Wednesday, September 27, 2023

634. Ricketts and Shannon as Puppets

Helen Richie wrote a fascinating blog earlier this year about the Ricketts and Shannon collection bequeathed to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. (Read The Art Collection of Ricketts and Shannon.) One of the issues she dealt with was the attribution of the estate to Shannon instead of Shannon and Ricketts, caused by Shannon dying last. Thomas Sturge Moore wrote a letter to the museum's director to have it corrected, but that only partly happened. 

In 2019, a video was dedicated to the issue. Created by Jasmine Brady, Ana Dias, Bruna Fernandes and Lucian Stephenson, the animation reimagines a portrait by Edmund Dulac of Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. Dulac depicted the pair as medieval saints. 

In this Museum Remix some elements have been changed. See Letter to the Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum. (Also on YouTube).

Jasmine Brady, Ana Dias, Bruna Fernandes, Lucian Stephenson,
Museum Remix participants: 
Letter to the Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum

At the start, the Dulac image is imitated; and, after thirty seconds approximately, Ricketts and Shannon hold in their hands some of their Greek treasures, a cup and a statuette. Animals, such as a hare on the ground and a bat in the sky, are taken directly from Dulac. Their faces are replaced by masks with newly drawn portraits and they are depicted as puppets with moving limbs and heads. As Moore's letter and the director's reply are read out, the couple's posture changes and at the end - instead of their art treasures - they hold each other's hands.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

633. A Signature in a Vale Press Sydney

Dedication copies of Vale Press editions are quite rare. A particularly special one has two dedications written by Ricketts in a copy for Thomas Sturge Moore: 'To T.S. Moore from C. Ricketts after ten years, since the publication of Daphnis and Chloe, I know of no one else to whom I would have the same pleasure in dedicating my work'. Ricketts wrote this inscription on the last free endpaper of the 1903 edition of The Parables from the Gospels, and only then saw that he was holding the book upside down and that he had written a dedication not in the front but in the back of the book. He further inscribed it on the proper front free endpaper: 'To T.S. Moore from his affectionate old friend C. Ricketts'. (This copy is part of the Mark Samuels Lasner collection at the University of Delaware Library).

John Suckling, The Poems of Sir John Suckling
(Vale Press 1896) in a contemporary binding

Another Dedication Copy?

Soon to be auctioned is a copy of another Vale Press book with a dedication by Ricketts: John Suckling's The Poems of Sir John SucklingIt is one of the early Vale Press books, published in 1896. This copy is bound in brown leather (not designed by Ricketts) and has an ownership inscription by Eugenia Law Biddle and bookplates of Brian Douglas Stilwell and Alexander van Rensselaer (1850-1933).

The copy will be auctioned on 27 September at Freeman's in Philadelphia. It is described as a presentation copy: 'Presentation copy, inscribed on second free leaf by founder of The Vale Press Charles Ricketts: "from CS Ricketts".'

Ricketts's name in John Suckling, The Poems of Sir John Suckling
(Vale Press 1896) 

But has Ricketts indeed written this himself? I'm sceptical. 

Why does it say 'from' Ricketts, omitting the name of the recipient - this is unusual. More commonly, Ricketts wrote 'To X, from his old friend Charles Ricketts'. 

'CS' stands for Charles de Sousy - a middle name he did not frequently use after 1895 - the colophon of the book has 'Charles Ricketts'. 

Both the letter 'R' at the beginning and the 's' at the end of the name are very unusual in shape and the whole name does not seem to be written quickly as Ricketts did, but letter by letter. 

Personally, I think this signature is not genuine.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

632. Writing Letters at the Keep, Chilham

In 1918, Ricketts and Shannon were granted the use of a country retreat, the Norman tower of Chilham Castle in Kent, near Canterbury. It took some time before it was habitable and Ricketts and Shannon furnished the rooms and created a garden. Soon, it proved a popular getaway for their many friends and acquaintances who often visited unexpectedly.

Oddly enough some of our own friends have taken to coming down and our catering gets complicated. Shortly we shall return to London for a short rest.
(probably October 1921)

In his letters to Muriel Lee Mathews (born De Selincourt, 1867-1938), he regularly wrote about experiences at Chilham, where many guests stayed at the actual castle that was owned by Edmund and Mary Davis. But even when the Davis's entertained a crowd, the castle grounds offered plenty of places to retreat quietly, as Ricketts wrote:

To-day Shannon and I took a flask, and had tea in a meadow near the river which belongs to the estate and is visited by no one. We found masses of little forget-me-nots and exquisite sedge and some horrid blackberries.
(18 September 1920)

Of course, their tower also offered privacy:

The Tower by moon light with tree shadows cast across it looks like an ideal setting for Tristan, it has three bogey rooms, a winding staircase leading to the surprise – a light charming 18 century room beautifully panelled from which I am writing, this is already almost finished.
(probably October 1921)

Georgian Room, The Keep, Chilham, 1920s

This room had been redecorated in the Georgian style at the beginning of the 19th century. The windows had been enlarged and looked out over the castle and the landscape around it with a regal view of the river Stour. The floor below had bedrooms and the ground floor contained a dining room and kitchen. One morning, Ricketts wrote to Muriel Lee Mathews:

[...] the hoppers howl melancholy noises in the local pubs at night and our otherwise excellent housekeeper sings “ar’t thou weary? ar’t thou languid”, etc whilst preparing breakfast, this, and a voluminous odour of fried eggs and bacon coming into the bedroom is a sign that I have to get up.
(probably October 1921).

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

631. Richard Le Galienne Remembers The Vale Press

The Romantic '90s by Richard Le Galienne is one of those memoirs that contains details whose reliability cannot be established. The book was published in 1926 by G.P. Putnam's Sons. By then, Le Gallienne, lived in the United States, and the 1890s were 25 years in the past.

Frederick Hollyer, portrait of Richard Le Galienne, c. 1890
[Collection V&A, London]

Le Gallienne, born in Liverpool in 1866, was the same age as Ricketts, whom he mentioned twice in his recollections, the second time as the designer of Lord de Tabley's 1893 collection of poems and the first time as the publisher of the Vale Press. It is that first passage that intrigues me.

Le Gallienne was the chief reader of The Bodley Head, and said that John Lane

was the first to apply to general publishing the new ideals in printing and binding that were already in the air, and which, before William Morris had started his Kelmscott Press, had found expression in such beautiful esoteric magazines as the Century Guild Hobby Horse, edited by Herbert P. Horne, Arthur Macmurdo and Selwyn Image, and the Dial, published under the joint editorship of Charles Ricketts and Charles H. Shannon, who were presently to start the Vale Press, one of the  earliest of those "private presses" that were just then coming into fashion, and the most influential of them all.

That last sentence is already intriguing. I know this holds true for the Netherlands: it was only after Morris's death that his influence in the Netherlands became greater than that of Ricketts and Shannon, who actually captured the imagination of the youngest generation of artists in the early 1890s. In Britain, by contrast, the influence of the Vale Press was initially very slight, and the works of the pre-Vale period were also often ridiculed.

Lane had the advantage of the co√∂peration of Messrs. Ricketts and Shannon in several of his early volumes [...]. There was a delightful aura of mystery about these early private presses, particularly about the Vale Press. Had Messrs. Ricketts and Shannon been alchemists, their operations could not have been veiled in a more thrilling secrecy, or the results awaited with more hushed expectancy; and specimen pages of any new book on which they were cloistrally engaged were shown privately by Lane to a favoured few as things sacrosanct, and occultly precious, with that reverent solemnity  which characterizes the true collector. The times were serous about Beauty.

I have to assume that the chronology is quite mixed up here.

The first book of the Vale Press dates from 1896 and Shannon did not collaborate on it. By that time, Ricketts was using Hacon & Ricketts as his business name, he employed staff to sell and ship the books and specimen pages really did not go to John Lane. They did, of course, for the period before that, when Lane was the publisher of books designed by Ricketts and Shannon, mainly for Oscar Wilde, but also for other authors such as Thomas Hardy.

So the facts do not add up, but intriguingly, the atmosphere of secrecy and popularity with which Ricketts's and Shannon's earlier editions were apparently surrounded remained distinctive, at least it was so memorialised a quarter of a century later. Over twenty-five years, facts had turned into myths.