Wednesday, July 27, 2022

573. A Summer Anthology (2): Purgatorial London

The summer of 1911 was hot. Edith Cooper and her aunt and lover Katharine Bradley - their nom de plume was Michael Field - had fled London and were staying in a cottage near Armitage near Hawkesyard Priory, before spending three weeks in Malvern. They enjoyed the attention not only of the prior, but also of the Dominican novices, especially Brother Bruno and Brother Bertrand. In their diary they noted the constant heat, while 'the cedars are loaded with aroma'. Brother Bertrand swam the lake to bring them 'a glorious armful of yellow waterlilies' (see 'The Diaries of Michael Field', August, 1911, at the online edition at Dartmouth College). In one of his letters, Ricketts responds to the company of young men surrounding Michael Field.

Charles Shannon, portrait of Edith Cooper, 1900-1910,
black and red chalk drawing, touched with white on brown paper
[Birmingham Museums: 1914P246]

Charles Ricketts to Michael Field, 14 August 1911

[British Library Add MS 58089, ff 172-3]

My Dear Poet
I wish for your sake the hot wind would cease, even I who am half Salamander have found London almost purgatorial. I hope among the hills it is cooler. I hope the visit of your new young friends was a success, and that the number was the same on their return. I suppose labels were fastened to their necks like the children in school treats to save counting. Shannon grew troublesome and rebel[l]ious the other day with a large desire for a tame Squirrel; the fault was partly mine, as I had been enraptured by a cage of them in the Brompton Road, and my description was the cause of his desire. He left me in the street purchased a squirrel and a lordly cage and became enamoured with a Mongoose. The squirrel (name Carrots) is now in the house, it is so tame, affectionate and so passionately attached to humanity that it has to be covered with a cloth to quiet the nerves. It is very young and greedy, with huge claws, it tests every thing with its mouth, which is its intellect[;] for the first day it found it difficult not to eat our fingers and ears, the face he recognizes as a personality, our bodies are mere landscape stuff, the human hand is merged in its conception of things with nuts, pieces of apple and eatables generally the fingers are viewed as stalks, not quite eatable after all. It accompanies its exercises in its treadmill and about our clothes with little suffering cries of pleasure and is removed with difficulty from our coats and trousers. When you return you must be introduced to Carrots who probably by then will be a married person and settle down in a larger cage. [...] The proposal is on foot to turn Shannon[']s balcony into a menagerie. [...]

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

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.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

571. Two Portraits of Charles Ricketts by Max Beerbohm

In 1928 Robes of Thespis: Costume Designs by Modern Artists, a book on modern costumes for plays, revues, operas and ballet, was published. It included seven costume drawings by Charles Ricketts (only one of which was in colour) for 'The Merchant of Venice', 'King Lear', 'The Winter's Tale', and Yeats' 'King's Threshold'. Ricketts was no longer a 'modern artist' in 1928; the hefty book focused on a younger generation. More interesting than the commentary on his costumes is the illustrated introduction by Max Beerbohm.

Beerbohm had lived in Rapallo since 1910, but, he was briefly back in London in 1925. From a taxi, he saw Ricketts and Shannon walking in the street, apparently on their way to the opera:

[...] though I waved my hand wildly to them they did not see me. An any rate, Shannon did not. Ricketts may have, perhaps, and just ignored me. For I was not wearing a top-hat. And Ricketts was.

It was an opera hat - 'a thing that opens with a loud plop and closes with a quiet snap'. Beerbohm remembers the days in the 1890s when he himself always wore a top hat - and Ricketts and Shannon did not. And now that nobody wore top hats anymore, Ricketts did.

I wonder, does Ricketts wear that collapsible crown of his only when he dines out? Or does he, when he comes home, close it with a quiet snap and place it under his pillow, ready for the first thing in the morning? Some painters wear hats when they are working, to shade their eyes. Does Ricketts at his easel wear his gibus?

The answer is no. Rickets painted bare-headedly.

Beerbohm then turns to the use of colour in clothing and laments the fact that since 1830, men's fashion has turned into the tyranny of black and white. Only on stage did the colours shine, at least since 1900, when Gordon Craig and Ricketts designed costumes. Still, the stage designers themselves, walk around in black and white. Beerbohm made a drawing to show it: William Nicholson, Albert Rutherston, Edward Gordon Craig, R. Boyd Morrison and Charles Ricketts - only the last three are shown below. 

Max Beerbohm, 'Here are Five Friends of Mine'
(from Robes of Thespis, 1928)
© Copyright of the Estate of Max Beerbohm

Ricketts, with his reddish beard, stands on the right in a characteristic pose: gesticulating and talking. The others are silent. Beerbohm remarks on this portrait:

I have given Ricketts the small sombrero that I had always associated with him. When one does a drawing, what is one glimpse as against the vision of a lifetime?

Beerbohm understands young people's desire for colour and fantasy and believes that stage designers should set a good example.

I appeal to the designers of theatrical costumes. Doubtless they have hoped that the orgies of colour and fantasy with which they grace the theatres would have a marked effect on the streets, instead of merely making the streets' effect duller than ever by contrast. I suggest to these eminent friends of mine that they should design costumes not merely for actors and actresses, but also for citizens. [...] Let them go around setting the example. This is a splendid idea. I am too excited to write about it. I will do another drawing.

Max Beerbohm, 'Why Not Rather Thus?'
(from Robes of Thespis, 1928)
© Copyright of the Estate of Max Beerbohm

I just clothed them hurriedly in anything bright that occurred to me. Only once did I pause. I was about to give Ricketts an opera hat of many colours. But this would have been to carry fantasy too far; and I curbed my foolish pencil.

Ricketts now looks like a courtier from the Renaissance, his preferred period, with colourful rings on his fingers, a straight high feather on his cap, a green tunic and tights in blue and white. He also carries a sword.

It is fortunate that Ricketts did not carry a sword in real life.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

570. Shannon's Drawings for Hero and Leander

For the 1894 edition of Hero and Leander by Christopher Marlowe, completed by George Chapman, Charles Shannon produced one wood-engraving; Ricketts created another six. The preliminary studies are in the collection of the British Museum. 

Charles Shannon, 'Hermes Disdains the Amorous Destinies' (woodcut, proof)
British Library, London: 1938,0728.9
[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

Why Shannon limited himself to this one image is unclear. Of Ricketts's wood-engravings two have four figures and four show only two figures. Shannon's image depicts five figures. To the right: Hermes/Mercury. In the middle: the three Fates, or Moirae (called Destinies in the poem), who are charged with the destinies of living beings, all holding a string: Clotho (the spinner), Lachesis (the drawer of lots) and Atropos (the cutter of the life-thread). On the left is a male figure bearing Mercury's torch.

Shannon made extensive preliminary studies of which at least two have survived. One shows Hermes or Mercury - in the poem, the Greek and Roman names are used interchangeably, even on one page.

Charles Shannon, Sketch of Mercury/Hermes for Hero & Leander (red chalk drawing)
British Library, London: 1938,1008.31
[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

As in the wood-engraving, Mercury raises his hands above his head, wears a short tunic, and holds his caduceus, albeit more obliquely than in the final print. His hat is not included. His winged foot is only sketchily indicated. The tunic has an opening from neck to navel (in the wood-engraving it is a high closing garment.

Charles Shannon, Sketch of one of the Fates for Hero & Leander (red chalk drawing)
British Library, London: 1938,1008.30
[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

The other sketch depicts the middle figure facing Mercury with outstretched arms. The handwriting on both drawings is by Ricketts, who later in life arranged many drawings in albums.

Charles Shannon, 'Hermes Disdains the Amorous Destinies'
(original drawing)
[from the collection of Vincent Barlow]

After his preparatory sketches were finished, Shannon could make his final drawing for the wood block. This drawing is in Vincent Barlow's collection and has previously been featured in his guest blog about a portfolio of photographs of Shannon's paintings (blog No. 89).

Ricketts then, most probably, prepared this drawing for the wood-engraving. This is a full-size drawing on tracing paper, so that it could be transferred to the wood block by tracing, in mirror image. It is a pen and ink drawing, with white bodycolour.

Charles Ricketts or Charles Shannon, Preparatory drawing for 'Hermes Disdains the Amorous Destinies'
British Library, London: 1946,0209.89
[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license]

The wood blocks for Hero and Leander are part of the collection of the British museum, but are not yet available digitally.