Wednesday, November 11, 2020

485. The Smoker

Both Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon were heavy smokers and their friends also enjoyed smoking a cigarette. Oscar Wilde, for example, was a chain smoker.  

In 1896, Shannon made a lithograph called 'Le Fumeur' (The Smoker), a portrait of their friend the artist Reginald Savage. We see dark areas that may represent smoke, but their origins are unclear.

Charles Shannon, 'Le Fumeur' (1896)
[British Museum. Creative Commons License]

We do not know exactly what Shannon smoked, but around 1920, his tobacco stock may have included cigarettes of the De Reszke brand. This is what we learn from a 1920 advertisement in The Tatler in which he promotes the brand.

From The Tatler, 17 November 1920

In he 1880s Jacob Millhoff (1860?-1925) arrived in London to establish a cigarette company that allegedly produced a brand of tobacco that would not damage a singer's voice, not even that of the famous Polish opera singer Jean de Reszke (1850-1925), after whom Millhoff was allowed to name his brand. The "Reszke" was advertised as "The Aristocrat of Cigarettes".

Drawing by Reginald Edward Higgins
(The Tatler, 17 November 1920)

In 1920, the cigarette manufacturer developed a campaign published in luxury magazines such as The Tatler and Vogue. Published as a series called "A Man's Year", every month a new advertisement appeared with a specially made drawing of the artist Reginald Edward Higgins (1877-1933). The first episode appeared in February 1920. Below the image were recommendations from celebrities such as the painter Augustus John. Each time a place was shown where the cigarette was indispensable: "Henley", "The Highland", "The R.A." (The Royal Academy) "The Ritz", and finally "At Home". That tenth episode (November 1920) contained a recommendation by Charles Shannon A.R.A.

Shannon wrote:

I find 'De Reszke' Cigarettes excellent in every way. One could not wish for a better cigarette.

Anyone could have made the same point - Augustus John practically used the same words - so the question is whether Shannon really wrote this, or whether he wrote it as a thank-you note after receiving a free carton of cigarettes? And why did not his answer embellish the advertisement with the Royal Academy image?

[Thanks are due to John Aplin, who alerted me to the advertisement in The Tatler.]