Wednesday, November 30, 2022

591. The Irish Side of Charles Shannon

This week's blog is written by John Aplin, who, with a little help from me, is editing Charles Ricketts's letters for publication. It is his fifth blog post for 'Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon'.

Rare Book & Collectors Sale.
Dublin, Fonsie Mealy's, 6-7 December 2022

The Irish Side of Charles Shannon

Lot 599 in a forthcoming two-day sale mounted by the Dublin Auctioneers Fonsie Mealy's (6-7 December 2022) features the only known example of Shannon's work in costume design. I shall turn to the details of the auction lot in a moment, but in broader terms it is especially interesting for revealing Shannon's willingness to acknowledge an Irish heritage, where usually he seems to have been very comfortable in the fact that his immediate family upbringing was solidly English.


But what he may have regarded as the thinness of his Irish blood certainly did not inhibit him from showing his work in exhibitions with an Irish theme. He featured prominently, for example, in the June 1904 exhibition at the London Guildhall of 'pictures of artists of Irish nationality', which The Times heralded with an article which manages to pinpoint the ambiguous position of some of its contributors – perhaps not least that of Shannon himself.

The Guildhall exhibition certainly shows that a number of very clever artists of Irish birth or descent have existed in the past and exist to-day; the worst is that the world, which knows them very well, does not know them as Irishmen. They may have been born in Dublin or Limerick, or, as is the case with some of them, in London or New York; but if they have worked in London, exhibited constantly in London, and been elected into the Royal Academy we have somehow come to regard them as Englishmen.
[The Times, 30 May 1904]

Many of the pictures displayed had initially been intended for a projected American exhibition of Irish works in St Louis, which in the end did not go ahead, and in trying to assemble a sufficiently extensive representation of his own work Shannon revealed his hand (and a vein of cynicism) when writing to the collector Laurence Hodson.

I want to ask you a further favour on my own behalf. To begin with you must now view me as an Irishman (pure but not simple). I have been asked to contribute largely to the Irish Section of the St Louis Exhibition & I propose to embrace Ireland & send if possible 15 of my most important pictures. If I could get enough pictures they would give me a room to myself but unfortunately I haven’t done enough. [….] It will be well hung on a wall of my own choosing & all my works will be placed together. I hope to send
'Lady with Chinese Fan'
'Woodland Venus'
Own portrait in Striped Shirt
'Shell gatherers'
'The Bunch of Grapes'
Two small Toilet pieces
Miss Pickford Waller
Circular portrait recently at New Gallery
Forbes Portrait
'Salt Water'
Ricketts portrait
'Mother & child'
'Toilet' at International
Souvenir of Van Dyck
Hugh Lane the man who is getting it up is tremendously enthusiastic & swears that he wants some that can't be sold so that they may not all remain in America (I'm not Irish enough to believe this), but it never does to damp people's energy. 
[C.S. Shannon to Laurence Hodson, 9 or 10 February 1904, Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, University of Delaware]

Charles Ricketts shared with the columnist of The Times a scepticism as to what qualified as being Irish, especially perhaps in the case of Shannon, whose character and personality seemed in so many ways quintessentially and uncomplicatedly English.

[T]here is a good chance of Shannon showing 20 pictures at the Guildhall most of them in a row. This is owing to his bogus nationality, he has become Irish for the nonce, that is if the show comes off. I am furious with my parents for their oversight in not gifting me with at least one drop of Irish hot. I should have made a splendid Irishman with very long coat tails.
[Charles Ricketts to Thomas Sturge Moore, about 27 March 1904, BL Add MS 58086, ff 64-5].


But the forthcoming Dublin auction features a commission offered to Shannon on the basis of his Irish credentials. With the formation of the Irish Free State in December 1922, it became necessary to establish a functioning judiciary. This work was overseen by Hugh Kennedy, Chief Justice of Ireland from 1924 until 1936. He put in hand the commissioning of a range of judicial robes for the various Courts of Justice, and approached Shannon to undertake the designs.

The current auction lot of a family archive of 'documents, letters, drawings and photographs' includes a number of Shannon's designs, described as 'three mounted drawings of designs for robes, each on card circa 37cms x 27cms, two designs for headgear, 27cms x 19cms, and one monochrome drawing of robes, probably a preliminary sketch'. 

Charles Shannon, design for robe, c.1922-5
[Rare Book & Collectors Sale.
Dublin, Fonsie Mealy's, 6-7 December 2022]

That Shannon undertook this work was already known from an exchange of letters between himself and Kennedy at University College Dublin [Hugh Kennedy Papers P4/1165-7], but until now the survival of at least some of the designs themselves was unknown. The illustration in the auction catalogue shows two of the robe designs (one in colour) and a design for a cap, and the auctioneers describe the drawings as being 'in immaculate condition, as fresh as the day they were painted'.

It was the poet W.B. Yeats, a friend of Ricketts and Shannon and with an impeccable Irish pedigree, who recommended that Kennedy should ask Shannon to take on the project. The first of Shannon's surviving letters to Kennedy shows that he treated the commission seriously from the outset, had started researching an area unfamiliar to him, and was wanting to use traditional Irish materials.

Dear Chief Justice
W B Yeats told me when I last saw him that you contemplated a visit to London & that you would take the opportunity of seeing me concerning the designing of Robes for the Courts of Justice. I should be most pleased to see you & discuss the matter but I think it is only right to tell you as I told Yeats at the outset that I could not possibly hope to do the work by the Autumn. I explained to Yeats that I was going to Italy to keep a long standing engagement, in fact that I proposed to visit a number of towns in Italy & that I could not be back till about the first week in November. I have done all I can in the way of looking up things that may bear on the designing of the Robes, but it is quite impossible to make the actual drawings until I have every possible [piece of] information as to what is required. [….] I have discussed the matter unofficially with Yeats & explained the difficulty of constructing an entirely new series of Robes that would be a complete change in tradition which means that I have nothing solid to work upon. I have got one or two books which may be useful & I have friends in the British Museum & the South Kensington Art Library who may be useful (so far they have been able to show me very little of any great use). I also explained to Yeats that I must have some kind of Robe made or hired & that I ought to see beforehand specimens of the materials that Ireland can supply. Yeats has handed over to me your letters to him bearing on these matters so that I know already something of your views.
Believe me yrs sincerely
Charles Shannon
[Charles Shannon to Hugh Kennedy, 14 September 1924, University College Dublin, P4/1165 (30)]

Kennedy sent Shannon three examples of Irish poplin, and after his return from Italy Shannon began to work on preliminary designs.

Charles Shannon, design for robe, c.1922-5
[Rare Book & Collectors Sale.
Dublin, Fonsie Mealy's, 6-7 December 2022]

I have made several drawings of robes all very rough purposely in execution. I propose to send you about six which I think the best. I think they may convey something of the general appearance that I wish to give. There is nothing at all final about them but I think they look dignified. I have not attempted to allot them to any particular Courts though the red one I imagine would do for the Criminal Court. I should like to hear your opinion on these, that is if they are not too rough to convey anything to you at all. I would not suggest showing them to anybody in this rough form. If you approve of the general lines of these I will carry them out clearly. The colouring I have put on is merely to help to convey the density & variety of the material. In two instances I have given trains. This of course gives dignity but it may be impossible for ordinary use. Ricketts seems to think that trains could be attached for state functions. What form do you suggest the Insignia should take? Is it to be on a chain hung round the neck? This always looks impressive. I will send these sketches on in a few days.
[Charles Shannon to Hugh Kennedy, 14 December 1924, University College Dublin, P4/1165 (44)]

The six drawings were sent to Kennedy a week later, together with a set of detailed notes on each one, explaining Shannon’s intentions, such as these for the first and third sketches:

No 1
I originally designed this for the Judge presiding in Criminal cases, the other Judges to be perhaps without Ermine cape & in another colour possibly but I am not sure that it is not the most imposing & ought to be for the Chief Justice, possibly in red when you are presiding on a case of criminal appeal & some other colour for other cases.

No 3
As an alternative No 3 design in red could be used for criminal cases in the High Court with ermine lining to the sleeves. The black undergarment would be a kind of cassock or else a kind of false lining projecting from under the robe & buttoning down the front. This is done in most cases to hide the trousers which otherwise always show & look out of place.
It is not necessary to have a train but of course it adds greatly to the splendour. 
I suggest some sort of badge for Insignia hung over the cape with black silk or velvet this would be cheaper & as effective as a chain. I attach great importance to the intense black being used, it gives great quality to all other colours used, especially deep rich colours. I attach much importance to Ermine or sham ermine which is quite cheap & exactly the same in effect – It is also traditional everywhere. 
[Charles Shannon to Hugh Kennedy, 22 December 1924, University College Dublin, P4/1165 (46)]

'Wolsey Pure Wool Underwear'
The Graphic, 27 October 1917, p. 525

Kennedy would reply and give his detailed reactions to each of the drawings, praising their appositeness and colour schemes. His observations were eminently practical, such as noting that in Shannon's design No 1 the large sleeve was likely to cause problems for judges when seated and writing, and that something less fulsome would be better. His principal reservation concerned Shannon's design for the judicial cap, which he believed might not meet the approval of some of the more elderly judges. He suggested instead that Shannon might consider something more like the cap in a familiar advertisement of the time for Wolsey woollen underwear, in which an impression of Cardinal Wolsey with cardinal's cap is featured. In case Shannon did not know the advertisement, Kennedy sent one as an enclosure! He also pointed out that, by tradition, the rankings of judges was reflected in the number of colours incorporated within their robes, with the Chief Justice having as many as six or seven colours, and the President of the High Court five. And he also suggested that a recent reproduction of the Irish Book of Kells might offer ideas about traditional colour schemes.

'Wolsey Wisdom'
The Bystander, 10 December 1924

Shannon worked on revised designs and sent these on 28 January 1925, again with detailed notes. He had also given some thoughts about the design for a badge of office.

Concerning the number of colours to be used for the different grades would it not be possible to restrict them to 1 2 3 4. The linings would supply opportunities for adding to the number required. One has to remember that it is an easy matter to produce a number of colours where brocades & patterns generally are used but when one is dealing with plain material as we must it would tend to make the colour schemes of the robes 'mixed up' & this would lead to a great loss in breadth of effect. I am wondering if it would not be much more effective to have a badge of some sort attached to a broad ribbon. It always looks extremely well when it hangs over a flat surface like a cape the buckle used as such would be almost invisible I imagine & if a collar was used at the lip of the cape interfere with the fall of the tabs or lace. When Ireland becomes wealthy as I am told she will a very expensive gold chain could take the place of the black ribbon though I doubt if it would look really more 'telling'. I have looked through the Book of Kells but frankly I cannot see that it really suggests much in the way of colours certainly it would be very useful in the way of metal designing for badges & ornaments generally. The red Criminal Court robe with full sleeves would have to be pleated at the back of the shoulder as in a university gown. I take it there would be no objection to this, this is the only way to give sufficient bulk to the folds.
Re The Book of Kells. To return to the matter of the badge of office I feel that a beautiful disc could be made by founding it on the circle given at the foot of St Matthew (Bk of Kells) on the right hand side possibly the shamrock could be combined with it though I know nothing of the date of the shamrock as a national symbol. It is one of the most decorative of all leaves for ornamental purposes. 
[Charles Shannon to Hugh Kennedy, 28 January 1925, University College Dublin, P4/1166 (18-22)]

It seems that when wider consultation of judges and courts took place, a consensus view became difficult to achieve, and it was not until the following year that Kennedy was able to tell Shannon that the design for the robe for District Justices had been approved and manufactured, and worn for the first time on 12 March. But he had to confess that neither of Shannon's two designs for a cap had been favoured, one by a female Irish designer being chosen instead. Shannon took no offence.

Charles Shannon, design for cap, c.1922-5
[Rare Book & Collectors Sale.
Dublin, Fonsie Mealy's, 6-7 December 2022]

I am very glad to know that some of the designs have been started & are actually in use. Yeats wrote me about the same time that I received your letter & enclosed some press cuttings. I think the dress looks very well & I agree with you that the cap chosen suits the dress it is worn with. I can sympathise with you in the matter of the difficulties you have had to encounter. I am glad that a start has been made. This may lead to the speeding up of the rest. I have not forgotten that I have one or two books you kindly lent me when I was making the designs. 
[Charles Shannon to Hugh Kennedy, 3 April 1926, University College Dublin, P4/1167 (50)]

Whilst his Irish roots made him eligible for the commission, it is curious nonetheless that Shannon agreed to undertake it, for I am not aware that he had any previous experience in costume design. As he himself was quick to admit when setting out on the task, an opportunity had been missed. 

I am very busy doing the Judges Robes for the Irish Free State but it ought to have been Ricketts'[s] job. 
[Charles Shannon to Emily Bottomley, 14 December 1924, BL Add MS 88957/1/82 f 30

But as Ricketts admitted, much to his chagrin, he lacked the necessary 'one drop of Irish hot'.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

590. For Sale: Studies of a Woman

A drawing by Charles Shannon will be auctioned tomorrow evening at Bubb Kuyper Auctions in Haarlem. In the catalogue, the description of lot 77/4598 reads as follows:

Shannon, C.H. (1863-1937). (Three studies of a woman). Drawing, red chalk, 44x59.7 cm., on brown wove paper. Laid down on mount. Old flattened middle-fold. Sl. soiled; tear in lower right margin. With collector's mark "G.R". in lower left corner (not in Lugt). 

It is estimated to fetch €500-€700.

Charles Shannon, drawing, undated (Bubb Kuyper Auctions, 24 November 2022)

Since the three sketches were made on one sheet of paper, they are clearly preliminary studies. How many sketches would Shannon have made in total? Incidentally, it is not easy to determine for which painting these could be preparatory studies - women were his main subject.

Note, 24 November 2022:

During the auction, the drawing was not sold. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

589. The Name of the Ricketts Circle

In an earlier blog post, I quoted a letter in French from John Gray to the critic Félix Fénéon, dated 16 April 1891. (See blog 94, A French Correspondence). In it, Gray used the French term the 'Valistes' for the circles around Ricketts and Shannon and their magazine The Dial of which he was a contributor. There seems to be no record of Ricketts and Shannon using this French term or an English equivalent of it. However, Oscar Wilde, according to William Rothenstein, once called them 'Valeists' (Men and Memories. Recollections of William Rothenstein 1872-1900. London, 1931, p. 312).

Oscar Wilde also used a name based - not on their address but - on the name of their magazine. In a letter to Charles Ricketts, undated but Autumn 1889, Wilde calls them 'the Dialists' (The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde. London, 2000, p. 412).

Ricketts and Shannon used a variety of nicknames though, and especially in their dealings with the writing duo Michael Field (Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper) the epithets flourished. Ricketts was called the Fairy-Man, Fay, or The Painter and their house was called The Palace. Michael Field received letters addressed to The Poets.

'The Palace': Lansdowne House,
Lansdowne Road, Holland Park

Ricketts's & Shannon's home
(from May 1902 to May 1923)

The diaries of the two female authors reveal that there were other names in circulation. Michael Field used the term Dial gang in an entry from 19 December 1901:

Next year will be to us of “the Dial gang” a tumultuous year – river-beds exposed & lands flooded – great upheavals.

[Michael Field, Journal, 19 December 1901: British Library, BL Add MS 46790, f 171v].

Earlier, Ricketts and Shannon declared themselves a duo in one name, admittedly in a telegram and thus probably to make the message short (and not too expensive), but still. I know of no other example of this far-reaching unity as a duo expressed in one name. For them, this was rare.

The telegram was sent after both Shannon and Ricketts received a poem from Michael Field and disputed each other's poems:

In the afternoon this telegram. Battle raging over respective poems. Casualties later. Ricknon.
[Michael Field, Journal, 5 January 1900: British Library BL Add MS 46789, f 2v.]

This merging of the names Ricketts and Shannon into Ricknon seems unique.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

588. Ricketts & Shannon in Constance Wilde's Autograph Book

Recently, the Oscar Wilde Society published a book about Constance Wilde's autograph album, Constance Wilde's Autograph Book 1886-1896, comprising reproductions of the autographs, dedications, poems and drawings from a circle of her acquaintances. Editor Devon Cox reveals that it involves different groups of friends, starting with famous figures, such as politicians, musicians and writers: Walter Pater, James McNeill Whistler, John Ruskin, William Morris, Pablo Sarasate and others. 

Constance Wilde's Autograph Book 1886-1896
(edited by Devon Cox, 2022)

Then the focus shifted to women scientists and authors, such as those who could possibly contribute to the journal that Oscar Wilde edited, The Woman's World, including Marie Corelli and Alice Meynell. From 1889, representatives of two other groups followed: those of spiritualism and women's rights. Lady Georgina Mount Temple was one of them.

Some wrote their name on a separate page, even if they added few words. Others wrote their contribution on a page that already contained an inscription, such as Arthur James Balfour who ironically commented on an older contribution by T.P. O'Connor. But such need for commentary will not have been the only reason for filling up a page; sometimes the idea that you did not then have to fill a whole page may also have helped.

The inscriptions between 1891 and 1895 show who Constance Wilde saw as her own friends at a time when she and Oscar were drifting apart relationally. Not included was her husband's most famous lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, nor was his first lover Robert Ross, although he was a dear friend of hers.

In 1894, Constance Wilde asked artists Ricketts and Shannon to contribute to her book. This is rather surprising - I have little further evidence of their dealings. Ricketts has shared memories of Wilde, but not of his wife.

Charles Shannon's contribution to
Constance Wilde's Autograph Book 1886-1896  

Ricketts and Shannen shared a page in the book (page 45). They are both roundels, Shannon's being at the top, a drawing in blue pencil of three winged boys representing cupids, their heads close together, in a wicker basket, signed and dated: 'C.H. Shannon | July 12. 94.'

Charles Ricketts's contribution to
Constance Wilde's Autograph Book 1886-1896 

Underneath, Ricketts drew a circular drawing in green, grey, blue, brown and white pencil. Against a background with a flowering hedge (roses?) sits a veiled woman, with a naked child at her feet, on her lap rests the head of a second child, and standing next to her is a third child whose hand and cheek touch hers. The three children are depicted in a vertical column next to her own body. The drawing is signed and dated: 'CS Ricketts | 1894.'

Nothing is known about a possible friendly relationship between the two artists and Constance Wilde.  Franny Moyle mentions some early contributions to the autograph book in her biography Constance. The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde (2011), but she does not mention the contributions of Ricketts and Shannon. Ricketts's biographer, J.G.P. Delaney, does not mention her name at all. Only one source is known to me, but it is interesting because it contains a - later - description of these drawings, namely the 1900 diary of Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper ('Michael Field'). Ricketts referred to Wilde's ruined marriage.

With reference to Mrs Oscar, Ricketts dwells on the great opportunity she lost. She was urged to act with spirit, with breadth – she failed – & ever after she was nothing; her husband was an unpleasant subject & she a ghost it was not pleasant to meet. Had she given him limitless devotion she wd have had the sympathy & admiration of all. She once called at the Vale with a Charity Album – Ricketts did a landscape, Shannon some charming Cupids. She was much pleased & they most anxious to [do] anything they could for Oscar’s wife.
[Michael Field, Journal, Sunday [9 December] 1900 [BL Add MS 46789: f 166r-166v].

Constance must have felt admiration for the way Ricketts and Shannon had designed and illustrated Oscar Wilde's books to pay a visit to the Vale and leave her album behind. (They did not take it with them from her home in Tite Street and did not belong to any of the subsequent groups that the editor of the autograph book identified.)

She may have had to wait a long time before she got it back. No new contributions were written between May 1894 and the end of the year. From early 1895 new inscriptions were added. Constance Wilde also pasted into the album an undated note from Shannon, writing guiltily that he should apologise 'for not returning your book in which Ricketts & I have done troubled little sketches'. 

Letter from Charles Shannon to Constance Wilde,
pasted in Constance Wilde's autograph book

He had seen her at the Burlington Club, and the editor suggests this must have been during the summer exhibition that ran form 28 May to 28 July 1894. I would suggest that it may have taken longer to return the album to its owner.

Ricketts and Shannon were among the last to contribute to the album. In early 1895, their drawings were followed by three more contributions from Alice Meynell, Francis Thompson and Arthur Severn. After Wilde's lawsuits, bankruptcy and her departure abroad, Constance asked for one final contribution from Vernon Lee, whose quote from Ecclesiastes indicated that now was a time to remain silent. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

587. A Vale Press Collector: James Dunn (3)

James Dunn's collection was assembled with apparent care, and in each book he noted why it was of interest.  

Notes by John Dunn

Borough Librarian James Hindle remarked that Dunn’s own notes in the books are of real bibliopolical value’ (Northern Daily Telegraph, 16 December 1943). For some books, these notes are important, Cynthia Johnston also noted: 
'It is from these hand-written notes that we are able to glean why Dunn considered each book worthy of purchase. In essence, each one of James Dunn’s books had to earn its place in his collection. In his rounded handwriting, Dunn records the merits and interest of each volume at the time of purchase. Sometimes these notes are lengthy and record some of Dunn’s own research on the book in question including some of his own bibliophilic adventures.' (Cynthia Johnston, 'The James Dunn Collection. Erasmus, A Ryght Frutefull Epystle', DM&AG blog, 1 June 2020.)

James Dunn, note in James of Scotland, The Kingis Quair
(Vale Press, 1903)

However, the notes in the Vale Press books are largely very brief excerpts from bibliographic reviews and rarely reveal personal motives. In his copy of the Vale Press edition of James of Scotland The Kingis Quair, Dunn wrote a quotation from Temple Scott from 1895 (I have not been able to trace the source of this quotation, which is not from the interview with Ricketts that was published a year later).

The Vale Press of Hacon and
Ricketts promises to produce
volumes which should be 
worth the attention of book-
lovers and the collector.
The types with which they
are printed have been
specially designed by 
Mr. Ricketts and are in
their way as beautiful
as those of William Morris

Handwritten note by James Dunn
(and separate catalogue description) in
W.S. Landor, Epicurus, Leontion and Ternissa
(Vale Press, 1896)

His handwritten note in a copy of Landor's Epicurus, Leontion and Ternissa (1896) reads:

Vale Press item
Title page in
black type, with
red ornamental 

In the Vale Press Vaughan edition, his annotation seems somewhat educational in nature (note also the underlining), pointing out details to the potential reader:

Note the ornamental
title page and
frontispiece, and
initial letters

In a single book (Meinhold's Mary Schweidler, 1903) he pasted a strip of paper with the description from an antiquarian catalogue. The price might be indicative of the year of purchase, but £4 4 0 is rather expensive for the entire first half of the twentieth century. I did not find a corresponding reference.

Handwritten note by James Dunn
in John Gray, Spiritual Poems
(Vale Press, 1896)

Only in his copy of John Gray's Spiritual Poems, Dunn made clear his personal appreciation for the illustration:

Note the choicely
engraved frontispiece,
and decorative title
page after Charles

James Dunn as a Vale Press collector

Apart from Dunn's appreciation for the title illustration of Spiritual Poems, we learn little about his preferences. We can say, however, that Dunn did not assemble a complete collection of the Vale Press publications and that his selection is not truly representative of the Vale Press. For example, the only modern texts are missing, and these include the plays of Michael Field as well as the programmatic texts of Ricketts and Pissarro.

Dunn also limited himself to the ordinary copies of the editions. He did not own copies printed on vellum. Nor did he acquire copies in a unique leather binding specially designed by Ricketts. His collection did not include signed copies or dedication copies. Although he collected prints, he did not own any proofs of Ricketts's wood-engravings. He apparently did not correspond with Ricketts.

Nor did he own any pre-Vale editions, such as Hero and Leander; issues of The Dial magazine are also missing, and so are the commercial books designed by Ricketts for, say, Osgood & McIlvaine or The Bodley Head (Thomas Hardy's Tess or Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx to mention only two).

What we don't know, for instance, is why Dunn purchased eleven editions of the Vale Press. Why not more, why not less? How do these books compare with the rest of his collection, with old and rare books and rococo prints? What is striking about this collection is that his own interests were followed in such a way that an eclectic collection emerged, without coherence, but expressing a personal passion for texts, illustrations and books.

What made him exceptional as a collector is that he assembled the collection quietly, studied each book carefully and already donated his collection to the local library during his lifetime, in several tranches, making him a role model for other collectors.

(Thanks are due to Mary Painter, librarian at Blackburn Central Library, for providing the scans of Vale Press books from the library's collection.)