Wednesday, December 25, 2019

439. Ricketts's Costumes, but When and Where?

After Ricketts's death, Thomas Sturge Moore and Gordon Bottomley (among others) tried to take stock of the artist's work. Bottomley tried to establish for which stage performances Ricketts had designed sets and costumes. In a letter from Sturge Moore to Bottomley (probably received by the latter on 25 May 1932) Moore admits that his memories of some performances are not clear.

Charles Ricketts, design (1915) for The Three Women
in W.B. Yeats, On Baile's Strand

T.S. Moore wrote in answer to some of Bottomley's querries:

I also saw the King’s Baile’s Strand at the Avenue Theatre I think, which was nearly entirely by C.R. with I fancy a painted scene[,] but my memory is not good. Anyway there was some extraordinary and very pleasing colour grouping. I cannot understand my memory for my one dim dim recollection is of an outdoor seaside scene[,] and the whole of the play takes place in an interior[:] was it perhaps not Baile’s Strand but another play and if so which? I remember the kind of greens and browns and the effect of the costumes[,] but nothing else. You see I had seen the play before[,] whichever it was[,] and was noting chiefly the picture. Was it perhaps Synge’s Deirdre? I think it must have been. But things I see only once I never remember well.
[Transcribed by, and courtesy of, John Aplin]

The two plays were on the repertoire at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and were performed by the Irish Players. Every year they made a tour to London, where Ricketts and Shannon attended the performances and apparently Moore as well. One play was by W.B Yeats, On Baile's Strand (first performed in 1904) and the other was by J.M. Synge, Deirdre of the Sorrows (1910). But Ricketts did not design the costumes for the first performances, but for a later tour, which in some reference works is dated May-June 1915. Ifan Kyrle Fletcher published a 'Chronological List of Charles Ricketts's Productions' in Theatre Notebook, Autumn 1967, mentioning May-June 1915 for the re-enactments of these two plays and a third of Synge, The Well of the Saints. Some of the costumes for these are illustrated and commented on by Richard Allen Cave in Charles Ricketts' Stage Designs (1987). Eric Binnie also discusses the performances in The Theatrical Designs of Charles Ricketts (1985) and he quotes Ricketts's diary about the rehearsals.

However, the dates are nowhere specified. Luckily there is 'The British Newspapers Archive' and with a thorough search the dates of the tour of the Irish Theatre can be found. Their London season started on May 10 and ended on June 5, 1915.

The Globe, 5 June 1915, page 2
The performances did not take place in the Avenue Theatre as Moore thought, but in the Little Theatre. The season consisted of four weeks with different plays on the repertoire each week. The program with the plays of Synge and Yeats was the last of the four and ran from Monday, May 31 until Saturday, June 5.

The Stage, 27 May 1915, page 19
They were performed on Friday and Saturday (on the last day there was both a matinee and an evening performance).

Charles Ricketts, design (1915) for Deirdre in J.M. Synge, Deirdre of the Sorrows

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

438. A Ricketts Quote on YouTube

Videos on YouTube featuring Charles Ricketts are rare, but there are a few. Relatively new is a quote from Ricketts in a short movie about Oscar Wilde, part of a series of Daily Quotes.

Charles Ricketts in Best 20 Quotes about Oscar Wilde (2019)

The video is called Best 20 Quotes about Oscar Wilde and was posted in August 2019. Against a backdrop of meaningless and royalty-free music, we see a procession of quotations appear on screen, one after the other, most of Wilde's own by the way, while the images are incomprehensible and unrelated to the content. First we see the head of a woman with long brown hair, then a landscape with farms and trees, a purple field, snow on the side of a road, a slope on the shore of a lake and finally a cloudy sky above the sea.

A number of Wilde's wisdoms are followed by statements by others about him. This is a colourful company: G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Parker, Gyles Brandreth, Robbie Ross, David Levithan, and Charles Ricketts. His quote about Wilde comes into the picture after 3 minutes 44 seconds before disappearing at 4.04.

When in Reading Gaol he told me that the warders in the dock had been gentle and kind, but the visit of the chaplain in his first prison began with these words: 'Mr. Wilde, did you have prayers in your house?' 'I am sorry... I fear not.' 'You see where you are now![']

Charles Ricketts, Oscar Wilde. Recollections (1932)
The quote comes from Oscar Wilde. Recollections by Jean Paul Raymond & Charles Ricketts (1932), a posthumous publication in which the passage is presented as a conversation (on page 22). Ricketts said about Wilde that he was 'the kindest and most childlike nature' he had ever met.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

437. The Picture of A Headcap

The terminology of the auction houses does not always coincide with that of the bibliographer or the collector. One tries to sell an object, the other to describe it, the third to admire it. Auction houses therefore do not always describe defects in books clearly or consistently, so as not to distract too much attention from the desirability of an object, especially when its price runs into the thousands. In that case, damage (no matter how small) has the greatest impact on the price.

In my opinion it is unwise to buy a defective or poor copy of a desirable book, because it is precisely the unevenness that is most noticeable with each inspection of the book. The price slowly disappears from your memory (although you sometimes realize that instead of buying a book, you can also have your entire house painted); but a worn spine will stare at you forever.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, cover design by Charles Ricketts (1891):
deluxe copy no 136
At the auction of the collection Ribes, a copy of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray will be sold, a deluxe copy, signed by Wilde: number 136 of the 250 (there were also 1000 unsigned copies in a smaller size).

All copies of this edition are fragile. The deckled edges are often worn, the spine can come loose, or the book may have been re-bound at the behest of previous collectors or bookdealers and in those cases Ricketts's design is completely lost.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, cover design by Charles Ricketts (1891):
deluxe copy no 136 (detail)
The description of the auction house is extremely cautious about the faults: 'Coiffes restaurĂ©es'. That is: the headcap has been restored.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, cover design by Charles Ricketts (1891):
deluxe copy no 136 (detail)
An image clearly shows that there is more going on. The joint is completely covered with a strip of linen; part of the front cover seems to be missing. It is a poorly restored copy of which the spine has probably become completely loose and several pieces of the boards are missing, affecting the overall design. 

But the price of a deluxe copy of this book has been high for years; even a bad copy is still estimated at thousands of euros. In the past, such a bad copy wouldn't have reached Sotheby's rooms.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

436. Charles Ricketts Drawn by Charles Shannon

Charles Ricketts often served as a model for Charles Shannon, and is portrayed in oil paintings, lithographs and a single caricature by the artist. Among the lesser known works is an etching that probably dates from the late 1890s. 

Charles Shannon, Portrait of Charles Ricketts (c 1896)
[Image: British Museum, London,
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]
This copy of the drypoint on thin cream paper from the collection of the British Museum (museum number: 1949,0411.449) seems to be a unique print. It is quite small: 14,9 x 9,9 cm. In it, Ricketts is standing, holding a large sheet, probably a lithograph or a drawing.

The print came from the art collection of Howard Bliss (1894-1977), and, was acquired by the British Museum from art historian Campbell Dodgson on 6 December 1944 for £3.10.0. It is signed in pencil by Shannon.