Wednesday, November 23, 2022

590. For Sale: Studies of a Woman

A drawing by Charles Shannon will be auctioned tomorrow evening at Bubb Kuyper Auctions in Haarlem. In the catalogue, the description of lot 77/4598 reads as follows:

Shannon, C.H. (1863-1937). (Three studies of a woman). Drawing, red chalk, 44x59.7 cm., on brown wove paper. Laid down on mount. Old flattened middle-fold. Sl. soiled; tear in lower right margin. With collector's mark "G.R". in lower left corner (not in Lugt). 

It is estimated to fetch €500-€700.

Charles Shannon, drawing, undated (Bubb Kuyper Auctions, 24 November 2022)

Since the three sketches were made on one sheet of paper, they are clearly preliminary studies. How many sketches would Shannon have made in total? Incidentally, it is not easy to determine for which painting these could be preparatory studies - women were his main subject.

Note, 24 November 2022:

During the auction, the drawing was not sold. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

589. The Name of the Ricketts Circle

In an earlier blog post, I quoted a letter in French from John Gray to the critic Félix Fénéon, dated 16 April 1891. (See blog 94, A French Correspondence). In it, Gray used the French term the 'Valistes' for the circles around Ricketts and Shannon and their magazine The Dial of which he was a contributor. There seems to be no record of Ricketts and Shannon using this French term or an English equivalent of it. However, Oscar Wilde, according to William Rothenstein, once called them 'Valeists' (Men and Memories. Recollections of William Rothenstein 1872-1900. London, 1931, p. 312).

Oscar Wilde also used a name based - not on their address but - on the name of their magazine. In a letter to Charles Ricketts, undated but Autumn 1889, Wilde calls them 'the Dialists' (The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde. London, 2000, p. 412).

Ricketts and Shannon used a variety of nicknames though, and especially in their dealings with the writing duo Michael Field (Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper) the epithets flourished. Ricketts was called the Fairy-Man, Fay, or The Painter and their house was called The Palace. Michael Field received letters addressed to The Poets.

'The Palace': Lansdowne House,
Lansdowne Road, Holland Park

Ricketts's & Shannon's home
(from May 1902 to May 1923)

The diaries of the two female authors reveal that there were other names in circulation. Michael Field used the term Dial gang in an entry from 19 December 1901:

Next year will be to us of “the Dial gang” a tumultuous year – river-beds exposed & lands flooded – great upheavals.

[Michael Field, Journal, 19 December 1901: British Library, BL Add MS 46790, f 171v].

Earlier, Ricketts and Shannon declared themselves a duo in one name, admittedly in a telegram and thus probably to make the message short (and not too expensive), but still. I know of no other example of this far-reaching unity as a duo expressed in one name. For them, this was rare.

The telegram was sent after both Shannon and Ricketts received a poem from Michael Field and disputed each other's poems:

In the afternoon this telegram. Battle raging over respective poems. Casualties later. Ricknon.
[Michael Field, Journal, 5 January 1900: British Library BL Add MS 46789, f 2v.]

This merging of the names Ricketts and Shannon into Ricknon seems unique.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

588. Ricketts & Shannon in Constance Wilde's Autograph Book

Recently, the Oscar Wilde Society published a book about Constance Wilde's autograph album, Constance Wilde's Autograph Book 1886-1896, comprising reproductions of the autographs, dedications, poems and drawings from a circle of her acquaintances. Editor Devon Cox reveals that it involves different groups of friends, starting with famous figures, such as politicians, musicians and writers: Walter Pater, James McNeill Whistler, John Ruskin, William Morris, Pablo Sarasate and others. 

Constance Wilde's Autograph Book 1886-1896
(edited by Devon Cox, 2022)

Then the focus shifted to women scientists and authors, such as those who could possibly contribute to the journal that Oscar Wilde edited, The Woman's World, including Marie Corelli and Alice Meynell. From 1889, representatives of two other groups followed: those of spiritualism and women's rights. Lady Georgina Mount Temple was one of them.

Some wrote their name on a separate page, even if they added few words. Others wrote their contribution on a page that already contained an inscription, such as Arthur James Balfour who ironically commented on an older contribution by T.P. O'Connor. But such need for commentary will not have been the only reason for filling up a page; sometimes the idea that you did not then have to fill a whole page may also have helped.

The inscriptions between 1891 and 1895 show who Constance Wilde saw as her own friends at a time when she and Oscar were drifting apart relationally. Not included was her husband's most famous lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, nor was his first lover Robert Ross, although he was a dear friend of hers.

In 1894, Constance Wilde asked artists Ricketts and Shannon to contribute to her book. This is rather surprising - I have little further evidence of their dealings. Ricketts has shared memories of Wilde, but not of his wife.

Charles Shannon's contribution to
Constance Wilde's Autograph Book 1886-1896  

Ricketts and Shannen shared a page in the book (page 45). They are both roundels, Shannon's being at the top, a drawing in blue pencil of three winged boys representing cupids, their heads close together, in a wicker basket, signed and dated: 'C.H. Shannon | July 12. 94.'

Charles Ricketts's contribution to
Constance Wilde's Autograph Book 1886-1896 

Underneath, Ricketts drew a circular drawing in green, grey, blue, brown and white pencil. Against a background with a flowering hedge (roses?) sits a veiled woman, with a naked child at her feet, on her lap rests the head of a second child, and standing next to her is a third child whose hand and cheek touch hers. The three children are depicted in a vertical column next to her own body. The drawing is signed and dated: 'CS Ricketts | 1894.'

Nothing is known about a possible friendly relationship between the two artists and Constance Wilde.  Franny Moyle mentions some early contributions to the autograph book in her biography Constance. The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde (2011), but she does not mention the contributions of Ricketts and Shannon. Ricketts's biographer, J.G.P. Delaney, does not mention her name at all. Only one source is known to me, but it is interesting because it contains a - later - description of these drawings, namely the 1900 diary of Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper ('Michael Field'). Ricketts referred to Wilde's ruined marriage.

With reference to Mrs Oscar, Ricketts dwells on the great opportunity she lost. She was urged to act with spirit, with breadth – she failed – & ever after she was nothing; her husband was an unpleasant subject & she a ghost it was not pleasant to meet. Had she given him limitless devotion she wd have had the sympathy & admiration of all. She once called at the Vale with a Charity Album – Ricketts did a landscape, Shannon some charming Cupids. She was much pleased & they most anxious to [do] anything they could for Oscar’s wife.
[Michael Field, Journal, Sunday [9 December] 1900 [BL Add MS 46789: f 166r-166v].

Constance must have felt admiration for the way Ricketts and Shannon had designed and illustrated Oscar Wilde's books to pay a visit to the Vale and leave her album behind. (They did not take it with them from her home in Tite Street and did not belong to any of the subsequent groups that the editor of the autograph book identified.)

She may have had to wait a long time before she got it back. No new contributions were written between May 1894 and the end of the year. From early 1895 new inscriptions were added. Constance Wilde also pasted into the album an undated note from Shannon, writing guiltily that he should apologise 'for not returning your book in which Ricketts & I have done troubled little sketches'. 

Letter from Charles Shannon to Constance Wilde,
pasted in Constance Wilde's autograph book

He had seen her at the Burlington Club, and the editor suggests this must have been during the summer exhibition that ran form 28 May to 28 July 1894. I would suggest that it may have taken longer to return the album to its owner.

Ricketts and Shannon were among the last to contribute to the album. In early 1895, their drawings were followed by three more contributions from Alice Meynell, Francis Thompson and Arthur Severn. After Wilde's lawsuits, bankruptcy and her departure abroad, Constance asked for one final contribution from Vernon Lee, whose quote from Ecclesiastes indicated that now was a time to remain silent. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

587. A Vale Press Collector: James Dunn (3)

James Dunn's collection was assembled with apparent care, and in each book he noted why it was of interest.  

Notes by John Dunn

Borough Librarian James Hindle remarked that Dunn’s own notes in the books are of real bibliopolical value’ (Northern Daily Telegraph, 16 December 1943). For some books, these notes are important, Cynthia Johnston also noted: 
'It is from these hand-written notes that we are able to glean why Dunn considered each book worthy of purchase. In essence, each one of James Dunn’s books had to earn its place in his collection. In his rounded handwriting, Dunn records the merits and interest of each volume at the time of purchase. Sometimes these notes are lengthy and record some of Dunn’s own research on the book in question including some of his own bibliophilic adventures.' (Cynthia Johnston, 'The James Dunn Collection. Erasmus, A Ryght Frutefull Epystle', DM&AG blog, 1 June 2020.)

James Dunn, note in James of Scotland, The Kingis Quair
(Vale Press, 1903)

However, the notes in the Vale Press books are largely very brief excerpts from bibliographic reviews and rarely reveal personal motives. In his copy of the Vale Press edition of James of Scotland The Kingis Quair, Dunn wrote a quotation from Temple Scott from 1895 (I have not been able to trace the source of this quotation, which is not from the interview with Ricketts that was published a year later).

The Vale Press of Hacon and
Ricketts promises to produce
volumes which should be 
worth the attention of book-
lovers and the collector.
The types with which they
are printed have been
specially designed by 
Mr. Ricketts and are in
their way as beautiful
as those of William Morris

Handwritten note by James Dunn
(and separate catalogue description) in
W.S. Landor, Epicurus, Leontion and Ternissa
(Vale Press, 1896)

His handwritten note in a copy of Landor's Epicurus, Leontion and Ternissa (1896) reads:

Vale Press item
Title page in
black type, with
red ornamental 

In the Vale Press Vaughan edition, his annotation seems somewhat educational in nature (note also the underlining), pointing out details to the potential reader:

Note the ornamental
title page and
frontispiece, and
initial letters

In a single book (Meinhold's Mary Schweidler, 1903) he pasted a strip of paper with the description from an antiquarian catalogue. The price might be indicative of the year of purchase, but £4 4 0 is rather expensive for the entire first half of the twentieth century. I did not find a corresponding reference.

Handwritten note by James Dunn
in John Gray, Spiritual Poems
(Vale Press, 1896)

Only in his copy of John Gray's Spiritual Poems, Dunn made clear his personal appreciation for the illustration:

Note the choicely
engraved frontispiece,
and decorative title
page after Charles

James Dunn as a Vale Press collector

Apart from Dunn's appreciation for the title illustration of Spiritual Poems, we learn little about his preferences. We can say, however, that Dunn did not assemble a complete collection of the Vale Press publications and that his selection is not truly representative of the Vale Press. For example, the only modern texts are missing, and these include the plays of Michael Field as well as the programmatic texts of Ricketts and Pissarro.

Dunn also limited himself to the ordinary copies of the editions. He did not own copies printed on vellum. Nor did he acquire copies in a unique leather binding specially designed by Ricketts. His collection did not include signed copies or dedication copies. Although he collected prints, he did not own any proofs of Ricketts's wood-engravings. He apparently did not correspond with Ricketts.

Nor did he own any pre-Vale editions, such as Hero and Leander; issues of The Dial magazine are also missing, and so are the commercial books designed by Ricketts for, say, Osgood & McIlvaine or The Bodley Head (Thomas Hardy's Tess or Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx to mention only two).

What we don't know, for instance, is why Dunn purchased eleven editions of the Vale Press. Why not more, why not less? How do these books compare with the rest of his collection, with old and rare books and rococo prints? What is striking about this collection is that his own interests were followed in such a way that an eclectic collection emerged, without coherence, but expressing a personal passion for texts, illustrations and books.

What made him exceptional as a collector is that he assembled the collection quietly, studied each book carefully and already donated his collection to the local library during his lifetime, in several tranches, making him a role model for other collectors.

(Thanks are due to Mary Painter, librarian at Blackburn Central Library, for providing the scans of Vale Press books from the library's collection.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

586. A Vale Press Collector: James Dunn (2)

A separate section within James Dunn's collection, whose core consisted of the eighteenth-century illustrated books and rococo prints, comprised a collection of modern private press editions. He owned a few volumes published by the Nonesuch Press, and acquired a copy of the Eragny Press edition of C'est d'Aucassin et de Nicolette (1904) with colour wood engravings by Lucien Pissarro. This was the last book that Pissarro printed in Vale type (designed by Charles Ricketts). From then on he used his own Eragny type. 

Gradual donations

Judging from the labels pasted by Blackburn's library in the books donated by Dunn, Ricketts's Vale Press editions arrived not all at once, but in five batches. 

Label in Vaughan's Sacred Poems (1897)
(James Dunn Collection, Blackburn)

In November 1940, he donated two Vale Press editions: Vaughan's Sacred Poems (1897) and Meinhold's Mary Schweidler, the Amber Witch (1903), an early Vale Press edition in octavo and a later edition in quarto.

The second batch consisted of three works, registered by the library in April 1941: Landor's Epicures, Leontion and Ternissa (1896), Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (1900), and Ecclesiastes, or The Preacher, and the Song of Solomon (1902). Again, a mix of earlier and later works from the Vale press, all text editions without illustrations. The first volume of the Shakespeare edition did have an illustrated opening page and decorations in the margins (like all volumes).

Two more gifts followed that same year: The Poems of Sir John Suckling (1896) and T.S. Moore's Danaë (1903). The last book contains three wood engravings by Charles Ricketts.

Then, on 17 March 1942, three more Vale Press editions from Dunn's collection arrived at the library: John Gray's Spiritual Poems (1896), Arnold's Empedocles on Etna (1897), and The Parables from the Gospels (1903). The second book features no illustrations, the first has a wood-engraved frontispiece by Ricketts, while the third book contains no less than ten wood-engravings. 

Finally, on 14 April 1942, follows The Kingis Quair (1903).

Label in The Parables from the Gospels (1903)
(James Dunn Collection, Blackburn)

Can we infer from this that Dunn's favourite Vale Press books were the illustrated editions? Perhaps so, but then we must also note that a number of important illustrated volumes are missing, such as the two editions of Apuleius's story of Cupid and Psyche with illustrations by Ricketts or the Wordsworth edition with woodcuts by T.S. Moore.

A Selection of Vale Press Books

What we do know with certainty: James Dunn did not (probably could not) aim for completeness. He owned eleven books from the Vale Press from the years 1896 to 1903. He did not buy the concluding bibliography, nor did he own the Vale Press's programmatic books, Ricketts's A Defence of the Revival of Printing, or (a collaboration with Pissarro) De la typographie et de l'harmonie de la page imprimée, even though this was the Vale Press's only French-language publication, somewhat of an open invitation to a Francophile.

Clearly, he did not subscribe to the Vale Press editions and it is not unlikely that he acquired these works much later, antiquarian, and thus only when the opportunity arose. Michael Field's plays (four in total) are absent, as are editions by Tennyson, Keats, Shelley, Browning and other literary luminaries. Of the 39-volume Shakespeare edition, he owned only the very first volume, Hamlet.

Spine (detail) of
The Tragedy of Hamlet,
Prince of Denmark
 (Vale Press, 1900)

Thanks are due to Mary Painter, librarian at Blackburn Central Library, for providing the scans of Vale Press books from the library's collection.

Next week: more about James Dunn as a Vale Press collector.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

585. A Vale Press Collector: James Dunn (1)

There are many types of book collectors. Some strive for completeness; others settle for a representative selection; some follow fashions, others their own passion; some focus on deluxe editions; others on literary curiosities or series of pocket books; some collectors can financially afford whatever they like, others have small purses. 

A number of British collectors of Vale Press editions will be featured over the next few weeks. I begin this short series with an exceptional collector: we know almost nothing about him and the sparse trivia about his life and collecting tendencies are drawn from only one source: his obituary.

James Dunn, a shy collector

Dunn died in December 1943 in Blackburn where he was born in 1867. His wife, Clara Dunn (born Cott) died in 1907, aged 35. His son Ernest emigrated to South Africa around 1918, and his daughter married a Trevor Simpson and moved to Wrightington near Wigan. 

James Dunn
(Northern Daily Telegraph, 16 December 1943)
[published on Cotton Town Blackburn with Darwen
by Philip Crompton, 2019]

For much of his life - between the two world wars - he lived alone. Perhaps that is why he spent his time reading books and came to be a collector. Reading was a form of self-education. Dunn came from a poor family and had no formal training. After primary school, he was employed and at 14, he was a cotton piecer (1881 Cencus). His father ran a big drapery shop in Montague Street. According to an advertisement, his was the 'best and cheapest house' for general drapery, oilcloths, linoleums, mattings, carpets, rugs and more. As the eldest child, James Dunn continued this business in the working-class area of Blackburn.

Dunn household based on 1881 Cencus

Reading was not his only passion. A second pastime was walking - he walked, for example, from his home to Blackpool, over 40 kilometres, or to his daughter's house. But he also made trips to North Africa where he walked from village to village, probably in the then French territories of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. He had taught himself French.

In Paris, he explored the many bookstores and antiquarian bookshops, and in order to properly assess what he wanted to buy, he had begun to learn the country's language when he was older. His obituary said he not only could read French well, but also spoke it fluently (we do not know who in Blackburn could judge the level of quality of his French).

In the early years of World War II - he was already in his 70s - he developed a third craze: he regularly travelled to London to witness air raids. Incidentally, this sensationalism also existed during the First World War, when he travelled far and wide to spot a zeppelin or see the effects of a bombing raid with his own eyes.

The James Dunn Collection

Only a single photograph is known of Dunn - it accompanied his obituary. Family papers do not seem to have survived, nor a photograph of Dunn at the Eiffel Tower or on a Moroccan beach. His public profile was limited, Dunn shunned publicity, but he was, however, a trustee of the Primitive Methodist Church (old Montague Street).

As an autodidact, Dunn will no doubt have made use of Blackburn's public library, and after getting his collection of books together, he took a remarkable step and wanted to bequeath the collection to the Blackburn's Library, Museum, and Art Gallery.

Lancashire Evening Post, 17 October 1940

On 17 October 1940, the Lancashire Evening Post reported that the Blackburn Public Library Committee had decided to accept the gift of 'part of his collection of fine and rare books'. From then on, rows of books moved from his home to the library, not all at once, but in portions. His Vale Press books, for example, were donated between November 1940 and April 1942, as evidenced by the labels recording the gift in the books.

The last years of his life saw his library gradually disappear from Dunn's bookshelves. This is extraordinary. Usually, collectors donate their library as a whole, preferably only after their death, so that they will not have to face the emptiness of their own bookshelves. 

Many book collectors do not limit themselves to publications and let their interests spread to prints, paintings, antiquities - but Dunn seems to have concentrated on books and prints. He will not have had much financial room for digressions. However, his donation also included a painting that was, remarkably, of recent date: a floral still life by Louise Dimond (c. 1940). It was accepted somewhat reluctantly by the committee, not for its qualities but so as not to jeopardise the donation of books. Two years later, Dunn bought a second flower still life, by Ethel Fordham, and that was also accepted.

In addition, he donated - yet another collecting area - 'four choice pieces of pottery'. He probably owned a larger collection of ceramics. Paintings were probably not an essential part of his collection: otherwise he would have donated more.

His field was that of the book and print, particularly those from the Rococo era. He collected illustrated books (about British birds or Russian costumes for example), early printed books (a sixteenth-century Erasmus edition, a sixteenth-century herbal), but also owned some historical documents and parliamentary papers. His favourite writer was Charles Dickens; he managed to buy a convolute of letters, photographs and other documents by and about Dickens.

As one of Blackburn's few bibliophiles, he set an important example for others. His donation was followed in 1946 by that of an entirely different type of collector from Blackburn, the wealthy rope dealer Robert Edward Hart (1876-1946), who donated 500 books and illuminated manuscripts and 6000 coins. Hart and Dunn must have known each other - Hart attended Dunn's funeral.

Next week: the Vale Press books in the James Dunn Collection.

Some links to the John Dunn Collection:

  • Philip Crompton, 'The Dunn Collection. Finding the needles in the haystack', Cotton Town, Blackburn with Darwen, April 2019.
  • Philip Crompton, 'Oil Paintings in the James Dunn Collection', BM&AG blog, 27 May 2020.
  • Cynthia Johnston, 'The James Dunn Collection', BM&AG blog, 26 May 2020.
  • Interview with Cynthia Johnston, 'A Life Less Ordinary. The Elusive Mr Dunn', 'Tales from the Collection. Blackburn Museum at You Tube, 19 March 2022.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

584. Presentation Copies of Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan

Firsts, London’s Rare Book Fair (Saatchi Gallery, 15-18 September 2022) featured a presentation copy of Oscar Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan (1893). The book was offered for £30,900.00 by Whitmore Rare Books Inc of Pasadena (CA).

Oscar Wilde, dedication to R.V. Shone, November 1893
in Lady Windermere's Fan (1893)

Wilde inscribed this copy to R.V. Shone, one of the managers of the St. James's Theater that staged the play in 1892. The dealer's website mentioned: 'First editions signed by Wilde are scarce on the market, with Lady Windermere being particularly rare as only 500 copies of the first edition were printed [...]. Auction records show that the six known association copies of this play were all signed trade editions, as the run of 50 large paper copies came out after.'

Indeed, it seems Wilde only used copies of the regular trade edition as dedication copies.

In its description, Whitmore Rare Books, refers to a second dedication copy ('also presented to someone involved in the production') auctioned by Leslie Hindman in 2018 - I have no record of this sale. It could be the dedication copy for George Alexander (manager) or Marion Terry (actress).

How many dedication copies can we trace? Whitmore keeps it at six, but dedication copies are much less rare. I count 15 of them - and have undoubtedly missed a few more!

Douglas Ainslie
George Alexander
Arthur Clifton
W.L. Courtney
Alfred Douglas 
Edmund Gosse
Francis Jeune 
Otho Holland Lloyd
Elisabeth Marbury
Robert Ross
Marcel Schwob
R.V. Stone
Marion Terry
Byron Webber
Jane Wilde (Wilde's mother)

Any more? Please mail me if you know of other dedication copies.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

583. A Pastel Sketch by Charles Shannon

Early paintings and studies by Charles Shannon have regularly turned up at local auction houses in Britain in recent years. Now, at Reeman Dansie in Colchester, an undated sketch by Shannon is on offer. The auction will take place on 9 October. 

Charles Shannon, pastel sketch, interior, undated, probably 1880s-1890s 

We see a bedroom with a four-poster bed in front of which a woman sits in a chair, holding her  head, while a second woman behind is combing or brushing her hair. The light comes from the left, from two candles placed at different heights. It is a pastel sketch and clearly never finished. On the right is a rather tall shadowy female figure not executed in colour. The face of the standing woman also remained in a preliminary state.

Charles Shannon, pastel sketch, interior, undated, probably 1880s-1890s  (detail)

Zooming in on the scene, we see another thing: the sketch is applied over a regular pattern of horizontal and vertical lines, as if the sketch was intended for a large-format painting.

The same combination of grid, square format, and unfinished state can be recognised in a sketch for St Mark's Eve at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. [See here for an image.]

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

582. An Early Portrait of Charles Ricketts by Charles Shannon? (Continued)

Following the blog about an early portrait of Charles Ricketts by Charles Shannon - see blog 578. An Early Portrait of Charles Ricketts by Charles Shannon? - Anna Gruetzner Robins wrote to me that she also does not think that portrait could have been painted at Kennington Road, and that Brompton is more plausible: 'I feel fairly certain that it was painted at 12 A Edith Grove', mainly because ,'the surround looks Victorian.' 

12, Edith Grove, Brompton (in later years)

Other issues I touched on in the blog can also be complemented, albeit with little conclusive evidence. 

The catalogue Semi-Detached. Pictures of People and Places, the 1984 exhibition, indeed lists the painting, as number 38: 'Portrait of Charles Ricketts pre-1900 | oil on canvas 41.4 x 48.9 | private collection'. The label mentioned as owners 'Vint Hill and Killock of Bradford, but in the list of lenders their name is anonymised as 'a private collection'. According to the catalogue, this was the only painting from a private collection; otherwise, one work was made available by an artist and all other works came from museum collections.

About collector B.W.T. Vint (1882-1959), Anna Gruetzner Robins wrote that he was a 'big collector who left part of his collection to Bradford Art Gallery, the rest went to his son who kept it in a store near Heathrow airport so I expect that is where the picture came from.

Anna additionally discovered that the painting was not only owned by Gleeson White in the years up to his death in 1898, but that Shannon subsequently owned it. Indeed, it came back on the market after his own death in 1937. This is evident from some sheets in a catalogue published after his death, probably from Sotheby's (unfortunately unidentified). 

Catalogue (1937 or later) containing a description of 
'Interior of a room, with a man seated at a table'

I think Shannon possibly bought it back after Gleeson White's death in an attempt to help the widow who was left penniless. It was listed as number 113: 'Interior of a Room with a man seated at a Table'. The catalogue gives no title, only a description and leaves open who the person portrayed is. However, the provenance Gleeson White is given here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

581. A Sketch by Charles Shannon (continued)

After the publication of last week's blog, 'A Sketch by Charles Shannon', the new owner of Shannon's drawing contacted me. Thanks for that, Michael Seeney, and congratulations.

He provided additional information about the condition of the drawing and sent an image of the back of the frame with the gallery's label that unfortunately gives little information: no year or catalogue number, or previous owner, but only the name and years of the maker and the address of the gallery.

Charles Shannon, sketch of a woman brushing her hair (undated)
[Collection Michael Seeney]

The Ruskin Gallery Ltd. was located in 11 Chapel Street, Stratford-on-Avon [for an image of the building see British Listed Buildings], and definitely still active in the 1960s.

Seeney's account of the condition is as follows:

"I took the picture out of the frame and the sheet is unfortunately laid down on backing board; there is no signature but the right hand long edge of the sheet is perforated, I assume from being detached from a sketch book. The paper is very thin, but without being able to lift it from the backing means I can give no more information."

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

580. A Sketch by Charles Shannon

Last Monday, in the Gorringe's Weekly Antiques Sale, a not very large and apparently unsigned or dated sketch by Charles Shannon was sold. 

Charles Shannon, sketch of a woman brushing her hair (undated)

The image, rather vague, shows a woman combing her hair. It is a pencil sketch on buff paper, 24 x 17 cm. The attribution to Shannon was supported by the Ruskin Gallery label on the reverse.

It is a theme that Shannon used frequently, for example in two lithographs from 1896 ('The Hand-Mirror') and 1897 ('The Dressing-Room').

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

579. Black and White Stall in 1892

For the first issues of the weekly Black and White a masthead (or nameplate in American English) was designed by Charles Ricketts in 1891. Due to the complexity of the drawing, in which the title almost seemed to be hidden, it was only used for a short time. 

Charles Ricketts, masthead for Black and White, 1891

Of course, the title had to be immediately legible and recognisable, even from a distance, in order to speed up the sale of individual issues. There were probably complaints about Ricketts's masthead, and a more straightforward (anonymous) drawing was made. [Read about this masthead and its replacement in blog 45: Lux, Ars, Spes, and Night.] 

Black and White was an expensive production and of course had to sell well, targeting an international audience, or at least British citizens visiting other countries. It was on sale at Neal's English Library in Paris, at Saarbach's American Exchange in Mainz, and could be bought in the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. 

However, it is quite possible that Ricketts had already drawn other advertising material for the weekly magazine before his masthead was rejected for prolonged use. The issue of 23 April 1892 includes an image of a sales booth at Venice, London, Olympia, that seems to confirm this.

'Black and White' stall at Venice in London, Olympia
Black and White, 23 April 1892, p. 543

'Venice in London' was a spectacular indoor aquatic show at Olympia opened on 26 December 1891, and attracting huge crowds for more than three years. 

Venice in London, souvenir programme 1891-1892
[Collection V&A, London]

There were canals and buildings that represented the Rialto Bridge, shops, glass-blowing manufactories, Venetian pleasure gardens, thirty specially made (shorter) gondolas, serenades, concerts, and a 'Grand Aquatic Carnival Ballet' with a thousand dancers. A 'Majestic Aquatic Pageant' was presented four times a day. [Read V&A curator Cathy Haill's blog about the event.]

The organisers needed £60,000 for this spectacle and advertising revenue was more than welcome. This was the ideal place to attract more customers for any product, and Black and White magazine must have paid a nice sum of money to set up a sales stall there.

'Black and White' stall at Venice in London, Olympia (detail)
Black and White, 23 April 1892, p. 543

A detail of the image of this stall shows a saleswoman with some bound volumes of the weekly magazine. The publisher sold cloth covers for bound sets (Volume I and II, at the time) for which a frontispiece, title page and index were supplied free of charge. On the left, a prospective buyer is leafing through a bound volume. But what I am interested in now is the front of the stall with a shield that contains text: '4 Weekly ILLUSTRATED RECORD & REVIEW'. 

The lettering with the long tail of the 'R' for record and a similar but different tail of the 'R' for review, but especially the idiosyncratic shape of the letter 'C' after which the letter o is drawn as an afterthought, as well as the slightly to the left tilted ampersand look very much like Ricketts lettering in those years.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

578. An Early Portrait of Charles Ricketts by Charles Shannon?

A year ago, an enigmatic painting was auctioned at Christie's. At the time, I missed its advertisement as the 'property of a gentleman'. The painting was sold on 15 July 2021 as lot 139 in live auction 20111, 'British and European Art'. Described as a painting by Charles Hazelwood Shannon, it was said to be a 'Portrait of Charles Ricketts, painted at Kennington Road, Lambeth'.

Charles Shannon, 'Portrait of Charles Ricketts,
painted at Kennington Road, Lambeth', before 1900

The title in the catalogue was dictated by an inscription (in capitals) on the back of the frame: 'Portrait of Charles Ricketts RA Painted at Lambeth By Charles Shannon RA Before 1900'. The figure portrayed, given the red hair, could indeed be Ricketts, whose beard, incidentally, is hidden behind his hand. But the inscription is not an early one. Behind both names is the abbreviation RA, because of their election to the Royal Academy, which for Ricketts only occurred in 1928, three years before his death. The date 'before 1900' is probably based on the provenance: apparently this painting belonged to J.W. Gleeson White, a close friend of Ricketts and Shannon who died quite young in 1898.

A similar early painting by Shannon - a breakfast scene, a figure with half-hidden face, a painting that looks sketchy, swiftly painted, summery and light - is not known to me.

The reverse side of the painting tells many other stories, that is, fragments of stories, by means of labels. (For an image, see Christie's website.)

The most worn label is that of the frame maker: Müller & Co, based at 62 High Holborn with branches elsewhere. Above the address, the words 'Forty Years' seem to be decipherable, and as the firm was founded in 1847 this would indicate a year after 1887. That year Ricketts and Shannon moved from Kennington Park Road to Edith Terrace, Brompton.

A second label dates from later times and has been pasted over another label that states the name of the then owner: Wyndham T. Vint: 'This Picture is the Property of Wyndham T. Vint Commercial Bank Building'. The label, partly pasted over it, shows a number and an address, is further torn and scuffed, but the address is clearly that of another frame maker and fine art packers: James Bourlet & Sons at 17 & 18 Nassau Street, London. Bourlot may have packed the painting for transport to an exhibition.

There are also two labels that have been applied for exhibitions. The first dates from 1954 when the Bradford Art Gallery held a Jubilee Exhibition to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Cartwright Memorial Hall. 

The second exhibition was called 'Semi-Detached. Pictures of Peoples and Places', and was held from 7 April to 13 May 1984 in the Southampton City Art Gallery. This label states that the owner is a firm of solicitors: Vint Hill and Killock of Bradford - originally: Charles John Vint (died 1944), Frank Herbert Hill, Henry Killick (left the partnership in 1924) & Wyndham Theodore Vint (the name Vint, Hill & Killick continued to be used after 1924). 

Benjamin Wyndham Theodore Vint's collection of paintings led to exhibitions at Airdrie Public Library (1936), Whitechapel Art Gallery (1939), the Aberdeen Art Gallery (1944) and Dundee Public Libraries (1944). In 1956 works from his collection were exhibited at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull. Vint lived at Thorn Cottage Farm, Wroot, near Doncaster, and he collected works by Maurice de Vlaminck, Augustus John, William Orpen and others. He was born in 1882 and died in 1959. (Vint had other interests; he won many a prize with his pigs.)

Another label seems to be related to an auction and states something quite different from the first inscription: 'Charles Hazelwood Shannon Self Portrait', with the numbers '349' and 'WTV221'. Let us assume that this - the assumption that it is a self-portrait - is a mistake.

In summary: previous owners were Gleeson White and Vint - but who is the owner now?

What do we actually see in the painting? Ricketts or Shannon? Kennington Park Road or Edith Terrace? 

Are there any other clues - perhaps in the catalogues mentioned, to which I do not have access here in The Hague?

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

577. A Summer Anthology (6): Sun Burnt a Bright Pink

In February and March 1905, Ricketts and Shannon enjoyed vacations in Rome and Florence, and in August of that year they kept it closer to home. They bivouacked on the English coast for a prosaic reason: their house at Lansdowne Road was being painted. Their accommodation was The Albany Hotel, that curves around Robertson Terrace in Hastings. The hotel had opened in 1885 under the name Albany Mansions.

Albany Mansions, c.1890

Charles Ricketts to Michael Field, 1 August 1905

[British Library Add MS 58088, ff 152-4]

Dear Poet
We are here the house painters at the Palace having driven us away. On transplanting I of course shrieked like an uprooted mandrake, but I have become reconciled mainly owing to the good local grub. [...]
"Choose a friend as you would a book" – I have this on the tip of my pen as I spent quite a considerable time in spending 1 & 6d on a book this morning, at the local library, fixing finally on Emerson’s Essays, a purchase which I now rather regret. I had exhausted tedious spectacled Suetonius whom I had bought in a new translation. I quite understand St Augustine’s defence of him, this author whom I confused with the great Tacitus is a transparent journalist of the oh fie! oh my! type and now, would write for the Standard, which Shannon is now reading – the rest of his time is spent in pretending to read the great Bernhard, Bernhard Shaw that is, not the other, though both are moralists in disguise.

The two Bernards were Bernard Shaw and Bernard Berenson - and the added "h" in their names is due to Ricketts's imagination.

I am just now quite great at whitewashing the C[a]esars, only one seems to have been really bad & a monster & that is Calligula [sic] who reminds me of Michael. On my return I shall look up Tacitus.

Michael was Katherine Bradley, the older half of the writing duo Michael Field.

I have become sun burnt a bright pink, the pink of pink flannelette, Shannon is a deeper hue like a ham, or the Roast beef of old England. [...] 
I send you a sea greeting
The Painter
This place is a long stretch of seafronts some miles long, steady & continuous like the Earthly Paradise of W. Morris but not quite so monotonous.

The Albany Hotel, 1906

Thanks are due to John Aplin for providing the transcription of this letter.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

576. A Summer Anthology (5): Cold Beer

During the summers, art historian Mary Berenson, who lived with her husband Bernhard Berenson at Villa I Tatti near Florence, visited her mother in London, and during her 1904 stay she visited Charles Ricketts.

Mary Berenson
by unknown photographer:
(matte printing-out paper print, circa 1893)
[© National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG Ax160669]

In a letter to Michael Field, he wrote about her charm. In his diary he noted that he attended a concert in Chelsea with Mary Berenson and Michael Field's older half, Katherine Bradley, and that the music of Bach and Beethoven gave him a stabbing headache. A year later, in March 1905, Ricketts and Shannon were having lunch at Villa I Tatti. They liked Mary but found Bernhard unsympathetic, although they shared some vitriolic opinions about fellow art historians.

Charles Ricketts to Michael Field, 29 July 1904

[British Library Add MS 58088, ff 64-6]

      Dear Mrs B.B. called dressed in pale blue and looked like fresh bunches of forget-me nots (plenty of bunches). She is a charming woman from whose presence emanates a perfume of kindness. We mildly ran you both down – oh not very much! – just enough to feel comfortable. I have been basking in the heat & feeling very fit.
      We dined with Toby & Tobie’s wife, Fry was there: on his face shon[e] the reflected glory of the house of Lords, he had been all day at the Chantrey commission, we sat in the garden & talked about the inconveniences of travel. Oh that I had the wings of a dove! I should now be drinking cold beer in Dresden

Roger Fry had been an acquaintance of Ricketts and Shannon since the mid-1890s, and when they moved to Beaufort Street they became his neighbours, but a deep friendship did not develop, even when Fry and Ricketts became involved with the art magazine The Burlington Magazine. They took opposing views on Post-Impressionism. 
Toby appears in other letters to Michael Field, but he is not yet identified - the name probably does not refer to the journalist Henry William Lucy, who could be found in the House of Parliament so often that he used the penname Toby M.P., although the House was the location where the Chantrey committee meetings took plate between 5 and 29 July 1904. Fry was heard as a witness on 15 July. [See note at the bottom.]
Dresden was apparently one of Ricketts's favorite cities. He had visited Dresden for the first time the previous year, in August 1903, and even then he wrote to Shannon that the beer there was great: it "tastes like melted topaz, while the sweat beeds off my noble brow and the walls wave about".

Thanks are due to John Aplin for providing the transcription of this letter, and for solving the puzzle: Mr and Mrs Toby are nicknames for Thomas Sturge Moore and his bride Maria Appia.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

575. A Summer Anthology (4): The Heat is Noble

Ricketts and Shannon visited Venice at least three times, beginning in 1899, then in 1903 and in 1908; on the latter occasion staying at the House of Desdemona on the Grand Canal owned by their friends Edmund and Mary Davis, and more commonly known as the Palazzo Contarini Fasan. 

Paolo Salviati, photo of Palazzo Contarini Fasan, c. 1891-1894[detail]
Boston Public Library: William Vaughn Tupper Scrapbook Collection]

It would not be their busiest holiday; there was plenty of idling and lazing around, as a letter to Michael Field indicates.

Charles Ricketts to Michael Field, 20-21 May 1908

[British Library Add MS 58089, ff 93-5]

Dear Poet

[...] We passed through a northern Italy empty of field flowers but agre[e]able with tall green corn and grapes of white Accassia [sic], this is splendid this year and saturates the Lido where we go to bask in steady after lunch boredom every day. The heat is noble and the air superb. I like the Palazzo immensely and we shall stay on here after the departure of our hosts, – that is if Shannon is still of the same mind. We shall lunch at the Guadri [sic] and dine among the trees at the Lido, which is a vulgar place.
We went for a wonderful night trip in the Gondola round a Ghostly island to St Giorgio, the sky was dominated by a perfectly flagrant Hesperus or Venus. I forget which but some unabashed star three times its normal size; the water like velvet became alive with diamond insects (some sea fire fly) while the air vibrated with the noise of countless grasshoppers, metal[l]ic & persistant [sic] like the sound of a bronze Sistrum echoing from some garden. At night the summer lightening [sic] threads a great wall of which hangs over the city for a while, then the place melts into wonderful deeps of rich gloom and varied lights, while the falling stars shoot out about the dome of the Salute which becomes at night a palace of frosted silver locked till an angel shall arrive. Our balcony faces the Salute and I spend a great part of the night there.
Our vast bedroom overlooks the charming well like garden, with a Syringa clambers [sic] against our window & a tree of the enclosed (this is new to me): remains a huge larch and a real well for the encouragement of mosquito[e]s. On the ceiling of our room a late pupil of Tiepolo has painted Fame driving Time away from a lady holding a book of poetry or accounts. It seems the upper flat is covered with Longhi-esque frescoes, the interior having been entirely rehandled in the 18th Century. Duse stayed here and her presence has succeeded in scaring away what remained of the ghost of Desdemona.
We are leading a bestial life. I have not once been inside St Marco & nearly fell asleep in the Accademia, which has been entirely rehandled since our time. Venice is crowded & rents enormous, which is not interesting.
The Painter
A tiny scorpion was found this morning and drowned in a tumbler of old Venetian glass.

Indeed, the actress Eleonora Duse stayed at the Palazzo, in 1893, long before Edmund Davis bought the property: "She thought that she had found the perfect refuge in Venice when she rented an apartment in the Palazzo di Desdemona adjacent to the Grand Hotel on the Grand Canal but it proved to be uninhabitable", and a friend offered her "an apartment on the top floor of his own residence, the Palazzo Barbaro, situated between San Vio and the Catecumini [...]. This was to be Duse's refuge for the next three years." She left this suite of rooms on the top floor" in July 1897. (Giovanni Pontiero, Eleonora Duse. In Life and Art, 1986, p. 107; William Weaver, Duse. A Biography, 1984, p. 108). 

Thanks are due to John Aplin for providing the text of this letter.