Wednesday, August 23, 2023

629. An Unpublished Drawing for The Universal Review, 1889

Until the mid 1890s, Ricketts and Shannon out of necessity produced much work commissioned by magazines or publishers. For Harry Quilter's The Universal Review, Shannon did some drawings, and once they jointly produced the drawings for a story. This was 'Jezebel' by Julian Corbett, published in The Universal Review, vol. IV, No. 16 (August 1889).

Not all attempts led to publication and fees; some work remained in portfolio, and although Ricketts later destroyed his early work, scraps of it remained here and there. An example can be found in the collection of The British Museum. 

Charles Ricketts, design for a battle scene illustration (c.1889)
British Museum, London
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license
permission of Leonie Sturge Moore and Charmian O'Neil]

The drawing, 19,7 x 15,2 cm, depicts a battle scene with a chariot and half-naked figures holding shields and weapons. The pen and ink drawing, touched with blue watercolour, was acquired in 1946 (museum number 1946,0209.45).

It is quite conceivable that this drawing was also made for the story 'Jezebel'. In the story, her husband and two sons are killed or injured in a religious battle, when Jezebel introduces the gods Astarté and Baal as alternatives to the Jahveh worshipped by 'fakeers' in Carmel and the mountains of Gilead. Eventually, enemy troops come to her palace to kill her.

The chariot of the assassin rolled into the court, and not one word did she deign to utter to mitigate the savage retribution of her foe. [...] Goaded to fury with her taunts, Jehu cried to the zenana eunuchs to cast her at his feet. In a moment the queen of all that was refined and gentle in her age was struggling helpless in their rough embraces.  In another she was dashed brutally into the court below.  Backwards and forwards in a frenzy of savage hate the felon captain drove his chariot across her mangled form, and then passed on to drink to the last dregs the blood of her husband's kin. (The Universal Review, vol. IV (1889) No. 16page 563).

This is exactly the scene Ricketts has sketched: Jezebel's injured body lies in the foreground; with her right arm she fends off an assailant. It is a dramatic and violent scene, perhaps a little too much for Quilter's magazine.

The provenance of the drawing is somewhat vague, according to the British Museum's description, but it is fairly direct. The drawing was donated by Constance Rea. This was Constance Halford (1863-1952), an artist, who in 1907 had married the painter Cecil Rea. Constance was a sister of Mary Davis (born Halford), a great friend and patron of Ricketts and Shannon, as was her husband, Edmund Davis. Constance may have acquired the preliminary drawing from Ricketts, or perhaps from another friend, such as Thomas Sturge Moore.