Wednesday, July 28, 2021

522. A Small Exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery

From 18 May to 30 September, the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool will be showing a small selection from its holdings under the title 'Charles Shannon and Charles Ricketts'. On display are a lithograph, a painting and a drawing by Shannon and a watercolour by Ricketts. Curator Jessie Petheram wrote a short article about Ricketts and Shannon for the museum's website (read her contribution 'Shannon and Ricketts - A Creative Partnership').

Charles Shannon, 'The Modeller', lithograph (1891)
[Walker Art Gallery]

The oldest of the four works is a lithograph by Shannon with a portrait of Thomas Sturge Moore, dated 1891. Shannon made a small number of prints himself which were distributed in 1893 in the portfolio Early Lithographs. A few years later, Thomas Way printed twenty-five 'more forcible and less delicate' impressions (as Ricketts wrote).

Sturge Moore is caught 'in the act of modelling a figure which stands on a table to the right' (Ricketts again): 'A bucket occupies the foreground.' From 1887 to 1892 Sturge Moore attended the Lambeth School of Art. At first he worked in clay. I don't think any statues have been preserved, sculpture was not his forte.

The second object in the exhibition is the painting 'Lady with a Cyclamen (Mary Frances Dowdall)', painted in 1899. (For an image, see my earlier blog 'Rediscovered Interviews (2)' from 2020.)

Jessie Petheram, Assistant Curator of Fine Art, believes that Shannon undermines the classical symbolism of the cyclamen - true love and religious devotion - by painting Dowdall in clothing that is 'not clearly masculine or feminine'. The sitter criticised the institution of marriage and 'argued for women to be treated as complex individuals rather than "soap-spirited fools".'

Charles Shannon, 'Study for The Wise and Foolish Virgins',
chalk and gouache on paper (c.1917-1919)
[Walker Art Gallery]

Chronologically, the third work is a drawing by Shannon, a study for his painting 'The Wise and Foolish Virgins', illustrating the parable from the Bible's New Testament. The painting is also on display in a nearby room in the Walker Art Gallery. The curator supposes that Shannon's and Ricketts's fascination for some of the parables reflected 'their own concerns about whether, as two men in a loving relationship, they were prepared to be judged by God'. I am not sure about Shannon's faith, after all, he was the son of a reverend; but I am pretty sure that Ricketts would have laughed at the idea to be admitted to a place called Heaven.

Ricketts's work is represented by a watercolour and chalk on paper, a stage setting for Bernard Shaw's play Saint Joan, drawn about 1924.

These four works were acquired by the museum over a long period of time: the lithograph in 1909, the painting in 1967 (a gift from Mrs R.B.Tollinton), the drawing in 1971 and Ricketts's sketch in 1933 (with support from the Art Fund).

It is wonderful to know that after acquisition they were not stored unseen in the depot but, as now, were brought out and displayed. Hopefully, they will soon be added to the museum's online collection in the near future.

The exhibition can be seen at the Walker Art Gallery until the end of September.

[Thanks are due to Jessie Petheram and Felicity Robinson.]