Wednesday, March 22, 2023

607. Ricketts's Drawings for Oscar Wilde's Prose Poems (1924)

In 1924, Charles Ricketts made a series of drawings for (a never realised) edition of Oscar Wilde's prose poems. The set was sold (along with a set of new drawings for Wilde's The Sphinx) in America. None of this set of eight drawings were known in the 1970s.

There was a set of preparatory sketches though (and there were earlier ones, probably executed around 1894, and found again in 1918). The preparatory sketches ended up in the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle. (For these, see blog 97: Pen and Ink Drawings in My Earliest Manner).

Charles Ricketts, 'The Teacher of Wisdom'
(preparatory sketch, c. 1924)
[Location: Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery, Carlisle]
[© With permission of the executors of the Charles Ricketts estate,
Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmain O'Neil]

The American drawings differ from the sketches: they are signed with Ricketts's monogram 'CR'. Moreover, the original sketches were made on paper prepared with a variety of colours, while the American sketches were drawn on white paper. 

After completing them, Ricketts wrote to Gordon Bottomley that he had 'executed eight drawings in my old manner illustrating Wilde's Poems in Prose' (Charles Ricketts to Gordon Bottomley, 13 June 1924: BL Add MS 61719).

How many can we trace today?

Two of these drawings are in the Arts Institute of Chicago and are described and illustrated on the museum's website: 'The Hermet' and 'Narcissus by the Pool'. In 1925, both were given to the museum by philanthropist Robert Allerton (1873-1964).

A third one, exhibited in 1979, but not known to me until recently, is in the RISD Museum in Providence, Rhode Island. This is the drawing for 'The Teacher of Wisdom'.

Charles Ricketts, 'The Teacher of Wisdom' (1924)
[Location: RISD Museum, Providence, Rhode Island]
[©With permission of the executors of the Charles Ricketts estate,
Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmain O'Neil]

This drawing has been catalogued as: pen and ink off-white, medium weight wove paper, 229x152 cm, signed l.r.: “CR”, Gift of the estate of Mrs. Gustav Radeke. Eliza Greene Metcalf Radeke (1854-1931) was another patron of the arts, and seventh President of the Rhode Island School of Design (in office 1913–1931). Her alma mater was Vassar College, Brown University. She was a client of the art dealer Martin Birnbaum who sold the Ricketts drawings in America. The drawing was exhibited in 1979, 1991, and 2006, and illustrated in the 1979 catalogue by Diana L. Johnson, Fantastic Illustration and Design in Britain, 1850-1930.

The final drawing for 'The Teacher of Wisdom' is neater than the sketch. Whereas the sketch shows improvements in Chinese white and newly drawn lines, the later drawing comes without improvements. Lines have been drawn together, messy details tightened. The rock outline along the right side of the drawing, for example, is simpler, lacking subdivisions, making the landscape look more harsh and monolithic. Overall, however, the drawing is faithful to the sketch.