Wednesday, November 6, 2019

432. The Portrait of Mr. W.H.

What did Charles Ricketts's portrait of W.H. look like? Earlier, I wrote about Oscar Wilde's story and about Ricketts painting that did not surface after the sale of Wilde's possessions, see blog 153 The Portrait of Mr. W.H

Ricketts made the painting so that it could serve as a frontispiece for a publication of Wilde's story. The painting is considered to be lost. But in 1912 Ricketts showed Wilde's bibliographer Christopher Sclater Millard (Stuart Mason) what it had looked like. His sketch has been preserved in the William Andrews Clark Memorial library, Los Angeles, and is now published here for the first time, with thanks to the library (for providing the scan) and to the copyright holders, Leonie Sturge Moore and Charmian O'Neil.


Dedication to Mr. W.H.
In Oscar Wilde. Recollections (published posthumously in 1932), Charles Ricketts remembered what Wilde's study looked like:

His small study in Tite Street was painted buttercup yellow, the woodwork lacquer red. On the walls hung a Monticelli, a Japanese painting of children at play, and a drawing by Simeon Solomon of Eros conversing with some youths dressed in the clothes worn in Shelley's boyhood. Behind the author's chair a red stand supported a cast from the bust of the Hermes by Praxiteles.
(Oscar Wilde, Recollections, 1932, pp. 34-35)

Later on, Ricketts's painting of Mr. W.H. would be hung there. He would make it after Wilde read him 'The Portrait of Mr. W.H.' and he would remember the author's description of a painting of Willie Hughes, 'a boy-actor of great beauty' to whom Shakespeare allegedly had presented his sonnets:

It was a full length portrait of a young man in late sixteenth-century costume, standing by a table, with his right hand resting on an open book. He seemed about seventeen years of age, and was of quite extraordinary personal beauty though evidently somewhat effeminate. Indeed, had it not been for the dress and the closely cropped hair, one would have said that the face, with its dreamy wistful eyes, and its delicate scarlet lips, was the face of a girl. In manner, and especially in the treatment of the hands, the picture reminded one of Fran├žois Clouet's later work. The black velvet doublet with its fantastically gilded points, and the peacock-blue background against which it showed up so pleasantly, and from which it gained such luminous value of colour, were quite in Clouet's style; and the two masks of Tragedy and Comedy that hung somewhat formally from the marble pedestal had that hard severity of touch - so different from the facile grace of the Italians - which even at the Court of France the great Flemish master never completely lost, and which in itself has always been a characteristic of the northern temper.
(The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. Volume VIII. The Short Fiction, 2017, pp. 260-261)


Charles Ricketts, portrait sketch of Mr. W.H.
[image: William Andrews Clark Library, Los Angeles,
with permission of Leonie Sturge Moore and Charmian O'Neil]
In a follow-up blog, Wilde collector Geoff Dibb - in 2013 he published a book about Oscar Wilde's lecture tours of Britain and Ireland, - will examine Wilde's texts more thoroughly.


Charles Ricketts, portrait sketch of Mr. W.H.
[image: William Andrews Clark Library, Los Angeles,
with permission of Leonie Sturge Moore and Charmian O'Neil]