Wednesday, December 2, 2020

488. A Century of Art (2)

The 1911 Grafton Galleries exhibition on art between 1810 and 1910 was accompanied by Charles Ricketts's booklet A Century of Art 1810-1910 (published by Carfax & Co). Ricketts's notes about the Pre-Raphaelite paintings and sketches in Room II of the exhibition halls were quoted in last week's blog No. 487 A Century of Art (1). The third and last chapter in the booklet was about the 'End Gallery. Drawings and Prints', this section contained some more paragraphs about the same artists.

A Century of Art [by Charles Ricketts]

The Pre-Raphaelites

William Holman Hunt, 'Claudio and Isabella' (painting, 1850) [detail]
[Tate Gallery London]
I find it difficult to add to what I have already said before their pictures concerning the art of the Pre-Raphaelites. This collection of drawings by which they are represented here is equally important; perhaps it is even more representative. Madox Brown is on the whole well-represented, but he has left no such series of drawings as his younger contemporaries. The same is true of Holman Hunt; his drawing for his famous picture "Claudio and Isabella" (No. 223) is a fortunate exception; it stands alone in his life-work, and makes one wonder how it came to be almost unique among his drawings in the delicacy and force of its workmanship. The young Pre-Raphaelite Deverel stood for the Claudio.

William Holman Hunt, 'Claudio and Isabella' (drawing, c. 1850)
[National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest 1907]

Despite the countless designs done for illustrations, Millais' Pre-Raphaelite drawings are rare. One of the best is fortunately here. It has the further interest of bearing upon one of his most remarkable works, namely "The Carpenter's Shop." No. 225 has the merit of belonging to this charmed epoch; it is, however, of a more occasional character. I do not think this design was ever carried out in more definitive form.

John Everett Millais, study for 'Christ in the House of His Parents' (c.1849)
[Tate Gallery, London]

It would be difficult to find grouped together a more notable set of Rossetti's early pen-drawings outside Birmingham, and perhaps the Print Room of the British Museum. The portrait of Miss Siddal (Mrs. Rossetti) (No. 227) has few equals among the many exquisite drawings Rossetti did of her. For dramatic intensity Nos. 230 and 231 are hard to match. No. 229 was done in preparation for the "Beatrice and Dante" panels painted for W. Morris. Remains the famous pen-drawing of "Magdalene at the Door of Simon the Pharisee" (No. 228), for which the artist wrote the sonnet beginning

   Why wilt thou cast the roses from thine hair?
   Nay, be thou all a rose—wreath, lips, and cheek.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti,
'Mary Magdalene at the Door of Simon the Pharisee' (1858)
[Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge]

Burne-Jones sat for the Head of Christ; the head of Swinburne is recalled in the principal reveller, and a fine study made for this figure, probably in view of a larger work, hangs next to it (No. 226). For years this famous pen-drawing had vanished, and was supposed lost. It has therefore never before been publicly exhibited. It was found some twelve years ago by the present owners in a furniture shop in the Brompton Road, and secured by them a few minutes after it had been taken there.*

Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal,
"The Quest of the Grail" (c. 1855)
The friends of Rossetti have been unanimous in praising the artistic gifts of Miss Siddal, whose exquisite presence and personality have found a record in many of her husband's choicest works and in the "Ophelia" by Millais. The tender little design "The Quest of the Grail" (No. 232) is here to speak of her as an artist. There is something at once remote and ethereal in its conception which has delighted us in "The River of Life" of William Blake. Shall I say it shows a swift and bird-like grace? I don't know if this can be said, and to admit it has "the lyric touch" leaves me unsatisfied; this is usually conceded to thin poetry of which nothing else can be said.

Edward Burne-Jones, sketch of two seated figures
for [?] "The Backgammon Players" (c. 1861)
[Tate Gallery, London]
Concerning Burne-Jones I am again at a loss to say what is not infinitely better expressed by the beautiful drawings before us. "The Backgammon Players" (No. 236) is, of its kind, difficult to match. Three exquisite contemporary drawings hang near, Nos. 234, 235, 239. The two designs by William Morris are at once typical of his draughtsmanship and facilities as a designer; his original works of this type at least are seldom seen; they must be left to speak for themselves.

Quoted from Charles Ricketts, A Century of Art 1810-1910. London, Carfax & Co., 1911, pp. 32-34. The catalogue does not contain a list of exhibited paintings, drawings and prints, nor does it contain illustrations. A separate list of the pictures was published by the Society: A Catalogue of the Pictures, Drawings, Prints and Sculpture at the Century of Art Exhibition of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers held at the Grafton Galleries, June and July, 1911. [A copy is in the National Art Library, V&A Museum, London: Historic Catalogues 200.B.208].

* This drawing was discovered by Ricketts and Shannon around 1898, and bequeathed to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.