|Stuart Mason, Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (1914):|
deluxe edition, cover of volume 1
The collected works were published by Methuen and Co. in 1908. The design by Charles Ricketts was the same as the one he especially made for the first edition of De Profundis in 1905. The regular copies of that book were issued in blue cloth with one vignette, the two deluxe editions had three vignettes.
Stuart Mason's 'Preface' acknowledges Methuen's rights to the design:
Thanks and acknowledgments, formal though none the less sincere, are due to [...] Messrs. Methuen & Co., for many courtesies, including permission to use the designs on the cover of this volume; [...].
Methuen still used the designs for reprints, especially the star in the sky above the 'great waters', while the one with a dove escaping through prison bars was best known from the reprints of De Profundis. The third design (all were described by Mason in his bibliography) is 'the bird flying free'.
The dove escaping through prison bars
Remarkably, Methuen's original binding tools have not been used. New, different stamps have been made that more or less resemble the earlier ones, but they lack all subtlety. They are, frankly, rather crude imitations.
|Vignette 1, designed by Charles Ricketts:|
a dove escaping through prison bars
on the front cover of the first edition of
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis (1905):
deluxe edition in buckram binding (above)
and deluxe edition in vellum binding (below)
The impression on the vellum binding of the most luxurious edition of De Profundis (1905) shows best what Ricketts meant. The impression on the paper wrapper of the deluxe edition of Mason's bibliography shows best what went wrong in reproduction.
The most striking difference is the drawing of the bars over the pigeon's body; they are much too thick in the new block, and have a crossbar that is not there in the original. As a result, there is actually no opening for the dove to fly through.
The transition from the pigeon's breast to the right wing is also too thickly accentuated, so that it is no longer visible that the pigeon is opening its beak, in other words, gasping for breath.
Above the left wing, against the circle, Ricketts drew a larger open space in the original design than was done in the reproduction. There, just above the wing, a horizontal bar has been drawn.
All these changes show that the new block maker did not understand that the design depicts not a captured dove, but a dove escaping, symbolising freedom. All the modifications actually restrict the pigeon's freedom of movement to such an extent that its spread wings can no longer be understood. The image now resembles a bird that has been pinned to the bars.