Wednesday, July 20, 2022

572. A Summer Anthology (1): In Need of a Long Holiday

Heat waves and holiday traffic jams - it's time for an anthology of Charles Ricketts's letters with references to heat, summer and holidays. 

This first letter in the short series was written to artist Thomas Lowinsky (1892-1947), who had attended the Slade School of Art in London before the Great War, and at the time of this letter was serving in the Army of Occupation, stationed in Cologne, before being demobilised in April 1919. The date is uncertain, but the letter probably dates from January 1919. Here are some excerpts from this letter, including a fantasy of a tropical destination.

Eric Gill, portrait of Thomas Lowinsky,
'Thomas Esmond Lowinsky',
wood engraving, 1924
[National Portrait Gallery: NPG D5127]

Charles Ricketts to Thomas Lowinsky, January 1919[?]

[From a typed transcription, British Library, BL Add MS 61718, ff 208-11]

Since the Armistice letters seem to take longer [to arrive] and not to reach their destination [at all]. [...]

I don't know how Cologne stands in the new movement of quite excellent recent German architecture of a neo-classical type, or if any can be seen there; the description of what you have seen suggests the neo-Klinger work of sixteen or more years ago, before quite new elements had arrived – some of them post-impressionistic – which I don't dislike. German work is always over forcible, just as ours is too vague. Even the early masters, Holbein excepted, had this fault. With modern haste and bad taste this overforcefulness is distressing, it hurts the music of Richard Strauss, some of which I like immensely. Apropos of music, the more Russian music I hear more I like it, it is marvellous in its pace, response to sincere and varied emotion and original use of means without German overemphasis or the dryness of the new Frenchmen. I hope you go to concerts and operas; these before the war were first rate in Cologne. The theatre has a stupendous stage over 130 feet deep and a rising and sinking floor for rapid changes. But possibly military etiquette prevents your going – does it? [...]

Poor Philpot is ill. He had a sort of nervous breakdown, his eyes went wrong. He is now in Bath; like all of us he needs sun and a long holiday. I think we ought all to retire to a nice island like Haiti, where the women wear flowers in their hair and have no moral sense, and where we could wear no clothes or bright clothes, canary yellow trousers with pea green spots or else have sun flowers painted on larger portions of our person and coral beads where privacy is desired. I was once shown the photo of a Sicilian boy with a rose petal stuck up 
–  well, that might be chosen for very hot weather. Davis would of course have to wear thick bathing things covered with camouflage triangles, spots and stripes in the worst modern colouring. We are threatened with coloured clothes; imagine its effect on the city – emerald green spats and flesh coloured or apricot coloured waistcoats and magenta ties. Perhaps it would feel nice and you will see me yet in cobalt or dove colour.
C Ricketts

In August 1903, Ricketts visited Berlin and Dresden. Given his comments about the theatre in Cologne, he must also have visited that city on his way to Berlin or on his way back.
The painter Glyn Philpot (1884-1937) was also a protégé of Ricketts and Shannon.
Ricketts's reference to a photo of a Sicilian boy is remarkable: among homosexuals, nude photos by, for example, Wilhelm von Gloeden were circulating. Lowinsky, himself not a homosexual, probably knew about Ricketts's inclination.
Davis was the name of Sir Edmund Davis (1861-1939), a mining financier and art collector.
The colourful outfit Ricketts describes here is in stark contrast to how Max Beerbohm sketched his daily clothing style (see blog 571).
Thanks are due to John Aplin for providing the text of this letter.