Wednesday, January 27, 2021

496. The Complete Correspondence of Gordon Bottomley and Thomas Sturge Moore (2)

The correspondence between Sturge Moore and Bottomley (see last week's blog) begins in March 1906 when Bottomley asks Sturge Moore for permission to include some of his poems in a production of James Guthrie's Pear Tree Press. This first section of the online resource ‘The Complete Correspondence of Gordon Bottomley and Thomas Sturge Moore’ runs from 1906 through December 1917, and contains no less than 253 letters, which, when printed, occupy almost 400 pages. The editor's work has been a mammoth undertaking, and we have to admire his perseverance. 

Charles Shannon, 'T. Sturge Moore in a Cloak' (1896)

Sturge Moore very often proves to be a self-assured teacher, while Bottomley's letters regularly contain intimate biographical and witty paragraphs that make one understand why a rather unknown poet and dramatist was appreciated, for example, by Ricketts and Shannon. Sturge Moore is often annoyed by the overflowing admiration in Bottomley's letters, while the latter, in his northern English isolation, shows gratitude for every sign of life (in 1914 Bottomley moved to the Sheiling, Silverdale, where he and his wife Emily lived from then on).

In 1930 Sturge Moore's character would almost lead to a break, as editor John Aplin observes in a footnote to letter 103 (19 July 1913): Sturge Moore's 'stubborn unwillingness (or perhaps inability) to entertain the legitimacy of alternative points of view is characteristically displayed here, and would eventually result in GB coming close to breaking off their correspondence at the end of 1930.' An example is Moore's hard-hitting commentary on an early version of Bottomley's play King Lear's Wife. 

All your arguments are neither here nor there as far as my point of view is concerned. My dogma is not at all as you state it. Your defence merely restates the initial error of all impressionists, the pathetic fal[l]acy that there is somewhere in an artist something loyalty to which alone gives value to his work. I deny this in toto. [...] What you say about Michael Angelo is as wrong as what you say about Yeats & Whistler. Read in Art & Life what I say about visionary art, and you will understand how superficial your idea is.

Meanwhile, his criticism is so merciless that his wife had to intervene and the letter was accompanied by an introductory note that had to be read first (letter 117, 20-3 June 1914). Bottomley kept telling Sturge Moore that he appreciated his criticism:

I feel now that this fault, which you have disentangled so delicately and justly, pervades all my earlier work poems and makes them seem to be written in a dead language which was never spoken by more than one man […]. 
(Letter 8, 22 September 1908).

Behind Sturge Moore's sometimes furious letters are views that the French poet and philosopher Paul Valéry also expressed: 

There is no finality: nothing is ever really finished; nothing that is that counts, that lives. A work of art goes on living and changing its sense & its form long after the artists bones have mouldered into dust.

Bottomley perhaps understands Sturge Moore better than the other way around (this correspondence is interesting for that reason alone). He replies, for example:

when you hit hard it is because you like and expect the other man to hit hard too; and that if I did not do my best according to the truth of my nature you would despise me either as a shirker or a woolly head, and I should lose you
(Letter 118, 1 July 1914).

Thomas Sturge Moore, 'Pan Mountain' (1893)

In June 1908 the Bottomleys visited London and met Sturge Moore for the first time, which gave Gordon 'much gratification and delight': 

Your "Siegfried" engravings are [...] haunting; you have a power over the romance of primeval things which comes close to my own desires, and in this series it takes complete possession of me. I value them very truly, and I am planning to hang them side by side where I shall constantly see them.

(Letter 4, 31 July 1908).

Charles Ricketts, 'Nimrod' (1893)

Meanwhile, one of their mutual friends is mentioned for the first time in letter 6 (16 August 1908). Bottomley discusses Charles Ricketts's drawing of Nimrod, which he mentions in connection with gestures that he himself tries to capture in words:

I long to depict in words such sudden, expressive gestures as the upthrust elbow of the awakened woman in Ingres' "Stratonice", the aversion of the woman's head in Rossetti's "Found" (the pen drawing), the filmy spasm that passes across the face of Nimrod in that tremendous early drawing by Ricketts (in the de Tabley book), or the surge of the horse in the last block of your own "Siegfried" series.

Bottomley and Sturge Moore discussed art and literature (including the works of Flaubert), but also theatre and music, such as Wagner's operas. Sturge Moore considered Hugo von Hofmannsthal 'the greatest poet now alive' (letter 11, 30 November 1908), he especially loved Elektra (at that time not yet a Strauss opera).

Their appreciation of the visual arts differed. Bottomley got in touch with Paul Nash early on, Sturge Moore viewed the post-impressionists with great suspicion and thought Van Gogh and Picasso were mostly idiots: 'Picasso was very tallented [sic] but seems to have lost his way & become silly [...]', and while he blamed the post-impressionists for lack of progress, he remained blind to true innovation (see letter 54, 3 February 1911).

The letters contain all sorts of little gems, partly because Sturge Moore tries to keep Bottomley abreast of what is happening in the London art world. He talks, for example, about the success of Otto Weininger's book Sex & Character and comments that Ricketts was absolutely delighted with the term 'henid', 'a vague, half-formed thought or feeling' (letter 13, 17 January 1909). We also read that Ricketts had no great opinion of Tagore: 'Ricketts is quite hopelessly out of it in denying him any real value' (letter 105, 15 September 1913).

Sturge Moore describes a new painting by Ricketts, 'Faust Riding the Centaur' (now at Manchester Art Gallery) and Bottomley regrets that he will not see the show, and hopes that he can view it later in Ricketts's studio:

His work, in all its forms, stimulates an intensity of vision in me which is like a thirst in my eyes; I am afraid you will laugh at my impotence when I say that on seeing things of his my first impulse is always a desire to rush and buy them, regardless of everything – but indeed it is so – until my lean and impotent purse brings its unfailing paralysis, and I return to earth ruefully. 
(Letter 16 1 March 1909)

Charles Ricketts, 'Faust Riding the Centaur' (1909)
[Collection: Manchester Art Gallery]

Elsewhere he wrote that it was now almost twenty years since he first encountered the name Ricketts (Letter 75, 9-13 August 1912): 

I think we shall see no man to come near him in our time, for he has that kind of universality in his nature which one recognises in only Shakespeare or Rembrandt. 

Sturge Moore replied: 

He could not work even as an artist on their scale because his perceptions are not richly varied enough are not so athletic. Such a scale is as impossible to him as their blunders, carelessness, or lapses into vulgarity would be. He comes for me nearer to Rossetti, Giorgione, He has their or Keats. He has their wonderfull [sic] and enchanting power of selecting and rehandling artistic material and is perhaps more successful and less limited than either. More successful than Rossetti less limited than Keats & Giorgione, though the chief limitation of both of these was possibly early death. 

(Letter 76, 27 August 1912).

Of course Bottomley disagreed with him:

I feel that you are right in saying that my comparison of Ricketts with Rembrandt and Shakespeare will not hold good in matters of scale and taste; but, on the other hand, I am not content to class him with Keats, Rossetti and Giorgione at all points. For a chief characteristic of these men is a pungency (almost an aroma) of manner which makes their personal point of view the most prominent thing in their work – as if they looked at the world through a tinted window; while Ricketts has some thread of the impersonal individuality of the greatest men, seeing the world in a white light, as they do. 

(Letter 78, 31 October 1912).

Ricketts was central to his art appreciation, and through Ricketts (and Yeats who they had met earlier), the Bottomleys became acquainted with many people, for example: Masefield, Lord Dunsany, Cippico, the Michael Fields, Pickford Waller ('in his house full of Conders and Shannons and Fantins and Rossettis'). 

For Bottomley, Oscar Wilde's work was also exceptionally relevant. Bottomley went through a crisis (probably both physically and mentally) around the time of Oscar Wilde's trial in 1895. (There seems to be a hint of homosexuality). In a later memoir he wrote about Wilde's work:

For he enchanted my youth: his light was the first glimmer of dawn for me: he first taught me to discern a pure and steadfast Beauty that was the greatest thing in life, and showed me how its essence could be expressed in word. 

(Letter 35, 18-22 January 1910).

Bottomley also wrote a touching letter about his father and his high school days when he hated poetry and was hooked on Natural Science. Bottomley's letters are wittier than Sturge Moore's. On a photograph of his own house, Bottomley writes: 'You will see that our house is practically composed of a chimney and a vestibule' (letter 37, 4 March 1910), and about Halley's comet he remarks: 'I've crept out of bed several mornings before the birds, to look for the comet in the dusk, leaning out of the open windows to see more sky. But I have missed it so far; perhaps because the sky is always cloudy and stormy – and a nightgown isn’t the proper garment for astronomical research' (letter 38, 4 May 1910).

I have to assume that the letters are well transcribed; the annotations are trustworthy, and convincing, but there are no illustrations of the letters, so there is no way to check the texts. However, we can rely on Aplin's record as an editor! 

Still, a few illustrations of the letters would not have been out of place. 

The notes contain a wealth of information and also quote many other letters, for instance to Michael Field, Sydney Cockerell, or Thomas Bird Mosher and letters from Charles Shannon to Bottomley.

To be continued (although I do not know exactly when; there is a mountain of letters!)

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

495. The Complete Correspondence of Gordon Bottomley and Thomas Sturge Moore (1)

Last year, the Gordon Bottomley-Thomas Sturge Moore correspondence, edited by John Aplin, was published online by InteLex Past Masters in Charlottesville, Virginia. The platform contains scholarly editions in the field of the humanities, such as the complete works of Freud, Montaigne, Plato, Defoe, and the  Brothers Grimm.

InteLex Past Masters: Bottomley-Sturge Moore letters

The letters of Thomas Sturge Moore and Gordon Bottomley, nine hundred and eleven in number, comprise three separate volumes, preceded by an introduction and followed by an index. The lives of the two poets and playwrights (Sturge Moore was also an artist who mainly made woodcuts) are briefly and excellently presented in the introduction. Gordon Bottomley (1874-1948), who suffered from a tubercular illness, would eventually survive Thomas Sturge Moore (1870-1944). They exchanged letters between 1906 and 1944, but the edition runs to 1948. The 1944-1948 letters include those written by the widow Marie Sturge Moore; the last letter, a report of Bottomley's death, was written to her by Mary Fletcher - the Fletcher's were close friends of Bottomley. The correspondence also includes letters written by Bottomley's wife Emily, his 'occasional amanuensis', and letters from Marie Sturge Moore from the period when the two men did not write to each other. Sturge Moore's letters are kept in the British Library; those of Bottomley are part of the Sturge Moore papers held in Special Collections at Senate House, University of London. A mile apart.

The introduction includes a careful justification of the editorial principles and textual interventions. The editor John Aplin concludes his introduction, modestly, with: 

I cannot claim to have done more than make some of the essential archival materials available as a facility for new researchers, but in deciding to draw substantially upon the Bottomley papers in particular to inform the commentary underpinning the editorial notes, I have sought to provide the fullest possible biographical and critical context, conscious not only that this is the first publication to have examined these resources in any depth, but also that they are far too valuable to continue to be overlooked.

For aficionados of the work of Ricketts and Shannon, this edition is indispensable. Ricketts in particular played a huge role in the lives of both correspondents:

The fact that Ricketts was such a powerful force in the lives of both Moore and Bottomley, a constant point of reference in their exchanges, inevitably means that his is a looming presence throughout this correspondence. Neither man ever tires of discussing aspects of his work and personality, both of them articulating subtle perspectives of real insight, which means that their letters will continue to provide a rich resource for those seeking more information on the range of Ricketts’s output and his contemporary importance, not least as a designer for the theatre.

Navigating the Correspondence

In this blog, I concentrate on navigating the system: how does it work? The letters are numbered consecutively from 1 to 911 and divided into three sections. Each letter contains individually numbered annotations that follow immediately below the letter.

InteLex Past Masters: Bottomley-Sturge Moore letters: index (detail)

The index is helpfully comprehensive, with subject-by-subject headings referring to the letters (not pages). The lemma for Ricketts comprises two full pages of detailed references. Shannon occupies three quarter of a page. A check with a sample of references indicates that the index has been carefully compiled. Strange, by the way, to put Michael Field under M instead of F (which every library does), even though it is a pseudonym.

Numbers in the index are not clickable and do not take you directly to the relevant pages. It takes a while to find them via the table of contents, that chronologically lists the years of creation, but omits the numbers of the letters for each year. One has to guess in which year to look for a particular letter, or pick a year and then scroll forwards or backwards to the corresponding letter. A search for a particular letter is also possible via the somewhat primitive-looking dashboard.

InteLex Past Masters: Bottomley-Sturge Moore letters: search results

However, the search screen allows for a search in one go for the three parts together containing all the letters. In the list of results, all references are clickable: they take you directly to the page in question. That list can be presented in a new window (so you can always return to the results), or in the same window. It is also possible to search for a letter number, but then it is a bit of a puzzle to find out which reference is the one to the actual page; letter number 669 for instance yields 35 hits.

InteLex Past Masters: Bottomley-Sturge Moore letters: letter 669

It is possible to create PDFs of a single page and print them (this works best when using the single page view, otherwise the PDF will contain only the left-hand page of a spread).

So much for navigation. Next week we will continue with the epistolary narrative.

The Complete Correspondence of Gordon Bottomley and Thomas Sturge Moore.
ISBN: 978-1-57085-280-0
Language: English.
Link for quote on price:

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

494. Swimmers and Others in Grey and in Sanguine (2)

Charles Hazelwood Shannon often made impressions of his lithographs in different colours. A large part of his lithographs (45 out of 96) were only printed in one colour (or combination of colours), but of the majority of his lithographs, impressions in two, three or even four colours can be compared. As mentioned last week (blog no. 493), these are not different states – the image is the same. 

Charles Shannon, 'The Snow. Winter' (1907): impression in dark green
[Image: British Museum, London: 1949,0411.888.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

Where Shannon got the idea to print different prints in distinctive colours is not known. However, multicoloured lithos were no exception; on the contrary: from the 1890s onwards, multicoloured lithographs were fashionable, particularly in France, as Camille Pissarro noted in 1896. Shannon’s great example James McNeill Whistler made some experiments in multicoloured lithographs. However, the simultaneous publication of different coloured issues of one and the same print was not common at all. His colleague and friend William Rothenstein (for example) only rarely printed a few proofs in colours other than black, but all his published lithographs were printed in black only.

Charles Shannon, 'The Snow. Winter' (1907): impression in blue
[Image: British Museum, London: 1908,0403.7.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

From the very beginning, Shannon decided to print different issues, starting with his second lithograph in 1890, 'The Cellist'. There were fifteen impressions in black or in green ink. (The first lithograph, 'The Vale in the Snow' was printed in eight impressions only, all in grey.) Soon, editions would grow to twenty-five copies; forty to fifty impressions became the standard edition size for Shannon's lithographs.


Shannon had his own lithographic printing press, but sometimes hired assistants for the various operations needed to print a lithograph, such as the preparation of the stone, sponging it with a mixture of gum arabic and acid, moistening the surface, applying the ink, arranging the paper, and printing the lithograph. After each impression the printing surface of the stone had to be re-dampened and re-inked. 

(Below, we follow the numbering and descriptions of Paul Delaney's 1978 catalogue The Lithographs of Charles Shannon; excluded are magazine publications; included are the proofs for lithographs nos. 12, 19, 64, 65, 66 and 73).

Only one impression exists of forty-five of Shannon's lithographs; these were printed in black, dark green, grey, delicate grey, silvery grey, grey-black, sanguine, or in a combination of black, buff, dark green and yellow, the last one being the exceptionally large lithograph (no. 87) 'The Re-Birth of the Arts' which was not printed in his own studio and issued as part of a series of lithographs during the Great War.


Of course, it is no simple matter to distinguish between the different shades of grey and green. Limiting the nomenclature to basic colours, we find that Shannon had an absolute preference for grey (37 lithos) and black (5). Green and red only occur once each in this group of 45 lithographs.

Charles Shannon, 'Self-Portrait' (1918)
[Image: British Museum, London: 1925,1109.1.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

The second group consists of lithographs of which Shannon made two impressions in different colours. In this group of 34 lithographs more colours occur: bistre, black, blue, dark brown, green, dark green, grey, grey-black, grey-green, sanguine and sepia; four lithographs display combinations of (dark) blue and buff or buff and green. His preference (within this group) is sanguine (18), followed by black (15) and green (11). Grey variants only occur in eleven lithographs.  Brown and sepia are the exceptions (two each). The most commonly used set of colours is black and sanguine: of nine lithographs, both black and sanguine impressions were printed.


The third group consists of fourteen lithographs of which three different issues have been created. The colour palette for this group consists of black, blue, dark blue, brown, green, dark green, grey, dark grey, grey-black, red, and sanguine (not sure how to distinguish between the last two). The main colours are green (12 lithographs), black (8), and sanguine (7), equal to grey (7), and followed by blue (5), and finally brown (3).

There is one hard to date lithograph (no. 96, c. 1919) of which even four different coloured impressions are in circulation: there are prints in black, brown, green and sanguine. Two other lithographs (nos. 71-72) are printed either in black, blue, green or sanguine.


The entire set of lithographs shows that grey has indeed been the constant favourite. Prints in that colour occur a total of 52 times. In second place is black (31), followed by sanguine (29) and green (27). Blue (11) and brown (6) are less popular and at the back comes sepia which has only been chosen for two lithographs. Combinations of several colours occur a total of nine times.

Charles Shannon, 'The Wayfarers' (1904)
[Image: British Museum, London: 2019,7015.614.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

If Shannon intended to achieve certain effects using different colours, it seems logical to make a link with genre. There is one landscape, and there are thirteen portraits; there are interior scenes (including domestic scenes), this is a large group of 33 lithographs. There are outdoor scenes with children, women and sometimes men, mostly garden or beach scenes: 30 lithographs. Similar scenes with male nudes occur only five times. There are other outdoor scenes, depicting vintages and harvest (six lithographs) and there is a small group of mythical, biblical and classical themes (eight), but some of these can also be classified with the other groups.

No relation between colour and genre can be established. Grey has been used for all subjects; black and sanguine for six out of seven subjects, and almost all colours appear from the beginning to the end. Shannon must have liked the differences enough to continue publishing alternatively coloured prints during his whole career. He further varied by using different papers. 


Again, there may be more information now, but based on Delaney's 1978 catalogue we only know the type and colour of paper for twenty-eight lithographs, only a third of Shannon's production. The colours were neutral, certainly not outspoken: cream, white, buff, or grey-toned. There was Van Gelder paper (fourteen lithographs: nos. 10, 15-16, 35-39, 45, 49, 73, 76-78); additionally of certain lithographs it is known that most impressions were on Van Gelder paper as well (nos. 11, 14, 53). Spalding laid paper was used at least once (no. 13). Other anonymous papers were laid paper (no. 9, 52), Chine appliqué (no. 18), wove paper, some of it 'very fine' (nos. 19, 38-39, 61-63, 67, 73-74, 76-78), and wood-grained paper (no. 74). Once he used another material: parchment (no. 73). Favourite paper was Van Gelder.

To conclude: Charles Shannon ensured that his lithographs were printed in different ways by varying the types and colours of paper, but above all by making impressions in several colours of more than half of his lithographs - sometimes as many as four different colours. One could decorate a 'grey room', but just as well a 'red room', or a 'green room'. The 'sepia room' could be a very small one.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

493. Swimmers and Others in Grey and in Sanguine (1)

Charles Shannon's first lithograph from 1889 was printed in grey, which would remain his favourite colour for this medium throughout his career. From the second lithograph, 'The Cellist' (1890), he made prints in different colours. There are copies in black ink, and there are copies in green. Usually his lithos were monochrome, although there are exceptions: there is one lithograph in four colours and there are a few in a combination of blue and buff and buff and green.

Charles Shannon, 'The Swimmer' (1905): printed in grey

The printing of the lithographs on his own press took place in three periods. The first produced his most popular and subtle lithographs and ran from 1889 to 1898. The second period started in 1904 and lasted until 1909, the period in which he achieved fame as a (portrait) painter. The third period was short and started in the First World War: 1917-1920.

'The Swimmer' was issued in 1905. It measures 333 x 485 mm, and is initialled C.H.S. and dated in the stone. There were impressions in sanguine or in grey, and they were sold through P. & D. Colnaghi and Obach.

Charles Shannon, 'The Swimmer' (1905): printed in sanguine

A description of this lithograph was given by R.A. Walker in the Print Collector's Quarterly (December 1914): 'Three men crouch at the edge of a swimming bath whilst a fourth figure is swimming overarm to the right. Another man on the left is climbing out of the bath.'

Charles Shannon, 'The Swimmer' (1905): printed in sanguine and in grey

A comparison of the prints does not reveal any pictorial differences; there is only one state; the lithograph is not touched up in between, but only printed in a different colour of ink. The number of copies printed in each colour is unknown; the total number of prints was forty.

Charles Shannon, 'The Swimmer' (1905): initials and date

However, there are considerable differences between the effects of a print in grey and one in sanguine. The initials and the year in the lower left-hand corner are brighter, but so are other details.

Charles Shannon, 'The Swimmer' (1905): details

The sanguine is warmer than the grey; the contrasts between white and sanguine are greater than those between white and grey.

Charles Shannon, 'The Swimmer' (1905): details

Details in grey look more subtle than those in sanguine, in which they seem more distinctively pronounced. The overall impression of the print in sanguine is more dramatic, more focused on the actions, while in grey it is more dreamlike and atmospheric.

Charles Shannon, 'The Swimmer' (1905): details

Both versions were signed in pencil by Shannon, if requested. (He never did so with lithographs printed in a magazine).

Charles Shannon, 'The Swimmer' (1905): signed copies

The question is, of course, which version he preferred. Judging from the many colours he used, one can assume that he was looking for certain effects, or that he wanted to satisfy the taste or personal preference of his buyers. The latter is not very plausible, at least not at the beginning of his career, but later, when his paintings attracted less attention, his dealer may well have asked him to use more colour.

To be continued.