Wednesday, June 29, 2022

569. Ricketts's Review of the Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450-1900

From 4 January to 9 March 1929, the 'Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450-1900' was on view at Burlington House, home to the Royal Academy of Arts. Only recently I found out that Ricketts published a review of the exhibition  the article is missing in my 2015 list A Bibliography of Charles Ricketts. It was an extensive exhibition. The catalogue lists 921 numbered objects (the last of which consists of 43 separate items).

Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450-1900 (1929: second edition)

The review appeared in The Observer of 13 January 1929, less than ten days after the opening. I found it through a remarkable re-print in La Gazette de Hollande, 1 February 1929. This Dutch newspaper, since its foundation by O. van Beresteyn in 1911, published news about the Netherlands. The paper was published for an international audience in French, but, after 1913, also contained an 'English Section'. Here follows the text as it was printed in The Observer. (The illustrations are added by me.)

The Dutch Pictures at Burlington House. An Artist's Impressions.

The Editor has asked me to give my impressions of an artist before the miracles of his craft to be seen at the Exhibition of Dutch art at the Academy. In so doing the editor is a sentimentalist, since, a little more than a year ago, when in America, I was assured by one of our dealer Maecenases that "you painters never know anything about old pictures." I will not discuss the sources of Dutch painting, and will accept the common view that is arrives and dies within the seventeenth century. In the space of some seventy-six years the artists of Holland created one of the most homogeneous averages known to painting, gave an image of their time which no other school has equalled, and achieved a technical excellence which, of its kind, has never been surpassed. In achieving this they observe great limitations in aim and in effort. They are painters of one race, almost of one family, and, with the exception of Rembrandt, they have remained unconcerned with anything more than the rendering of things seen. There are Dutch pictures where the illusion is of reality itself, focussed and harmonised as if in the surface of a mirror; this is the case with Ter Borch and Vermeer. Outside the paintings of Rembrandt Dutch art is untouched by passion, imagination, and religious thought. This tranquil and accomplished school blossomed after a tragic struggle for religious and racial freedom, and one wonders if that struggle had not exhausted those deeper passions which find expression in the art and literature of a nation. Of these there is no trace till we come to the gigantic effort of Rembrandt, who is unique in his time and country, and, for that matter, in the world of Art itself.


If I have stressed  the temperate and placid outlook of most of these artists, allowing for a little more in the finer landscapes of Ruysdael and perhaps Van Goyen, the technical science of these men remains amazing in its directness and precision. The pigment in Ter Borch's pictures has the fused texture and luminosity of a pearl; he dips his brushes, not in varnish or paint, but in some living substance, nacre, or the air itself. With Vermeer the very light has become an integral part of his pigment, and for directness and economy of means Frans Hals is foremost in the history of painting. A few earth colours, the direct handling of a scene-painter, and, behold, a vivid masterpiece of characterisation: a living face rises before us, stamped with its age, temper, cast and habit in life. My one complaint against the management of this well-hung exhibition is that his many canvases have not been grouped into a single room to show his development from a literal and explicit rendering of fact, which characterises his early manner, to such masterpieces of expression and representation as No. 356.[1]
To the average lover of pictures Frans Hals remains the painter of the "Laughing Cavalier" and of the nobler portrait groups at Haarlem, with a dim impression that in his old age the artists attempted something different. It is when Hals refrains from swaggering that he becomes a great master; it is when the cold clarity of his colour turns to grey and his perfect draughtsmanship takes on a more emotional aspect that he touches us most. No. 356 fulfils these conditions﹣we have here more than mere forceful representation; this has become tempered by gravity in mood and a more sensitive vision of life.
Rembrandt fills the big room No. 3. Let us look carefully, and a little wistfully. Most of these masterpieces are here for the last time. They will never be seen together again, save, perhaps, in America, which already holds more than one-third of the master's noblest canvases. What elements in his temper and practice link Rembrandt to the art of his country? Hardly anything, save in his earliest works, where he is influenced by Hercules Seghers and Honthorst in his slightly theatrical rendering of things half imagined, half seen. It is in the rapidly increasing torrent of his practice and, later still, under the stress of sorrow and debt, or yet later, when oppressed by the sordid difficulties of a tragic life, that his art stretched out into the realms of spiritual adventure, that he gains an inward and expressive force which has never been surpassed.
The "Oriental" (No. 169), the "Toilet" (No. 130), the "Man with a Hawk" (No. 98), and the "Lady with a Fan" (No. 99) show the brilliant climax of his early manner.[2] 

Rembrandt van Rijn and (mainly) workshop,
'Portrait of a Woman with a Fan', 1643

In these pictures he has already accomplished enough to secure him the premier place among the painters of his nation: romance, the gift of fascination are here present, but the fused golds and ambers of his pigments will melt later into some rarer substance, the craftsmanship become touched with magic and mystery, the sense of form become simpler and nobler, and we have seen such works as No. 124, No. 128, No. 111, and, better still, such masterpieces of narrative painting as the "Adoration of the Magi" (No. 91).[3] It is as a subject painter that Rembrandt remains unapproachable, and in his etchings and countless drawings his gift for narrative finds a directness and variety which more than rivals his painting.

Lent by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon

What Ricketts did not disclose was that two of Rembrandt's drawings in the exhibition came from the collection of Ricketts and Shannon. They were displayed in the Large South Room. A drawing in pen, brown ink and brown wash, 'The Agony in the Garden', was acquired by the artists during the sale of the Lord Leighton collection (listed as no. 586). The second loan was 'Christ at Emmaus', also a drawing in pen, brown ink and wash (No. 589). [In 1929 the brown ink was labelled 'bistre'.]

Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450-1900 (1929: second edition),
p. 228, No. 589: 'Christ as Emmaus'

These two drawings, and one other from their collection, were bequeathed by Ricketts and Shannon to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

No. 356: Frans Hals, 'Portrait of a Lady'. Lent by M. van Gelder. C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. London, 1910, Volume III, p. 113, No. 394.
Rembrandt van Rijn, No. 169:  'An Oriental with a White Turban'. Lent by the Duke of Devonshire. Now called: 'A Man in Oriental Costume', see online at Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth; No. 130, 'The Toilet'. Lent by Sir Edmund Davis. Stolen from Chilham Castle in 1938, and subsequently destroyed; No. 98: 'The Man with a Hawk'. Lent by the Duke of Westminster. Now in the private collection of the Duke of Westminster; No. 99: 'The Lady with a Fan'. Lent by the Duke of Westminster. Now in the private collection of the Duke of Westminster.
Rembrandt van Rijn, No. 124 'Presumed Portrait of Aert de Gelder'. Lent by Otto Gutekunst. Now in the collection of Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis (Missouri) [see website RKD]; No. 128, 'Portrait of Catharina Hooghsaet (1607-after 1657). Lent by Lord Penrhyn. Now in a private collection, see Wikipedia for an image]; No. 91: 'The Adoration of the Magi'. Lent by H.M. the King. From Buckingham Palace. Now dismissed as a work by Rembrandt [see Royal Collection Trust]

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

568. André Gide's Copy of An Ideal Husband

When Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband was published, deluxe copies were sent at the author's request to a small group of friends, including Robert Ross, Alfred Lord Douglas, Reginald Turner, and Charles Shannon. The latter had designed the binding.

Ordinary copies were sent to twenty acquaintances, including quite a few French friends such as Félix Fénéon, Ernest La Jeunesse, and André Gide.

Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband (1899):
autograph dedication to André Gide

Many of these will have been signed with a dedication by Wilde. The dedication in Gide's copy reads:

my friend 
André Gide : 
of friendship : 

A date or place name is missing.

The copy is part of the currently auctioned collection of Pierre Bergé, it is lot 1634 in
The Pierre Bergé Library, Part 6 (Paris, Pierre Bergé & Associés, 6 July 2022). The estimate is  €6,000 - €8,000.

Wilde was important to Gide: he changed his life. Gide was 22 when they met in 1891. In 1895 they met again in Algeria and Wilde introduced him to homosexuality, or as the auction catalogue discretely says: 'thanks to Wilde, who played the role of matchmaker, Gide was able to become what he was'.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

567. A Portfolio of Woodcuts by T. Sturge Moore (Continued)

Some years ago, Vincent Barlow wrote about an early Vale Press portfolio of woodcuts by T.S. Moore that was so rare that some even thought that, even though it was announced, it had never been published. I mentioned his article in blog 183. A Portfolio of Woodcuts by T. Sturge Moore.

T.S.Moore, 'Childhood' (from: A Portfolio of Woodcuts.
Metamorphoses of Pan and other woodcuts, 1895)
[Image: British Museum, London: 1909,0528.1-10]
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

Barlow had traced a single copy of an edition of twelve, containing ten woodcuts in green, red, and grey. He observed: 'On the inner side of the upper cover is attached a sheet of unbleached Arnold hand-made paper giving the title and a list of engravings and stating that 12 portfolios have been published at 4 guineas net.' 

His article was published in 2014, but since then several catalogue entries and images have surfaced online and it has emerged that the British Museum also possesses a copy [read the description on the museum's website]. Apparently, it had previously been described in an untraceable, impossible-to-find way, but it is now clear that it was added to the museum's collection as early as 1909 thanks to a gift from its creator, Thomas Sturge Moore.

The sheet of paper in this copy is apparently not glued down, so the reverse side is not invisible. It contains an additional text:

Portfolios can be obtained from C.H. Shannon, 31 Beaufort Street, Chelsea; or from E.J. van Wisselingh, The Dutch Gallery, 14 Brook St., Hanover Square; or from Durand Ruel, 16, Rue Lafitte, Paris.

It is reassuring to know that at least two copies have been preserved - but where would the other ten be hiding?

T.S.Moore, 'Pan a Cloud' (from: A Portfolio of Woodcuts.
Metamorphoses of Pan and other woodcuts, 1895)
[Image: British Museum, London: 1909,0528.1-10]
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

566. Charles Shannon's Portrait of Ronald Firbank

One of my favourite writers, Ronald Firbank (1886-1926), who died before he turned forty, was the subject of portraits by a number of famous modern artists in the early twentieth century. One of the first, if not the first, was Charles Shannon who made a pastel of him in 1909. 

It was first published on the dust jacket of Firbank's last novel, which appeared posthumously due to delays in publication. Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli appeared in June 1926 - the year of publication was corrected in ink on the dust jacket.

Charles Shannon, pastel portrait of Ronald Firbank (1909),
published on the dust jacket of Ronald Firbank,
Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli (1926)

This undated portrait is signed with the initials 'CS'. The current whereabouts of the original portrait are unknown.

No letters or accounts of the meeting between artist and sitter have survived, and we must make do with second or third-hand testimony.

Oscar Wilde's son, Vyvyan Holland, came of age in November 1907 and Robert Ross organised a dinner -party for him. Among the twelve guests were Ronald Firbank, Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. It was probably the first time Shannon and Firbank had met; the former came from the artistic circles around Ross, the latter from Holland's Cambridge student life.(1)

Firbank was, as Miriam Benkovitz wrote, 'very much concerned with his appearance', and in an attempt to preserve his youth, he had his portrait captured by a series of artists while he was not yet too old.(2) The author Jocelyn Brooke observed:

It is a curious fact that the numerous extant portraits of Firbank bear almost no resemblance to each other, seeming indeed, to depict a series of entirely disparate persons. During his life he was drawn or painted by Charles Shannon, Augustus John, Wyndham Lewis, Alvara Guevara and probably (for he was fond of sitting for his portrait) by other artists as well; yet it remains extraordinarily difficult to form an exact mental picture of his features. 

Even the three portraits Augustus John did of Firbank might just as well have been portraits of three different people: they look like a businessman, or a witty theatre-goer, or an intimate, somewhat sad friend. Shannon's portrait is that of a cautious and gentle observer.

Brooke continues:

His profile was delicately formed and angular, with a finely-arched nose, a full-lipped mouth and a rather weak chin; his eyes were greyish-blue tending to blue, his hair dark and inclined to to be tousled, his complexion fresh, with a rosy tint about the lips and cheekbones which perhaps owed more to Art than to Nature.(3)

Firbank was tall, slender, 'inclined to droop', and in society he behaved extremely shy. Augustus John remembered:

[...] he sent his taxi-man in to prepare the way, himself sitting in the taxi with averted face, the very picture of exquisite confusion. [...] When the strain of confronting me became unbearable, he would seek refuge in the lavatory, there to wash his hands. This manoeuvre occurred several times at each sitting.(4)

Did Firbank present himself in the same way to Shannon's studio in 1909 - if it was indeed 1909? Did he behave in the same awkward manner, or was he less nervous in the company of the quiet and silent painter?

Ifan Kyrle Fletcher reported that Firbank 'entertained very exquisitely' in his room that was 'decorated with masses of white flowers':

Often, on these occasions, Firbank talked little, but, if he had recently been to London, he would be full of news of pictures by Shannon and Ricketts, concerts of the music of Granados and Debussy, new French books and plays.(5)

It is not known whether Firbank acquired paintings, drawings or lithographs by Shannon or Ricketts. What is known is that, after his portrait was drawn, he sent Shannon copies of his books, at least of Vainglory (1915) and Inclinations (1916).

Because another illustration was not available for his last book, he illustrated the dust jacket with Shannon's then fifteen-year-old portrait, and for the frontispiece he selected one of the old portraits by Augustus John. In her biography, Benkovitz commented: 'Death haunted neither portrait; in them Firbank had his youth again.'(6)

Around 1929, a fellow Firbank student, A.C. Landsberg, recalled Shannon's portrait:

I have lately returned from Paris where I looked for a photograph I had of a portrait-drawing in pastels of Firbank, done towards the end of his time at Cambridge by Charles Shannon. Possibly Charles Ricketts may have a copy of it - (he also knew him, by the way).(7)

Shannon's portrait of Firbank probably belonged to the author, but where it has gone is a mystery.

Vyvyan Holland, Son of Oscar Wilde. London, Rupert Hart-Davis, 1954, pp. 188-189.
Miriam Benkovitz, Ronald Firbank. A Biography. New York: Alfred A, Knopf, 1969, pp. 112-113. 
Jocelyn Brooke, Ronald Firbank. London, Arthur Barker Ltd., 1951, p. 34.
Quoted by Osbert Sitwell in Ifan Kyrle Fletcher, Ronald Firbank. A Memoir. London, Duckworth, 1930, p. 132.
Ifan Kyrle Fletcher, Ronald Firbank. A Memoir. London, Duckworth, 1930, pp. 30-31. 
Benkovitz (see note 2), p. 275.
'A.C. Landsberg', in Ronald Firbank. Memoirs and Critiques, ed. by Mervyn Horder. London, Duckworth, 1977, p. 93.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

565. Ricketts & Shannon at the Technical School of Art (2)

The previous blog with new data on the schooling of the artists of The Vale (written by Anna Gruetzner Robins) prompted John Aplin to delve into the archives once again. An uncredited memoir from the collection of the Senate House in London was probably written by Arthur Hugh Fisher (1867-1945), who remembered the days at the Lambeth School of Art:

The school occupied two buildings at half a mile distance from each other. One was in a narrow alley off Upper Kennington Lane and there were held classes for drawing from casts of the antique and classes for study of perspective. At the other, in Kennington Park Road, were the life classes and the modelling school. Among the students at that time were [Sturge] Moore's great friends Charles Ricketts and C.H. Shannon and those admitted to their intimacy, Reginald Savage and [A.J.] Finberg.
[Senate House, MS 978/1/10/2-5]

F.H. Townsend, cartoon dated [1]891, Pick-me-up, 11 July 1891

The memoir mentions twenty-six students by name, and  refers to a cartoon by another artist:

In the comic weekly "Pick-me-up" appeared a drawing by F.W. Townsend of a scene at the Life Class in which the figures were portraits of his fellow-students. In the absence of the expected model a passing tramp has been fetched in from the street. [...] In his drawing Moore is clearly recognisable - He has his coat off and wears only one instead of a pair of braces to hold up his trousers. Ricketts is waving his hands in characteristic gesture and a number of the other students are equally well-portrayed.

Published on July 11, 1891, the cartoon was apparently not made in the 1880s when the artists were attending art school, but perhaps it is based on an old sketch.

Seated on the unfolded easel - also a stool - in the foreground is Thomas Sturge Moore with the palette in his hand. In the background, apparently unaware of the goings-on in the room, Charles Ricketts is busy trying to convince a fellow student of his views. 

F.H. Townsend,
cartoon dated [1]891,
Pick-me-up, 11 July 1891:

It's a nice early portrait of Ricketts whose appearance in those years seems well captured.

[Thanks are due to John Aplin for supplying the image and a transcription of the memoir.]