Wednesday, August 30, 2023

630. Kathleen, Lady Kennet about Charles Shannon

Kathleen, Lady Kennet, posed for Shannon for several paintings, when she was still unmarried and known as Kathleen Bruce - see blog 628. Charles Ricketts: Statue by Kathleen Bruce (later Scott, later Lady Kennet).

Two years after her death in 1947, her second husband, Lord Kennet, published her memoirs: Self-Portrait of an Artist. From the Diaries and Memoirs of Lady Kennet, Kathleen Lady Scott (London, John Murray, 1949).

Kathleen Bruce, sitting for a portrait by Charles Shannon (1909) 

She reminisces about Charles Shannon in an account of her meeting with Captain Scott. She met Scott during a luncheon-party at Mabel Beardsley, and again, ten months afterwards, at a tea-party:

He suggested taking me home. I had not been going home; I had been going to dine in Soho with a gentle Academician, Charles Shannon, who was painting me. But without a second's hesitation I threw over my dining companion and announced myself ready to be taken home.

For ten months he was in her company, until work took him out of London.

I went back to my posing for Shannon and sat quietly hour after hour, wondering whether I could wrench myself from all my tumultuous friends and take this innocent rock as the father of my son for whom I had been searching.
"Kathleen," said Shannon, putting down his plate, "You don't love me at all to-day."
"But you've been working; you didn't want me to be chatty and interesting while you paint."
"You're not thinking about me or posing. You've got something on your mind. I know your face too well not to know that."
I smiled and was clam-like. Although this beautiful painter was thirty-eight, I was the first woman he had ever loved. I loved his work so deeply that we had become devoted friends. He painted portrait after portrait of me, and had success with them. They sold quickly for public galleries and one went to the Luxembourg. I loved sitting for him in the very exquisite surroundings of his lovely studio, and he taught me more than all the professors in Paris of design and harmony of line. There was quiet there and peace. I didn't want to ruffle that quiet content. What a lot of upheavals and severings I saw looming ahead. Yet quite clearly this healthy, fresh, decent, honest, rock-like naval officer was just exactly what I had been setting up in my mind as a contrast to my artists friends, as the thing I had been looking for. As I sat there in the quiet, temple-like studio, I made my decision.
We went out, I and the artist, to a Soho restaurant to dine. He took me home and came upstairs with me.
"Listen," I said, taking the lapels of his coat, "I'm going to marry someone."
The painter leant his back against the door.
"Whom?" he said. "Not X?"
"No, not X. You don't know him; he's not of our world at all. I'm sorry if you mind."
The gentle creature murmured, "You shouldn't be that; but I'll go home now."
And he moved hesitatingly downstairs.
Outside he walked blindly, with his head, I suppose, still swimming, and coming to the Sloane Street crossing walked straight into the traffic and under a bus. He was taken to St. George's Hospital. He was not killed, and I knew nothing about it till two days later, when it had become merely a funny little accident.
(Self-Portrait of an Artist, pp. 83-85)

Her memoirs contain a photograph of her sitting in Shannon's studio. Seated on a bench, her profile is shown in a mirror behind her; on the left are a statue and a fireplace.

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.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

628. Charles Ricketts: Statue by Kathleen Bruce (later Scott, later Lady Kennet)

In the first decade of twentieth century, the artist Kathleen Bruce made a statue portraying Charles Ricketts. The bronze was exhibited in 1908, and a copy was presented to the Leeds Art Gallery by Lord Kennet in 1949. 

Kathleen Scott, 'Charles Ricketts' (c.1908)
Collection: Leeds Art Gallery
[Creative Commons License]

The statue measures 32.5 x 10.5 x 14.5 cm.

It is an usual artist's portrait in the sense that Ricketts is depicted sitting, arms and legs crossed, bent slightly forward. He is not portrayed as an active sculptor or painter, does not stand in front of his easel, does not make any of his characteristic gestures with his ever-active hands, does not have a cigarette in his hand or in the corner of his mouth; he looks contemplative, but also somewhat defeated. In fact, when this portrait was done, Ricketts was quite depressed. His paintings did not satisfy him, and, worse, his companion, Charles Shannon, had fallen in love, again, with a woman. In 1903, Shannon had threatened to leave Ricketts and marry his model Hetty Deacon; in 1906, Shannon was infatuated by the sculptor Kathleen (Liz) Bruce (1878-1947) .

He was almost twenty years older than the good-looking, artistic woman of the world, who had nursed villagers in the Balkans, had studied sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art and at the Atelier Colarossi in Paris between 1901 and 1906, and had been a pupil of Rodin. She produced statues of Ricketts and Shannon, Max Beerbohm, Harley Granville Barker, George Bernard Shaw, among many others (images can be found on the Art UK website).

Kathleen Scott, 'Charles Shannon' (c.1910)
Collection: Leeds Art Gallery
[Creative Commons License]

Shannon's portrait is very similar, although he holds a paper or sketchbook.

Shortly after her relation with Shannon, in 1908, she married Robert Falcon Scott, the Polar explorer who died in the Antarctic in 1912. In 1922, she married Edward Hilton Young, later Baron Kennet of the Dene (thus becoming Lady Kennet). In her 1938 book Homage forty sculptures were illustrated, the portraits of Ricketts and Shannon were not included.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

627. An Unopened Copy of A House of Pomegranates

A number of years after the first private presses were established - concentrating on William Morris's Kelmscott Press and the first generation after that - a peculiar craze arose around rarity of these books. This was the fashion of the untouched book, the book as it came from the bindery to the collector who did not cut open the sections, but left them unopened, untouched and thus unread. It was a kind of tribute to the ideal book, where the object had become more important than the text. 

Copies of private press books were subsequently promoted in the trade as 'unopened' and examples are rare, but sufficiently well known. The curious thing is that less rare books also sometimes turn up in unopened condition, giving them a unique appeal.

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891)
Cover, designed by Charles Ricketts

Last month, an unopened copy of Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates was sold by Sotheby's in New York, hammer price $4,500, a substantial price for a not uncommon book that, dependent on the state and provenance, can be priced from around £500 to £2,500.

The Sotheby copy was in an excellent state: 'Original green linen backed cream boards stamped in pale red and gilt with designs by Ricketts, including a peacock, fountain, and a basket of pomegranates, spine gilt-lettered with a few small pomegranate designs, decorated endpapers; slight browning to edges, some minor spotting to lower board. Housed in custom case and folding chemise'. Moreover, this copy was 'Unopened'.

Unopened copies of this book are rare. There is one in the Norman Colbeck Collection at The University of British Columbia. Unopened copies were sold by Sotheby's in July 1925 and Hodgsons (1926) (both acquired by Quaritch), again, 'a slightly worn' copy by Sotheby's (1979) (acquired by Warrack & Perkins, obviously not this copy). There might be three or four unopened copies in all.

Originally said to be a children's book, but marketed as a luxury item, the publishers  had a thousand copies of the book printed, each priced at 21s. 

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891)
Copies of the first binding (left) and second binding (right)

There are two binding states of the book and the Sotheby copy belongs to the original binding state. It has a pale yellowish green spine and the boards are covered with greyish yellow cloth. The second binding state has a darker greyish green spine and light brown cloth boards. The plates by Charles Shannon have been pasted on white linen guards in the first binding state copies. For the second binding states paper guards were used for this. There are some more differences, but these suffice to identify copies.

The Sotheby copy not only displays the colour scheme of the first binding state, but also shows the insertion of the plates as called for in the first binding state.

This implies that an early buyer of the book, during Wilde's life time, and even during Wilde's pre-prison years, acquired a copy of the book, kept it closed, and never used a knife to cut open the folded sections. For a book like this, it is astonishing, and then to have survived in this condition for more than a hundred years. Unopened, commercially produced books - this is an under-researched book historical branch.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

626. The Legend of The Sign of the Dial

In 1894, the collaboration of Hacon & Ricketts as a firm involved not only the foundation of a publishing house, for which new typefaces were designed and created, but also a small shop to sell books, wood-engravings and lithographs of Ricketts, Shannon and their circle, and to organise exhibitions of their art and works by admired masters and predecessors. The shop at 52 Warwick Street was opened in March 1896. 

On the inside, in front of the storefront window, hung a nameplate 'HACON & | RICKETTS'. There is a photograph showing this signboard, but it is too vague to see how the name was painted and who painted it. Since Ricketts was the firm's typographer it seems obvious that he did it, but not necessarily.

Charles Shannon, details of recto of signboard for The Sign of the Dial (1896)
[Aberdeen Archives, Gallery and Museums]

A double-sided painted signboard hung from the facade. This was the work of Charles Shannon and it also contained the name of the firm, supplemented by that of the store on the recto side, below the names was a painting of two female figures. The woman on the left is leaning with an arm on a pedestal while reading a booklet; to her right, a woman kneels, turning her face away as she raises what appears to be a sprig of spring bluebell (a symbol of hope), to the reading woman; both are within a wicker hedge against a blue background.

Charles Shannon, details of recto of signboard for The Sign of the Dial (1896)
[Aberdeen Archives, Gallery and Museums]

The verso depicts a sun dial above the image of a grazing Pegasus near a half naked woman, both against the same background of hedge and sky.

The signboard is painted in oil on panel, 85,5 x 48,8 cm, and was purchased by the Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums in 1949.

The text on the signboard reads:



[The characters 'O' and 'F' are intertwined]

Within each line, words are separated by a period (placed at half height), except in the third line where the last word is a ligature of the letters O and F. Each character is drawn separately, which is clearly demonstrated in lines 3 and 4 that both begin with the word THE, but the width of these words are different. In line four, the individual letters of the word THE are connected. Each line is aligned with both margins.

The lettering is totally different from that of The Dial magazine of which Shannon drew the first cover and Ricketts that of the other four issues. Ricketts would not have respected the rigorous separation between the lines and, for example, would have allowed the tail of the character R to continue with a graceful arc in the space below.

Looking again closely at the blurred photo of the store (Bookselling, 1896), it can be seen that the lines of the other signboard are filled out differently, although it is not clear where the ampersand is. Its authorship cannot be ascertained, but it may be that this sign was put up there right at the opening and Shannon's sign was a slightly later addition.