Wednesday, November 29, 2023

643. Reading The Kingis Quair at Home

Handwritten notes in private press books are quite rare. Universities used to lend their books to students and professors, even private press books and limited editions, and at home users would be tempted to make notes and text corrections in library books - however, in general, examples of such traces are not catalogued, and rare to find.

We often don't know if and how often such books were loaned, but thanks to digitisation projects, occasional examples of them come along.

The Kingis Quair (Vale Press, 1903)
[Collection: Southern Regional Library Facility, UCLA, Los Angeles]
[Access: Internet Archive]

A copy of the Vale Press edition of James I of Scotland's poem The Kingis Quair at the California Southern Regional Library Facility, UCLA, Los Angeles (PR2002 .K61 1903), does not contain handwritten marks by users. 

However, librarians have made notes in it, and several stamps were used to identify the book's shelf number. At the front we find markings such as 'Engl. Dept' (stamped), '1/15/41' (in pencil), presumably the acquisition date, and 'April 22 '41' (stamped), the latter possibly the cataloguing date.

Still, at the back of the book, is the page with date stamps and these run from 13 February 1946 to 16 February 1976.

The Kingis Quair (Vale Press, 1903)
[Collection: Southern Regional Library Facility, UCLA, Los Angeles]
[Access: Internet Archive]

The book was lent, also through Inter Library Loan, in 1952, 1953, 1957 (twice), 1959 (twice), 1960, 1963 (four times), 1964, 1966, 1973, and 1976 (twice).

It cannot be seen for what purpose the book was loaned and to whom. It could have been for several reasons: students who needed to read the text and could not get hold of another edition or researchers who wanted to study this as a private press book.

The book still has the original blue paper publisher's binding 

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

642. A Present for Sale

The 'Two Day Sale of Fine Art & Antiques, including Oriental, Porcelain, and Works of Art' at Canterbury Auction Galleries, Canterbury (Kent) includes a Charles Ricketts drawing as lot 502 that will be sold on the first day of the sale, 25 November. The estimate is £800-£1,200.

The description reads: 

Watercolour - Costume design for "The Three Kings - The Coming of Christ", from a play by John Masefield for the 1928 play at Canterbury Cathedral, with artist's pencil inscription to lower right "To Mrs Bell from C. Ricketts Whitsuntide 1928", 19ins x 13.5ins, framed and glazed.
Provenance: Donated by the artist to Mrs Bell, wife of Dean Bell, Whitsuntide, 1928, thence gifted to Cannon Ingram Hill by Mrs Bell, and thence to the current vendor circa 2003.

The image is slightly cropped, missing part of Ricketts's dedication. 

Charles Ricketts, 'The Three Kings' (watercolour sketch, 1928)

Blog 135. "Ricketts in a Cathedral" was devoted entirely to the sketches for the 1928 performance and to the reviews. In it a few sketches were mentioned that, like the sketch above, were in the possession of the Bell Estate, the executors of the Bishop Bell and Mrs Bell of Chichester: a design for Gaspar and one for an angel. 'The Three Kings' has the same provenance.

George Bell (1883-1958) had married Henriette Livingstone in 1918, and was appointed Bishop of Chichester in 1929, but from 1925 to 1928 he had been Dean of Canterbury, which explains how he came into the possession of two of Ricketts's designs. He initiated the Canterbury Festival of the Arts, the first of which was the Masefield play in the summer of 1928, and the most famous one was T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral in June 1935. (Blog 135)

Ricketts came to Canterbury in mid-May 1928 to personally deliver some of the costumes he designed, as he announced in a letter to Henrietta Bell, undated but about 9 May 1928 (now part of the Carl Woodring collection at Rice University, Houston, Texas):

Dear Mrs Bell

I propose bringing the King’s [Kings’] Dresses, and all the properties to the Deanery by car on Monday 14. I hope to be there shortly after 12, deposit them, & return to Chilham by the same car. Lady Davis is lending me the car & the services of their excellent chauffeur Kirkwood. Caspar’s dress is superb. There are some 10 crowns etc. The vases for the perfumes, the Shepheard’s [Shepherd's] hat, brooches, lilies. The Holy Child is a great success. I have just had him photographed.

In a 'PS' Ricketts wrote:

I hope you have a lumber room in which The Kings robes can be hung up. The cloaks are large.

Another 'PS' was written on the envelope:

Do bring pressure to bear on the Annunciation by Light. It would bring a flash of beauty in a scene which is too long drawn out.*

In a letter to the poet and playwright Gordon Bottomley, dated 12 May 1928, Ricketts described the costumes for the three kings in detail, and added that they were actually made at his country retreat, the Keep, Chilham Castle.

I expect the difficulties at the end with nothing but amateur workers to do everything. Christ appears at the Choir entrance and speaks – half invisible – in a white seamless robe with Crown & pectoral of rubies & rock crystal, & to secure respectable Kings I am having their dresses made in my house. The Warrior King is in gold armour, chain mail & embroidered Tabard, blood red cloak, lined with scarlet; he is not unlike Rossetti’s David at L[l]andaff but cruel in effect. The Diplomat King is in a white St Joan Courtier dress – circa Henry V, scarlet bonnet, robe of white cloth barred with irmine [ermine]; he will have a Borgia-Richard III element in his make up. The Wise (oriental King) looks like a Magi in Orange gold, black and green, he looks half Mahomedan & wears jewelled slippers. If we can afford Shields for the attendants these will be symbolical. I think we can manage banners. The 4 blue angels attending on the Virgin have heraldic wings made of ermine tails, gold acanthus leaves & peacock eyes, they wear gold gloves. The big male angels are wingless, in white seamless robes, long gold copes & their hair is hidden under a sphinx like hood of gold, I want their faces painted dead white. 
[British Library, Add MS 88957/1/76, f 103]*

Note: The lot closed at £1,150.

* Thanks are due to John Aplin for transcriptions of the letters.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

641. Books at the 'The First Exhibition of Original Wood-Engraving'

In earlier blogs about the Ricketts & Shannon circle's exhibition at The Dutch Gallery in December 1898, 'First Exhibition of Original Wood-Engraving', I wrote about criticisms of the typography of the catalogue and about the authorship of its introduction (see blogs 426 and 462).

The First Exhibition of Original Wood-Engraving (1898: colophon)

The catalogue lists only prints, but the colophon mentions prints and books. Which books were actually on display?

For a study of such exhibitions, the British Library's digitised newspapers (see British Newspaper Archive, BNA) are indispensable. Sometimes it is necessary to look for something other than the obvious. In my earlier search for this exhibition, I got a few results, but now that I searched for 'Pissarro' (Lucien Pissarro) and 'wood-engraving', among the results were some reviews of the First Exhibition of Original Wood-Engraving that I had not previously seen. And these reviews mention books that were on display in 1898.

A review, signed B.N., appeared in The Westminster Gazette, 22 December 1898, p. 4: 'Wood Engravings at the Dutch Gallery'. It includes this paragraph:

Next to the books of the Kelmscott series the Vale publications embody the most serious effort made in this generation at fine book-making, and as such they are, with whatever reservation, deserving of due respect. A case of these books is on view in the gallery. Neither the type, the setting, nor the decoration of these books quite satisfies my own eye, but there are many things in them one can admire. The prettiest page (to my mind) is the front page of Campion's songs, with its design of violets. The most beautiful and elaborate of the woodcut designs are certainly those made for the "Daphnis and Chloe," of which a set is framed on the walls.

The case mentioned probably was a tabletop display case, given Edith Cooper's diary entry (Michael Field, Journal, 3 December 1898 [BL Add MS 46787: f 126r]):

Under glass the Dial books are shown – The World at Auction unsurpassed among them. 

Another review, ‘The World of Art’, published in The Glasgow Herald, 5 December 1898, p. 7, mentions other books.

Other designs have been made to illustrate volumes of poems such as those by Drayton, Sir Philip Sidney, Blake, "The Rowleie Poems of Thomas Chatterton," "The Poems and Sonnets of Henry Constable." &c. The designs for the books are set in beautiful frames of engraved floral scrolls, and are of exquisite workmanship.

The term 'frames' in this quote refers to the borders Ricketts designed for the opening pages of his books.

Thomas Campion, Fifty Sonnets (1987: opening page]

The book case contained at least seven Vale Press books:

1. Michael Drayton, Nimphidia and the Muses Elizium (1896);
2. Thomas Campion, Fifty Sonnets (1897);
3. William Blake, The Book of Thel. Songs of Innocence. And Songs of Experience (1897);
4. The Poems and Sonnets of Henry Constable (1897);
5. The Sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney (1897);
6. The Rowley Poems of Thomas Chatterton (1898);
7. Michael Field, The World at Auction (1898).

The last two books had appeared in June, five months prior to the exhibition.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

640. Osmaston, a Collector

Probably the best-known collectors of Charles Shannon's paintings are the wealthy mining financier Edmund Davis and his wife Mary Davis, née Halford, but there were others, such as poet Gordon Bottomley, designer and collector Pickford R. Waller, Welsh judge and legal author William Evans, artist and collector Cecil French, art collector and lawyer John Quinn, and business man and art collector Kojiro Matsukata. This list also includes the names of William Pye, May Morris, James Howden Humeand Joseph Bibby.

There are collectors whose names are less well known, such as P.J. Ford, Ralston Mitchell, A. Arnold Hannay, H.G. Smith, whose biographies are perhaps not very comprehensive. A now obscure collector was Francis Osmaston. He owned two of Shannon's paintings.

Charles Shannon, 'Salt Water' (1902)
Oil on canvas. Usher Gallery, Lincoln
From the collection of F.P.B. Osmaston, later owned by Preston Kerrison

Francis Plumptre Beresford Osmaston (1857-1925) studied at Oxford and was called to the bar in 1885 (Lincoln's Inn), London. With his wife Eleanor Margaret Field, an active suffragist, and three children, he lived in Church Row, Hampstead; later they lived in Limpsfield and Beacon Crag, Portheleven. 

In 1901, he inherited money from his father John Wright (who changed his name to John Osmaston). The estate was sworn at £2,826. Years before, in 1884, his father had to sell their family house Osmaston Manor in Derbyshire, and separately auctioned the collection of paintings, said to include works by Rubens, Constable and Turner, and 'Monna Lizza by L. da Vinci' (Derby Mercury, 1884, see Osmaston Manor). The authenticity of the paintings could not be guaranteed and the proceeds were very modest.

Osmaston translated works by the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel and published a drama about Cromwell (1906), as well as essays about art and poetry anthologies. A critic said of him: 'Mr. Osmaston can hardly be said to write for the general reader' (The Queen, 16 January 1909). 

He also wrote a book on the painter Tintoretto, The Art and Genius of Tintoret (London: Bell, 1915), and in 1927, Charles Ricketts consulted this monograph for his research into a purchase by Sydney Cockerell [see British Library Add MS 58085, f81].* 

Osmaston also dined with Ricketts and Shannon, as evidenced by a 19 February 1904 diary entry by Ricketts:

Friday. Fry & Binyon to grub & Osmaston. Worked on plague.
[BL Add MS 58102]

Roger Fry and Laurence Binyon were regular guests. 'The Plague' was a painting that ended up at Musée de Luxembourg (now Musée d'Orsay) in Paris through Davis's mediation.

Osmaston acquired at least two paintings by Shannon and one by Ricketts:

Charles Shannon, 'Salt Water' (1902). Oil on canvas, 76 x 56,2 cm. Location: Usher Gallery, Lincoln (purchased from Preston Kerrison, 1953).


Charles Shannon, 'Self-Portrait (Man in a Striped Shirt)' (1901). Oil on canvas. Location unknown.


Charles Ricketts, 'The Good Samaritan' (exhibited 1907). Oil on canvas. Brought in by Osmaston at the Red Cross Sale, 1915, and bought by Mary Davis. On this occasion, Ricketts called Osmaston an 'over-generous person'.**

* For this reference, thanks are due to John Aplin.
** J.G.P. Delaney, Charles Ricketts (1990), p. 290.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

639. The Sower, The Reaper

An oeuvre catalogue of Charles Shannon's paintings does not exist. Often his paintings are difficult to date and there are quite a few themes that he depicted repeatedly. In addition, there are studies for paintings with the same title, and paintings with identical titles exist in larger and smaller versions.

Around five or six paintings were later destroyed, some by the artist himself, others by fire and perhaps by acts of war. On the other hand, around twenty paintings are attributed to him that are probably not his work. In short, it is not easy to oversee his extensive oeuvre. A conservative estimate is about 160-165 paintings.

Charles Shannon, "The Sower and the Reaper' (1904)

Shannon limited himself to a small range of subjects to which he returned again and again, in pencil sketches, lithographs, pastels, watercolours and oil paintings.

An example of a theme that Shannon used for a lithograph and for two oil paintings is taken from the Bible, John 4:36: 'And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.'

It is not the religious aspect that fascinated him. Although he was the son of a vicar, his paintings on a biblical theme such as the parable of the wise and foolish virgins were not about Christianity; Shannon was more concerned with technique, composition and colour than with the  drama or the meaning of a story. The same goes for the sower and the reaper.

Nor could realism deeply captivate him, although he initially tried to become a painter like Titian. He therefore saw no harm in depicting both the sower and the reaper in the field in one act, a scene that obviously never occurred in the farmer's daily business. Nevertheless, they were often depicted in parallel in church windows or, for example, in a work by his Dutch contemporary, the artist Jan Toorop, who depicted the two of them with their backs turned to each other.

Shannon took a different approach. He had the pair - obviously representing Life and Death - do a kind of rural dance, they stride across the field in what seems like an embrace. R.A. Walker described the image in The Lithographs of Charles Shannon (1920): 

A slightly clothed male figure resting a basket of corn on his hip is taking a handful of grain from it as he strides along. By his side the reaper with scythe on his shoulder links arms with him and speaks in his ear.

In 1904, Shannon started with a lithograph, ‘The Sower and the Reaper’. There were fifty impressions in black or in dark green.

Two versions in oil would follow, one of which can be dated to around 1915; the second has not been dated yet. These versions make an entirely different impression. The undated version most closely resembles the dark image of the lithograph.

Charles Shannon, 'The Sower and the Reaper' (undated)
Oil on panel
[Usher Gallery, Lincoln]

In this picture, the landscape is as sketchily rendered as in the lithograph, although a tree to the left and a dog to the right are more clearly visible, as is a bridge in the background. The emphasis is on the proximity of the two people - even to the extent that it appears to be a dance of death. This version is part of the collection of the Usher Gallery in Lincoln. (Over time, the painting may have become darker due to the varnish.)

Charles Shannon, 'The Sower and the Reaper' (c.1915)
Oil on panel
[Willam Morris Gallery, London]

In the circa 1915 version, from the collection of the William Morris Gallery in London, the figures are in more cheerful colours in a clearly painted landscape with a stream running from left to right, an elegant wooden bridge to the right, a barking dog stands in front of a fence that closes off the field, to the left is a tree, and a church tower and barns or houses can be seen in the background on the right.

The sower is no longer half-naked but dressed in a red shirt and his companion is less sinister, more like an older brother. The painting, by the way, is considerably larger: 101,2 x 106 cm (the darker version is 61 x 62 cm).