Wednesday, December 28, 2022

595. Ricketts and Shannon Playing

It may seem at times that Ricketts and Shannon did nothing but work seriously and hard in their studio, or build exhibitions, participate in art committees and devote themselves to art matters in general. But there was relaxation too: Ricketts loved concerts, Shannon who was not musically inclined preferred to stick to bike rides. Sometimes we catch glimpses of Ricketts and Shannon playing and only rarely of a joint game.

But around 1900 - we read in the diaries of Michael Field [Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper] - they were playing dominoes. The first time, the game takes place in one of the rooms in the Fields' house, as Bradley records:

And after tea in the grot, we fall cosily to dominoes, with white port to console the losers. Shannon is looking exquisite. His lids have the swell of full-orbed buds that must let loose their flowers next day. His gay, resolute face shines clear. His fellow is of a white flecked with wind & agitated. I watch & enjoy through the excitement of the game. I am wearing a little rose-chintz blouse. I am warm as its tints with pleasure. 

[Michael Field journal 1900, BL Add MS 46789, 177r, 22 December 1900.]

Group of 21 dominoes made of wood, with painted spots, from Burma [now Myanmar] (19th-20th C.)
© The Trustees of the British Museum [British Library, London]
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license

The second game takes place at Ricketts and Shannon's house, when the Fields (and Chow, their dog) seek safe shelter there because of a fire on their street. Edith Cooper wrote the report:

Michael fronts the Painter at the Door. “We are come for shelter – there is a gt. fire in our road; we have come away from it & ask you to let us stay by your fire & to guard our most precious possessions.” Most cordially, we are taken in to the drawing-room. Two chairs & a little table covered with the design of a finished game of dominos stand in the hearth. Above upon the mantel-shelf two oranges each absorbing a lump of sugar are ready – On a satinwood Table-top a little sugar-basin between the players gives the only note of luxury. The fire is bright; & we have come upon the artists like thieves in the night from our own game at cards to find them as simply occupied & putting our daintiness to shame.

With fear of their bulk we drop our wraps. At once sloe-gin & hot cognac are offered, the boxes & books placed in safety, the Chow regaled with all the milk that can be spared from the cats’ breakfast. Seriously, allayingly, they listen – Shannon suddenly composed, Ricketts a little anxious, Martha-like at moments, but unfailingly perfect in his care & entertainment. [….] Shannon goes back with Michael – I am left, still in the midst of furs, with Ricketts, who is specially delighted to see us, like Sarah Bernhardt, covered with rings. “And the Pendant?” he questioned Michael before she left. She gave ocular proof of its preciousness by taking it off & leaving it in a safe drawer.

[Michael Field journal 1901, BL Add MS 46790, 9v-10v: 7 January 1901.]

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

594. Ricketts Interviewed about the Restriction of the Exportation of Works of Art

At the beginning of the 20th century, significant works of art came onto the market, partly as a result of taxes that forced new generations to dispose of paintings. These works could not be acquired by public collections as prices were pushed up by wealthy American private collectors, and oils by Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Reynolds moved across the Atlantic. The Morning Post (4 January 1912) interviewed two leading experts about their thoughts, 'Mr. Charles Ricketts' and 'Mr. D. Croal Thomson'. Thomson (1855-1930) had been the first director of the Goupil Gallery, and later worked as an art dealer for Agnew, before he became the proprietor of the French Gallery. We leave aside his judgment on the matter. 

As for Ricketts, what did he think? Ricketts opposed overly strict regulation. He felt that revenue from high export taxes could provide a fund for purchases (even if there was already one: the National Art Collections Fund had been founded in 1903). Moreover, the British had to grant the Americans their share of masterpieces, and owners their right to sell a picture.

Rembrandt, 'The Mill',
acquired from the collection of the Marquess of Lansdowne
by P.A.B Widener (1911)
[National Gallery of Art, Washington]

Mr. Charles Ricketts (*)

Mr. Charles Ricketts, the well-known artist and writer, was in favour of some legislation having for its object the restriction of the exportation of works of art which it is really desirable to retain in this country. "At the same time, I do not think," he said, "that it would be desirable to adopt such a measure as the Editto Pacca, which brought about a position in Italy that was simply intolerable. Not only did it operate greatly to the detriment of the owners of pictures, since they were unable to sell them anywhere but in one country and that country a poor one, but it made it impossible for them to lend them to foreign galleries for purposes of exhibition. 

Since then the Italian law has been modified, but even now it is not altogether satisfactory. If a person wishes to dispose of a work of art abroad he must give notice to the Government, which, if it thinks proper, can purchase it at a fair price after it has been valued by experts. The trouble is that the Italian Government, like most Governments, suffers from chronic impecuniosity, and therefore, it pays when it likes, which is a great injustice of course to the seller. 

What I should propose is this: that our own Government should put a substantial export duty on all acknowledged masterpieces. The money thus obtained would form a valuable fund for the purchase of other art treasures on behalf of the nation. It may be said that it would be easy for owners to set a merely nominal value on their property. Such a ruse, however, could be easily defeated by enacting that the Government should have in every case the option of purchasing any work of art at the declared valuation. This would not have the disastrous consequences of the Pecca law, or of a similar law in Greece which has practically put a stop to excavation in that country. (**)

Really, it does seem to me that the desire to keep works of art in one's own country is apt to degenerate into what I may call a dog-in-the-manger spirit. After all if pictures had always remained in the country of their origin we should not have in our galleries and museums any specimens of the great painters of Italy, Holland, France, and other countries. One would think, to judge from some comments one hears, that what we have done in the past, and are still doing at the present day, Americans have no right to do. America is a living nation, and as such is entitled to its share in the living art of the past. 

As a matter of fact the dispersal of works of art is not a bad thing from one point of view. I mean that it may result in their being saved from destruction by fire. It was touch and go with the Louvre in Paris in 1871, and who knows that all the treasures which are stored up there may not be destroyed in the next French Revolution?

As regards the Americans, what they have acquired is really insignificant as compared with what we have got. What the Government ought to see is that the number of old masterpieces can never be increased, but, on the contrary, is bound to diminish in the future. It is the story of the Sibylline books over again: every one that disappears enhances the value of those which remain.

As it is the annual grant given to the National Gallery for the purchase of works of art is not sufficient to purchase, I will not say a picture like Rembrandt's 'Mill,' but even a representative work of the English or French school. And remember that, as Keats said, a thing of beauty is a joy for ever. A masterpiece of painting is not like a man-of-war which is beginning to get out of date even while it is under construction. Yet while we spend millions and millions on men-of-war we can spare only a few paltry thousands for art. We shall discover our mistake when it is too late.

In a few years time there will be no more masterpieces to buy. The prices that are bid for them nowadays offer an almost irresistible attraction even to noble and wealthy owners. Our aristocracy are not like American millionaires, whose most engrossing occupation is giving 'monkey dinners'. The owners of British broad acres have duties and responsibilities to fulfil, and nowadays the demands upon them are becoming greater and greater every day. It is to be wondered at that they listen to the voice of the tempter who offers them a fortune for a single canvas? I fancy I can hear one of them say, 'After all I did not buy the picture, and it is not indispensable to my existence. People come in in muddy boots to see it, and they say: "It is very good," or "It is not genuine." That is what I get out of it.'  There is a good deal in this point of view. Certainly no one thanks him for keeping it if he does do so.

In Germany, I believe, orders are conferred on very rich men who undertake to buy particular pictures for the nation. Our Government does practically nothing. Here it seems to be assumed that our hospitals and other great public institutions must necessarily be supported by charity. To my mind such a view is appalling - it is positively indecent. With regard to the management of the National Gallery under existing circumstances I disapprove of the Trustees and Committee principle altogether. In all matters of art I believe in an autocracy, tempered by the fear, not of assassination, but of dismissal. You should put a man in power and trust him implicitly until you find it expedient to get rid of him. Burton practically had autocratic power, and he made the National Gallery what it is. Similarly in Berlin Dr. Bode has had a perfectly free hand at the Kaiser Friedrich Museum with the happiest results."

(*) Division into paragraphs was made by me and did not appear in the newspaper columns.

(**) We may assume that Ricketts's opinion about illegal exportation of ancient art from Greece and Italy would be different today.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

593. A Vale Press Collector: Robert Leighton

The bookbinder and antiquarian bookseller Walter James Leighton whose collection I discussed last week is probably not (directly) related to Robert Leighton, the collector who is the subject this week.

Robert Leighton was born in Lambeth (15 June 1884) and died in Ealing, Middlesex (24 July 1959). In 1918, he married 
Married Janet Wotherspoon.

Binding ticket of Leighton Straker
(posted by Edmund King on Pinterest)

In the 1911 census, Leighton was listed as Managing Director of a wholesale bookbinding factory. Later he was Chairman and Managing Director of Leighton Straker Bookbinding Co. LtdThe firm was an exhibitor at the 1929 British Industrial Fair, and according to their presentation, the company's work included bookbindings in cloth and leather, trade catalogue bindings, book covers for export, loose leaf binders, guard books, and portfolios. Leighton's brother Douglas (1886-1948) was also mentioned as a managing director. The British Library website includes images of some of their bindings (see The British Library, Database of Bookbindings). In the 1930s the firm issued an advertisement leaflet that pointed out their strengths, To Give You Binding Quality at a Thoroughly Economic Price.

Binding by Leighton Straker Bookbinding Co
for James Joyce, Ulysses (1936)

Examples of their work include the binding of James Joyce's Ulysses  (John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1936), featuring a Homeric bow designed by Eric Gill. The limited edition was executed in full vellum, and nine hundred copies were bound in green cloth.

Leighton also acted as a director of The Nonesuch Library Ltd, and from 1952 became responsible for a new limited editions programme. Earlier, Leighton-Straker had been one of the larger stakeholders of The Nonesuch Press (see John Dreyfus, A History of the Nonesuch Press, 1981). Another function Leighton performed was chairman of the Master Binders’ Association.

The Catalogue of Leighton's Collection

As with Walter James Leighton, his collection could be largely made up of exceptional bookbindings, but for the Vale Press editions in his collection, this is only very partially the case.

His book collection was described (as we know, not always adequately and in detail) in the auction catalogue Catalogue of the Valuable and Extensive Library. The Property of the late Sir Robert Leighton [Sold by Order of the Executors]. The First Portion: Private Press Books, Bibliography and Other Modern Books. Including […] Vale Press […] The books are notable for their fine condition […]. London, Sotheby & Co., 9-11 May 1960. The second portion was sold on 18 October 1960.

Leighton possessed 
French and Italian Renaissance and English Restoration bindings, including bindings by or for Farnese, Wynkyn de Worde, Aldine, Elzevir and Baskerville, as well as continental embroidered bindings, examples of the work of  Edwards of Halifax, and a presentation binding for Louis XVIII. 

Leighton also collected specially bound books from the Ashendene Press, Gregynog Press, and Kelmscott Press (including vellum copies and proof pages), but also Bremer Presse, Cranach Presse, Cuala Press, Daniel Press, Doves Press (including vellum or inscribed copies, for example to Annie Cobden-Sanderson), Essex House Press, Golden Cockerell Press, and Lee Priory Press (including a corrected office copy). 

According to a description by Robin Halwas, the top price (£380) was paid by Douglas for a binding by Katherine Adams (on Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur, 1913), and a collection of about 250 designs for details of bindings by Cobden-Sanderson was bought by Maggs (lot 210, £260); another of Cobden-Sanderson designs for complete bindings was bought by Quaritch (lot 211, £320).

Leighton's collection of the first hundred Nonesuch books and some later ones was sold by Christie’s (Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts, 9 July 2022, lot 61).

Catalogue of the Valuable and Extensive Library.
The Property of the late Sir Robert Leighton
(Sotheby & Co., 1960)
[Collection KB, national library, The Hague]

Robert Leighton's Vale Press Collection

The 1960 catalogue included several books by Ricketts (such as Beyond the Threshold) and also a complete set of The Dial magazine. However, the Vale Press publications officially issued by Hacon & Ricketts between 1896 and 1904 occupied a separate section: 'Vale Press Books', lots 688 to 706.

Was Robert Leighton in possession of a complete set of all official Vale Press editions? It is difficult to establish. If we add up all the books in these lots we arrive at one hundred and three volumes, while a complete set consists of ninety volumes.

Some descriptions of lots include three book titles and then the agonisingly vague statement 'and five others'. Lot 706 contains first 'three others by the same' (Michael Field) alongside three described editions and at the end it says: 'and six others'. 75% of the lot is not specified. Of the 103 volumes of Vale Press books in this auction, a quarter are unidentified.

Since Robert Leighton did have a complete Vale Shakespeare in his bookcase, I assume he owned a complete collection. After all, the titles that were described do not show that certain authors or genres or literary periods are conspicuously missing.

Besides, of some publications he owned multiple copies such as William Blake's Poetical Sketches. His collection also included copies printed on vellum. Of these, he owned Shelley's Lyrical Poems, Rossetti's Hand and Soul, Tennyson's In Memoriam and Lyric Poems, Cellini's autobiography in two volumes, The Parables from the Gospels, and Michael Field's Julia Domna. It is likely that he also had paper copies of these books.

Of some books, he had copies bound by Sarah Prideaux (Shakespeare's Sonnets, 1899), Douglas Cockerell (Michael Field's The Race of Leaves, and Sangorski & Sutcliffe (Thomas Browne's Religio Medici).

Unlike his namesake Walter James, this collection was not one of an antiquarian bookseller, but rather of a collector and bibliophile, whose collection incidentally disintegrated during the auction and cannot be traced: Robert Leighton did not paste a bookplate in his books.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

592. A Vale Press Collector: Walter James Leighton

Among the renowned Leighton family of bookbinders was Walter James Leighton (1850-1917), a bookseller and bookbinder, who came to work for the firm of his father and uncle who signed their works with James & Walter James Leighton, later J. & J. Leighton. At Walter James Leighton's death, Frank Karslake wrote an obituary for Book-Auctions Records: 'Mr. Leighton, who was in his sixty-eighth year, carried on the business of Messrs. J. and J. Leighton, at 40, Brewer Street, Golden Square, which was founded there by his grandfather, John Leighton, (a Scotsman from Glasgow), in 1798, and conducted subsequently by his father and his uncle. Indeed, little is known of the origin of his family, except that it was Scottish [...]'. 

Karslake also remarked that Leighton was not merely a dealer in rare books: 'Early printed books and early manuscripts were the rare things he specialised on, and — himself an important collector — he was the medium through which notable examples of these were gathered into many famous Libraries.' Also, he was an able dancer and actor in private performances.

Walter James Leighton
(detail of a wood-engraving,
The Graphic, 26 May 1888)

There were a few distinct firms with the name Leighton active in the bookbinding business. For example, the Leighton firm that was responsible for bindings designed by Charles Ricketts for The Bodley Head of John Lane and Elkin Mathews was called Leighton, Son & Hodge. 

Nevertheless, the auction catalogues of Walter James Leighton's collection included works designed by Ricketts and executed by Leighton, Son & Hodge, and other books designed by Ricketts. Where they collected by Leighton the collector or by the Leighton the dealer?

Auctions of  'The Famous Stock'

Seven auctions of his collection took place. The 'second portion' and the 'third portion' were auctioned at Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge in 1919 and in the catalogues we find some of Ricketts's most extraordinary books.

The 'second portion' (May 1919) contains an exceptional copy of Michael Field's The World at Auction (Vale Press, 1898) bound in 'niger morocco gilt, tooled design on sides and back, t. e. g.' (lot no. 906). Lot 1810 concerned a copy of the limited edition of Oscar Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Goal, 'one of 99 copies with the author's autograph signature, green crushed morocco extra, sides gilt with interlaced leafy stems bearing 28 flowers on each side, inlaid in dark red leather, broad inside borders also with inlaid flowers, t. e. g. uncut, enclosed in lined lettered case, by the Hampstead Bindery'. The original binding, with a design by Ricketts — his only contribution to this book — was lost in the re-binding of this copy.

The third portion, sold by auction in October 1919, contained a large-paper copy of John Gray's Silverpoints, one of 25 on hand-made paper, bound in full vellum with a Ricketts design on both covers. This edition was bound by Leighton, Son & Hodge.

The fifth portion, auctioned in 1921, contained another Vale Press book, one of the last volumes issued by Hacon & Ricketts, Thomas Sturge Moore's Danaë (1903). Its provenance was the collection of George Dunn, who died in 1912. This copy was sold in 1915 and acquired by Leighton for six shillings. It was a recent acquisition, and probably intended to be sold.

The sixth portion (1922) contained books issued by the Eragny Press (one volume) and the Kelmscott Press (twenty volumes), and a first edition of Thomas Hardy's Tess (1891), designed by Ricketts. Of this book Leighton owned a copy from a circulation library ('label removed from covers') and an 'ex-library copy'. One Vale Press item was listed in this catalogue: a copy of the pre-Vale edition of Hero and Leander (1894).

Walter James Leighton owned a deluxe copy of one of Ricketts's iconic books (Silverpoints) and a rebound Wilde edition, probably as examples of their binders. There were some commercial books designed by Ricketts. In all likelihood, he owned these books not for literary reasons, but as examples of book art and bookbinding. 

But it was the fourth portion of the auctions that gave away the depth of his Vale Press collection, or, rather, from the stock of his antiquarian bookshop. 

Walter James Leighton
[from: Book-Auction Records,
ed. Frank Karslake (1918)]

Lot number 3809 through lot 3824 contain a total of 49 volumes of Vale Press editions. It is not a complete collection. The Vale Shakespeare is missing in its entirety and Leighton did not have copies of some of the other works either: John Gray's Spiritual Poems (1896) was lacking, as were the editions of Drayton, Arnold, Constable, Browning (Sonnets), Sidney, Shelley (Lyrical Poems), Keats, Rossetti (both titles), Coleridge, Guérin, Cellini, Omar Khayyam, Ricketts (Shannon's lithographs, A Bibliography), Ecclesiastes, and The Kingis Quair.

The list of missing works provides enough evidence that not one genre was completely present: not the typographical manifests, not the illustrated volumes, not the editions of English poets of the nineteenth century, nor the texts of writers from the Renaissance. This makes it plausible that while Leighton had much of the Vale press in the store, he did not strive for a complete collection at home, as a true collector would. 

This is confirmed by the occurrence of multiple copies. Of thirteen volumes he owned two copies (including copies in the other auctions). Of Michael Field's The World at Auction, five copies were auctioned (four of them in the fourth portion) and of John Milton's Early Poems — now a rather rare book — he also had five copies in stock. It is unclear whether these included binding variants (for example, copies in the flame binding, designed for the surviving books after the 1899 fire at the printer's, The Ballantyne Press).

However, the catalogue does show that he did not stock a single copy on vellum, nor copies in bindings designed by Ricketts himself, proof pages, or books bound by contemporary binders.  He sold only the ordinary copies, or, put another way, those ordinary copies had not yet found a buyer.

Catalogue of the Fourth Portion of the Famous Stock of the Late Mr. W. J. Leighton [...].
London, Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, 1920, detail of page 536

Walter James Leighton's collection excelled in medieval manuscripts, incunabula, early printed books with woodcuts, fine bindings from several centuries including the modern era. He also collected books from other private presses such as the Ashendene Press and the Doves Press. 

He certainly had gathered a lot of Vale Press books, although we are unaware of his personal predilections, or his reasons to buy some of the Vale Press books in such abundance. The most likely reason for multiple copies of single books will have been his trading spirit rather than his collector's enthusiasm or bibliographic purposes. For then he would also have obtained copies on vellum, or in specially designed bindings. The conclusion must be that he was not a Vale Press collector but a dealer who saw a profit in Vale Press publications.