Wednesday, March 2, 2022

552. The Wise and Foolish Virgins by Charles Shannon

A question about the couple who managed the household of Ricketts and Shannon led to a search for a study of Shannon's painting The Wise and Foolish Virgins. The painting, now in the Walker Art Gallery (Liverpool), is dated by Shannon: '1919-1920'. A large format oil painting, it measures 110.8 x 177.8 cm.

Charles Shannon, The Wise and Foolish Virgins (1919-1920)
Walker Art Gallery
(National Museums Liverpool)

The painting was donated by Joseph Bibby in 1934. 

A preliminary study for the painting is in the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry. This version of the oil painting is slightly smaller, measuring 58.4 x 95 cm.

Charles Shannon, The Wise and Foolish Virgins (1920?)
Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

This donation from Mr and Mrs A.E. Nicholls was added to the collection in 1962. Intriguingly, the donors bear the same surname as the servants of Ricketts and Shannon. These were Percy Nicholls and his (according to one source) Russian wife, who ran the household from January 1924 - they stayed until after Shannon's death. In January 1929, Nicholls was injured while hanging a painting, but not as seriously as Shannon who remained disabled for the rest of his life. For their good care, the Nicholls received paid vacations twice, one to Margate and one to Bognor and on the latter occasion 'Nicholls's cousin' came to help in the house.

Shannon needed constant nursing care and Ricketts himself was having a bad effect on his condition: 'Nicholls seems to have the best influence over him & I the worst' (letter to Mary Davis, 1930).

After Ricketts's death, friends arranged for Shannon to move to Kew (21 Kew Gardens Road), and the Nicholls also cared for him there until his death in March 1937. After Shannon's death, they continued to care for the house. It was bought by Sydney Cockerell who was eager for them to stay, probably to take care of his invalid wife, but they did not. They stayed until Cockerell moved into the house in August 1937 and still helped unpack and furnish.

On 30 May 1937, Thomas Sturge Moore wrote to Gordon Bottomley (see Gordon Bottomley-Thomas Sturge Moore correspondence, edited by John Aplin, published online by InteLex Past Masters):

Cockerell has bought the house and wanted to take over the good Nicholls too, but Mrs Nicholls put her foot down and said they must have a change. But after having a post at the Nat Gallery waved before him by Lowinsky and one at the Law Courts by Gilchrist he may be reduced to washing buses.

It is entirely possible that the generous Ricketts gave the preliminary study of the painting to Nicholls, but what the relationship between Percy and A.E. Nicholls is I do not know.

(About Joseph Bibby a next time.)