Wednesday, October 25, 2023

638. The Artists as Gardeners

During World War I, Charles Ricketts corresponded with some soldiers at the front, including the young artist Thomas Lowinsky (1892-1947). While healing from an injury to his face, Lowinksy heard nightingales singing in a desolate landscape ravaged by war. 

Thomas Lowinsky, 'The Mask of Flora' (1931)
[Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage] 

Ricketts wrote back to him on 20 July 1918 [Typed transcription, BL Add MS 61718, ff 88-91]. All his letters to Lowinsky try to give him news from London so he can turn his attention away from the horror of the trenches for a while. This particular letter meanders from concern about Lowinsky's condition to ballet and music news from London and on to gossip about engagements and poets who seem cheaper versions of Rupert Brooke, before going back to worries about the repercussions the explosion will have on Lowinsky's health and mental condition. 

And then it's time to return to Lowinsky's bird watching before Ricketts switches to hilarious gardening tips.

I have heard the same thing about the nightingales in the sheltered woods. I should have thought it late for them to be singing; they stopped at Cranleigh about a week ago, they probably flew away. The lark does not surprise me; on a paper cover I have designed for Binyon’s book about the war I have represented France ploughing a battlefield with a lark singing over the plough. The lark is the bird of France, it has France’s gaiety, determination and persistence. The nightingale is Italy. He sings in perfection for a short breathless time. There are places in Italy where you cannot sleep owing to his song, and the scent of seringa [syringa] is thick like a clotted taste upon the lips. This year the seringa has been poor; all the flowers have been the same, for that matter, and devoured by a pest of green flies. Shannon and I have tried to keep our pots of pansies clean with an old tooth brush, and to-day I carted in the white geraniums, which were getting sodden with the rain, which reminds me of a friend who used to hold an umbrella over her Burmese lillies [lilies] when it rained.

Despite their age difference, Lowinsky would always remember Ricketts as his dearest friend.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

637. Under Whose Supervision?

Charles Rickets could use several variants of his name, and did so in the colophons of the Vale Press editions. He designed the books that were printed under his supervision at the Ballantyne Press in London where a hand-press was reserved for this work.

Colophon (detail) of Milton, Early Poems (Vale Press, 1896)

The colophon of the first book, Milton's Early Poems (1896) mentions: 'Seen through the press by Charles Sturt. The decorations are designed and cut on the wood by Charles Ricketts under whose supervision the book has been printed by the Ballantyne Press'. The name Sturt was a pseudonym of Ricketts.

The second book, Walter Savage Landor's Epicurus, Leontion and Ternissa (1896), had a similar colophon text including the phrase: 'the build of the book and its decoration being by Charles Ricketts.'

The name Charles Ricketts also appears in the subsequently published volumes.

However, for Vaughan's Sacred Poems Being a Selection (1897) the name 'C.S. Ricketts' is chosen, perhaps because Ricketts thought that this form of the name fitted more easily into the cross-shaped colophon.

Colophon of Vaughan's Sacred Poems Being a Selection (1897)

The next volume, again, has the name 'Charles Ricketts': The Poems & Sonnets of Henry Constable (1897), but immediately afterwards, in Lucius Apuleius, The Excellent Narration of the Marriage of Cupide and Psyches (1897), a third variant is introduced: 'Charles S. Ricketts.'

A fourth variant, 'C. Ricketts', appears in a volume written by Ricketts himself: Charles Ricketts, A Defence of the Revival of Printing (1899). 'C. Ricketts' is mentioned as the book's designer in the colophon; binding and title page give the author's name as 'Charles Ricketts'. Does this indicate modesty? There was room enough for the full first name in the colophon.

There seems to be no consistency in format, chronology, author or genre, indicating that each colophon was rewritten (with the exception of the Vale Shakespeare volumes) and that there was no absolute preference, except that the name form 'Charles Ricketts' was favoured, and that the less popular version Charles S. Ricketts was used only twice.

In one case, Ricketts's name is not mentioned at all (except in the publisher's name Hacon & Ricketts); this concerns Maurice de Guérin's The Centaur. The Bacchante (1899). The omission, unique for Vale Press books, may have been an oversight, as the text of this colophon differed from the preceding because this was the first Vale Press book to be illustrated not by Ricketts but by his friend T.S. Moore. 

List of variants (titles have been taken from the front of the book)

Charles Ricketts [74 volumes]
[1] Milton, Early Poems (1896); [2] Walter Savage Landor, Epicurus, Leontion and Ternissa (1896); [3] John Suckling, The Poems (1896); [4] John Gray, Spiritual Poems, Chiefly Done Out of Several Languages (1896); [5] William Shakespeare, The Passionate Pilgrim (1896); [6] John Drayton, Nimphidia and the Muses Elizium (1896); [7] Thomas Campion, Fifty Songs (1896); [8] Matthew Arnold, Empedocles on Etna. A Dramatic Poem (1896); [9] William Blake, The Book of Thel. Songs of Innocence. And Songs of Experience (1897), [10] Michael Field, Fair Rosamund (1897); [11] The Poems & Sonnets of Henry Constable (1897); [12] E.B. Browning, Sonnets From the Portuguese (1897); [13] Charles Ricketts & Lucien Pissarro, De la typographie en de l'harmonie de la page imprimée. William Morris et son influence sur les arts et métiers (1898); [14-15] The Rowley Poems of Thomas Chatterton (2 volumes, 1898); [16] Michael Field, The World at Auction (1898); [17] Lyrical Poems of Shelley (1898); [18-19] The Poems of John Keats (2 volumes, 1898); [20] Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Blesses Damozel (1898); [21] William Blake, Poetical Sketches (1899); [22] S.T. Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In Seven Parts (1899); [23] Robert Browning, Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (1899); [24-62] The Vale Shakespeare edition (39 volumes, 1900-1903); [63] Michael Field, The Race of Leaves (1901);  [64] Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1901); [65-67] The Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley (3 volumes, 1901-1902); [68] Poems From Wordsworth (1902); [69] Ecclesiastes; or, The Preacher, and The Song of Solomon (1902); [70] The Parables (1903); [71] Michael Field, Julia Domna (1903); [72] King James of Scotland, The Kings Quair (1903); [73] Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (1903); [74] T. Sturge Moore, Danaë (1903).

C.S. Ricketts [9 volumes]
[1] Vaughan's Sacred Poems Being a Selection (1897); [2] D.G. Rossetti, Hand and Soul (1899); [3] Shakespeare's Sonnets. Reprinted from the Edition of 1609 (1899); [4] Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam (1900); [5] Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poems (1900); [6-7] The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (2 volumes, only one with a colophon, 1900); [8] Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici, Urn Burial, Christian Morals, and Other Essays (1902); [9] William Meinhold, Mary Schweidler, The Amber Witch, The Most Interesting Trial for Witchcraft Ever Known [...] (1903).

Charles S. Ricketts [2 volumes]
[1] Lucius Apuleius, The Excellent Narration of the Marriage of Cupide and Psyches (1897); [2] The Sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney (1898).

C. Ricketts [3 volumes]
[1] Lucius Apuleius, De Cupidinis et Pschyces Amoribus Fabula Anilis (1901); [2] A Catalogue of Mr. Shannon's Lithographs [the title page mentions his name twice, as author and illustrator: 'Charles Ricketts'] (1902); [3] Charles Ricketts, A Bibliography of the Books Issued by Hacon & Ricketts [introduction signed: Charles Ricketts] (1904). 

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

636. Descent from the Cross

A painting by Charles Ricketts will be auctioned in Dreweatts's auction Old Master, British and European Art on 13 October. It is a scene often painted by Ricketts, 'The Descent from the Cross'.

Charles Ricketts, 'Descent from the Cross', c. 1909

Various stages of the passion of Christ were painted by Ricketts, such as the trial ('Christ before the People', c. 1906) and the crucifixion ('Calvary, c. 1907, and 'The Crucifixion', undated), but mostly he painted the 'Descent from the Cross'. There are at least five, perhaps even seven or eight.

1. 'Descent from the Cross', c. 1905: The William Morris Gallery,
2. 'The Deposition', c. 1910: Ashmolean Museum,
3. 'The Deposition', also called 'The Descent from the Cross', c. 1909,
4. 'The Deposition', c. 1915: Bradford Art Galleries and Museums,
5. 'Deposition from the Cross', c. 1915: The Tate.

Christ is one of Ricketts's tragic heroes, others he frequently depicted are Don Juan, Faust, The Good Samaritan, and Montezuma, an intimate circle of admired dead, a curious group of historical and fictional characters.

The third painting from my short list is now on sale at Dreweatts: oil on canvas, 92 x 71 cm, signed (verso), further signed (to stretcher verso). It probably dates from around 1909, as it was illustrated by C. Lewis Hind in 'Charles Ricketts: a Commentary on his Activities', The Studio, January 1910. In 1933, T.S. Moore reproduced the painting, stating that the then owner was unknown. It surfaced in 2014, when it was sold by Stockholm Auktionsverk. Fine Arts and Antiques, on 11 June 2014, lot no. 3388. It fetched around $11,500.

Charles Ricketts, 'Descent from the Cross', c. 1909

Opening bid is  £4,500, estimate £5,000 - £7,000.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

635. The Matsukata Collection Revisited

In 2018, I wrote about some paintings by Ricketts and Shannon that had been bought by Japanese businessman Kojiro Matsukata (1865-1950) and were lost in a fire in London in 1939. Part of his vast collection ended up in the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. I wrote: 'In the list of artists represented in this museum, the names of Ricketts and Shannon are absent.' However, in 2019 an exhibition by the museum included two works by Ricketts and Shannon, and the museum's website now lists their names. (See the Collection page of the National Museum of Western Art). 

The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

These works had been on quite a journey. Matsukata began collecting art in 1916 during lengthy business trips around Europe. Works of art were shipped to Japan, but much was stored locally in England and France. From the mid-1920s, Japan was hit by recession and then a financial crisis that also affected the banks with which Matsukata's firm did business. Additional works were brought to Japan from Paris to be sold - with the artworks already in place - in a series of auctions whose proceeds were to save the company.

Japan raised the tax on luxury goods imports to 100 per cent, further complicating the shipping of his collection to his homeland. While the London collection was lost in a fire, the French collection was stored, even during World War II, with some sales to cover costs. After the war this part of Matsukata's collection was confiscated by the French state because of the nationality of its owner. Eventually 375 artworks were to be returned to Japan, but by then the collector had died.

Charles Shannon, 'The Rebirth of the Arts' (1917)
[The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo]

Two lithographic posters by Ricketts and Shannon are now in the collection. They both made a nomadic journey. One of Matsukata's first purchases was the complete series of lithographs published during the war: The Great War. Britain's Efforts and Ideals. Ricketts's poster was called 'Italia Redenta' and Shannon's was titled 'The Rebirth of the Arts' (1917). The colour lithographs measured 77,9 x 52,2 cm (Ricketts) and 77,3 x 51,6 cm (Shannon). [For reproductions, see blog 165. The Great War, an Exhibition in Wales.]

Matsukata bought the complete series of 66 items. It was purchased at the Fine Art Society, London in July 1917. They were transported to the Kawasaki Dockyard Co., Ltd. in Kobe. In 1927 they were seized by Jugo Bank, Tokyo, to be sold in the fourth Matsukata sale in Tokyo from 7–24 May 1931. They became part of a private collection in Japan, and were deposited many years later in the The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, on 25 January 2016. A year later they were purchased by the museum.