blue and Silver: Battersea Reach' (c.1872-1878) by James McNeill Whistler.

View of the courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
19 July 2019 [Photo: author]
The much larger halls with windows overlooking the (now covered) courtyard were less crowded, if only because most tourists were mainly concerned with a selfie or a family portrait in front of the large open windows. In one of these rooms there was a portrait of the Earl of Arundel by Rubens, made around 1630. 

Last week's blog was about Junius's book on painters and painting commissioned by this Earl, an edition of which Ricketts and Shannon gave a copy (their own copy) to Robert Ross as a gift. That happened in 1911. Sixteen years later, in the Fall of 1927, Ricketts made a trip to Canada and America and visited the collection of Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924), who had died a few years earlier.

Anders Zorn, 'Isabella Stewart Gardner in Venice' (1894)
[Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston]
[Wikimedia Commons]
Ricketts spent a week in Boston before setting sail on the Laconia for England, and let several friends know that he had enjoyed New York and Boston. The poet Bottomley received a letter that Ricketts wrote on 8 December, after returning to London.

View of the courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
19 July 2019 [Photo: author]
The famous Gardner Collection, now housed in a Venetian palace made out of the material of two genuine Venetian houses, is delightful; authentic pictures by Giorgione, Botticelli, Piero della Francesca, Giotto, Titian, Pesellino, Fra Angelico are placed on old brocades. The courtyard was a mass of giant white chrysanthemums, white cinerarias, white cyclamens, one Roman sarcophagus filled with crimson cyclamens, and a lovely pink camelia tree in a Chinese pot; there are small fountains in niches with running water and plants, and while looking at Botticelli's "Rape of Lucrece" I heard dim echoes of Mendelssohn. I moved towards a vast room hung with superb tapestries, and two of the attendants at a piano sang Rubinstein's "Azra," Rimsky's "Rose and the Nightingale" (in French), one of the "Dichter liebe" songs in German, and then played two of Chopin's immortal Preludes and a piece by Rachmaninov. Imagine two British policemen doing this in the Wallace Collection! I was told afterwards that these attendants, who all seemed intelligent and even good-looking, are Harvard students, well paid for this work done in extra hours, and that thousands a year are spent on their salaries, and on the relays of flowers in the Cortile.
(Self-Portrait, 1939, pp. 391-392)

It typifies Ricketts that he spends more superlatives on the plants and flowers and on the music than on the works of art. In the meantime, the guards are no longer students of music and standing in front of Botticelli's painting you don't hear vague musical sounds anymore, but the constant noise of the air conditioning and the whispering voices of tourists trying to guess what happened to that poor Lucrecia and why a rape looks like a murder.

View of the courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
19 July 2019 [Photo: author
Gardner did a lot of business with the art historian, art dealer and art paean Bernard Berenson (the museum sells the complete correspondence of the two) and before Ricketts visited the museum he was told about it by the English dealer Colin Agnew:

Agnew revealed stories about Berenson's crooked dealings with Mrs Isabella Gardner that the shocked Ricketts found 'impossible', but he had heard similar stories before and Agnew swore that 'enough is known in the trade to ruin B.B.' 
(J.G. Paul Delaney, Charles Ricketts. A Biography, 1990, pp. 360-361).

Attribution of paintings to famous medieval painters was Berenson's specialty, and he was also a master at re-attributing works when his first attempt proved historically incorrect.

During his tour of the museum, Ricketts will also have seen the portrait of the Earl of Arundel. Nowadays it hangs in a room dedicated to Dutch art, including Flanders. There are paintings by Rembrandt (less than in the past because of an illustrious burglary) and by Rubens.

Peter Paul Rubens, Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (c. 1629-1630)
[Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston]
[Photos: author]
Ricketts wrote to Shannon that Giorgione's painting 'Christ Carrying the Cross' moved him to the bone:

I trembled before Giorgione's Christ, unmistakably by him.
(J.G. Paul Delaney, 'Charles Ricketts and the National Gallery of Canada', 1991, p. 367)

Ricketts' attributions don't always hold up either. Already in 1896, when Gardner bought the painting, the name of the maker was contested, - all the more reason for Ricketts's absolute certainty - but today it is appreciated as a work by a pupil of Bellini, probably Vincenzo Catena (c 1470-1531). 

Fortunately, the climatic conditions have also improved. During his visit, Ricketts noticed that the lighting was poor and that the paintings were often in poor condition.

Statue in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
[Photo: author]
Despite the many visitors, the building with its quirky rooms still impresses, the paintings no less than the plants and the decorations including peculiar statues such as a lion attacking a man. Many visitors use the lion to rest on.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

416. Ricketts, Shannon, Junius & Ross

About ten years ago, the antiquarian bookseller John Hart described a copy of Franciscus Junius' The Painting of the Ancient, in Three Bookes: Declaring by Historicall Observations and Examples, the Beginning, Progresse, and Consummation of that Most Noble Art. And how those Ancient Artificers attained to their still so much admired Excellencie, a book that was issued in its first English translation (from the Latin) by Richard Hodgkinsonne in London in 1638.

Franciscus Junius, The Painting of the Ancients (1638)
[Another copy]
The Latin edition - De Pictura Veterum - had been printed the year before, in 1637, for Junius's patron, Thomas Howard, the Earl of Arundel.

An ordinary copy of this book would fetch around £300, but this copy was priced at £1200. What was so special? This was an association copy presented by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon to Robert Ross in September 1911. Tipped in is a photograph of Ricketts in Athens.

This particular copy came back on the market on 6 June of this year, when it was auctioned by Forum Auctions in London. The hammer price was a mere £300. The new owner recently contacted me and sent me some images of the work.

The online description of John Hart stated that the copy was in poor condition, 'being badly worn on the corners, with the inner hinges strengthened and the text browned and spotted'. Books from Ricketts's library are usually in such a state, a common fate for books that an artist may use in his studio. The worn state of this book belongs to its artistic history. A plus point is that the artist has made some handwritten notes in it.

Dedication in Junius, The Painting of the Ancients (1638)
The dedication is written by Ricketts on behalf of Shannon and himself: 

To R. Ross from his friends C Ricketts and
                                                   C Shannon
                                      November 5

Lacking now is the letter which was included by Ricketts:

Here is a copy of The Painting of the Ancients I spoke to you about. We find it a delightful book to dip into at odd moments. Personally I like it better than several classics but, a book is like a friend, one never knows if another will like him also.


Read the last page at the sentence beginning "Protogenes his example may teach us" it may move you to read elsewhere. The first book is dull. It is dedicated to the Countess of Arundell [CR's spelling] to whom Tizianello dedicated his life of Titian. The author sent a copy to Rubens who evidently rather disliked it. There are admonitions against "florid and a kind of lax and ornate use of the pencil" practised by certain moderns ha! ha!

Rubens painted a portrait of the Earl of Arundel.

Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel
(c. 1629-1630)
[Collection: National  Gallery, London]
The letter is no longer with the book, but the photograph is. It shows Charles Ricketts in Athens. He is seated in the Theatre of Dionysos next to the seat of the high priest. (See my 2011 blog about this photograph: 67. Ricketts in the Front Row). 

Ricketts in Athens, 1911
The photograph bears another handwritten dedication:

Athens 1911 C. Ricketts. The seat of Sophocles. The Throne of Kallimachos To R.R. from C.R.

The current owner is Edward Chaney, partly of Dutch descent (his mother being Maaike de Gruyter). Chaney is an expert on the evolution of the Grand Tour, the history of collecting, and other subjects.

He wrote to me that he owns a Shannon lithograph, and is an admirer of Ricketts, Shannon, and Ross.

I was, however, drawn the book itself (Junius's Painting of the Ancients) having published quite a bit on the dedicatee, the remarkable Countess of Arundel and her husband 'the Collector Earl', Junius's principal patron. It is a fascinating book and most interesting that Ricketts should have given it to Ross. The photograph of Ricketts sitting in the theatre in Athens is yet another bonus... All this for a three hundred squids plus commission (from Forum Auctions) almost cheered me up...

The joy of collecting! 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

415. Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (6)

In 1907, Robert Ross published yet another criticism in the form of a play, called 'Shavians from Superman' (published in Masques & Phases, 1910, pp. 224-235). As a starting point it takes the last scene of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, blends it with G.B. Shaw's Man and Superman and discusses the ongoing problems with the censors that authors encountered during these years. Shaw had several plays banned by the office of the Lord Chamberlain, and he particularly protested against the decisions of the censor George Alexander Redford - he was the examiner of plays between 1895 and 1911 (and he died in 1916). 

Charles Ricketts, 'Don Juan' (oil painting, c. 1911) [Collection: Tate, London]
The ban on Wilde's Salomé is discussed as well, and Ross has the Princess Salomé perform the 'dance of the Seven Censors'. Ricketts's theatre and costume designs are mentioned, but this time he doesn't appear as a character in Ross's play. However, Shannon plays his part.

Robert Ross, 'Shavians from Superman'

Donna Ana has vanished to sup her man at the Savoy; the Devil and the Statue are descending through trap, when a voice is heard crying, ‘Stop, stop’; the mechanism is arrested and there appears in the empyrean Mr. Charles Hazelwood Shannon, the artist, with halo.
The Devil (while Shannon regains his breath). Really, Mr. Shannon, this is a great pleasure and quite unexpected. I am truly honoured. No quarrel I hope with the International? Pennell quite well? How is the Whistler memorial getting on?
Shannon. So-so. To be quite frank I had no time to prepare for Heaven, and earth has become intolerable for me. (Seeing the Statue.) Is that a Rodin you have there? Ah, no, I see, rather late sixteenth-century - Jean Goujon? Not in very good taste. We don't like sixteenth-century sculpture.
Robert Ross, 'Shavians from Superman' (fragment) (1910)
The Devil. Oh! I forgot, let me introduce you. Commander! Mr. C.H. Shannon, a most distinguished painter, the English Velasquez, the Irish Titian, the Scotch Giorgione, all in one. Mr. Shannon, his Excellency the Commander.

Shannon. Delighted, I am sure. The real reason for my coming here is that I could stand Ricketts no longer. Ricketts the artist I adore. Ricketts the causeur is delightful. Ricketts the enemy, entrancing. Ricketts the friend, one of the best. But Ricketts, when designing dresses for the Court, Trench, and other productions, is not very amiable.

The Statue (sighing). Ah! yes, I know Ricketts.

The Devil (sighing). We all know Ricketts. Never mind, he shall not come here. I shall give special orders to Charon. Come on to the trap and we can start for the palace.

Shannon. Ah! yes. I heard you were moving to the Savoy. Think it will be a success?

[They descend and no reply is heard. Whisk! Mr. Frank Richardson on this occasion does not appear; void and emptiness; the fireproof curtain may be lowered here in accordance with the County Council regulations; moving portraits of deceased, and living dramatic critics can be thrown without risk of ignition on the curtain by magic lantern. The point of this travesty will be entirely lost to those who have not read ‘Man and Superman.’ It is the first masterpiece in the English literature of the twentieth century. It is also necessary to have read the dramatic criticisms in the daily press, and to have some acquaintance with the Court management, the Stage Society, and certain unlicensed plays; and to know that Mr. Ricketts designs scenery. This being thoroughly explained, the Curtain may rise; discovering a large Gothic Hall, decorated in the 1880 taste. Allegories by Watts on the wall - ‘Time cutting the corns of Eternity,’ ‘Love whistling down the ear of Life,’ ‘Youth catching Crabs,’ &c. Windows by Burne-Jones and Morris. A Peacock Blue Hungarian Band playing music on Dolmetsch instruments by Purcell, Byrde, Bull, Bear, Palestrina, and Wagner, &c. Various well-known people crowd the Stage. Among the living may be mentioned Mr. George Street; Mr. Max Beerbohm and his brother; Mr. Albert Rothenstein and his brother, &c. The company is intellectual and artistic; not in any way smart. The Savile and Athenæum Clubs are well represented, but not the Garrick, the Gardenia, nor any of the establishments in the vicinity of Leicester Square. The Princess Salomé is greeting some of the arrivals, who stare at her in a bewildered fashion.

G.F. Watts, 'Time, Death and Judgment' [Tate, London]

The Devil. Silence, please, ladies and gentlemen, for his Excellency the Commander. (A yellowish pallor moves over the audience; effect by Gordon Craig.)

The Statue. It was my intention this evening to make a few observations on flogging in the Navy, Vaccination, the Censor, Vivisection, the Fabian Society, the Royal Academy, Compound Chinese Labour, Style, Simple Prohibition, Vulgar Fractions, and other kindred subjects. But as I opened the paper this morning, my eye caught these headlines: 'Future of the House of Lords,' 'Mr. Edmund Gosse at home,' 'The Nerves of Lord Northcliffe,' 'Interview with Mr. Winston Churchill,' 'Reported Indisposition of Miss Edna May.' A problem was thus presented to me. Will I, shall I, ought I to speak to my friends here - ahem! - and elsewhere, on the subject about which they came to hear me speak. (Applause.) No, I said; the bounders must be disappointed; otherwise they will know what to expect. You must always surprise your audience. When it has been advertised (sufficiently) that I am going to speak about the truth, for example, the audience comes here expecting me to speak about fiction. The only way to surprise them is to speak the truth and that I always do. Nothing surprises English people more than truth; they don't like it; they don't pay any attention to those (such as my friend Mr. H.G. Wells and myself) who trade in truth; but they listen and go away saying 'How very whimsical and paradoxical it all is,' and 'What a clever adventurer the fellow is, to be sure.' 'That was a good joke about duty and beauty being the same thing' - that was a joke I did not make. It is not my kind of joke - but when people begin ascribing to you the jokes of other people, you become a living - I was going to say statue - but I mean a living classic.

The Devil. I thought you disliked anything classic?

The Statue. Ahem! only dead classics - especially when they are employed to protect romanticism. Dead classics are the protective tariffs put on all realism and truth by bloated idealism. In a country of plutocrats, idealism keeps out truth: idealism is more expensive, and therefore more in demand. In America there are more plutocrats, and therefore more idealists.... as Mr. Pember Reeves has pointed out in New Zealand. ...

The Devil. But I say, is this drama?

The Statue. Certainly not. It is a discussion taking place at a theatre. It is no more drama than a music-hall entertainment, or a comic opera, or a cinematograph, or a hospital operation, all of which things take place in theatres. But surely it is more entertaining to come to a discussion charmingly mounted by Ricketts - discussion too, in which every one knows what he is going to say - than to flaccid plays in which the audience always knows what the actors are going to say better often than the actors. The sort of balderdash which Mr. ---- serves up to us for plays.

The Devil (peevish and old-fashioned). I wish you would define drama.

Hankin (advancing). Won't you have tea, Commander? It's not bad tea.

The Statue. I was afraid you were going to talk idealism.

Hankin (aside). Excuse my interrupting, but I want you to be particularly nice to the Princess Salomé. You know she was jilted by the Censor. She has brought her music.

Charles Ricketts, Design for stage-setting of Oscar Wilde's 'Salome' produced at the King's Hall,
Covent Garden, April 1, 1906. Pencil and chalk [Victoria & Albert Museum]
The Devil. You might introduce her to Mrs. Warren. But I am afraid that the Princess has taken rather too much upon herself this evening.

The Statue. Yes, she has taken too much; I am sure she has taken too much.

A Journalist. Is that the Princess Salomé who has Mexican opals in her teeth, and red eyebrows and green hair, and curious rock-crystal breasts?

The Devil. Yes, that is the Princess Salomé.

Shannon. I know the Princess quite well. Ricketts makes her frocks. Shall I ask her to dance?

The Devil. Yes, anything to distract her attention from the guests. These artistic English people are so easily shocked. They don't understand Strauss, nor indeed anything until it is quite out of date. I want to make Hell at least as attractive as it is painted; a place as well as a condition within the meaning of the Act. Full of wit, beauty, pleasure, freedom ---

The Statue. Ugh-ugh.

Shannon. Will you dance for us, Princess?

Salomé. Anything for you, dear Mr. Shannon, only my ankles are a little sore tonight. How is dear Ricketts? I want new dresses so badly.

Shannon. I suppose by this time he is in Heaven. But won't you dance just to make things go? And then the Commander will lecture on super-maniacs later on!

Salomé. Señor Diavolo, what will you give me if I dance to-night?

The Devil. Anything you like, Salomé. I swear by the dramatic critics.

Hankin (correcting). You mean the Styx.

The Devil. Same thing. Dance without any further nonsense, Salomé. Forget that you are in England. This is an unlicensed house.

     [Salomé dances the dance of the Seven Censors.

Robert Ross, 'Shavians from Superman' (fragment) (1910)
The Devil (applauding). She is charming. She is quite charming. Salomé, what shall I do for you? You who are like a purple patch in some one else's prose. You who are like a black patch on some one else's face. You are like an Imperialist in a Radical Cabinet. You are like a Tariff Reformer in a Liberal-Unionist Administration. You are like the Rokeby Velazquez in St. Paul's Cathedral. What can I do for you who are fairer than ----

Salomé. This sort of thing has been tried on me before. Let us come to business. I want Mr. Redford's head on a four-wheel cab.

The Devil. No, not that. You must not ask that. I will give you Walkley's head. He has one of the best heads. He is not ignorant. He really knows what he is talking about.

Arthur Bingham Walkley. Portrait by Alfred Ellis,
(Eglington & Co., 
carbon print, published 1 May 1892)
Collection: National Portrait Gallery]
Salomé. I want Mr. Redford's head on a four-wheel cab.

The Devil. Salomé, listen to me. Be reasonable. Do not interrupt me. I will give you William Archer's head. He is charming - a cultivated, liberal-minded critic. He is too liberal. He admires Stephen Phillips. I will give you his dear head if you release me from my oath.

SaloméI want Mr. Redford's head on the top of a four-wheel cab. Remember your oath!

The Devil. I remember I swore at - I mean by - the dramatic critics. Well, I am offering them to you. Exquisite and darling Salomé, I will give you the head of Max Beerbohm. It is unusually large, but it is full of good things. What a charming ornament for your mantelpiece! You will be in the movement. How every one will envy you! People will call upon you who never used to call. Others will send you invitations. You will at last get into English society.

SaloméI want Mr. Redford's head on the top of a four-wheel cab. 

The Devil. Salomé, come hither. Have you ever looked at the Daily Mirror? Only in the Daily Mirror should one look. For it tells the truth sometimes. Well, I will give you the head of Hamilton Fyffe. He is my best friend. No critic is so fond of the drama as Hamilton Fyffe. (Huskily.) Salomé, I will give W.L. Courtney's head. I will give you all their heads.

Salomé. I have the scalps of most critics. I want Mr. Redford's head on a four-wheel cab.

The Devil. Salomé! You do not know what you ask. Mr. Redford is a kind of religion. He represents the Lord Chamberlain. You know the dear Lord Chamberlain. You would not harm one of his servants, especially when they are not insured. It would be cruel. It would be irreligious. It would be in bad taste. It would not be respectable. Listen to me; I will give you all Herod's Stores..... Salomé, Shannon was right. You have taken too much, or you would not ask this thing. See, I will give you Mr. Redford's body, but not his head. No that, not that, my child.

Salomé. I want Mr. Redford's head on a four-wheel cab.

The Devil. Salomé, I must tell you a secret. It is terrible for me to have to tell the truth. The Commander said that I would have to tell the truth. Mr. Redford has no head!

      [The audience long before this have begun to put on their cloaks, and the dramatic critics have gone away to describe the cold reception with which the play has been greeted. All the people on the stage cover their heads except the Statue, who has become during the action of the piece more and more like Mr. Bernard Shaw. Curtain descends slowly.

Charles Ricketts, 'Don Juan in Hell' (oil painting, 1931) [Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool]
Ross dedicated this piece to Arthur Clifton (1862-1932), one of Oscar Wilde's oldest friends. 

[This is the last episode in our series commemorating the life of Robert Ross, who was born 150 years ago, in 1869.]

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

414. Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (5)

As one reviewer wrote about Robert Ross's Masques & Phases: 'very few live in the present and believe in it as Mr. Ross does'. His essays discuss the art of his times, not that of a distant past. The frequent appearances of living authors and artists in his reviews that are sometimes disguised as one-act plays testifies of this focus on the present. The likes of Shaw and Gosse appear on these imaginary stages.

Harley Granville-Barker (c 1915)
[Library of Congress]
In 1906, Harley Granville-Barker produced a play by G.B. Shaw, The Doctor's Dilemma, and only two days before the first performance Shaw thought that the last scene that was set in a picture gallery should contain real art works. Ross, then the proprietor of Carfax Gallery stepped in and delivered some works of art by Augustus John, William Orpen, Albert Rothenstein and others.

Then Ross wrote another little play, called Some Doctored Dilemma (published in Masques & Phases, pp. 236-247). The scene takes place, of course, in a picture gallery in Bury Street (where the Carfax Gallery had its premises), and is presented as 'a new epilogue for the last performance of Mr. Shaw's play'.

The stage is crowded, says Ross; there are, among others, art critics, journalists, collectors, poets, pickpockets and politicians. On show are paintings that were sold only recently, and immediately offered again at double the price.

Isaac Oliver, self-portrait (detail)
[National Portrait Gallery, London]
Enters a 'striking-looking man, not unlike a Holbein drawing, at a distance: but on nearer inspection [...] he is more like an Isaac Oliver or Nicholas Lucidel.' [Both were Renaissance painters.]

Edmund Gosse inquires after his name, and is told:

That is the Holland Park Wonder, so-called because he lives at the top of a tower in Holland Park—the greatest Art Connoisseur in England. Mr. Charles Ricketts, the greatest —

One of the art critics in the room (Frederick Wedmore) asks whether the frames are included in the prices of the pictures, and Ricketts asks:

Do you think I could buy a frame without a picture?

The others all marvel over the paintings of this painter (the imaginary painter Dubedat from Shaw's play), and they argue over the exhibitions that should have contained his work, or the museum collections that need to buy these works now.

Sir Hugh P. Lane (who established Dublin's Municipal Gallery of Modern Art) suggests to buy works at reduced prices or in exchange of other paintings:

I'll give you a Gainsborough drawing in exchange for them. It has a very good history. First it belonged to Ricketts, then to Rothenstein, then Wilson Steer, and then to the Carfax gallery, and .... then it came into my possession, and all that in three months.

The provenance doesn't go far back in time, and reminds us of the claims that some art critics, Ricketts included, published in newspapers, magazines and books in a constant battle among connoisseurs to find the one undiscovered masterpiece that would change the course of the debates about art. Ricketts, of course, frequently proclaimed he had found a lost masterpiece, and sometimes he actually did, sometimes his claim was as unjustified as that of his adversaries.

Robert Ross (c 1911)
In Ross's play, another critic asserts that the paintings look like reproductions after John or Orpen, and someone asks: 'Do you think Bernard Shaw will like the new epilogue?'. Shaw himself answers:

He will; I'm shaw.

The play ends with an attempt to reconstruct Shaw's ten commandments - they were given to H.G. Wells for revision, but he lost them in the Tube. One of them was:

Thou shalt have none other Shaws but me.

The credo is spoken by an actor:

I believe in Bernard Shaw, in Granville Barker, and (heartily) in The Times.

After this 'review' was published, Ricketts wrote a letter to Ross saying that he was 'delighted with your Epilogue':

I laughed to tears over the D.S.M. and Sir Chawles passage.

D.S.M. was the critic D.S. MacColl and Sir Chawles was Sir Charles Holroyd, who went on listing funds that could secure the Dubedat paintings for the nation:

Sir Charles Holroyd (smoothing things over). I think we ought to have an example for the Tate. (MacColl winces.) The Chantrey Bequest—(MacColl winces again)—might do something; and I must write to Lord Balcarres. The National Arts Collections Fund may have something over from the subscriptions to the Rokeby Velasquez; but I want to see what Colvin is going to choose for the British Museum.

The passage, said Ricketts, 'is quite up to your earliest and best manner'. But he did have one complaint about the way he was himself introduced in the play, as a 'striking-looking man, not unlike a Holbein drawing, at a distance: but on nearer inspection [...] he is more like an Isaac Oliver or Nicholas Lucidel.' 

Ricketts would have preferred:

A prepossessing man not unlike Isaac Oliver or Lucidel at a distance: but on close inspection he reveals the perfection of a Holbein, Gosse, Fry, Lane, Rothenstein, all are perfect.

[See Robert Ross, Masques & Phases, 1909, pp. 236-247 and Robert Ross. Friend of Friends (Edited by Margery Ross), 1952, p. 141.]