Wednesday, May 31, 2023

617. A Collector-Friend, William Arthur Pye

On 6 November 1933, the collection of 'the late W.A. Pye. Esq.' came under the hammer at Sotheby & Co in London: 131 lots, including over a page of Vale Press books.

Catalogue of Printed Books
(Sotheby & Co., 6-8 November 1933)

How William A. Pye got into collecting Vale Press editions is not known, nor when he met Ricketts, but in December 1903 he was among the group of sixty guests who came to admire Ricketts's and Shannon's newly decorated rooms and studios - about a year and a half after the artists had moved into Lansdowne House.

William A. Pye

William Arthur Pye was born in Exeter in 1852, the son of assistant organist and composer Kellow J. Pye, who gave up his music career to become a partner of a wine merchant firm, Reid, Pye, Campbell and Hall, in London. 

The young William Pye studied at Magdalen College School in Oxford before he too left for the City and went to work as a wine merchant.

He married Margaret Thompson Kidston and they had seven children including the bookbinder Sybil Pye and the artist Ethel Pye. They lived at Priest Hill, a house in Limpsfield, Surrey.

Pye was a great lover of flowers and the Priest Hall gardens were constructed after his design, while he was a successful exhibitor at local shows. He became a Fellow of the Horticultural Society, and a promotor of the Exted and Limpsfield Gardeners Association. He regularly sent special flowers to Ricketts.

Pye died on 2 June 1933.

Pye's artistic circles

Pye developed a passion for collecting oriental and contemporary art. Perhaps that is why he met young Laurence Binyon in the Print Room of the British Museum. Binyon - whose mother had died in 1892 and whose father lived in the north of the United Kingdom - was taken into William Pye's domestic circle after they met in 1895. He became a regular weekend guest in Limpsfield (and earlier in Lee, where the Pye family initially lived).

Nearby lived some families who gave access to modern literary circles: Sydney and Margaret Olivier and Edward and Constance Garnett whose children joined a group around Rupert Brooke that became known as the Neo-Pagans.

Meanwhile, the artists of the Vale also came into their sights. Binyon introduced his friend Thomas Sturge Moore to the Pye family. Sturge Moore, in turn, introduced Pye to Charles Ricketts and to the poets 'Michael Field'. In their diary Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper noted:

Tommy brings his good friend Pye to see us. We are all friends at once – Pye only knows & admires our work in the Vale Editions – He loves Marcia in the Race of Leaves. He delights in the “wide-open” beginning of Julia, but finds the speeches too level throughout. He hates the Fairies in Fair Rosamund. When we laugh at the idea of so strange a bird as an admirer, he is grieved at the mocking note – grieved & a little fired. He is small as Watts-Dunton – but the face is like a Jap. drawing; in itself not easy to look at; but he is good, ringingly intelligent, more than adequately emotional – very fine in emotional sympathy with creative art.

[Michael Field, Journal, 24 May 1903]

Sybil and Ethel Pye were involved in theatrical schemes leading to the 1901 inauguration of the Literary Theatre Club for which William Pye acted as business manager. The club was followed by the equally short-lived Masquers Society before, in 1905, the Literary Theatre Society was founded - Ricketts, Binyon, Moore, William Pye, May Morris and others were part of the group that would, for instance, stage Oscar Wilde's Salome.

Charles Ricketts, 'The Resurrection' (c. 1900-1903)

Pye's collection

Exactly what the contents of Pye's art collection were is difficult to determine. He owned two paintings by Ricketts, 'The Resurrection' and 'Medea', and two bronzes (one of which was 'Herodias and Salome'). 

His book collection will not have been taken to Sotheby's in its entirety after his death. After all, his daughters also had literary interests and one of his books ended up in Neo-Pagan David Garnett's collection. This copy of Michael Field's The World at Auction was probably given to Garnett by Pye himself (or one of his relatives).

The book collection consisted of presentation copies from Laurence Binyon and T. Sturge Moore to Pye, first editions of Rupert Brooke's poems, art publications including L'Art japonais (1883) and Ricketts's The Prado and its Masterpieces (1904). Most of these books contain Pye's bookplate with the motto 'Veritas sine timore' (Truth without fear), designed by Thomas Sturge Moore.

Thomas Sturge Moore, bookplate for William A. Pye

A special section covered private press books: Daniel Press (Binyon's Poems, 1895); the Doves Press (four editions including The Bible in five volumes); the Eragny Press (thirteen books); the Kelmscott Press (ten editions including four texts by William Morris) and the Vale Press (the largest section containing fifty-nine publications in eighty-three volumes).

Pye did not own a complete run of the Vale Press: some important books such as The Parables and Keats's Poems were missing, for example. Michael Field's The World at Auction was not part of the auction, but the other three Vale Press editions of their plays were present: Fair Rosamund, The Race of Leaves and Julia Domna. Pye also possessed a copy of the pre-Vale Daphnis and Chloe and some Wilde books designed by Ricketts. 

Three of his Vale Press books were later owned by the eminent collector John Roland Abbey: Daphnis and Chloe (1893) [Abbey owned several copies of this book]John Milton's Early Poems (1896) and The Kingis Quair (1903).

It would be wrong to claim that William Pye formed his collection around his friendships, - his interests were too broad for that - but it is true that the work of friends occupied a valued place in his collections, as it did in his life.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

616. Ricketts and an Attack on Him by a 'Fool'

On Wednesday 20 June 1903 Charles Ricketts noted in his diary that 'old Maccoll', that is, Charles McCall, manager at the Ballantyne Press where the Vale Press books were printed, or D.S. Maccoll, the art critic, 'showed me an attack on me by the fool who wrote years ago in the Fortnightly [...]'.

The fool's name was Albert Louis Cotton (1874-1936). His earlier critical essay on modern printing was published in August 1898 in the Contemporary Review, not the Fortnightly Review - it was typical of Ricketts to err when he got angry.

The second article was published in The Monthly Review in May 1903. Ricketts wrote:

[...] he uses my definitions of book printing against me & Morris, and also the beastly work done in America, this made me realize that work suffers more from its imitation than by its own faults.

Cotton ridiculed the neo-Gothic decorations of an American Morris adept and fired arrows at Clarke Conwell's Elston Press editions, accusing William Morris and Charles Ricketts of aiming for ornamentation rather than readability for their books:

I suppose that Mr. Ricketts'[s] Vale Press may be considered the most important undertaking in "artistic" bookwork now among us. Like his fellows, Mr. Ricketts prefers to regard a printed book as a mere piece of decorative furniture.

He based his accusation on the sometimes peculiar alternation of capitals and lowercase letters on opening pages of the earlier Vale Press editions and praised the restraint in the decorations of the multi-volume Shakespeare edition.

Vale Press edition of The Rowley Poems of Thomas Chatterton,
volume 2, page [5]: designed by Charles Ricketts (1898)

Cotton quoted an example from the The Rowley Poems of Thomas Chatterton, but he erred in the rendering of the word 'SKyNS', as it read 'SKYns' - but his point, of course, remained.

It must have stung the artist that Cotton claimed Ricketts produced his books just to showcase his borders and initial letters and Cotton was repeating an old complaint from the printing world, when, in the early 1890s, it was confronted with artists who demanded something different from nineteenth-century printing - think Morris, but also Whistler and Ricketts. The bottom line was that artists should mind their own business:

A study of "artistic" presses, indeed, brings one to the conclusion that the professions of an artist and a printer are not compatible with one another.

As an artist, you only got in the way of - above all - the author; as the most important thing had to be the text itself.

Cotton then spends several more pages bashing the Essex House Press and sets the Doves Press as an example because of its lack of decorations. He ends with a dystopian vision of the future: a time when the artist can instruct the author to write something to match his decorations. What he failed to see was a growing need for a 'graphic designer', a concept that, after the turn of the century, was not completely unknown but still undefined.

Ricketts concluded his diary note with the observation:

I suppose I should not grumble since book making has meant a comfortable livelihood to me for 4 years.

But he could not stop grumbling:

Yet why should education lead in England to this university type that runns [runs] forward not to advocate the excellent but merely to find fault.

(Thanks are due to John Aplin for the transcription of the diary note.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

615. Charles Ricketts's Illustrations of Cupid and Psyche

This week I received a Canadian query about Charles Ricketts's woodcuts for two editions of Apuleius. The Vale Press published an English translation of this classic love story in 1897, followed in 1901 by a Latin edition, both with woodcuts by Ricketts: six roundel wood-engravings for the first edition and five square wood-engravings for the later one.

Copies of the small editions have ended up in libraries, but of course not every university library has both editions.

For the convenience of academics and others, complete sets of these illustrations are shown in this blog.

The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupide & Psyches (1896)

Text: the translation by William Adlington (1566).
The illustrations are not positioned adjacent to particular scenes but, for printing convenience, in the top right-hand corner on the first page of each sheet.

Signed upper right: CR (Charles Ricketts)
81 x 80 mm (p. 9)
Text on this page: Apuleius, Metamorphoses. IV, 34

The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupide & Psyches
(1896, wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page 9)

80 x 80 mm (p. 17)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses. V, 8-9

The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupide & Psyches
(1896, wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page 17)

80 x 80 mm (p. 25)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses. V, 17-18

The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupide & Psyches
(1896, wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page 25)

81 x 81 mm (p. 33)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses. V, 27-28

The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupide & Psyches
(1896, wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page 33)

Signed upper right (initials mirrored): CR (Charles Ricketts)
81 x 80 mm (p. 41)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses. VI, 4-5 
[See also: initial P from The Dial 4 (1896): read blogpost 334]

The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupide & Psyches
(1896, wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page 41)

78 x 78 mm (p. 49)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses. VI, 14-15 

The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupide & Psyches
(1896, wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page 49)

De Cupidinis et Psyches amoribus fabula anilis (1901)

Latin text: edited by Charles Holmes. 
The illustrations are not positioned adjacent to particular scenes but, for printing convenience, in the top right-hand corner on the first page of the second, third, fourth and fifth sheet (with one illustration on the fifth page of the second sheet).


Page [iii]: Apuleius, Metamorphoses. IV, 28-30; page iv: IV, 30-32; page v: IV, 32-34; page vi: IV, 34-35, V 1; page vii: V 1-4; page viii: V 4-6; ; page ix: V 6-8; page x: V 8-10; page xi: V 10-12; page xii: V 12-15; page xiii: V 15-16; page xiv: V 17-19; page xv: V 19-22; page xvi: V 22-24; page xvii: V 24-26; page xviii: V 26-28; page xix: V 28-30; page xx: V 30-31; VI 1-2; page xxi: VI 2-3; page xxii: VI 3-6; page xxiii: VI 6-9; page xxiv: VI 9-11; page xxv: VI 11-14; page xxvi: VI 14-17; page xxvii: VI 17-19; page xxviii: VI 19-22; page xxix: VI 22-23; page xxx: VI 23-24. 

[Psyche in the House]
9,3 x 8,6 cm (p. v)
Text on this page: Apuleius, Metamorphoses, IV, 32-34
[See also an earlier version of this image in The Pageant, 1896: read blogpost 401]

De Cupidinis et Psyches amoribus fabula anilis
(1901: wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page v)

[The Toilet]
9,4 x 8,7 cm (p. ix)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses, V, 6-8

De Cupidinis et Psyches amoribus fabula anilis
(1901: wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page v)

[The Flight of Cupid]
9,8 x 8,6 cm (p. xiii)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses, V, 15-16

De Cupidinis et Psyches amoribus fabula anilis
(1901: wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page xiii)

[Pan and Psyche]
9,3 x 8,7 cm (p. xxi)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses, VI, 2-3

De Cupidinis et Psyches amoribus fabula anilis
(1901: wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page xxi)

[Cupid Embracing Psyche]
9,7 x 8,8 cm (p. xxix)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses, VI, 22-23

De Cupidinis et Psyches amoribus fabula anilis
(1901: wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page xxix)

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

614. Several Pairs of Ricketts's Gloves

Charles Ricketts designed several pairs of gloves. 

The May Morris Gloves

The best-known is the pair of ecclesiastical gloves that was embroidered by May Morris, and bequeathed to the V&A in 1939.

Pair of ecclesiastical gloves, linen embroidered in coloured silks,
designed by Charles Ricketts, made by May Morris, Britain, c. 1899
[V&A, London, 
accession number T.71&A-1939]

They are sometimes called the 'Easter' or the 'Bishop's' gloves (or 'Episcopal gloves'), and executed in linen, with yellow silk braid and seed pearls, and with silk embroidery in shades of yellow, green, red and pink. There are three ears of corn rising from a leaf which twines round the stalks (see the exhibition catalogue Victorian Church Art, 1971, page 158). 

At the time they were dated c. 1907 (perhaps because they were first illustrated in The Art Journal in that year); the V&A database now has: c. 1899. They were exhibited at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition in November 1899.

The V&A mentions that the gloves are worked 'in chain stitch, satin stitch, stem stitch, speckling, herringbone stitch, back stitch and couching', and they measure (when flat): 36 cm by 16,7 cm by 0,7 cm. (accession number T.71&A-1939).

Two Other Pairs of Gloves

During the commemorative exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art, two years after Ricketts had died, three different pairs of gloves were on display. One was May Morris's, the other two were lent by his friends, Thomas Sturge Moore and Thomas Lowinsky.

A pair of Christening gloves, also embroidered by May Morris, came from Thomas and Marie Sturge Moore, and must have been designed by Ricketts in 1905 when Daniel was born (Ricketts became godfather to the first-born). 

Such a pair of Christening gloves is illustrated in William Morris. Art and Kelmscott, edited by Linda Parry (1996, page 63): said to be in the V&A collection, these depict butterflies and blossom sprigs. Datewise (c. '1905-6') they fit the Sturge Moore connection.

Christening gloves, designed by Charles Ricketts
and executed by May Morris, c.1905-6

A third pair of gloves, also Christening gloves, came from Thomas and Ruth Lowinsky's collection. If these gloves were designed by Ricketts for the christening of one of their (four) children, they may have been made in 1920 (first daughter), 1923 (first son), 1925 (second daughter) or 1929 (second son).

The whereabouts of the last set of gloves is unknown to me.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

613. A Yeats Design in Green, Red-Purple or Blue

Charles Ricketts designed the binding for the works of W.B. Yeats, published in six volumes, 1922-1926. For the American editions an altered drawing was used in which various details were executed differently. [See my blog No. 174 (26 November 2014).]

W.B. Yeats, Autobiographies (London, 1926)

Two years after Ricketts had died, an edition of The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats was published in New York (1933), followed a year later by the London edition, and the differences in execution now became substantial.

The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (London, 1933)

The spine design was identical, but in colour the bindings were different and both deviated from the original design - Ricketts had chosen a gentle green. However, the London edition was issued in red-purple cloth, the New York edition in dark blue cloth. 

The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (London, 1933): dustjacket

The London edition retained from Ricketts's design only the spine section. Front and back cover were left blank. (Evidently, this was cheaper to produce.) The dust jacket, displaying the Macmillan monogram, mentioned the title.

The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (New York, 1933)

However, the New York edition also reproduced the front cover design, blind-stamped on blue cloth. Ricketts himself would never have chosen this dark blue background (nor the dark green used for the American Yeats editions in the 1920s).

A light shade was needed to keep the blind-stamped design subtle but visible. The dark blue made it almost undetectable.

But the design had by then become the property of the publisher - and even if Ricketts had still been alive, he probably would not have protested against the later (lesser) versions of his design - if he had come across them in the first place.