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.