Wednesday, August 31, 2022

578. An Early Portrait of Charles Ricketts by Charles Shannon?

A year ago, an enigmatic painting was auctioned at Christie's. At the time, I missed its advertisement as the 'property of a gentleman'. The painting was sold on 15 July 2021 as lot 139 in live auction 20111, 'British and European Art'. Described as a painting by Charles Hazelwood Shannon, it was said to be a 'Portrait of Charles Ricketts, painted at Kennington Road, Lambeth'.

Charles Shannon, 'Portrait of Charles Ricketts,
painted at Kennington Road, Lambeth', before 1900

The title in the catalogue was dictated by an inscription (in capitals) on the back of the frame: 'Portrait of Charles Ricketts RA Painted at Lambeth By Charles Shannon RA Before 1900'. The figure portrayed, given the red hair, could indeed be Ricketts, whose beard, incidentally, is hidden behind his hand. But the inscription is not an early one. Behind both names is the abbreviation RA, because of their election to the Royal Academy, which for Ricketts only occurred in 1928, three years before his death. The date 'before 1900' is probably based on the provenance: apparently this painting belonged to J.W. Gleeson White, a close friend of Ricketts and Shannon who died quite young in 1898.

A similar early painting by Shannon - a breakfast scene, a figure with half-hidden face, a painting that looks sketchy, swiftly painted, summery and light - is not known to me.

The reverse side of the painting tells many other stories, that is, fragments of stories, by means of labels. (For an image, see Christie's website.)

The most worn label is that of the frame maker: Müller & Co, based at 62 High Holborn with branches elsewhere. Above the address, the words 'Forty Years' seem to be decipherable, and as the firm was founded in 1847 this would indicate a year after 1887. That year Ricketts and Shannon moved from Kennington Park Road to Edith Terrace, Brompton.

A second label dates from later times and has been pasted over another label that states the name of the then owner: Wyndham T. Vint: 'This Picture is the Property of Wyndham T. Vint Commercial Bank Building'. The label, partly pasted over it, shows a number and an address, is further torn and scuffed, but the address is clearly that of another frame maker and fine art packers: James Bourlet & Sons at 17 & 18 Nassau Street, London. Bourlot may have packed the painting for transport to an exhibition.

There are also two labels that have been applied for exhibitions. The first dates from 1954 when the Bradford Art Gallery held a Jubilee Exhibition to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Cartwright Memorial Hall. 

The second exhibition was called 'Semi-Detached. Pictures of Peoples and Places', and was held from 7 April to 13 May 1984 in the Southampton City Art Gallery. This label states that the owner is a firm of solicitors: Vint Hill and Killock of Bradford - originally: Charles John Vint (died 1944), Frank Herbert Hill, Henry Killick (left the partnership in 1924) & Wyndham Theodore Vint (the name Vint, Hill & Killick continued to be used after 1924). 

Benjamin Wyndham Theodore Vint's collection of paintings led to exhibitions at Airdrie Public Library (1936), Whitechapel Art Gallery (1939), the Aberdeen Art Gallery (1944) and Dundee Public Libraries (1944). In 1956 works from his collection were exhibited at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull. Vint lived at Thorn Cottage Farm, Wroot, near Doncaster, and he collected works by Maurice de Vlaminck, Augustus John, William Orpen and others. He was born in 1882 and died in 1959. (Vint had other interests; he won many a prize with his pigs.)

Another label seems to be related to an auction and states something quite different from the first inscription: 'Charles Hazelwood Shannon Self Portrait', with the numbers '349' and 'WTV221'. Let us assume that this - the assumption that it is a self-portrait - is a mistake.

In summary: previous owners were Gleeson White and Vint - but who is the owner now?

What do we actually see in the painting? Ricketts or Shannon? Kennington Park Road or Edith Terrace? 

Are there any other clues - perhaps in the catalogues mentioned, to which I do not have access here in The Hague?

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

577. A Summer Anthology (6): Sun Burnt a Bright Pink

In February and March 1905, Ricketts and Shannon enjoyed vacations in Rome and Florence, and in August of that year they kept it closer to home. They bivouacked on the English coast for a prosaic reason: their house at Lansdowne Road was being painted. Their accommodation was The Albany Hotel, that curves around Robertson Terrace in Hastings. The hotel had opened in 1885 under the name Albany Mansions.

Albany Mansions, c.1890

Charles Ricketts to Michael Field, 1 August 1905

[British Library Add MS 58088, ff 152-4]

Dear Poet
We are here the house painters at the Palace having driven us away. On transplanting I of course shrieked like an uprooted mandrake, but I have become reconciled mainly owing to the good local grub. [...]
"Choose a friend as you would a book" – I have this on the tip of my pen as I spent quite a considerable time in spending 1 & 6d on a book this morning, at the local library, fixing finally on Emerson’s Essays, a purchase which I now rather regret. I had exhausted tedious spectacled Suetonius whom I had bought in a new translation. I quite understand St Augustine’s defence of him, this author whom I confused with the great Tacitus is a transparent journalist of the oh fie! oh my! type and now, would write for the Standard, which Shannon is now reading – the rest of his time is spent in pretending to read the great Bernhard, Bernhard Shaw that is, not the other, though both are moralists in disguise.

The two Bernards were Bernard Shaw and Bernard Berenson - and the added "h" in their names is due to Ricketts's imagination.

I am just now quite great at whitewashing the C[a]esars, only one seems to have been really bad & a monster & that is Calligula [sic] who reminds me of Michael. On my return I shall look up Tacitus.

Michael was Katherine Bradley, the older half of the writing duo Michael Field.

I have become sun burnt a bright pink, the pink of pink flannelette, Shannon is a deeper hue like a ham, or the Roast beef of old England. [...] 
I send you a sea greeting
The Painter
This place is a long stretch of seafronts some miles long, steady & continuous like the Earthly Paradise of W. Morris but not quite so monotonous.

The Albany Hotel, 1906

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

576. A Summer Anthology (5): Cold Beer

During the summers, art historian Mary Berenson, who lived with her husband Bernhard Berenson at Villa I Tatti near Florence, visited her mother in London, and during her 1904 stay she visited Charles Ricketts.

Mary Berenson
by unknown photographer:
(matte printing-out paper print, circa 1893)
[© National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG Ax160669]

In a letter to Michael Field, he wrote about her charm. In his diary he noted that he attended a concert in Chelsea with Mary Berenson and Michael Field's older half, Katherine Bradley, and that the music of Bach and Beethoven gave him a stabbing headache. A year later, in March 1905, Ricketts and Shannon were having lunch at Villa I Tatti. They liked Mary but found Bernhard unsympathetic, although they shared some vitriolic opinions about fellow art historians.

Charles Ricketts to Michael Field, 29 July 1904

[British Library Add MS 58088, ff 64-6]

      Dear Mrs B.B. called dressed in pale blue and looked like fresh bunches of forget-me nots (plenty of bunches). She is a charming woman from whose presence emanates a perfume of kindness. We mildly ran you both down – oh not very much! – just enough to feel comfortable. I have been basking in the heat & feeling very fit.
      We dined with Toby & Tobie’s wife, Fry was there: on his face shon[e] the reflected glory of the house of Lords, he had been all day at the Chantrey commission, we sat in the garden & talked about the inconveniences of travel. Oh that I had the wings of a dove! I should now be drinking cold beer in Dresden

Roger Fry had been an acquaintance of Ricketts and Shannon since the mid-1890s, and when they moved to Beaufort Street they became his neighbours, but a deep friendship did not develop, even when Fry and Ricketts became involved with the art magazine The Burlington Magazine. They took opposing views on Post-Impressionism. 
Toby appears in other letters to Michael Field, but he is not yet identified - the name probably does not refer to the journalist Henry William Lucy, who could be found in the House of Parliament so often that he used the penname Toby M.P., although the House was the location where the Chantrey committee meetings took plate between 5 and 29 July 1904. Fry was heard as a witness on 15 July. [See note at the bottom.]
Dresden was apparently one of Ricketts's favorite cities. He had visited Dresden for the first time the previous year, in August 1903, and even then he wrote to Shannon that the beer there was great: it "tastes like melted topaz, while the sweat beeds off my noble brow and the walls wave about".

Thanks are due to John Aplin for providing the transcription of this letter, and for solving the puzzle: Mr and Mrs Toby are nicknames for Thomas Sturge Moore and his bride Maria Appia.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

575. A Summer Anthology (4): The Heat is Noble

Ricketts and Shannon visited Venice at least three times, beginning in 1899, then in 1903 and in 1908; on the latter occasion staying at the House of Desdemona on the Grand Canal owned by their friends Edmund and Mary Davis, and more commonly known as the Palazzo Contarini Fasan. 

Paolo Salviati, photo of Palazzo Contarini Fasan, c. 1891-1894[detail]
Boston Public Library: William Vaughn Tupper Scrapbook Collection]

It would not be their busiest holiday; there was plenty of idling and lazing around, as a letter to Michael Field indicates.

Charles Ricketts to Michael Field, 20-21 May 1908

[British Library Add MS 58089, ff 93-5]

Dear Poet

[...] We passed through a northern Italy empty of field flowers but agre[e]able with tall green corn and grapes of white Accassia [sic], this is splendid this year and saturates the Lido where we go to bask in steady after lunch boredom every day. The heat is noble and the air superb. I like the Palazzo immensely and we shall stay on here after the departure of our hosts, – that is if Shannon is still of the same mind. We shall lunch at the Guadri [sic] and dine among the trees at the Lido, which is a vulgar place.
We went for a wonderful night trip in the Gondola round a Ghostly island to St Giorgio, the sky was dominated by a perfectly flagrant Hesperus or Venus. I forget which but some unabashed star three times its normal size; the water like velvet became alive with diamond insects (some sea fire fly) while the air vibrated with the noise of countless grasshoppers, metal[l]ic & persistant [sic] like the sound of a bronze Sistrum echoing from some garden. At night the summer lightening [sic] threads a great wall of which hangs over the city for a while, then the place melts into wonderful deeps of rich gloom and varied lights, while the falling stars shoot out about the dome of the Salute which becomes at night a palace of frosted silver locked till an angel shall arrive. Our balcony faces the Salute and I spend a great part of the night there.
Our vast bedroom overlooks the charming well like garden, with a Syringa clambers [sic] against our window & a tree of the enclosed (this is new to me): remains a huge larch and a real well for the encouragement of mosquito[e]s. On the ceiling of our room a late pupil of Tiepolo has painted Fame driving Time away from a lady holding a book of poetry or accounts. It seems the upper flat is covered with Longhi-esque frescoes, the interior having been entirely rehandled in the 18th Century. Duse stayed here and her presence has succeeded in scaring away what remained of the ghost of Desdemona.
We are leading a bestial life. I have not once been inside St Marco & nearly fell asleep in the Accademia, which has been entirely rehandled since our time. Venice is crowded & rents enormous, which is not interesting.
The Painter
A tiny scorpion was found this morning and drowned in a tumbler of old Venetian glass.

Indeed, the actress Eleonora Duse stayed at the Palazzo, in 1893, long before Edmund Davis bought the property: "She thought that she had found the perfect refuge in Venice when she rented an apartment in the Palazzo di Desdemona adjacent to the Grand Hotel on the Grand Canal but it proved to be uninhabitable", and a friend offered her "an apartment on the top floor of his own residence, the Palazzo Barbaro, situated between San Vio and the Catecumini [...]. This was to be Duse's refuge for the next three years." She left this suite of rooms on the top floor" in July 1897. (Giovanni Pontiero, Eleonora Duse. In Life and Art, 1986, p. 107; William Weaver, Duse. A Biography, 1984, p. 108). 

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

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

574. A Summer Anthology (3): The Torrid Heat

On August 9, 1911, a heat record was set in the United Kingdom: a temperature of 36.7 degrees Celsius was recorded for the first time in history. The previous letter in this summer series (Purgatorial London) was set during the same heat wave, but focused on domestic scenes. In this letter, the world beyond is brought in.

Louis Béroud, 'Mona Lisa au Louvre' (1911)
[Wikimedia Commons]

The letter is addressed to Mary Davis, artist and wife of Edmund Davis who had commissioned the building of Lansdowne House for a number of artists including Ricketts and Shannon. It was from this flat that Ricketts wrote the letter to Davis, who was apparently traveling and thus provided with Ricketts's version of some news.

A lot had happened. 

On July 20, the newspapers reported that Herbert Trench had resigned as director at Haymarket Theatre. There were many strikes that year, including those of railroad staff, which brought transports to a standstill, caused shortages in stores, which caused prices to rise, and drove housekeepers to despair - like Ethel, the loyal servant of Ricketts & Shannon (who continued to work for them until 1923). On 18 August, the House of Lords was forced to pass a new Parliament Act to curb its power. On 21 August, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre; on 26 August, reports circulated that the director of the Louvre, Théophile Homolle would be fired, as, indeed, he was, two days later.

Charles Ricketts to Mary Davis, [Late August-Early September 1911]

[British Library Add MS 88957/8, f23]

Dear Mrs Davis
Every day I have intended writing to you, we were both charmed to hear that you have liked what you have seen and enjoyed your change for the open road and broader skies. We are stuffed up in London with our noses glued to our canvases, and the torrid heat you have read about in red hot articles in the newspapers drying up the paint as it should be dried. You have heard lurid accounts of the fall of the house of Lords, of strikes & revolutions and about Herbert Trench being sacked from the Haymarket. London underwent these convulsions with its habitual stodgy aspect. Ross turned pale in the Gallery of the House of Lords when the ballot began; the spectators were deeply moved, the lords behaved as usual, they passed into an historic past like policemen returning to the bosoms of their several families. The strikes affected Ethel, who wanted to lay in a hoard of potatoes – this was suggested by the imaginative greengrocer boy, it was brought home to us when our sacred Rossetti drawings became marooned in the Station at Manchester, but all this is ancient history now, it will seem much more interesting to historians. One single fact brought home the sense of siege and suspense, the flower shops became quite empty, like the florists at the seaside, and for three weeks the drawing room was without flowers.
I was insensible and unable to focus the loss of the Mona Lisa. Shannon rushed into my bedroom with a white face, just as I was washing my teeth, and produced no impression, I thought it a hoax like the rumour that the Rembrandt Mill was painted by Lord Lansdowne [the Marquess of Lansdowne once owned the painting]; even today I cant imagine Paris without it; it is an age since we stayed there, it seems almost a part of a past which is growing ever more distant. I am glad they have sacked the director. I feel a general mas[s]acre of all Museum officials might do good [...].
Yours sincerely
C Ricketts

Shannon had to go to some meeting at the R A, at the door he was asked his business and name.


            Your name Sir?


            O, I am Mr Shannon!


            Oh no Sir, you are not Mr Shannon

Within the Royal Academy the name Shannon had long been synonymous with that of the painter Sir James Jesuba Shannon (1862-1923) who had been invited to become an 'associate' in 1897 and had become a full member in 1909. Shannon had become an associate (ARA) in 1909, and had to wait until 1920 to add RA to his name.

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