Wednesday, July 29, 2020

470. An Early Dutch Collector: Emilie van Kerckhoff (2)

[Continued from last week's blog about the artist and collector Emilie van Kerckhoff:]

In 1897 - aged 32 - Emilie van Kerckhoff was one of the major contributors to modern book art for an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. 

Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (c. 1895)

This was a wide-ranging book exhibition, displaying works from all periods and countries. The (novel) attention for the modern book was mentioned by several newspapers. A trade journal of typographers, Ons Vakbelang (Our Trade Interest), published a report that mentioned her name in relation to the rooms that were devoted to modern books:


Contemporary books also were on display [in this room], especially a fine collection of Kelmscott Press editions, submitted by Mrs. Emilie van Kerckhoff, from The Hague.

(Ons Vakbelang, 15 August 1897)


The publishers Van Gogh (Amsterdam) and Edmond Deman (Brussels) had also submitted works for this section.


From this reference we know that she was one of the earliest collectors of the Kelmscott Press in the Netherlands, and certainly the first female collector.


That she had money to spend on books is also evident from another special copy in her collection, an example of Dutch art nouveau, one of ten copies printed on Japanese paper of La Jeunesse Inaltérable et la Vie Eternelle (1898) [dated 1897]. This modern deluxe book contained etchings by Marius Bauer and etched head and tail pieces by G.W. Dijsselhof. In February 2008, this particular copy was auctioned at Sotheby's with the Schiller-David collection in which it had ended up.

Emilie van Kerckhoff's copy of
La Jeuness Inaltérable et la Vie Eternelle (Sotheby's)
[details of cover and of bookplate on endpaper]

But Emilie van Kerckhoff also owned (at least) two books designed by Ricketts: she possessed a copy of The Sphinx (mentioned in , but she also owned a copy of Christopher Marlowe's Hero and Leander, with wood engravings by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon, bound in parchment (this copy was offered for sale in 1994, see catalogue 50, Die Schmiede). These books represent, it is thought, the tip of the iceberg of a collection that was both contemporary and rich, and, moreover, owned by a single-minded Dutch woman.

Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (1894)
Cover design by Charles Ricketts
Emilie van Kerckhoff's copy

Perhaps, these books may be a key to her own book and bookplate designs. Recently, Leiden University Library acquired a unique portfolio designed by Van Kerckhoff, apparently for her own use. (See Kasper van Ommen, 'Friends of Leiden University Libraries generously support acquisitions for the Nieuwe Kunst collection', Leiden Special Collections Blog, June 25, 2020The binding is divided into several bays by double lines in gold and is decorated with floral motifs in light and dark blue. The initials on the front cover are further decorated by five small circles and two stars in gold and small brown dots. The back of the binding is less exuberant in decoration. The decoration is most likely to be influenced by the work of Nieuwenhuis, who designed several similar luxury objects.'

Portfolio designed by Emilie van Kerckhoff
(Leiden University Library)

The disappearance of her own book collection is a serious setback, not only because it could have put her own work in perspective, but primarily because of the exceptional character of this early modern, female collection of 1890s book art.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

469. An Early Dutch Collector: Emilie van Kerckhoff (1)

Recently a copy of Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx was auctioned at Burgersdijk & Niermans in Leiden. It was an ordinary copy, in reasonable condition, with the parchment cover and illustrations designed by Charles Ricketts. Special was that it had been owned by a female Dutch book collector who probably bought it in the 1890s. Her small blue bookplate (41x35 mm), designed by the collector herself, probably around the same time, shows seed balls and flowers of the poppy. (For other books, she used a second bookplate that measures 61x60 mm.)

Bookplate of Emilie v[an] Kerckhoff (c.1890s)

The name of the collector is Emilie van Kerckhoff. She was born in 1867 in Zwolle - almost a contemporary of Ricketts. She came from a settled family, her father Henri van Kerckhoff, born in Rotterdam, became a lawyer, and later a judge at the district court in Zwolle. In 1876, he was appointed counsel at the Court of Appeal in Arnhem. Her mother, Emelia van Dooren, came from Tilburg and died in Arnhem in 1890. Her father died nine years later.


From 1885 to around 1891, Emilie studied at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, and followed a painting course. She became a decorative artist, designing embroidery (for cushions and book bindings, among other things), publishers’ bindings, and her own bookplate. These were exhibited at the important National Exhibition for Women's Labour (Nationale Tentoonstelling voor Vrouwenarbeid) in 1898.


Later, she gained fame through drawings and watercolours made during travels, especially in Indonesia. She wrote extensive articles about her journeys for various magazines. Her first trip to Java was the subject of a book, Java, Beelden van Volksleven en Bedrijf (Images of Folk Life and Commerce), published in November 1912 by Scheltema & Holkema's Boekhandel in Amsterdam. The book contained her own text that accompanied 48 colour lithographs. The binding was decorated with a title ornament designed by Van Kerckhoff.

Design for spine and binding of Java (1912)
by Emilie van Kerckhoff
[from: Catalogus van de Werken
Uitgegeven door Scheltema & Holkema's
Boekhandel te Amsterdam en
Verzorgd door K. Groesbeek,
1882-januari-1922 (1922-1923)]

In the meantime, two remarkable events had taken place. In 1898 she had moved in with her (openly lesbian) friend, the painter Sara de Swart. Until 1914 they lived together in Laren, in the centre of the Netherlands. There they received many guests from home and abroad. De Swart had lived in Paris for several years and knew many artists and authors, such as Rodin and Eleonore Duse. In 1914, however, her money ran out and the two of them split up. That is to say, from now on they lived separately, at a short distance from each other.


The next step brought her to Rome where Van Kerckhoff wrote about Pompei and the temple of Vesta. At the end of the First World War she moved to Capri where a house could be built for her at Anacapri: Casa Surya. Assisted by friends, De Swart settled in a studio apartment nearby. At that time they got acquainted with English, Irish and Americans who resided on the island: Axel Munthe, Alan and Eleanor Gregg, Paul Dudley White, James Cousins and Rose O'Neill. More trips and articles followed, as well as a book about Italian villas and gardens. During the Second World War they were forced to live in Rome; in 1951 her friend De Swart died, in 1954 she returned to the Netherlands, where she died in 1960.

Jan Veth, Portrait of Emilie van Kerckhoff
[Drawing. Collection Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The second extraordinary feature was her collection. Although nothing was left of the collection at the time of her death, as much was given away, or sold, Van Kerckhoff must have owned an interesting collection of modern books quite early on. This is evident from three books containing her bookplate and from her involvement in an exhibition of modern book art.

[To be continued.]

Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (1894)
Copy from the collection of
Emilie van Kerckhoff

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

468. A Bit of History:

Nine years ago, on 20 July 2011, I began this blog. Before that, I managed an 'eGroup' about Ricketts. To be honest, I had forgotten all about that. The other day, among a stash of miscellaneous papers, I found the printed-out email correspondence.

Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon (blog No 1, 20 July 2011)

The eGroup allowed users to create a mailing list, or sign up for membership. It was a simple means of group communication. The eGroup address was, and, apparently, I had started the list somewhere early in 2000.

The services for this kind of 'email list management web site' were available since 1997, the name eGroups appeared in 1998, and had around 250.000 users at the time. The company behind it was sold and resold a couple of times, before it was bought by Yahoo in August 2000. 

Twenty years later, in January 2020, Yahoo deleted all content from the mailing groups.

The mails that were recovered - this concerned a large pile of irregular and unsorted papers waiting to be properly archived - were dated 21 November 2000 through 19 January 2001. 

William McKeown,
England's Giorgione (2005)

One of the subscribers was William McKeown, who introduced himself as an art student from the States, working on a doctoral dissertation on the paintings and lithographs of Charles Shannon. In 2005, his dissertation earned him a Ph.D from Florida State University. It is called: England's Giorgione: Charles H. Shannon and Venetianism in Late Victorian England. He is currently Associate Professor at the University of Memphis Department of Art.

His publications include an article about Shannon in The Burlington Magazine of May 2010: 'Shannon in the House of Delia: a Theme from Tibullus in a Painting by Charles Hazelwood Shannon'. He also presented conference papers on Shannon: in 2004, at Southeastern College Art Conference, Jacksonville, Florida, he talked about 'The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili as a Source for Ricketts and Shannon's Daphnis and Chloe illustrations', and in 2010 he presented a paper on Shannon at Southeastern College Art Conference, Richmond, Virginia: 'Charles H. Shannon and his Patrons in the Late Victorian and Edwardian Art World.' His other publications are about John Ruskin.

When he joined the list, I answered him that 'the list is not really active', and that, although I knew Ricketts and Shannon enthusiasts in the USA, Canada, and Great Britain, none of them had become subscribers: 'Right now, we are the only members of the list.' In fact, I had just re-subscribed myself because of his enquiry, as I had unsubscribed from the list during the previous year, as nothing was happening there.

Well, a few new members subscribed sometime later, including a collector, and a member who stated that Shannon was his great-uncle. And then, again, silence. 

Luckily, this blog's history is different.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

467. Three Spine Designs by Charles Ricketts

Charles Ricketts made quite a few designs for his friends, Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper who wrote under the name Michael Field. Their books have special decorations, decorative papers, frontispieces, bindings, and more, all designed by the artist.

In the years 1912-1914, he designed a series of three volumes for collections of poetry: Poems of Adoration (1912), Mystic Trees (1913), and Dedicated (1914). Although it appears to be a uniform series in terms of execution, the volumes were issued by three different publishers: Sands & Co., Eveleigh Nash, and G. Bell & Sons Ltd.

Michael Field,
three spine designs
by Charles Ricketts

The spines of the linen bindings are more or less identically designed and show the names of the author and publisher, the title, as well as some horizontal lines printed in gold. The first two volumes display the circled dots - one of Ricketts's favourite design features.

The third binding lacks these circled dots, but has a more elaborate decoration of two laurel wreaths, and a thyrsus (a staff topped with a pine cone). 

The first two volumes contain the religious (catholic) poems from later years, the last volume contains 'early work' that is more hedonistic, or even pagan. 

The design is similar to that by Selwyn Image who combined symbols of paganism with those of fidelity; this was used for several books. He combine the staff with two interlocking rings symbolizing the love of the two women.

Selwyn Image, design for
Underneath the Bough.

The first poem of Dedicated is about Dionysus Zagreus, which explains the staff (a symbol of him). In this poem Dionysus escapes his 'hunters' (who will tear him apart according to mythology), and following his father's bird (Zeus's messenger), he makes his own laurel wreath:

I, the rejected, hunted, mad, unwelcome,
I weave these tragic bunches in a wreath,
Fit crown for ever, of my misery

Ricketts provided this volume with a visual and symbolic spine design - why the other two were much more sober, remains a (probably financial) mystery.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

466. The "Outer Wrapper" of "The Pageant" for 1897

The dust wrapper for the second volume of The Pageant (for 1897, published in 1896) has been mentioned here earlier. It is an outstanding and early example of a multi-colour dust wrapper. I recently found a description of it written shortly after The Pageant was published - no other review discusses this feature.

Dust wrapper for The Pageant (for 1897),
designed by J.W. Gleeson White

The Morning Post of 15 December 1896 had the honour:

"The Pageant" […] that is now paraded for the second time before the public is evidently intended […] to be an annual display […] [it] is at least not devoid of humorous incidents rivalling those usually to be found in the civic procession. Three separate pages of varied appearance are devoted to the names and functions of the editors; but while on the first it is stated that Mr. C. Hazelwood Shannon is the art editor, and that Mr. Gleeson White is the literary editor, the reader learns from the third that their positions are to a certain extend reversible, inasmuch as the art editor has planned the printing of the book, while the outer wrapper is the conception of the literary editor. Mr. Gleeson White has amusingly demonstrated that his idea of illustrating a pageant is to hide all but a few pantomime flags and lances by a hideous red-brick wall; but he has imparted an original aspect to his design by dividing it into eight equal spaces with vertical green poles, from which sprout leaves treated "decoratively."

It's a witty observation of a truly unusual design. The dust wrapper of this book gives no idea of its contents; the pageant is hidden. However, there are pigeons to be seen that give hope of life on the other side of the wall; the flowers also symbolizing spring. 

There is no gate that gives access to the grounds behind the wall, and so the dust wrapper represents its own task in the book as an object. The reader will have to get past this wrapper, past the linen binding and the title page to enter the area that contains the literary and artistic contents. This symbolism is quite uncommon for this period, but then, the maker, J.W. Gleeson White, was an extraordinary editor and designer.