Wednesday, December 27, 2023

647. New Publication: Ten Letters from Charles Shannon to Charles Ricketts

Just before Christmas, an edition of letters from Charles Shannon to Charles Ricketts has been published: Old Chap, Dear Ridgeley, Old Chump, Dear Old Ruffian, My Dear Ricketts.

Folded-out cover of Old Chap, Dear Ridgeley,
Old Chump, Dear Old Ruffian, My Dear Ricketts

Soon after their initial meeting, Charles Shannon (1863-1937) and Charles Ricketts (1866-1931) decided to live together. On the apparently rare occasions when they spent time away independently they maintained communication by letter. Shannon would write when visiting continental museums or enjoying a holiday (and perhaps more) with one of his female models, and also from home when Ricketts in turn travelled abroad to undertake research for an art history monograph, or in the company of a younger male companion.

Numbered copies of Shannon's letters to Ricketts
at the day of publication, 22 December 2023

In many ways, these letters are simple affairs, modest, understated, and undemonstratively affectionate, telling us something of the equability of Shannon’s personality. 

His friends knew him as a handsome and athletic man, and if he was less extrovert than his lifelong companion, he had just as clear a sense of their shared vocation. Although he seems to have been content to stand back as Ricketts’s quixotic imagination and strongly-held opinions occupied the foreground, Shannon’s sanguine temperament ensured a balance in this friendship of equals.
Charles Shannon, 'Self-Portrait'
Lithograph, 1918

In his letters, Shannon reports on his visits to parties where artists, authors and collectors meet, on antiques purchased by Ricketts in Paris, on lectures with lantern slides, on the state of the art market, on a multi-day visit to his sisters in Sleaford (larded with childhood memories). The series concludes with the last note to Ricketts dictated to Shannon by his carers - a year after a fall down a flight of stairs left him mentally disabled.

Charles Shannon,
Old Chap, Dear Ridgeley, Old Chump, Dear Old Ruffian, My Dear Ricketts. Ten Letters to Charles Ricketts.
The Hague, At the Paulton, December 2023
40 pages, 3 illustrations, 20 x 13 cm
Designed by Huug Schipper (Studio Tint)
Set in Proforma Medium
Printed on Biotop 115 g. by Mostert & Van Onderen, Leiden
Edition limited to sixty numbered copies

Price including packaging and shipping:
European Union: €30.
United Kingdom: €35.
USA and Canada: €40.

You can express your interest by sending an email to Paul van Capelleveen [see the address in the right-hand bar]. You will receive a Paypal invoice.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

646. Harold Acton visits Ricketts

The British writer and aesthete Harold Acton (1904-1994), born and died in Villa La Pietra outside Florence, knew the likes of George Orwell, Henry Green, Cyril Connolly, Anthony Powell and Evelyn Waugh. Once he visited Charles Ricketts.

Harold Acton at Oxford around 1922
[Wikipedia Commons]

Acton bequeathed his villa, including its extensive art collection, to New York University. The Pietra Library contains two Vale Press books: Michael Field, Julia Domna (1903) and Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra (1900), two books designed by Ricketts: a first edition of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (London: Ward Lock, 1891) and Lord de Tabley's Poems Dramatic and Lyrical (London: Elkin Mathews and John Lane; New York: Macmillan and Company, 1893), as well as Ricketts's own collection of essays Pages on Art (London: Constable, 1913).

His visit to Ricketts is recorded in a letter written by Acton to the author Ralph Ricketts (1902-1998) in October 1972. He remembered that Ricketts's taste was exquisite, that he hated C├ęzanne and post-impressionism, and that Ricketts and Acton were both friends of the artist Thomas Lowinsky.

Ricketts had given Acton a tour of Lansdowne House, subtly commenting on each work of art - and he remembered Ricketts as a delightful and stimulating companion.

He mentions also that he wrote a review of Self-Portrait in 1940, but that he had lost the book and the review with it. Said to be published in World Review, I have not been able to locate  a copy yet.

The writer Ralph Robert Ricketts was born in Simla in India and an unpublished family story recorded a curious incident:

On one of her visits to England, Ricketts recalled his mother proudly showing his grandfather a drawing of a daffodil, which he had done for her. The old man, possibly fearing that Ricketts would go the way of his distant relation the collector, publisher, designer, and friend of Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, silently tore the drawing into little pieces before sighing and finally saying "we'll say no more about that".

Before Ralph Ricketts published his first novel (A Lady Leaves Home, 1934), J.C. Squire offered him a job at The London Mercury for which he worked until 1939. He suffered from ill-health all his life, writing books during better periods. A leading theme in his novels was the conflict between worldly and spiritual life. The novelist L.P. Hartley praised his novel The Manikin (Faber and Faber, 1956), and became a friend. His last novel appeared in 1961.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

645. A Drawing for Montezuma?

The collections at the V&A London include a drawing by Ricketts dated - rather broadly - to 1900-1930. It is an unsigned and undated study in pencil of a nude young man, resting on his back (or deceased), with the left arm outstretched beside his head. The measurements are given in inches: 5.125 in (height) by 15 in (width) [c 13 x 38 cm]. The drawing was presented to the V&A by the Art Fund in 1933 and registered as E.1027-1933. [See the V&A website]. 

Charles Ricketts, study of a nude man (pencil)
[V&A, London: E.1027-1933]

If we can assume that this was a preliminary study for a painting - it need not be, of course - then there is really only one painting to consider, and then we can more accurately date the drawing to 1904-1905.

The pose of the body is even more dramatically twisted in the painting, especially the pelvis and upper legs, and the genitals are less pronounced. 

In 1905, Ricketts completed the painting The Death of Montezuma, also called The Sacrifice of Montezuma. However, the sketch does not depict Montezuma himself, but a secondary figure in the foreground. There are several drawings and paintings in which Ricketts decorates the foreground - as it were - with dead bodies and this is one of them.

Charles Ricketts, The Death of Montezuma (1905)
[Private Collection]

This oil on canvas (75 x 61 cm), dating from 1905, once belonged to the collection of Edmund Davis and is now part of a private collection.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

644. "A Picture Collector Mr Drucker"

In November 1911, Charles Shannon was sent to Amsterdam by the Royal Academy to collect a painting by Jozef Israels who had died in August. Ricketts travelled with him.

In 'cold January weather', they spent four days in The Hague, Haarlem, and Amsterdam, where Shannon visited dealers and private owners. Ricketts wrote about their Dutch stay in a letter to the artist and critic Richard Roland Holst (1868-1938)an old friend who had first visited them in London in 1893. However, they had not visited Roland Holst in Amsterdam and Ricketts explained that they had had very little time to spare and, besides, they did not remember where he lived.

During their stay, they were accompanied by 'Mr Drucker', Ricketts wrote: 'A picture collector Mr Drucker usually trotted us about.'

J.C.J. Drucker (photo: 1939)

This was convenient because Drucker spoke English. Although he was Dutch by birth (his father was from Germany), he had moved to London in 1883, married an English woman, Maria Lydia Fraser, and become a naturalised British citizen.

Jean Charles Joseph Drucker (Amsterdam 1862 - Montreux 1944) came from a wealthy family and started collecting paintings and watercolours in 1885. He mainly acquired works from artists connected to the Hague School; later he also acquired works by their Amsterdam contemporaries such as Breitner. He acquired these artworks from the Hague branch of Goupil and from other art dealers such as Elion, Preyer, and Van Wisselingh, while the firm of Arthur Tooth and Sons advised him on the acquisition of Chinese porcelain and furniture (the latter part of his collection later proved to contain little of interest).

From 1903, he loaned works to the Rijksmuseum and soon after, the idea arose to donate the entire collection to the museum - the Drucker-Fraser marriage remained childless. In early 1904, the public could admire works by Lourens Alma Tadema, Willem Maris, Anton Mauve, Albert Neuhuys and Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch in a specially decorated room. In his will Drucker stipulated that the works would be left to the museum on condition that particular rooms were made available for the collection. Despite this bequest, he also donated some works to the National Gallery in London.

Jozef Israels, 'Blik in de verte' [Gaze into the distance] (1907)
[Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam]

In 1909, a specially built extension of the Rijksmuseum provided the space for a new display of the now-donated works - 38 paintings and 31 drawings. In June 1911, the Druckers also donated 12 paintings and 17 watercolours by Jozef Israels.

In view of the assignment Shannon had received in London, it was not surprising that he and Ricketts contacted Drucker.

To Richard Roland Holst, Ricketts later wrote about Drucker: 

I asked him if he knew your address, he did not, but a charming and very pretty young Dutch girl we met at his house spoke enthusiastically of your Pan and Lucifer stage decorations. We would have been charmed to have seen you in the evening, but chance was against it. 
[Typed transcription, BL Add MS 61715, 137-8]