Wednesday, September 2, 2020

475. John Baillie, Ricketts and Shannon

Gallery owner John Baillie - see blog 274 The Adventure of The Venture (1903-1904) - was the publisher of the deluxe magazine The Venture and for the second issue he himself acted as editor. This is evident from James Joyce's letters. Joyce had no contact with any other parties involved. After the first volume was published in November 1903, several authors and artists contacted Baillie - they wrote to him as a gallery owner and as a publisher. So they did not write to the editors of The Venture (Housman or Maugham).

The Venture 1903 and The Venture 1905
(published 1903-1904)

James Hamilton Hay and Gordon Bottomley

In February 1904, the artist James Hamilton Hay (1874-1916) visited Baillie in his gallery. He thought him 'a very sympathetic youngish man': 'he is an Artist and very kind'. Hay wrote these words in a letter to the author Gordon Bottomley (dated 3 February 1904). Bottomley had contacted Baillie in his capacity as publisher, Hay spoke to him as an organiser of an exhibition in his Liverpool studio hoping for potential loans of works of art from Baillie. Baillie promised 'a case full of good things', including works by Reginald Savage, James McNeill Whistler, Charles Ricketts, Charles Shannon, Laurence Housman, William Rothenstein, James Guthrie, and others. Whether Baillie ultimately lent the works of Ricketts and Shannon is unclear. Hay himself paid the artists a visit shortly afterwards, and they may have sent him the necessary works of art themselves. Bottomley saw the show in April, and recorded that there were works by Balmer, Shannon ('heaps of Shannon lithographs'), Muirhead Bone, Augustus John, and others (letter to Joan Fletcher, 6 April 1904).

Invitation to an exhibition in The Gallery of John Baillie, c.1902-1905

Hay had written in February: 'I was at Baillie's yesterday & strange to say we came to speak of you. Baillie seemed very pleased with a letter you had sent him.' Baillie and Hay discussed Bottomley's forthcoming book The Gates of Smaragdus illustrated by Clinton BalmerBoth Bottomley and Balmer would contribute to the second number of The Venture later that year. On the same date, 3 February 1904, Bottomley wrote to his future wife Emily Burton (they married a year later) that Baillie 'invited me into the next Venture'. Yet again, 'the pay depends on the success of the number (this one has not paid)'. Bottomley suggested to Baillie to publish or exhibit works by his friend Hay and Balmer. Works by Hay were included in Baillie's shows, and in the Summer of 1910, Hay got his own show at the gallery.

In April, Bottomley decided to send an 'essay' to The Venture, later calling it 'the things'. In the end, The Venture published 'Old Songs', a series of four prose poems based on the stories of Fair Rosamund (medieval ballads and chronicles), Paolo and Francesca (Dante), Faust (Goethe), and Juliet and Romeo (Shakespeare). At first Bottomley noticed that Baillie apparently admired him very much: he 'is as deferential to me as if I were buried in Poets' Corner' (letter to Ben Fletcher, 16 March 1904). After their first meeting he characterised him somewhat less sympathetically as 'a footman': 'Baillie has the aspect and manners of a footman who would like to have a soul above his position but doesn't know how'. (Letter to Emily Burton, 16 May 1904). In June, Baillie wrote about the Balmer illustrations for the new Venture. In October, Bottomley sent a poem to Baillie, but it was too late for inclusion in the second Venture. In November a prospectus was published, and on 22 November The Venture 1905 was published.

Frank Brangwyn, 'The Citadel', in The Venture 1905

Publisher and Booking Office

This annual was not Baillie's only publication. In December 1904, concurrently with The Venture 1905, he published The Dream Garden. A Children's Annual. After its first issue, the title was discontinued. Apparently, Baillie believed he could serve an adult audience as well as children. The Speaker announced both in 'Books of the Week' (17 December 1904), but only related the contents of The Venture. The critic praised the 'pictures, which are admirably reproduced'. However, Frank Brangwyn's woodcut in two colours was executed far better than, for example, Ricketts's painting 'Centaur Idyl' for which a rather coarse grid was used, and as a result the image is rather vague and muddy. In 2007, Carl Woodring wrote that this painting had been exhibited in 1902 as 'Nessus and Dejanira', and that 'all in the art world of London would have recognized the models for Nessus and stolen bride as Ricketts and Shannon' ('Centaurs Unnaturally Fabulous', in Wordsworth Circle, January 2007). Woodring could study the painting closely, as he owned it (it is now part of his collection at Rice University).

John Baillie was first and foremost a gallery owner who was always looking for other avenues. In 1902, he acted as a booking office for a performance of Laurence Housman play 'Bethlehem' in the Great Hall of the University of London. Tickets were for sale at Baillie's gallery, 'no money being taken at the doors' of the university.

Exhibition of Ricketts and Shannon

Searching for material about John Baillie, I surprisingly came across of an unknown exhibition in his gallery with works by Ricketts and Shannon. A catalogue was issued, but is very rare now; no copy seems to have been preserved in the series in the V&A National Art Library.

A review appeared in The Daily Mirror on 14 December 1903: 'In the Art World. Three Remarkable Picture Shows and a New Annual'.

After discussing an exhibition at Warwick House, the reviewer devoted four paragraphs to John Baillie's gallery and The Venture.

There are two more exhibitions of works of art which can be warmly recommended to those interested in original artistic endeavours: C.J. Collings's water-colour drawings at the Dowdeswell Galleries, and a triple show of woodcuts by C.S. Ricketts, lithographs  by C.H. Shannon, and fans by Mrs. L. Murray Robertson, at The Gallery, 1, Prince's-terrace, Hereford-road, W.

The little gallery in Bayswater, though far from the exhibition centre, is rapidly acquiring an excellent reputation for the quality of the works shown, the commonplace being strictly banished from its walls.

The review continues to describe Robertson's fans. 

From the catalogue, preserved in the collection of Mark Samuels Lasner at the University of Delaware, we learn that 23 fans were on display. Ricketts's part in the exhibition comprised four wood-engravings presumably for the recent Latin edition of Cupid and Psyche and three wood-engravings for Hero and Leander. There were twenty-two illustrations by Ricketts and Shannon published in Daphnis and Chloe. Shannon's part was larger: he exhibited one etching ('Master Hargood'), eighteen lithographs, and eight chiaroscuro woodcuts.

[Thanks are due to: John Aplin for transcriptions of the letters from Hay and Bottomley that are held by the British Library; Lorraine Janzen Kooistra for pointing out that a copy of the catalogue has been preserved in the collection of Mark Samuels Lasner; and Mark Samuels Lasner for providing a digitised copy of the catalogue.]

[This blog post was partly rewritten in June 2023].