Wednesday, August 26, 2020

474. The Adventure of The Venture (1903-1904)

In September 1903 a new annual, The Venture was announced. The first issue of the 'annual of art and literature' was first published in mid-November of that year, a second volume followed in November 1904 (dated 1905). After that, it was over.

The Venture 1903: cover, designed by Laurence Housman

The magazine is regularly mentioned in articles and monographs on authors and artists from that period, as it hosted such diverse people as James Joyce, W. Somerset Maugham, Thomas Hardy, Havelock Ellis, E. Gordon Craig, and of course Ricketts and Shannon. To start with the latter two: their presence is more out of politeness and their contributions are reprints of previously published wood-engravings, or reproductions of paintings. 

The Venture 1903: title and frontispiece, colour woodcut by Charles Shannon

Shannon contributed the frontispiece for the 1903 issue, 'The Dove Cot', a chiaroscuro roundel woodcut previously printed by the artist in 1898 (and later called 'The Porch'). [There is some uncertainty as to the date: in 1898 only six out of twelve woodcuts from this series were exhibited, but generally it is assumed that all twelve were made around the time.] Ricketts's wood-engraving, here called 'Psyche's Looking-Glass', had appeared in The Vale Press edition of Apuleius's story about Cupid and Psyche (The Excellent Narration of the Marriage of Cupide and Psyches, 1897): 'Psyches' Invisible Ministrants'.

The Venture 1903: contributions of Thomas Hardy and Charles Ricketts

One of the reasons to contribute to the magazine was their friendship with one of the two editors: Laurence Housman (1865-1959). The other one was W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965). Only the first year seems to have been edited by them. In the second volume (1905) the names of these editors no longer occur. Those of Ricketts and Shannon do. They allowed the annual to publish reproductions of two paintings: Shannon's 'The Bath of Venus' and Ricketts's 'Centaur Idyll'.

Housman recalled: 'My one experiment in editing was not a success, though I think it deserved to be. I was asked to edit, and collect contributors for a new annual called The Venture.' (See The Unexpected Years, 1937, page 202). Remarkably, he seems to have forgotten the name of his co-editor (he mentions his name as one of the collaborators). But what he had not forgotten was that the collaborators would not make a lot of money. 'It was to be on the profit-sharing system: no contributor was to be paid anything except on results'. Needless to say, no profit was made, 'not one of those distinguished contributors received a penny. And not one of them complained.'

The Venture 1905: poems by James Joyce

The Venture 1905:
Winifred Cayley Robinson, 'Mother and Child', facing poems by James Joyce

This did not apply to the second issue, which Housman failed to mention. James Joyce, for instance, simply needed money to survive, and some letters attest to his wish to be paid for the two poems that appeared in the second volume: 'I wrote to the Baillie of the Venture twice but no answer' (letter to Stanislaus Joyce, 7 February 1905). Apparently, Arthur Symons had alerted Joyce to The Venture. The letters do not give a definite answer about the possible payment for Joyce's contribution, but it is unlikely that he received any money. 

The Venture 1905: advertisement

The magazine was an expensive production (the first number was printed by The Pear Tree Press, the second one by The Arden Press), the retail price was high, the sales low. Although both volumes were mentioned and reviewed briefly in several newspapers, there were no advertisements for them in the press. There is only one, published in the second issue of The Venture itself: free publicity.  The advertisement is for the the first issue, which of course had not sold out.

The Venture 1905: title page

Meanwhile, a name is mentioned, which is missing from the letters and memoirs of almost all the artists and authors involved. John Baillie. His name does not occur in the biographies of Housman or Somerset Maugham, nor in those of Ricketts, or of authors such as Laurence Binyon (who contributed one poem to the 1903 issue), as if the publisher John Baillie played absolutely no part in the first volume, even though he was clearly mentioned on the title page of both issues. 

Joyce's letters, but also those of Gordon Bottomley (he contributed prose poems to volume 2) show that Baillie not only published the second volume at his own risk, but also edited it. (Next blog will focus on these letters.)

Who was John Baillie? In Great Britain, he is chiefly known as the owner of a small art gallery, active between 1901 and 1914, and as the publisher of The Venture. In New Zealand, he is remembered as a key figure in the establishment of New Zealand's national art collection. (See Tony Mackle's article 'The Enterprising John Baillie, Artist, Art Dealer and Entrepreneur' in Tunhinga (2017).]

John Baillie, portrait in Free Lance, 20 April 1912

Baillie was born in Wellington in 1868 where his father had a book and stationary business. From 1891 onwards, he exhibited water colours and paintings at the annual shows of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, for which he was treasurer in 1892 and 1893. He was also involved in the Wellington Art Club. In 1896, he departed for London where he worked as an artist. He soon returned to New Zealand to continue his career as an artist, but in 1899 he again sailed for London and established himself in a studio at 210, Kings Road, Chelsea, receiving encouraging reviews by the art critic Frank Rutter. However, around 1901 he decided to become an artists' agent, exploiting his own studio and home as a gallery, in 1902 moving to Bayswater. This is the address mentioned in The Venture: 1, Princes Terrace, Hereford Road, W. In 1904 and 1905, he went on a tour in America, and then moved to 54 Baker Street. By 1908, the gallery had relocated to 13 Burton Street, Mayfair.

The gallery hosted a series of small exhibitions, sometimes accompanied by catalogues. There were shows of Paul Maitlane's paintings in 1901, English and New Zealand landscape painters (1902), drawings and woodcuts by Edward Gordon Craig (1902), his own water colours (1903), the work of George Wilson (1903), drawings, sketches and woodcuts by Laurence and Clemence Housman (1903), drawings by James Guthrie (1903), drawings and sketches by Constance Halford (1903), Simeon Solomon (1905-1906), and James Hamilton Hay (1910), among others. His niche was that of the neglected artists. There were also annual shows of flower paintings (starting in 1905), and more famous artists contributed works to Baillie's exhibitions, such as Walter Sickert and Lucien Pissarro. In the Summer of 1906, he exhibited pictures by Glyn Philpot, in the years 1911-1913 works by Scottish post-Impressionists were on display. In 1909, the British Museum bought four Henry Ospovat drawings from Baillie's gallery. He had managed to reach an audience.

In 1911, the New Zealand Academy of Arts wanted to form a national collection of pictures, and Baillie was asked to select pictures that were to be approved by Royal Academician George Clausen. (For more details about the selection, and the Wellington exhibition that followed, see Mackle's article.) In 1914, Baillie returned to New Zealand, where he exhibited his own photographs. In 1919 he took the post of librarian of the Municipal Free Public Library in New Plymouth. He died in 1926.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

473. John Keats's "Pot of Basil"

John Keats was one of Charles Ricketts's three favourite authors - the other two were Catullus and Baudelaire. Shortly before the First World War, Ricketts even wrote a libretto for a ballet, based on Keats's poem 'Lamia' - in those days, he was completely under the spell of the Ballets Russes, meeting and entertaining at Landsdowne House Nijinski, Diaghilev, and Bakst, among others. (The unpublished libretto is British Library, Add. MS 61724.)

Vale Press edition of John Keats, Poems (1898): volume two:
'Isabella' with initial F designed by Charles Ricketts

In 1898, the Vale Press published a two-volume edition of Keats's poems, including 'Isabella, or the Pot of Basil', decorated with a large initial 'F' incorporating laurel leaves.

This edition did not contain illustrations. However, Ricketts made at least one drawing for this poem by Keats, inscribed 'Pot of Basil', and signed with his initials 'C.R.' This sketch is in the British Library (acc. no. 1946,0209.92): 60 mm (height) by 50 mm (width).

Charles Ricketts, 'Pot of Basil' (sketch)
British Museum, London, Creative Commons license,
with permission of the executors of the Charles Ricketts estate, Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmain O'Neil

The pen and ink drawing, with touches of graphite, depicts a female figure wearing a long gown, kneeling in a small room, embracing a pot of basil. Not all details have been worked out, even the pot of basil is only rudimentary.

Keats's narrative poem is an adaptation from a story in Boccaccio's Decameron. Isabella will be married off to a nobleman, but she falls in love with Lorenzo, an employee of one of her brothers. Lorenzo is murdered by them, and buried, but Isabella in a dream learns where his body is hidden. She takes the head home, and keeps it in a garden-pot with a basil plant. She anxiously guards the pot, but at some point her brothers find out, take the pot and disappear without a trace. Isabella pines away.

It was a popular theme for painters, who usually illustrated the same scene, just like Ricketts: the phase in which she guards the pot with her lover's head. Pre-Raphaelite painters such as William Holman Hunt (interior scene) and John William Waterhouse (in a garden) depicted Isabella and her pot of basil. John Everett Millais selected an earlier scene with Lorenzo serving (and courting) Isabella at a banquet. Different in- and outdoor scenes were drawn by Jessie M. King (1907) and W.B. MacDougall (1898), whose illustrated editions were among many others.

Ricketts's sketch has never been published before.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

472. Summer

The Magazine of Art of April 1892 used a headpiece drawn by Charles Ricketts for an (unrelated) article on 'Painter-Etching'. The drawing symbolises one of the four seasons, 'Summer'. 

Charles Ricketts, 'Summer' (1892)

A reclining nymph is surrounded by four putti, a peacock, lilies, waterlilies, and a butterfly, around a pond. The title is drawn in a cartouche in the upper left hand corner.

This was a genre of decorative drawing that earned Ricketts some money. He also got more journalistic assignments, which were perhaps less to his taste. 

The very same month he published a completely different drawing in Black & White: 'The Coal Famine – Poor Children Gleaning Coal on the Banks of the Thames at Limehouse'.

Charles Ricketts, 'The Coal Famine' (1892)

The first drawing was based on fantasy, the second was probably drawn from a photograph.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

471. Wrapper Design for Shaw's Saint Joan

The online auction "British & European Art" by Christie's (London), which ran from 7 to 29 July, featured an original design drawing by Charles Ricketts for the dust jacket of G.B. Shaw's Saint Joan (1924).  

The book is a sumptuous publication by Constable, with illustrations and a cover by Ricketts, who also designed the dust jacket. 

Charles Ricketts (design) for the dust jacket of G.B. Shaw, Saint Joan (1924)

The cover is printed in blue and shows Joan of Arc on the stake, but symbolically: she floats above the flames in a position reminiscent of Christ on the cross. 

The sketch measures 44.8 cm by 31.1 cm, a fraction larger than the final printed image, as usual. For a better reproduction, drawings were slightly larger, so that details remained clearly visible.

Charles Ricketts, sketch for the dust jacket of G.B. Shaw, Saint Joan (1924)

This seems to be the final drawing before it was transferred photographically and printed on heavy paper.

Some parts have been heightened in white, and especially the lettering caused problems. In the word STAGE the distance between the G and the E is a bit too large, the letters of BY (one line below) are somewhat too close to each other. 

Charles Ricketts, sketch for the dust jacket
of G.B. Shaw, Saint Joan (1924)

Ricketts gave that drawing away and then, at the bottom right, outside the line border, wrote a dedication: "To [????] from C. Ricketts", unfortunately with an unreadable name and without a date.

Minimum bid for this framed sketch was £3,500, price realised was: £5,625.