Wednesday, December 27, 2023

647. New Publication: Ten Letters from Charles Shannon to Charles Ricketts

Just before Christmas, an edition of letters from Charles Shannon to Charles Ricketts has been published: Old Chap, Dear Ridgeley, Old Chump, Dear Old Ruffian, My Dear Ricketts.

Folded-out cover of Old Chap, Dear Ridgeley,
Old Chump, Dear Old Ruffian, My Dear Ricketts

Soon after their initial meeting, Charles Shannon (1863-1937) and Charles Ricketts (1866-1931) decided to live together. On the apparently rare occasions when they spent time away independently they maintained communication by letter. Shannon would write when visiting continental museums or enjoying a holiday (and perhaps more) with one of his female models, and also from home when Ricketts in turn travelled abroad to undertake research for an art history monograph, or in the company of a younger male companion.

Numbered copies of Shannon's letters to Ricketts
at the day of publication, 22 December 2023

In many ways, these letters are simple affairs, modest, understated, and undemonstratively affectionate, telling us something of the equability of Shannon’s personality. 

His friends knew him as a handsome and athletic man, and if he was less extrovert than his lifelong companion, he had just as clear a sense of their shared vocation. Although he seems to have been content to stand back as Ricketts’s quixotic imagination and strongly-held opinions occupied the foreground, Shannon’s sanguine temperament ensured a balance in this friendship of equals.
Charles Shannon, 'Self-Portrait'
Lithograph, 1918

In his letters, Shannon reports on his visits to parties where artists, authors and collectors meet, on antiques purchased by Ricketts in Paris, on lectures with lantern slides, on the state of the art market, on a multi-day visit to his sisters in Sleaford (larded with childhood memories). The series concludes with the last note to Ricketts dictated to Shannon by his carers - a year after a fall down a flight of stairs left him mentally disabled.

Charles Shannon,
Old Chap, Dear Ridgeley, Old Chump, Dear Old Ruffian, My Dear Ricketts. Ten Letters to Charles Ricketts.
The Hague, At the Paulton, December 2023
40 pages, 3 illustrations, 20 x 13 cm
Designed by Huug Schipper (Studio Tint)
Set in Proforma Medium
Printed on Biotop 115 g. by Mostert & Van Onderen, Leiden
Edition limited to sixty numbered copies

Price including packaging and shipping:
European Union: €30.
United Kingdom: €35.
USA and Canada: €40.

You can express your interest by sending an email to Paul van Capelleveen [see the address in the right-hand bar]. You will receive a Paypal invoice.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

646. Harold Acton visits Ricketts

The British writer and aesthete Harold Acton (1904-1994), born and died in Villa La Pietra outside Florence, knew the likes of George Orwell, Henry Green, Cyril Connolly, Anthony Powell and Evelyn Waugh. Once he visited Charles Ricketts.

Harold Acton at Oxford around 1922
[Wikipedia Commons]

Acton bequeathed his villa, including its extensive art collection, to New York University. The Pietra Library contains two Vale Press books: Michael Field, Julia Domna (1903) and Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra (1900), two books designed by Ricketts: a first edition of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (London: Ward Lock, 1891) and Lord de Tabley's Poems Dramatic and Lyrical (London: Elkin Mathews and John Lane; New York: Macmillan and Company, 1893), as well as Ricketts's own collection of essays Pages on Art (London: Constable, 1913).

His visit to Ricketts is recorded in a letter written by Acton to the author Ralph Ricketts (1902-1998) in October 1972. He remembered that Ricketts's taste was exquisite, that he hated Cézanne and post-impressionism, and that Ricketts and Acton were both friends of the artist Thomas Lowinsky.

Ricketts had given Acton a tour of Lansdowne House, subtly commenting on each work of art - and he remembered Ricketts as a delightful and stimulating companion.

He mentions also that he wrote a review of Self-Portrait in 1940, but that he had lost the book and the review with it. Said to be published in World Review, I have not been able to locate  a copy yet.

The writer Ralph Robert Ricketts was born in Simla in India and an unpublished family story recorded a curious incident:

On one of her visits to England, Ricketts recalled his mother proudly showing his grandfather a drawing of a daffodil, which he had done for her. The old man, possibly fearing that Ricketts would go the way of his distant relation the collector, publisher, designer, and friend of Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, silently tore the drawing into little pieces before sighing and finally saying "we'll say no more about that".

Before Ralph Ricketts published his first novel (A Lady Leaves Home, 1934), J.C. Squire offered him a job at The London Mercury for which he worked until 1939. He suffered from ill-health all his life, writing books during better periods. A leading theme in his novels was the conflict between worldly and spiritual life. The novelist L.P. Hartley praised his novel The Manikin (Faber and Faber, 1956), and became a friend. His last novel appeared in 1961.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

645. A Drawing for Montezuma?

The collections at the V&A London include a drawing by Ricketts dated - rather broadly - to 1900-1930. It is an unsigned and undated study in pencil of a nude young man, resting on his back (or deceased), with the left arm outstretched beside his head. The measurements are given in inches: 5.125 in (height) by 15 in (width) [c 13 x 38 cm]. The drawing was presented to the V&A by the Art Fund in 1933 and registered as E.1027-1933. [See the V&A website]. 

Charles Ricketts, study of a nude man (pencil)
[V&A, London: E.1027-1933]

If we can assume that this was a preliminary study for a painting - it need not be, of course - then there is really only one painting to consider, and then we can more accurately date the drawing to 1904-1905.

The pose of the body is even more dramatically twisted in the painting, especially the pelvis and upper legs, and the genitals are less pronounced. 

In 1905, Ricketts completed the painting The Death of Montezuma, also called The Sacrifice of Montezuma. However, the sketch does not depict Montezuma himself, but a secondary figure in the foreground. There are several drawings and paintings in which Ricketts decorates the foreground - as it were - with dead bodies and this is one of them.

Charles Ricketts, The Death of Montezuma (1905)
[Private Collection]

This oil on canvas (75 x 61 cm), dating from 1905, once belonged to the collection of Edmund Davis and is now part of a private collection.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

644. "A Picture Collector Mr Drucker"

In November 1911, Charles Shannon was sent to Amsterdam by the Royal Academy to collect a painting by Jozef Israels who had died in August. Ricketts travelled with him.

In 'cold January weather', they spent four days in The Hague, Haarlem, and Amsterdam, where Shannon visited dealers and private owners. Ricketts wrote about their Dutch stay in a letter to the artist and critic Richard Roland Holst (1868-1938)an old friend who had first visited them in London in 1893. However, they had not visited Roland Holst in Amsterdam and Ricketts explained that they had had very little time to spare and, besides, they did not remember where he lived.

During their stay, they were accompanied by 'Mr Drucker', Ricketts wrote: 'A picture collector Mr Drucker usually trotted us about.'

J.C.J. Drucker (photo: 1939)

This was convenient because Drucker spoke English. Although he was Dutch by birth (his father was from Germany), he had moved to London in 1883, married an English woman, Maria Lydia Fraser, and become a naturalised British citizen.

Jean Charles Joseph Drucker (Amsterdam 1862 - Montreux 1944) came from a wealthy family and started collecting paintings and watercolours in 1885. He mainly acquired works from artists connected to the Hague School; later he also acquired works by their Amsterdam contemporaries such as Breitner. He acquired these artworks from the Hague branch of Goupil and from other art dealers such as Elion, Preyer, and Van Wisselingh, while the firm of Arthur Tooth and Sons advised him on the acquisition of Chinese porcelain and furniture (the latter part of his collection later proved to contain little of interest).

From 1903, he loaned works to the Rijksmuseum and soon after, the idea arose to donate the entire collection to the museum - the Drucker-Fraser marriage remained childless. In early 1904, the public could admire works by Lourens Alma Tadema, Willem Maris, Anton Mauve, Albert Neuhuys and Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch in a specially decorated room. In his will Drucker stipulated that the works would be left to the museum on condition that particular rooms were made available for the collection. Despite this bequest, he also donated some works to the National Gallery in London.

Jozef Israels, 'Blik in de verte' [Gaze into the distance] (1907)
[Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam]

In 1909, a specially built extension of the Rijksmuseum provided the space for a new display of the now-donated works - 38 paintings and 31 drawings. In June 1911, the Druckers also donated 12 paintings and 17 watercolours by Jozef Israels.

In view of the assignment Shannon had received in London, it was not surprising that he and Ricketts contacted Drucker.

To Richard Roland Holst, Ricketts later wrote about Drucker: 

I asked him if he knew your address, he did not, but a charming and very pretty young Dutch girl we met at his house spoke enthusiastically of your Pan and Lucifer stage decorations. We would have been charmed to have seen you in the evening, but chance was against it. 
[Typed transcription, BL Add MS 61715, 137-8]

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

643. Reading The Kingis Quair at Home

Handwritten notes in private press books are quite rare. Universities used to lend their books to students and professors, even private press books and limited editions, and at home users would be tempted to make notes and text corrections in library books - however, in general, examples of such traces are not catalogued, and rare to find.

We often don't know if and how often such books were loaned, but thanks to digitisation projects, occasional examples of them come along.

The Kingis Quair (Vale Press, 1903)
[Collection: Southern Regional Library Facility, UCLA, Los Angeles]
[Access: Internet Archive]

A copy of the Vale Press edition of James I of Scotland's poem The Kingis Quair at the California Southern Regional Library Facility, UCLA, Los Angeles (PR2002 .K61 1903), does not contain handwritten marks by users. 

However, librarians have made notes in it, and several stamps were used to identify the book's shelf number. At the front we find markings such as 'Engl. Dept' (stamped), '1/15/41' (in pencil), presumably the acquisition date, and 'April 22 '41' (stamped), the latter possibly the cataloguing date.

Still, at the back of the book, is the page with date stamps and these run from 13 February 1946 to 16 February 1976.

The Kingis Quair (Vale Press, 1903)
[Collection: Southern Regional Library Facility, UCLA, Los Angeles]
[Access: Internet Archive]

The book was lent, also through Inter Library Loan, in 1952, 1953, 1957 (twice), 1959 (twice), 1960, 1963 (four times), 1964, 1966, 1973, and 1976 (twice).

It cannot be seen for what purpose the book was loaned and to whom. It could have been for several reasons: students who needed to read the text and could not get hold of another edition or researchers who wanted to study this as a private press book.

The book still has the original blue paper publisher's binding 

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

642. A Present for Sale

The 'Two Day Sale of Fine Art & Antiques, including Oriental, Porcelain, and Works of Art' at Canterbury Auction Galleries, Canterbury (Kent) includes a Charles Ricketts drawing as lot 502 that will be sold on the first day of the sale, 25 November. The estimate is £800-£1,200.

The description reads: 

Watercolour - Costume design for "The Three Kings - The Coming of Christ", from a play by John Masefield for the 1928 play at Canterbury Cathedral, with artist's pencil inscription to lower right "To Mrs Bell from C. Ricketts Whitsuntide 1928", 19ins x 13.5ins, framed and glazed.
Provenance: Donated by the artist to Mrs Bell, wife of Dean Bell, Whitsuntide, 1928, thence gifted to Cannon Ingram Hill by Mrs Bell, and thence to the current vendor circa 2003.

The image is slightly cropped, missing part of Ricketts's dedication. 

Charles Ricketts, 'The Three Kings' (watercolour sketch, 1928)

Blog 135. "Ricketts in a Cathedral" was devoted entirely to the sketches for the 1928 performance and to the reviews. In it a few sketches were mentioned that, like the sketch above, were in the possession of the Bell Estate, the executors of the Bishop Bell and Mrs Bell of Chichester: a design for Gaspar and one for an angel. 'The Three Kings' has the same provenance.

George Bell (1883-1958) had married Henriette Livingstone in 1918, and was appointed Bishop of Chichester in 1929, but from 1925 to 1928 he had been Dean of Canterbury, which explains how he came into the possession of two of Ricketts's designs. He initiated the Canterbury Festival of the Arts, the first of which was the Masefield play in the summer of 1928, and the most famous one was T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral in June 1935. (Blog 135)

Ricketts came to Canterbury in mid-May 1928 to personally deliver some of the costumes he designed, as he announced in a letter to Henrietta Bell, undated but about 9 May 1928 (now part of the Carl Woodring collection at Rice University, Houston, Texas):

Dear Mrs Bell

I propose bringing the King’s [Kings’] Dresses, and all the properties to the Deanery by car on Monday 14. I hope to be there shortly after 12, deposit them, & return to Chilham by the same car. Lady Davis is lending me the car & the services of their excellent chauffeur Kirkwood. Caspar’s dress is superb. There are some 10 crowns etc. The vases for the perfumes, the Shepheard’s [Shepherd's] hat, brooches, lilies. The Holy Child is a great success. I have just had him photographed.

In a 'PS' Ricketts wrote:

I hope you have a lumber room in which The Kings robes can be hung up. The cloaks are large.

Another 'PS' was written on the envelope:

Do bring pressure to bear on the Annunciation by Light. It would bring a flash of beauty in a scene which is too long drawn out.*

In a letter to the poet and playwright Gordon Bottomley, dated 12 May 1928, Ricketts described the costumes for the three kings in detail, and added that they were actually made at his country retreat, the Keep, Chilham Castle.

I expect the difficulties at the end with nothing but amateur workers to do everything. Christ appears at the Choir entrance and speaks – half invisible – in a white seamless robe with Crown & pectoral of rubies & rock crystal, & to secure respectable Kings I am having their dresses made in my house. The Warrior King is in gold armour, chain mail & embroidered Tabard, blood red cloak, lined with scarlet; he is not unlike Rossetti’s David at L[l]andaff but cruel in effect. The Diplomat King is in a white St Joan Courtier dress – circa Henry V, scarlet bonnet, robe of white cloth barred with irmine [ermine]; he will have a Borgia-Richard III element in his make up. The Wise (oriental King) looks like a Magi in Orange gold, black and green, he looks half Mahomedan & wears jewelled slippers. If we can afford Shields for the attendants these will be symbolical. I think we can manage banners. The 4 blue angels attending on the Virgin have heraldic wings made of ermine tails, gold acanthus leaves & peacock eyes, they wear gold gloves. The big male angels are wingless, in white seamless robes, long gold copes & their hair is hidden under a sphinx like hood of gold, I want their faces painted dead white. 
[British Library, Add MS 88957/1/76, f 103]*

Note: The lot closed at £1,150.

* Thanks are due to John Aplin for transcriptions of the letters.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

641. Books at the 'The First Exhibition of Original Wood-Engraving'

In earlier blogs about the Ricketts & Shannon circle's exhibition at The Dutch Gallery in December 1898, 'First Exhibition of Original Wood-Engraving', I wrote about criticisms of the typography of the catalogue and about the authorship of its introduction (see blogs 426 and 462).

The First Exhibition of Original Wood-Engraving (1898: colophon)

The catalogue lists only prints, but the colophon mentions prints and books. Which books were actually on display?

For a study of such exhibitions, the British Library's digitised newspapers (see British Newspaper Archive, BNA) are indispensable. Sometimes it is necessary to look for something other than the obvious. In my earlier search for this exhibition, I got a few results, but now that I searched for 'Pissarro' (Lucien Pissarro) and 'wood-engraving', among the results were some reviews of the First Exhibition of Original Wood-Engraving that I had not previously seen. And these reviews mention books that were on display in 1898.

A review, signed B.N., appeared in The Westminster Gazette, 22 December 1898, p. 4: 'Wood Engravings at the Dutch Gallery'. It includes this paragraph:

Next to the books of the Kelmscott series the Vale publications embody the most serious effort made in this generation at fine book-making, and as such they are, with whatever reservation, deserving of due respect. A case of these books is on view in the gallery. Neither the type, the setting, nor the decoration of these books quite satisfies my own eye, but there are many things in them one can admire. The prettiest page (to my mind) is the front page of Campion's songs, with its design of violets. The most beautiful and elaborate of the woodcut designs are certainly those made for the "Daphnis and Chloe," of which a set is framed on the walls.

The case mentioned probably was a tabletop display case, given Edith Cooper's diary entry (Michael Field, Journal, 3 December 1898 [BL Add MS 46787: f 126r]):

Under glass the Dial books are shown – The World at Auction unsurpassed among them. 

Another review, ‘The World of Art’, published in The Glasgow Herald, 5 December 1898, p. 7, mentions other books.

Other designs have been made to illustrate volumes of poems such as those by Drayton, Sir Philip Sidney, Blake, "The Rowleie Poems of Thomas Chatterton," "The Poems and Sonnets of Henry Constable." &c. The designs for the books are set in beautiful frames of engraved floral scrolls, and are of exquisite workmanship.

The term 'frames' in this quote refers to the borders Ricketts designed for the opening pages of his books.

Thomas Campion, Fifty Sonnets (1987: opening page]

The book case contained at least seven Vale Press books:

1. Michael Drayton, Nimphidia and the Muses Elizium (1896);
2. Thomas Campion, Fifty Sonnets (1897);
3. William Blake, The Book of Thel. Songs of Innocence. And Songs of Experience (1897);
4. The Poems and Sonnets of Henry Constable (1897);
5. The Sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney (1897);
6. The Rowley Poems of Thomas Chatterton (1898);
7. Michael Field, The World at Auction (1898).

The last two books had appeared in June, five months prior to the exhibition.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

640. Osmaston, a Collector

Probably the best-known collectors of Charles Shannon's paintings are the wealthy mining financier Edmund Davis and his wife Mary Davis, née Halford, but there were others, such as poet Gordon Bottomley, designer and collector Pickford R. Waller, Welsh judge and legal author William Evans, artist and collector Cecil French, art collector and lawyer John Quinn, and business man and art collector Kojiro Matsukata. This list also includes the names of William Pye, May Morris, James Howden Humeand Joseph Bibby.

There are collectors whose names are less well known, such as P.J. Ford, Ralston Mitchell, A. Arnold Hannay, H.G. Smith, whose biographies are perhaps not very comprehensive. A now obscure collector was Francis Osmaston. He owned two of Shannon's paintings.

Charles Shannon, 'Salt Water' (1902)
Oil on canvas. Usher Gallery, Lincoln
From the collection of F.P.B. Osmaston, later owned by Preston Kerrison

Francis Plumptre Beresford Osmaston (1857-1925) studied at Oxford and was called to the bar in 1885 (Lincoln's Inn), London. With his wife Eleanor Margaret Field, an active suffragist, and three children, he lived in Church Row, Hampstead; later they lived in Limpsfield and Beacon Crag, Portheleven. 

In 1901, he inherited money from his father John Wright (who changed his name to John Osmaston). The estate was sworn at £2,826. Years before, in 1884, his father had to sell their family house Osmaston Manor in Derbyshire, and separately auctioned the collection of paintings, said to include works by Rubens, Constable and Turner, and 'Monna Lizza by L. da Vinci' (Derby Mercury, 1884, see Osmaston Manor). The authenticity of the paintings could not be guaranteed and the proceeds were very modest.

Osmaston translated works by the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel and published a drama about Cromwell (1906), as well as essays about art and poetry anthologies. A critic said of him: 'Mr. Osmaston can hardly be said to write for the general reader' (The Queen, 16 January 1909). 

He also wrote a book on the painter Tintoretto, The Art and Genius of Tintoret (London: Bell, 1915), and in 1927, Charles Ricketts consulted this monograph for his research into a purchase by Sydney Cockerell [see British Library Add MS 58085, f81].* 

Osmaston also dined with Ricketts and Shannon, as evidenced by a 19 February 1904 diary entry by Ricketts:

Friday. Fry & Binyon to grub & Osmaston. Worked on plague.
[BL Add MS 58102]

Roger Fry and Laurence Binyon were regular guests. 'The Plague' was a painting that ended up at Musée de Luxembourg (now Musée d'Orsay) in Paris through Davis's mediation.

Osmaston acquired at least two paintings by Shannon and one by Ricketts:

Charles Shannon, 'Salt Water' (1902). Oil on canvas, 76 x 56,2 cm. Location: Usher Gallery, Lincoln (purchased from Preston Kerrison, 1953).


Charles Shannon, 'Self-Portrait (Man in a Striped Shirt)' (1901). Oil on canvas. Location unknown.


Charles Ricketts, 'The Good Samaritan' (exhibited 1907). Oil on canvas. Brought in by Osmaston at the Red Cross Sale, 1915, and bought by Mary Davis. On this occasion, Ricketts called Osmaston an 'over-generous person'.**

* For this reference, thanks are due to John Aplin.
** J.G.P. Delaney, Charles Ricketts (1990), p. 290.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

639. The Sower, The Reaper

An oeuvre catalogue of Charles Shannon's paintings does not exist. Often his paintings are difficult to date and there are quite a few themes that he depicted repeatedly. In addition, there are studies for paintings with the same title, and paintings with identical titles exist in larger and smaller versions.

Around five or six paintings were later destroyed, some by the artist himself, others by fire and perhaps by acts of war. On the other hand, around twenty paintings are attributed to him that are probably not his work. In short, it is not easy to oversee his extensive oeuvre. A conservative estimate is about 160-165 paintings.

Charles Shannon, "The Sower and the Reaper' (1904)

Shannon limited himself to a small range of subjects to which he returned again and again, in pencil sketches, lithographs, pastels, watercolours and oil paintings.

An example of a theme that Shannon used for a lithograph and for two oil paintings is taken from the Bible, John 4:36: 'And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.'

It is not the religious aspect that fascinated him. Although he was the son of a vicar, his paintings on a biblical theme such as the parable of the wise and foolish virgins were not about Christianity; Shannon was more concerned with technique, composition and colour than with the  drama or the meaning of a story. The same goes for the sower and the reaper.

Nor could realism deeply captivate him, although he initially tried to become a painter like Titian. He therefore saw no harm in depicting both the sower and the reaper in the field in one act, a scene that obviously never occurred in the farmer's daily business. Nevertheless, they were often depicted in parallel in church windows or, for example, in a work by his Dutch contemporary, the artist Jan Toorop, who depicted the two of them with their backs turned to each other.

Shannon took a different approach. He had the pair - obviously representing Life and Death - do a kind of rural dance, they stride across the field in what seems like an embrace. R.A. Walker described the image in The Lithographs of Charles Shannon (1920): 

A slightly clothed male figure resting a basket of corn on his hip is taking a handful of grain from it as he strides along. By his side the reaper with scythe on his shoulder links arms with him and speaks in his ear.

In 1904, Shannon started with a lithograph, ‘The Sower and the Reaper’. There were fifty impressions in black or in dark green.

Two versions in oil would follow, one of which can be dated to around 1915; the second has not been dated yet. These versions make an entirely different impression. The undated version most closely resembles the dark image of the lithograph.

Charles Shannon, 'The Sower and the Reaper' (undated)
Oil on panel
[Usher Gallery, Lincoln]

In this picture, the landscape is as sketchily rendered as in the lithograph, although a tree to the left and a dog to the right are more clearly visible, as is a bridge in the background. The emphasis is on the proximity of the two people - even to the extent that it appears to be a dance of death. This version is part of the collection of the Usher Gallery in Lincoln. (Over time, the painting may have become darker due to the varnish.)

Charles Shannon, 'The Sower and the Reaper' (c.1915)
Oil on panel
[Willam Morris Gallery, London]

In the circa 1915 version, from the collection of the William Morris Gallery in London, the figures are in more cheerful colours in a clearly painted landscape with a stream running from left to right, an elegant wooden bridge to the right, a barking dog stands in front of a fence that closes off the field, to the left is a tree, and a church tower and barns or houses can be seen in the background on the right.

The sower is no longer half-naked but dressed in a red shirt and his companion is less sinister, more like an older brother. The painting, by the way, is considerably larger: 101,2 x 106 cm (the darker version is 61 x 62 cm).

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

638. The Artists as Gardeners

During World War I, Charles Ricketts corresponded with some soldiers at the front, including the young artist Thomas Lowinsky (1892-1947). While healing from an injury to his face, Lowinksy heard nightingales singing in a desolate landscape ravaged by war. 

Thomas Lowinsky, 'The Mask of Flora' (1931)
[Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage] 

Ricketts wrote back to him on 20 July 1918 [Typed transcription, BL Add MS 61718, ff 88-91]. All his letters to Lowinsky try to give him news from London so he can turn his attention away from the horror of the trenches for a while. This particular letter meanders from concern about Lowinsky's condition to ballet and music news from London and on to gossip about engagements and poets who seem cheaper versions of Rupert Brooke, before going back to worries about the repercussions the explosion will have on Lowinsky's health and mental condition. 

And then it's time to return to Lowinsky's bird watching before Ricketts switches to hilarious gardening tips.

I have heard the same thing about the nightingales in the sheltered woods. I should have thought it late for them to be singing; they stopped at Cranleigh about a week ago, they probably flew away. The lark does not surprise me; on a paper cover I have designed for Binyon’s book about the war I have represented France ploughing a battlefield with a lark singing over the plough. The lark is the bird of France, it has France’s gaiety, determination and persistence. The nightingale is Italy. He sings in perfection for a short breathless time. There are places in Italy where you cannot sleep owing to his song, and the scent of seringa [syringa] is thick like a clotted taste upon the lips. This year the seringa has been poor; all the flowers have been the same, for that matter, and devoured by a pest of green flies. Shannon and I have tried to keep our pots of pansies clean with an old tooth brush, and to-day I carted in the white geraniums, which were getting sodden with the rain, which reminds me of a friend who used to hold an umbrella over her Burmese lillies [lilies] when it rained.

Despite their age difference, Lowinsky would always remember Ricketts as his dearest friend.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

637. Under Whose Supervision?

Charles Rickets could use several variants of his name, and did so in the colophons of the Vale Press editions. He designed the books that were printed under his supervision at the Ballantyne Press in London where a hand-press was reserved for this work.

Colophon (detail) of Milton, Early Poems (Vale Press, 1896)

The colophon of the first book, Milton's Early Poems (1896) mentions: 'Seen through the press by Charles Sturt. The decorations are designed and cut on the wood by Charles Ricketts under whose supervision the book has been printed by the Ballantyne Press'. The name Sturt was a pseudonym of Ricketts.

The second book, Walter Savage Landor's Epicurus, Leontion and Ternissa (1896), had a similar colophon text including the phrase: 'the build of the book and its decoration being by Charles Ricketts.'

The name Charles Ricketts also appears in the subsequently published volumes.

However, for Vaughan's Sacred Poems Being a Selection (1897) the name 'C.S. Ricketts' is chosen, perhaps because Ricketts thought that this form of the name fitted more easily into the cross-shaped colophon.

Colophon of Vaughan's Sacred Poems Being a Selection (1897)

The next volume, again, has the name 'Charles Ricketts': The Poems & Sonnets of Henry Constable (1897), but immediately afterwards, in Lucius Apuleius, The Excellent Narration of the Marriage of Cupide and Psyches (1897), a third variant is introduced: 'Charles S. Ricketts.'

A fourth variant, 'C. Ricketts', appears in a volume written by Ricketts himself: Charles Ricketts, A Defence of the Revival of Printing (1899). 'C. Ricketts' is mentioned as the book's designer in the colophon; binding and title page give the author's name as 'Charles Ricketts'. Does this indicate modesty? There was room enough for the full first name in the colophon.

There seems to be no consistency in format, chronology, author or genre, indicating that each colophon was rewritten (with the exception of the Vale Shakespeare volumes) and that there was no absolute preference, except that the name form 'Charles Ricketts' was favoured, and that the less popular version Charles S. Ricketts was used only twice.

In one case, Ricketts's name is not mentioned at all (except in the publisher's name Hacon & Ricketts); this concerns Maurice de Guérin's The Centaur. The Bacchante (1899). The omission, unique for Vale Press books, may have been an oversight, as the text of this colophon differed from the preceding because this was the first Vale Press book to be illustrated not by Ricketts but by his friend T.S. Moore. 

List of variants (titles have been taken from the front of the book)

Charles Ricketts [74 volumes]
[1] Milton, Early Poems (1896); [2] Walter Savage Landor, Epicurus, Leontion and Ternissa (1896); [3] John Suckling, The Poems (1896); [4] John Gray, Spiritual Poems, Chiefly Done Out of Several Languages (1896); [5] William Shakespeare, The Passionate Pilgrim (1896); [6] John Drayton, Nimphidia and the Muses Elizium (1896); [7] Thomas Campion, Fifty Songs (1896); [8] Matthew Arnold, Empedocles on Etna. A Dramatic Poem (1896); [9] William Blake, The Book of Thel. Songs of Innocence. And Songs of Experience (1897), [10] Michael Field, Fair Rosamund (1897); [11] The Poems & Sonnets of Henry Constable (1897); [12] E.B. Browning, Sonnets From the Portuguese (1897); [13] Charles Ricketts & Lucien Pissarro, De la typographie en de l'harmonie de la page imprimée. William Morris et son influence sur les arts et métiers (1898); [14-15] The Rowley Poems of Thomas Chatterton (2 volumes, 1898); [16] Michael Field, The World at Auction (1898); [17] Lyrical Poems of Shelley (1898); [18-19] The Poems of John Keats (2 volumes, 1898); [20] Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Blesses Damozel (1898); [21] William Blake, Poetical Sketches (1899); [22] S.T. Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In Seven Parts (1899); [23] Robert Browning, Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (1899); [24-62] The Vale Shakespeare edition (39 volumes, 1900-1903); [63] Michael Field, The Race of Leaves (1901);  [64] Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1901); [65-67] The Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley (3 volumes, 1901-1902); [68] Poems From Wordsworth (1902); [69] Ecclesiastes; or, The Preacher, and The Song of Solomon (1902); [70] The Parables (1903); [71] Michael Field, Julia Domna (1903); [72] King James of Scotland, The Kings Quair (1903); [73] Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (1903); [74] T. Sturge Moore, Danaë (1903).

C.S. Ricketts [9 volumes]
[1] Vaughan's Sacred Poems Being a Selection (1897); [2] D.G. Rossetti, Hand and Soul (1899); [3] Shakespeare's Sonnets. Reprinted from the Edition of 1609 (1899); [4] Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam (1900); [5] Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poems (1900); [6-7] The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (2 volumes, only one with a colophon, 1900); [8] Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici, Urn Burial, Christian Morals, and Other Essays (1902); [9] William Meinhold, Mary Schweidler, The Amber Witch, The Most Interesting Trial for Witchcraft Ever Known [...] (1903).

Charles S. Ricketts [2 volumes]
[1] Lucius Apuleius, The Excellent Narration of the Marriage of Cupide and Psyches (1897); [2] The Sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney (1898).

C. Ricketts [3 volumes]
[1] Lucius Apuleius, De Cupidinis et Pschyces Amoribus Fabula Anilis (1901); [2] A Catalogue of Mr. Shannon's Lithographs [the title page mentions his name twice, as author and illustrator: 'Charles Ricketts'] (1902); [3] Charles Ricketts, A Bibliography of the Books Issued by Hacon & Ricketts [introduction signed: Charles Ricketts] (1904). 

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

636. Descent from the Cross

A painting by Charles Ricketts will be auctioned in Dreweatts's auction Old Master, British and European Art on 13 October. It is a scene often painted by Ricketts, 'The Descent from the Cross'.

Charles Ricketts, 'Descent from the Cross', c. 1909

Various stages of the passion of Christ were painted by Ricketts, such as the trial ('Christ before the People', c. 1906) and the crucifixion ('Calvary, c. 1907, and 'The Crucifixion', undated), but mostly he painted the 'Descent from the Cross'. There are at least five, perhaps even seven or eight.

1. 'Descent from the Cross', c. 1905: The William Morris Gallery,
2. 'The Deposition', c. 1910: Ashmolean Museum,
3. 'The Deposition', also called 'The Descent from the Cross', c. 1909,
4. 'The Deposition', c. 1915: Bradford Art Galleries and Museums,
5. 'Deposition from the Cross', c. 1915: The Tate.

Christ is one of Ricketts's tragic heroes, others he frequently depicted are Don Juan, Faust, The Good Samaritan, and Montezuma, an intimate circle of admired dead, a curious group of historical and fictional characters.

The third painting from my short list is now on sale at Dreweatts: oil on canvas, 92 x 71 cm, signed (verso), further signed (to stretcher verso). It probably dates from around 1909, as it was illustrated by C. Lewis Hind in 'Charles Ricketts: a Commentary on his Activities', The Studio, January 1910. In 1933, T.S. Moore reproduced the painting, stating that the then owner was unknown. It surfaced in 2014, when it was sold by Stockholm Auktionsverk. Fine Arts and Antiques, on 11 June 2014, lot no. 3388. It fetched around $11,500.

Charles Ricketts, 'Descent from the Cross', c. 1909

Opening bid is  £4,500, estimate £5,000 - £7,000.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

635. The Matsukata Collection Revisited

In 2018, I wrote about some paintings by Ricketts and Shannon that had been bought by Japanese businessman Kojiro Matsukata (1865-1950) and were lost in a fire in London in 1939. Part of his vast collection ended up in the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. I wrote: 'In the list of artists represented in this museum, the names of Ricketts and Shannon are absent.' However, in 2019 an exhibition by the museum included two works by Ricketts and Shannon, and the museum's website now lists their names. (See the Collection page of the National Museum of Western Art). 

The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

These works had been on quite a journey. Matsukata began collecting art in 1916 during lengthy business trips around Europe. Works of art were shipped to Japan, but much was stored locally in England and France. From the mid-1920s, Japan was hit by recession and then a financial crisis that also affected the banks with which Matsukata's firm did business. Additional works were brought to Japan from Paris to be sold - with the artworks already in place - in a series of auctions whose proceeds were to save the company.

Japan raised the tax on luxury goods imports to 100 per cent, further complicating the shipping of his collection to his homeland. While the London collection was lost in a fire, the French collection was stored, even during World War II, with some sales to cover costs. After the war this part of Matsukata's collection was confiscated by the French state because of the nationality of its owner. Eventually 375 artworks were to be returned to Japan, but by then the collector had died.

Charles Shannon, 'The Rebirth of the Arts' (1917)
[The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo]

Two lithographic posters by Ricketts and Shannon are now in the collection. They both made a nomadic journey. One of Matsukata's first purchases was the complete series of lithographs published during the war: The Great War. Britain's Efforts and Ideals. Ricketts's poster was called 'Italia Redenta' and Shannon's was titled 'The Rebirth of the Arts' (1917). The colour lithographs measured 77,9 x 52,2 cm (Ricketts) and 77,3 x 51,6 cm (Shannon). [For reproductions, see blog 165. The Great War, an Exhibition in Wales.]

Matsukata bought the complete series of 66 items. It was purchased at the Fine Art Society, London in July 1917. They were transported to the Kawasaki Dockyard Co., Ltd. in Kobe. In 1927 they were seized by Jugo Bank, Tokyo, to be sold in the fourth Matsukata sale in Tokyo from 7–24 May 1931. They became part of a private collection in Japan, and were deposited many years later in the The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, on 25 January 2016. A year later they were purchased by the museum.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

634. Ricketts and Shannon as Puppets

Helen Richie wrote a fascinating blog earlier this year about the Ricketts and Shannon collection bequeathed to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. (Read The Art Collection of Ricketts and Shannon.) One of the issues she dealt with was the attribution of the estate to Shannon instead of Shannon and Ricketts, caused by Shannon dying last. Thomas Sturge Moore wrote a letter to the museum's director to have it corrected, but that only partly happened. 

In 2019, a video was dedicated to the issue. Created by Jasmine Brady, Ana Dias, Bruna Fernandes and Lucian Stephenson, the animation reimagines a portrait by Edmund Dulac of Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. Dulac depicted the pair as medieval saints. 

In this Museum Remix some elements have been changed. See Letter to the Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum. (Also on YouTube).

Jasmine Brady, Ana Dias, Bruna Fernandes, Lucian Stephenson,
Museum Remix participants: 
Letter to the Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum

At the start, the Dulac image is imitated; and, after thirty seconds approximately, Ricketts and Shannon hold in their hands some of their Greek treasures, a cup and a statuette. Animals, such as a hare on the ground and a bat in the sky, are taken directly from Dulac. Their faces are replaced by masks with newly drawn portraits and they are depicted as puppets with moving limbs and heads. As Moore's letter and the director's reply are read out, the couple's posture changes and at the end - instead of their art treasures - they hold each other's hands.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

633. A Signature in a Vale Press Sydney

Dedication copies of Vale Press editions are quite rare. A particularly special one has two dedications written by Ricketts in a copy for Thomas Sturge Moore: 'To T.S. Moore from C. Ricketts after ten years, since the publication of Daphnis and Chloe, I know of no one else to whom I would have the same pleasure in dedicating my work'. Ricketts wrote this inscription on the last free endpaper of the 1903 edition of The Parables from the Gospels, and only then saw that he was holding the book upside down and that he had written a dedication not in the front but in the back of the book. He further inscribed it on the proper front free endpaper: 'To T.S. Moore from his affectionate old friend C. Ricketts'. (This copy is part of the Mark Samuels Lasner collection at the University of Delaware Library).

John Suckling, The Poems of Sir John Suckling
(Vale Press 1896) in a contemporary binding

Another Dedication Copy?

Soon to be auctioned is a copy of another Vale Press book with a dedication by Ricketts: John Suckling's The Poems of Sir John SucklingIt is one of the early Vale Press books, published in 1896. This copy is bound in brown leather (not designed by Ricketts) and has an ownership inscription by Eugenia Law Biddle and bookplates of Brian Douglas Stilwell and Alexander van Rensselaer (1850-1933).

The copy will be auctioned on 27 September at Freeman's in Philadelphia. It is described as a presentation copy: 'Presentation copy, inscribed on second free leaf by founder of The Vale Press Charles Ricketts: "from CS Ricketts".'

Ricketts's name in John Suckling, The Poems of Sir John Suckling
(Vale Press 1896) 

But has Ricketts indeed written this himself? I'm sceptical. 

Why does it say 'from' Ricketts, omitting the name of the recipient - this is unusual. More commonly, Ricketts wrote 'To X, from his old friend Charles Ricketts'. 

'CS' stands for Charles de Sousy - a middle name he did not frequently use after 1895 - the colophon of the book has 'Charles Ricketts'. 

Both the letter 'R' at the beginning and the 's' at the end of the name are very unusual in shape and the whole name does not seem to be written quickly as Ricketts did, but letter by letter. 

Personally, I think this signature is not genuine.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

632. Writing Letters at the Keep, Chilham

In 1918, Ricketts and Shannon were granted the use of a country retreat, the Norman tower of Chilham Castle in Kent, near Canterbury. It took some time before it was habitable and Ricketts and Shannon furnished the rooms and created a garden. Soon, it proved a popular getaway for their many friends and acquaintances who often visited unexpectedly.

Oddly enough some of our own friends have taken to coming down and our catering gets complicated. Shortly we shall return to London for a short rest.
(probably October 1921)

In his letters to Muriel Lee Mathews (born De Selincourt, 1867-1938), he regularly wrote about experiences at Chilham, where many guests stayed at the actual castle that was owned by Edmund and Mary Davis. But even when the Davis's entertained a crowd, the castle grounds offered plenty of places to retreat quietly, as Ricketts wrote:

To-day Shannon and I took a flask, and had tea in a meadow near the river which belongs to the estate and is visited by no one. We found masses of little forget-me-nots and exquisite sedge and some horrid blackberries.
(18 September 1920)

Of course, their tower also offered privacy:

The Tower by moon light with tree shadows cast across it looks like an ideal setting for Tristan, it has three bogey rooms, a winding staircase leading to the surprise – a light charming 18 century room beautifully panelled from which I am writing, this is already almost finished.
(probably October 1921)

Georgian Room, The Keep, Chilham, 1920s

This room had been redecorated in the Georgian style at the beginning of the 19th century. The windows had been enlarged and looked out over the castle and the landscape around it with a regal view of the river Stour. The floor below had bedrooms and the ground floor contained a dining room and kitchen. One morning, Ricketts wrote to Muriel Lee Mathews:

[...] the hoppers howl melancholy noises in the local pubs at night and our otherwise excellent housekeeper sings “ar’t thou weary? ar’t thou languid”, etc whilst preparing breakfast, this, and a voluminous odour of fried eggs and bacon coming into the bedroom is a sign that I have to get up.
(probably October 1921).