Wednesday, July 26, 2023

625. Dust Jackets and Their Replacements

Dust jackets are of interest to collectors today, not only because the book is complete (less naked) with the original dust jacket, but also because they add an element of art and design to the whole. 

This is particularly true of the early books designed by Charles Ricketts. Of these, the dust jackets are extremely rare, which can drive up the price of a copy considerably. Copies of The Picture of Dorian Gray in first edition with dust jacket can fetch amazing amounts. 

Dust jackets have therefore been targets of forgers since the invention of good photocopiers. 

Facsimile dust jacket for W.B. Yeats Essays (1924)

Nowadays, there are providers of replicas that clearly state that they are replicas. Even then, the replica is not printed on paper from the time itself, offers no more than an image of the original and does not feel the same.

One such supplier started as a collector who liked to see a more complete image of the book on his shelf. Mark Terry started Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC in 1995 and built it into a company that his sister and later his son also came to work for. Is there really a business model to be based on providing such copies? Are there really that many collectors who want to fold a replica dust jacket around their copy?

Their current archive consists of 60,000 scans, and the firm provides custom made copies: 'I can resize a jacket to fit any book. All I need is the height, width, and spine width of your book.'

By the way, all jackets state 'Facsimile Dust Jackets L.L.C.' on the front flap.

The collection can be searched, but does not give results for the name of Ricketts or Shannon. However, a few (anonymous) designs by Ricketts for the collected works of W.B. Yeats can be found: the design for Essays (1924), Early Poems and Stories (1925), and The Collected Plays of W.B. Yeats (1934).

Facsimile dust jacket for The Collected Plays of W.B. Yeats  (1934)

Because Ricketts's early dust jackets are so extremely rare, they are not available through this database.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

624. Charles Ricketts about Marcus Behmer

Throughout his career, the German artist Marcus Behmer (1879-1958) has been engaged with Ricketts's work. 

The Insel Verlag edition of Goethe's West-Östlicher Divan (1910) was decorated by Behmer, and its opening pages distincly refer to the borders of Vale Press publications.

Early on Behmer seems to have seen works from the Vale Press and collected them. However, most of the books were lost in a bombing raid during World War II, and few survivals from his library are known to exist.

Dorothea Werner, portrait of Marcus Behmer, dated 1947
[Creative Commons Licence 3.0]

Little remains of the correspondence between Ricketts and Behmer either. However, the most recent catalogue on his oeuvre, Peter Christian Hall's Delphine in Offenbach. Marcus Behmer, Meister der kleinen Formate, published in 2018, quotes unpublished notes by Behmer on his work.

In 1927, Behmer wrote a four-page essay about 'Charles S. Ricketts (Vale Press). Eine Auswahl seiner Werke' for the exhibition catalogue Internationale Buchkunst Ausstellung Leipzig 1927. This was followed two years later by 'Bibliophile Shakespeare-Ausgaben' in Philobiblon (October 1929) that mentions Ricketts's Shakespeare editions, and in 1935 Behmer published his essay 'Charles Ricketts' in Buchkunst. Beiträge zur Entwicklung der graphischen Künste und der Kunst im Buche. With 10 pages and 28 illustrations, this was his most substantial piece on Ricketts.

Thanks to several publications, we knew what Behmer thought of Ricketts, but now we also hear what Ricketts thought of Behmer. (Ricketts himself never published anything about Behmer's work.)

Behmer considered his illustrations for Enno Littmann's Vom morgenländischen Floh (1925) his greatest achievement, adding that Ricketts greatly appreciated it.

Die späteren Bücher mit Radierungen sind übrigens mit ungewöhnlicher Sorgfalt "aufgebaut", aber dergleichen merkt kaum irgend jemand. So z.B. der sehr schmale und hohe Satzspiegel im Flohbuch, wo der untere Papierrand sehr schmal, der äussere aber sehr breit ist, eine ganz ungewöhnliche Form bei europäischen Büchern; ist von anscheinend niemand bemerkt worden; ausser von einem Mann wie Charles Ricketts, dem feinsten, nicht fachmännisch bornierten Kenner, der gleich empfand, dass dieser Seitenaufbau dem "morgenländischen" Geschmack - dem Titel des Buches entsprechend - angepasst war. 
(Letter to Gotthard Laske, 10 March 1929, in Delphine in Offenbach, p. 253) 

The later books with etchings are, by the way, "constructed" with unusual care, but hardly anyone notices this. For example, the very narrow and high type area in the flea book, where the lower margin is very narrow, but the outer margin is very wide (a very unusual form in European books), has apparently not been noticed by anyone; except by a man like Charles Ricketts, the finest, not narrow-minded connoisseur, who immediately felt that this page layout was adapted to the "Oriental" taste - according to the title of the book.

Behmer's copyright is apparently very confusingly settled, therefor I can't show an image on this page, but plenty of images of the flea book can be found online at sites of antiquarian booksellers - if you want to sell it you may reproduce it, if you own it you are not allowed to do so.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

623. A Portrait of John Westlake

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A Portrait of John Westlake

Charles Shannon's subjects for paintings were not very diverse. There were many portraits (mostly commissions), there were idylls of the classical world (like 'The Wood Nymph' or 'The Infant Bacchus'), subjects taken from the Bible ('The Wise and Foolish Virgins'), and figures of women bathing ('The Morning Toilet') or swimming ('The Incoming Tide').

One of his commissioned portraits is that of John Westlake (1828-1913), lawyer and fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. From 1851 to 1860, he was a fellow of Trinity, publishing a treatise on international law. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1854, and co-founded the Working Men's College (1854) where he taught mathematics. In 1885, he was elected to Parliament and from 1888 to 1908 he was a professor of international law at Cambridge, and from 1900 to 1906 also a member of the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

Charles Shannon, portrait of John Westlake
[Location: Trinity College, Cambridge]

One can hardly imagine Shannon and Westlake having an engaging conversation during the sittings for this portrait that was finished in 1910, but perhaps they had more in common than we think as Westlake was married to an artist, Alice Hare (1842-1923), who also held a variety of social roles in education and health care, and, in 1887, was asked by Oscar Wilde to contribute to The Woman's World (which she did not).

Shannon's oil on canvas, 90 x 71 cm, was donated by subscribers to Trinity College, Cambridge.

Westlake, incidentally, had experience posing for painters. When he was a lot younger, he was portrayed by Lowes Cato Dickinson (1819-1908). This undated portrait, probably from the late 1850s, is an oil on canvas, 130 x 101.4 cm kept in the collection of the University College London Hospitals Arts Store. Dickinson was also a founder of the Working Men's College, and like Westlake a Christian Socialist.

Lowes Cato Dickinson, portrait of John Westlake, undated
University College London Hospitals Arts Store]

Another portrait, dated 1902, was done by Marianne Stokes (1855-1927), an Austrian painter who married the landscape painter Adrian Stokes, and exhibited widely in London. This is executed in egg tempera on panel, 19,1 x 13.3 cm.

Marianne Stokes, portrait of John Westlake, 1902
[Location: National Portrait Gallery]

A few years earlier, Westlake's wife Alice had done a portrait of him as well: an oil on panel, around 1896-1897, 33,7 x 26 cm.

Alice Westlake, portrait of John Westlake, 1896-1897
[Location: National Portrait Gallery]

The portrait by his wife is curiously the most official and a rather solemn image; the eyes and his smile in particular do not display the mild humour the other portraitists apparently experienced, although one has to say that Shannon's portrait seems to portray a rather tired but patient aged man.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

622. Costume Designs at Auction

Peter Farley, a theatre designer, international exhibition curator, writer and teacher, died last year [read his obituary in The Guardian] and this week Bonhams sells items from his collection, including four costume design drawings by Charles Ricketts.

Bonhams' sale today (on 5 July) also includes designs by Leon Bakst and Alexandre Benois, while a watercolour/gouache drawing by Glyn Philpot ('Le Trayas') will be in next week's sale (12 July).

The Ricketts lots are 131 and 132, each comprising two framed costume designs, 31.1 x 21.9 cm.

Charles Ricketts, costume design, undated

For which play(s) these sketches in watercolour and pencil were done is not stated. The drawings show no written directions in Ricketts's hand, but one of them is signed with his initials. Two of the drawings illustrate servants, carrying a small dish or vessel, another depicts warriors or guards, carrying a sword or spear, and one depicts a masked dancer wearing snake-like gloves.

Charles Ricketts, costume design, undated

As usual, Ricketts twice sketched two costumes for minor roles on a single sheet, and the four drawings show six costumes in all. The estimate for each set of two drawings is £2,000 to £3,000. 

Charles Ricketts, costume design, undated, signed: 'CR'

The drawings were sold for £3,200, including premium (lot 131), and £2,432 including premium (lot 132).