Wednesday, April 28, 2021

509. A Friend of the Frick

The Frick collection is now on temporary display in another location in New York, in the MET Breuer, a building that is the opposite of the museum's mansion, a modernist concrete structure designed by Marcel Breuer.

One of the countless articles devoted to this completely different way of presenting the works of art included the name of Charles Ricketts, who visited New York only once in his life.

On October 15, 1927, Ricketts sailed to Canada and after brief visits to Quebec and Montreal, he travelled to Ottawa to see the Ottawa Gallery. He had been advising the museum on art purchases for many years. The city kept him busy for three weeks. Then he went to snowy New York which, to his own surprise, he liked: Fifth Avenue, Broadway, the polyglot crowds, the skyscrapers. 

He examined various art collections: the MET, where he was told that the museum would do a show of his books. Indeed, there was an exhibition that year, when Harold Bell's collection of bookbindings was shown. Ricketts visited the collectors Grenville L. Winthrop and Henry Clay Frick and saw their private art collections. 

Hans Holbein, 'Sir Thomas More', 1527 (painting)
[The Frick Collection, New York]

An observation he made there is now quoted in Untapped New York, in an article by Julia Vitullo-Martin. From New York, Ricketts wrote a note to Sydney Cockerell, dated 20 November 1927:

I had to spend three weeks, not nine days, in Canada, and have had too short a time in New York. The Greek things are admirable, the Egyptian things superb, both well shown [in the MET]. I was overwhelmed by the Frick Collection. Imagine Sir Thomas More, the beautiful saint, and Cromwell, the monster, united in history, art, and tragedy, now facing each other united by Holbein and time and chance!
(Self-Portrait, 1939, p. 388).

Hans Holbein, 'Thomas Cromwell', 1532-1533 (painting)
[The Frick Collection, New York]

In the Frick Museum, More's portrait hung to the left of a fireplace and Cromwell's to the right, and this order, determined by Frick himself, has always prevailed. In the temporary exhibition, too, the portraits hang side by side. Vitullo-Martin writes:

Sir Thomas More and his arch enemy, Thomas Cromwell, again face one another, but without the intervening fire place to soften the cold stares. Cromwell looks heavy, almost thuggish, while More looks confidently peaceful, as if he were Sir Laurence Olivier's uncle.

She then quotes Ricketts and introduces him as 'Frick's friend, the painter Charles Ricketts'. 

This friendship probably did not extend beyond Ricketts's one-time visit to the collection.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

508. Emery Walker's Collection & Ricketts & Shannon

William S. Peterson recently published a compilation of articles about William Morris and personalities from his immediate circle, Morris & Company (Oak Knoll Press, 2020). Because of the lockdown, I only got the book last week. It contains articles previously published elsewhere, although it also includes some speeches and presentations not previously published in print. 

An article that appeared earlier in Matrix quotes Sydney Cockerell's diary, in which a visit to Ricketts and Shannon is noted for 7 December 1897. (Due to an unfortunate late decision to swap two articles in the book, neither the title page nor the index are correct; at least, for these two articles: the quote about Ricketts and Shannon is on page 100-101 and not on page 108-109). Anyway, although Cockerell later corresponded intensively with Ricketts, and we can infer that he had known Ricketts for some time, he especially mentioned that he liked Shannon.

On 9 December 1897 he made a few calls at a publisher, a type foundry, and a manufacturer of printing presses:

Then with Walker to 8 Hammersmith Terrace where I met Shannon & Ricketts. Like Shannon, whom I had not met before, very much.

Emery Walker (1851-1933), the technical genius behind both the Kelmscott Press and the Doves Press, together with Walter Boutall managed a company for process engraving, who reproduced some of the illustrations in Ricketts's and Shannon's magazine The Dial. Walker's collection included all the works of the Kelmscott Press and the Doves Press and all kinds of documents about both private presses, but it was broader and stayed in the family for a long time. In the 1990s it was sold to what is now The Wilson, formerly the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum. (See the catalogue for descriptions and images, in many cases including transcriptions of letters).

Website The Wilson, Cheltenham
The collection includes issues three and four of The Dial, as well as an announcement about ordering specially designed bookbindings, and a prospectus. The collection may be richer but it has not yet been catalogued as a whole - and, due to the lockdown, it is now unclear whether any other works by Ricketts and Shannon have been preserved in the collection.

One special copy has however been catalogued: Ricketts's A Defence of the Revival of Printing, published in June 1899, with a personal dedication to Walker:

to E Walker | from C. Ricketts | 17 July 1899.

Another presentation copy was given to Sydney Cockerell.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

507. Ricketts, Symons, Gray

After moving to Edinburgh, John Gray visited friends in London with some regularity. He also stayed in touch with them in other ways, through letters or publications. In September 1928, the Dominican journal Blackfriars published a contribution by Gray which was read by Ricketts. 

On a postcard Ricketts wrote to A.J.A. Symons (with whom he was in contact about exhibitions of the First Edition Club and about a possible publication of his stories) that John Gray had published 'a charming new poem' and that he would keep this recent issue of the magazine for Symons. Many of Ricketts' letters are undated, but the postcard is postmarked 11 October 1928 and the most recent issue of Blackfriars prior to that date was the issue of September 1928. It contained a translation by Gray of a poem by Henri de Régnier.

Henri de Régnier

They have struck on the doors of gold
with the hefts of their rugged swords;
and their salt lips are cold
from the mists which hang in the fjords.

Like kings they have entered again
the bourg where torches flare;
the charger steps high, and his mane
flies back like the mad sea's hair.

They are bidden to notable feasts
in gardens, on terraces, spread
with sapphire and amethyst
of these lie on the ocean bed.

So drunk with wine of the years,
so dazzled with jewels and rings,
so deafened with praise, in their ears
the hammering ocean rings.

It is an adaptation of a poem that De Régnier published as part of a long section 'Motifs de légende et de mélancholie' in Poèmes 1887-1892 (Paris, Société de Mercure de France, 1895, pp. 60-61).

Ils ont heurté les portes d'or
Du pommeau rude de leurs glaives
Et leurs lèvres étaient encor
Amères de l'embrun des grèves.

Ils entrèrent comme des rois
En la ville où la torche fume,
Au trot sonnant des palefrois
Dont la crinière est une écume.

On les reçut en des palais
Et des jardins où les dallages
Sont des saphyrs et des galets
Comme on en trouve sur les plages;

On les abreuva de vin clair,
De louanges et de merveilles,
Et l'écho grave de la mer
Bourdonnait seul à leurs oreilles.

John Gray, Poems (1931): title page

After his first two major volumes from the 1890s, Silverpoints and Spiritual Poems, new poems by John Gray appeared only sporadically. Ad Matrem appeared in 1903, The Long Road in 1926. In 1931, he published his last poetry collection: Poems. This collection of poems was designed by Eric Gill and René Hague in a modern style: set in Gill's own type and with a title page that was also a table of contents (a rare combination of functions). It was published in 1931, but it did not include the poem that Ricketts had praised.

It was not reprinted during Gray's lifetime. Ricketts himself would not live to see the publication of Poems, as he died on 7 October 1931. Poems was published barely a month later and Gray was so impressed by the death of his former mentor and lifelong friend that he dedicated the volume to his memory.

John Gray, Poems (1931): dedication

Ricketts's letter to Symons is held in the Oscar Wilde and his Literary Circle Collection at the Clark Memorial Library (shelf mark: R539L S988 1928 Oct. 11).

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

506. The Designs on the Cover of 'Bibliography of Oscar Wilde' (6)

Last time I mentioned a vignette that was not used by Ricketts for the limited first editions of Oscar Wilde's De Profundis in 1905. The fourth vignette was replaced by that of the sea and the star. In an 1970 essay on bookbindings designed by Ricketts, Giles Barber wrote about De Profundis:

Here again we come back to Rossetti, for the plain ivory cover bears only three circles with simplified ornamentation and, between the top two, the calligraphically inscribed title. These top two circles show, on the left the imprisoned bird, on the right the free bird. Ricketts’s signed sketch for the binding, now in the possession of Mr. John Sparrow, shows that he intended his initials to appear hidden between the prison bars. This detail seems to have been dropped in the finished work.
(Giles Barber, 'Rossetti, Ricketts, and Some English Publishers' Bindings of the Nineties', The Library, December 1970, pp. 329-330) 

Charles Ricketts,
sketch for vignette of escaping bird
(current whereabouts unknown)
[reproduced after Christie's auction catalogue,
21 October 1992]

We can indeed see the initials 'CR' in the bottom right-hand section of the drawn vignette. This sketch was in the possession of John Sparrow, and was partly reproduced in the catalogue of the Christie's auction of his collection: Printed Books from the Celebrated Library of the late John Sparrow, O.B.E., Warden of All Souls College, Oxford (21 October 1992).

Barber continued:

More important is that on the original sketch the bottom circle originally bore a complicated circular thorn device which has been crossed out and that the final circular device, showing the star in the sky above the great waters as described in the concluding paragraph of the book, has been substituted. This fine and bare design, so unlike the nineteenth century in style, was adopted three years later for all the volumes of Methuen’s collected edition of Wilde. Since this design is so effective on the ivory vellum finally chosen it is perhaps interesting that in a footnote to the original sketch Ricketts wrote: "Please ask Mr. Leighton. Ask for specimen on black cloth, on green cloth (same as Vale Shakespeare) and mauve cloth same as used on Oscar Wilde’s plays".'
(Giles Barber, 'Rossetti, Ricketts, and Some English Publishers' Bindings of the Nineties', The Library, December 1970, p. 330).
The vignette of a thorn was not used by Ricketts for Wilde's works, and yet we have reason to believe that it has not completely fallen out of favour. The question is whether Barber has identified it correctly.

Once again, Stuart Mason (pen-name of Christopher Sclater Millard) comes into the picture.

In 1907 Mason had published a study and bibliography on The Picture of Dorian Gray: Art and Morality. After Wilde's collected works appeared in 1908, followed in 1910 by the so-called Second Collected Edition in a smaller format, bound in green buckram, Mason published a second revised edition of Oscar Wilde. Art & Morality in 1912. The new edition was published by a different publisher: Frank Palmer in London. In the 1914 Bibliography of Oscar Wilde, Mason himself described this new edition as 'Uniform with Methuen's foolscap 8vo edition of Wilde's works'.

Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories (1910)
and Stuart Mason, Oscar Wilde. Art & Morality (1912)

Mason's work does indeed look suspiciously like the Methuen volumes, also because Wilde's name has now been added to the title, so that at first, the book even seems to have been written by him. The vignette of the sea is not used here. The new vignette seems to reasonably match Barber's description. Would Ricketts have allowed him to use it? Nobody is thanked for the design in the preface and the vignette is not even mentioned in his later bibliography.

If we look closely at the design, we can see that the thorny branches are actually flames.

Vignette on the cover of Stuart Mason,
Oscar Wilde. Art & Morality (1912)

The similarity to the vignettes of the escaping and free birds is immediately apparent: the shape of the same bird is cut out in the middle, including the spread wings and the opened beak. To the right, we see a preview of the later vignette of the star - here still accompanied by the crescent moon. At the bottom, flames swirl up, reaching left to top and surrounding the bird on various sides. In other words: Ricketts did not draw thorny branches; the vignette depicts the bird Phoenix rising from its ashes. 

The vignette must be the previously unused vignette: it fits seamlessly with the bird devices and it already uses elements from the star-over-sea vignette. It has all the subtlety we would expect from a Ricketts design.

But this adds to the mystery: Ricketts must have lent an earlier sketch (the later one being 'crossed out') to Mason/Millard, perhaps through the intervention of Robert Ross. From 1906 Ross had supported Millard (who had been imprisoned for homosexuality), and Millard had helped him prepare the collected works of Wilde, and later, between 1910 and 1913, hwas Ross's personal secretary, only to be fired after he became embroiled in court cases again. 

This explains why Mason could not borrow the other vignettes, and used clumsy imitations for the Bibliography of Oscar Wilde. Originally, when negotiations about the Collected Works of Wilde were opened by Robert Ross, Methuen considered issuing the bibliography separately, but uniform to the de-luxe edition, on a royalty basis, and Millard/Mason and his friend Walter Ledger were requested to make their own arrangements with Methuen. It seems, these were not even started before Millard was arrested at Iffley in April 1906. The 1908 edition of the Collected Works did not include the bibliography, and when it was finally published in 1914, Methuen, the owner of the original blocks for Ricketts's decorations, did not lend them to the publisher T. Werner Laurie.

The question remains as to why Ricketts initially rejected this very fine Phoenix vignette. The explanation may lie precisely in the great affinity with the other two bird vignettes, the escaping bird and the free bird. These two symbolise the soul of Oscar Wilde who, still in prison, was already thinking ahead to his freedom, and was in fact freed from earlier pre-occupations by focusing on the essence of human existence (as Wilde wrote in De Profundis). Ricketts thus drew the unfree and the free soul, and an image of the resurrected phoenix was in fact duplicitous. 

However, it does mean that we can add a new title to the list of books decorated or designed by Charles Ricketts: Stuart Mason's Oscar Wilde: Art & Morality (1912).