Wednesday, May 25, 2022

564. Ricketts & Shannon at the Technical School of Art (1)

This week's guest blog is written by art historian Anna Gruetzner Robins, Emeritus Professor at the University of Reading, who published about Walter Sickert and James McNeill Whistler, and now prepares a book about the early years of the Vale coterie.

Charles Ricketts, Reginald Savage, Charles Shannon, and Thomas Sturge Moore at the South London Technical School of Art

by Anna Gruetzner Robins

Charles Ricketts, Charles Shannon, Reginald Savage, and Thomas Sturge Moore all attended the South London Technical Art School. Previously, it has been assumed that all four were students on the Wood Engraving course. Ricketts and Shannon and also Savage certainly did enrol on the three year course, however, none of them with the possible exception of Shannon completed the course, and there is no record of Sturge Moore ever having enrolled. The School Records in the London Metropolitan Archives show that their period of study at South London, as I will refer to it, to have taken quite a different path.[1]

City and Guilds London Institute

South London Technical Art School

The School was established in 1878 when the City and Guilds of London Institute earmarked the Lambeth School of Art for expansion with the aim of introducing a national system of technical education.[2] It took over the original site on Millar’s Lane, off Upper Kennington Lane, and, between 1879 and 1881, acquired the leases of two houses at 122 and 124 Kennington Park Road where it 'erected on the gardens behind, spacious and excellently lighted class and work rooms, in buildings measuring 70x22 feet, and one story high, at a cost of about £700' for the teaching of the Modelling and Wood Engraving courses.[3]

By 1881 plans were made to build a similar studio in the garden of 124 Kennington Park Road. The aim of the School was to teach the 'application of Art for industrial purposes'.[4] Initially, it offered four courses including Modelling, Design, Wood Engraving and a Life Class (Drawing and Painting). Charles Roberts, who was said to be 'a skilled artist' and 'a very able teacher,'[5] and the proprietor of a commercial engraving premises in Lonsdale Chambers, 27 Chancery Lane was in charge of the Wood Engraving course. It was taught on weekdays from 10 till 4, and from 6-8 on Tuesday and Friday but Roberts was only present during the evening sessions.

The rest of the time, students worked under the supervision of an assistant teacher or senior student; practicing the techniques of 'line cutting, tinting, fac-simile cutting, finished work in ornament, landscape, figure, and drawing on wood,'[6] all of which were part of the training for their future trade of making accurate wood engravings of a painting, drawing or photographs for reproduction in the commercial press. On the first Tuesday evening of each month, students made a drawing on wood preferably from an original design, but this was their only opportunity for creative expression.

Prospective students were warned that wood engraving 'requires much practice, and a long apprenticeship is essential'. Students were required to have Second Grade certificate from the Science and Art Department at South Kensington but study for it could be concurrent with their enrolment at South London. The annual tuition fee was £4 4s a year,[7] payable half-yearly in advance, and the rule was that 'no one can be admitted as a student for a shorter period than a year; and those who are admitted are expected to attend regularly, and to apply themselves steadily to the work.'

Charles Shannon

Shannon enrolled on the Wood Engraving course in February 1882 when the School receipts show that he paid 2 pounds 2 shillings in February 1882, and 1 pound 10 shillings for the Wood Engraving course in December 1882. I cannot find any evidence to show that he paid any further fees. It is probable that he won one of the four scholarships 'which are awarded after the first year's practice, and which may be renewed in the following year on proof of industry and progress and on the recommendation of Mr. Roberts.' The wood engraving students were there to learn a trade, and those who applied themselves 'steadily to the work' could expect to be offered a two year apprenticeship with Roberts where they worked 'for modest payment'. [8]

Both Ricketts and Shannon were 'apprenticed to Mr. Roberts, the wo0d-engraver on such apprenticeship'.[9] These were normally given on the successful completion of the three year course but in exceptional cases a student was invited to take one up after two years. Shannon did not work long, if at all, at Roberts's Chancery Lane premises because by 1885 he was teaching at Croydon School of Art. Indeed the 1888 South London Technical Art School Report described him as an 'Art Master at Croydon' who 'gave up wood engraving for pen and ink illustrating and painting.'

Charles Ricketts

It is believed that Ricketts enrolled at the School on the 16th of October 1882 but the records show that in fact he enrolled on the same date the following year, when he paid 1 pound 10 shillings , followed by 1 pound and 10 shillings in July 1884 for the Wood Engraving. [10] However, there is no record of Ricketts making any further payment for the Wood Engraving course. He may have taken up his apprenticeship when he assisted Roberts with the engraving of Cassell's History of England before completing the course, [11] or he may may have won a scholarship.

By January 1885, when he described himself on the School enrolment form, as an 'Art Student' rather than a 'Wood Engraver' and again in March, and October that year, and January 1886 and 1888, Ricketts paid between 15 shillings and two pounds for the Life Class. This must have been the Special Life Class that the School Director John Sparkes established when the demand for wood engraved illustrations dwindled; they were replaced by black and white drawings that could be easily be reproduced by photomechanical means or 'process' printing. In 1892, Sparkes could report that 'the Special Life Class fully bears out my assumption of its usefulness. The value of the classes as a training institution for black and white work and general illustration is becoming still more publicly recognized. There is no doubt that it will become the school of illustration of the future.' Initially in 1884-1885, the course was taught between 10 and 1 on Saturday but later it moved to a new time of 10 to 1 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Reginald Savage

Reginald Savage first enrolled at South London in December 1882 when he paid various amounts of between 2 shillings and 6 pence and 5 shillings, and again in February, May, June, July, October, November 1883, and October 1884 for the Life Drawing part of the Modelling Course. Between November 1883 and November 1884, he also enrolled on the Wood Engraving course.

Thomas Sturge Moore

Finally the records show that Thomas Sturge Moore was first taught by Shannon at Croydon School of Art, but was persuaded by him to transfer to the South London when he met Ricketts for the first time. Between February 1887 and October 1890, Sturge Moore was in the Special Life Drawing Class until March 1891 when he enrolled on the Modelling course until December 1891 when he was Second Place in the yearly competition for Modelling from Life.[12]

The Valistes

The School Records are not complete, and a record of attendance was not kept so students did not necessarily pay the requisite amount of tuition or indeed pay it on time if at all but they do provide a much fuller picture of the Valistes (as they called themselves)[13] period of study at the South London Technical School of Art.



For a listing of these records see the South London Technical Archive, London Metropolitan Archive,, accessed 20/01/2022; hereafter South London, LMA.


South London, LMA, Technical Education Report of the Executive Committee to the General Committee of certain of the livery companies of London Proposals of the Executive Committee January 1879. And Resolutions of the council and Board of Governors Thereon, February and March 1879, South London, LMA, 21834/1.


South London,LMA, 21834/1 1877-1880.


South London, LMA, 21834/1 1877-1880.


City and Guilds Metropolitan Archive, 21834/2, 3.


Prospectus for the South London Technical Art School, Session 1881-2. There were no changes to the course syllabus during the period of time that Ricketts, Savage and Shannon were enrolled. 


The fee subsequently was reduced to £3. See the school prospectus for the academic year of 1882-83.


South London, LMA, M21834/5.


Thomas Sturge Moore, in Cecil Lewis, ed., Charles Ricketts. Self Portrait, Taken from the Letters & Journals of Charles Ricketts, R.A., Collected and Compiled by T. Sturge Moore, London, 1939, 14. 


J.G.P. Delaney, Charles Ricketts A Biography, Oxford, 1990, 28 states that Ricketts and Shannon met on Ricketts birthday when he enrolled in the School. However, Sturge Moore remembered that they met 'around 1883'. Thomas Sturge Papers, 60/2/1.


Thomas Sturge Moore, 'Notes for a lecture on Ricketts' , Thomas Sturge Moore Papers, Senate House, University of London, 60/2/1.


Thomas Sturge Moore Papers, Senate House, University of London, MS 978/5/2/8 includes a certificate for winning Second Place in the yearly 'Modelling from Life' competition, states that he studied modelling between March 1889 and December 1891.


Letter from John Gray to Félix Fénéon, 16 April 1891, cf. Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon, 94: A French Correspondence.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

563. Flowers in Daphnis and Chloe and in Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

One of the cat images in Daphnis & Chloe (see blog 562) stuck in my mind because I don't quite understand what we are looking at. The action is clearly a reflection of the story, with Daphnis being served in the home of Dryas and his wife by his regained lover Chloe. But the setting: what time are we actually in?

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving in Daphnis and Chloe (1893, page 57)

The set table, the floral decorations on the floor, the cupboard with tableware on the left-hand side of the room somehow do not seem Greek or second-century Roman to me. Was it a custom in Greece to place bowls and plates like this in a cupboard? Were flowers scattered on the floors during festive meals?

It may well be that Ricketts went to see all these objects in the British Museum or in other museums for the edition of Daphnis & Chloe that he undertook with Shannon; he may also have looked around in his own kitchen. He also examined an extraordinary illustrated book from the Renaissance, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili from 1499. 

He may have ignored the Latin text, but the illustrations have taken root in his mind. Not all of them, of course; many are rather obscurely symbolic and formal, whereas Shannon and Ricketts, for their edition of the story of Daphnis & Chloe, looked more for representations of the narrative and for intimacy. The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili shows many more individual objects and scenes that take place outside, while Daphnis & Chloe displays more domestic scenes.

In the image of the festive meal, two lines seem to demarcate a rug. The decorations are not part of the rug on which the cat is sitting and which runs under the table. Some of the decorations - they are flowers, twigs and leaves - are next to the rug (if it is a rug).

I don't know if there is a Greek or Roman example for that, but we can turn to the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili for inspiration. One of the sparse intimate woodcuts in that book depicts a split-screen scene (like the one of the other cat in last week's blog) with a view into a bedroom. (See here for an online version of the 1499 edition.)

Illustration in Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499): page C7v

In the bedroom with bed and chest is a kneeling woman on a decorated carpet (I suspect) and there are the same twigs and flowers as in Ricketts's woodcut. They lie here in (what appears to be) a fixed pattern. In Ricketts's image, they are strewn haphazardly across the floor.

Ricketts reflected on the scattering of flowers during festivities. At the end of the book, he depicts the wedding of Daphnis and Chloe, in which a figure stands among the tables with baskets of flowers, which he scatters lavishly with his upraised arm.

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving in Daphnis and Chloe (1893, page 97)

The flowers fall onto the table and the floor, explaining the earlier image.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

562. Cats Depicted in Daphnis and Chloe

In the wood-engravings for Daphnis and Chloe (1893), Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon depicted a great many animals, some of which are mentioned in the story but others not. As the shepherd, Daphnis is of course depicted with a dog, sheep, goats and other livestock - we also see a cow, horses, pigeons and a dead dolphin.

Animals are also present in the domestic scenes, including dogs, chickens, a peacock and cats.

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving in Daphnis and Chloe (1893, page 11)

The first cat walks into the book on page 11. In a "split-screen" illustration, Daphnis sits on the floor on the left; in the right compartment Chloe sits upright in her bedroom. Both 'are tormented by an amorous melancholy'. They are in love with each other. As the cat appears in the open doorway (it is dark outside) and places its paws on the wooden floor, it looks straight at the viewer.

A cat
in Daphnis and Chloe
(1893, page 11)

A second cat appears on page 57 in the home of Dryas where the animal apparently feels right at ease. 

Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving in Daphnis and Chloe (1893, page 57)

It is grooming itself, licking its paw.

A cat
in Daphnis and Chloe
(1893, page 57)

When Ricketts illustrates dramatic moments in a story, he often selects a moment after the climax, when the tension seems to have died down, but is in fact still in full force. And he accentuates the ordinariness of the drama through domestic elements like a pet.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

561. A Puzzle Involving Wilde and Ricketts

Every week, in response to the blogs about Ricketts and Shannon, questions are fired at me. Sometimes they are simple requests, other times they are difficult questions and occasionally they are puzzling queries. I received an example of the latter category on 21 April when Avery Garnett wrote:

I hope this finds you well. I realise this email may either be a very strange request, or something you're tired of receiving enquiries about (sorry if that's the case!). When doing research, I found your articles about the work of Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon:

I'm currently trying to identify a book that is 'blind-tooled on the green in a double circle was a single star above what was perhaps a sea' as well as 'It was the tenth edition, of 1917'. I found an ancient discussion on a web forum that seemed to lead nowhere, but with a post 3 years later saying "it was the importance of being earnest" with no further explanation. However, I cannot find any proof of a 1917 edition of that Wilde book, only one dated 1910 which seems to be part of the collected works.

These points led me to your blog and I am certain it is the mark I'm looking for - but you mention that the prints were used by Methuen for dozens of reprints.

So I was wondering: do you happen to know of a list of works that had this print? Or possibly if there indeed exists a 10th edition copy of ...Being Earnest with this publisher mark because many other people have stumbled across your posts and had the same idea as me? Thank you very kindly for your time!

The email refers to a blog about the vignette of a star above the sea designed by Ricketts and used by publisher Methuen for many years. The vignette (not a publisher's mark by the way) appeared edition after edition on the reprints of Oscar Wilde's works, including reprints of The Importance of Being Earnest

Charles Ricketts, design for Oscar Wilde,
Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories (1909)

Indeed, I was puzzled, so I answered:

It is not so much a strange request as a rather vague one, as you do not describe the book to me or send me images, and how it comes that you need identification: is there no binding, title page, is it incomplete?

Not much to go on. Anyway, I deduct from the spare facts that you have a copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and that it is not the first or second edition (1899 and 1908) but a later one.
After the 1908 collected edition, as you probably know, a second collected edition was issued in 1909, some new volumes added up to 1920 or so.
Initially these were issued in green cloth, gilt (1909) or green cloth, blind stamped, spine gilt, and even later (for example the 18th edition in 1924) in blue cloth, gilt, and still later in cheap green bindings. 

The IofBE was reprinted many times:
4th ed Feb 1910
5th ed Dec 1911
6th ed Nov 1912
7th, New cheap ed. (only spine in gold): Jan 1915
8th ed. July 1916
9th ed April 1917
10th ed Nov 1917
11th ed Dec 1917
12th ed July 1919
13th ed 1919
and so on. 

It suffices to buy one of those later editions to see how many reprints there were in between.

Some of those were advertised by Methuen in lists and newspapers. They were not collected by the main libraries and so no bibliographical record of them was kept. Up until 20 years ago they were easy to find in Great Britain, but they have become less easy to find due to the demise of small independent antiquarian book shops.

Did I answer your question?

Cover of Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
(Thirteenth Edition, 1919) with the vignette by
Charles Ricketts stamped in blind on the front cover

Shortly after I sent the reply, the response came:

Wow, thank you very much! I think that yes, it is indeed the IofBE; it ties up with what I was expecting and this cryptic, no source post on a mailing list from 15 years ago.

With regards to the vagueness, it's because I don't actually own a copy of the book. Rather, it's from a copy of Cain's Jawbone, which (if you've not heard of it) is a literary puzzle from the 1930s which is infamously difficult to solve and only 4 people have done so in the last 90 years:

It so happens that on one page, the narrator describes taking a green book from his pocket... but that's all; given the nature of the puzzle, every detail seems to be important and I've been scratching my head at finding out what it is. The puzzle probably would have been easier in some regard back in 1933, because knowing a book published in 1917 would've been more common knowledge back then, at least among the middle to upper classes. The author (and by extension, the narrator) really seem to enjoy using Wilde and especially IofBE quotes in the prose, so it's lovely to be able to tick that puzzle off the list!

Well, this answer surprised me. I had no idea that this blog would serve the community of puzzle lovers.