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.]

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

521. Ricketts's Design for Dedicated (1914)

After Edith Cooper died, her partner, Katherine Bradley, collected Edith's poems (written from 1899 onwards). They were published in August 1914 under their joint pseudonym Michael Field as Dedicated. Charles Ricketts designed the linen binding, of which the front cover and spine are decorated. The original design drawings have been preserved in The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow.

Charles Ricketts, two drawings for the binding of
Michael Field, Dedicated (1914)
Location: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

While some critics recognise a baptismal font on the cover and on the back two connected rings, I think we see a fountain (on the cover) and a thyrsus - a staff topped with a pine cone - and  two laurel wreaths (on the spine). See my earlier blog about Three Spine Designs by Charles Ricketts.

The drawings are (as usual) larger than the book: 28.8 by 22.7 cm - the book measures 19,8 by 13 cm. They were copied and photographed (the image then reduced in size) for the making of a brass block to stamp the design on the binding.

The drawings have inscriptions such as: 'cut same size as drawing. Photograph this | onto the brass. Do not copy scratchy workmanship', and 'cut this quite clean | do not imitate scratches | of pen in letters etc'.

The blockmakers kept to the brief, sometimes making small necessary improvements and sometimes not.

In his drawing, Ricketts placed small acorns in the far corners, but he forgot the acorn in the top left corner. This has been corrected.

Charles Ricketts (designer), binding of Michael Field, Dedicated (1914)

For the coffered ceiling above the fountain (which is in a niche or a chapel) Ricketts drew a pattern of five rows with different ornaments in each row. In Ricketts's design the ornaments in each row appear to be identical, but they are all individually drawn and slightly different from oen another. During the processing for the block, the ornaments per row were standardised. Whether this was the intention or not is impossible to say, but in the Vale Press ornamental papers that Ricketts designed, such minor variations were maintained.

The support for the ceiling is represented by vertical lines. The lines in the middle do not connect at the same height at the top (lower on the right). 

Charles Ricketts (designer), binding of Michael Field, Dedicated (1914)

Also, they seem to protrude through the floor. This has been retained in the block for the binding.

Charles Ricketts (designer), binding of Michael Field, Dedicated (1914) 

The handle of the thyrsus on the back of the book is a little too neatly copied. Ricketts's pen faltered twice and the lines are now interrupted in two places. This was clearly not Ricketts's intention.

Thanks to the digitisation of objects in museums, libraries and archives researchers can study Ricketts's book designs with new interest and scrutiny.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

520. An Early Caricature by Charles Ricketts

As an artist, Charles Ricketts was not easily satisfied, and on one of his moves, he threw a lot of his youthful work into the bin. Shannon did the same - it was the result that mattered, not the sketches or the way to get there. (Friends sometimes kept those drawings.) In an album in the British Museum one finds a photograph of a very early sketch, said to be by Ricketts. (The museum number is 1962,0809.2.55). The drawing is dated 27/2/1882. Ricketts was not yet sixteen then.

Charles Ricketts, photograph of a caricature dated 27 February 1882
[Image: British Museum, London: 1962,0809.2.55.
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]
(with permission of the executors of the Charles Ricketts estate,
Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmain O'Neil)

The drawing measures 75 by 65 mm, and it depicts 'a man in silhouette, whole-length profile to left' (quote from the catalogue). It seems to be a young man. There is a caption written in a speech bubble and the words are hard to decipher, but I think it says: 'I never wish anything but I demand'.

It may be a student joke, a sketch made out of boredom or discontent. The image has not been published before.

The original will probably have been thrown away. The photo was saved, and came via Robert Steele to Riette Sturge Moore, who donated the album to the BM in 1962.

Even when he was older, Ricketts continued to make caricatures. There is, for instance, a self-portrait of him slumped in a chair, asleep after a dinner where he obviously overate.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

519. Milton's Early Poems in a Pigskin Binding (2)

A fortnight ago I reported on a Sybil Pye binding for a copy of the first Vale Press publication, John Milton's Early Poems (April 1896). [Read more about this special binding.] The new owner has sent me some images to prove that the binding was made by Sybil Pye.

Marianne Tidcombe wrote: 'Her bindings are signed with a monogram stamp' ['SP'], 'and the date, inside the lower cover, nearly always towards the top of the fore-edge turn-in.'(*) That is indeed the case, only the date is missing here.

John Milton, Early Poems (1896). Binding signed by Sybil Pye

The inscription linking this book to the collector who commissioned the binding is as follows: 'from the books of Arthur & Margaret Gillett | 21.4. 1962'.

John Milton, Early Poems (1896). Inscription

The titles of quite a few Vale Press books are uncertain. The title on the binding often differs from the title on the opening pages (there are rarely any actual title pages), which in turn differs from the title in the colophon.

The Milton edition shows the same diversity.
Title on spine: MIL- | TON | EARLY | POEMS
Opening pages: MILTON | EARLY POEMS
Colophon: HERE end the Early Poems of John Milton.

Pye's binding shows different variants again:
Title on spine: EARLY | POEMS OF | MILTON
Title on front and back cover: THE EARLY POEMS OF MILTON

(*) Marianne Tidcombe, Women Bookbinders 1880-1920 (Oak Knoll Press & The British Library, 1996), page 149.