Wednesday, May 29, 2024

669. Charles Shannon Starts Designing Oscar Wilde's Plays

Tomorrow, at Forum Auctions, a number of letters, contracts, and notes regarding Oscar Wilde will be for sale. (See  Forum Auction). Among those is a letter from Charles Shannon to John Lane about the design of Oscar Wilde's plays. 

Charles Shannon, letter to John Lane, c. May 1893
[Forum Auctions, London]

This letter was first partly quoted by James G. Nelson in his 1971 study The Early Nineties. A View from the Bodley Head (Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1971). At the time, the letter was still in the archive of the Bodley Head Firm. The letter was probably written in May 1893.

Charles Shannon, letter to John Lane, c. May 1893
[Forum Auctions, London]

The Vale | Chelsea

Dear Lane,

Oscar called tonight. He decided very wisely I think that the plays Lady Windermere's Fan etc. should be published at 7/6 net with a limited Edition de luxe at 1 guinea instead of the uniform price at 10/6. These you can announce simply in this way.
In a binding & title page specially designed by Charles Shannon.
With regard to the W.H. he has also decided, we think wisely, that the 500 should be published at more than 10/0 (he thinks 15/0 on reconsideration we think 12/6 might be more wise). The book alone is worth 10/- apart from its get-up. It would be a mistake to allow very delicately fashioned books to go too cheap and its paper & format might do much.
This week can be announced Mr WH etc by Mr. Oscar Wilde with Initials & a binding designed by Charles Ricketts
Oscar says Lady Windermere which is to be the first of the series is to come out at once during the Season[.]
Oscar is averse of the idea of them being all bound in the same cover. Let me know when you have the material of Lady Windermere in hand & I will take it to the Ballantyne the next day.
The order of plays is
1. Lady Windermere's Fan
2. The Duchess of Padua
3 The Woman of No Importance
You had better write to him concerning the proper order.
Yours faithfully
CH Shannon

Charles Shannon, letter to John Lane, c. May 1893
[Forum Auctions, London]

However, the series of plays called Dramatic Works did not take off immediately. The first volume (Lady Windermere's Fan) was published in November 1893. The announced edition of The Duchess of Padua did not appear, nor did The Incomparable History of Mr. W.H. that was to be designed by Ricketts.

Shannon would be responsible for the design of the book, including the graphic design, but his wish to have the books printed at Ballantyne's - where their own magazine The Dial was printed -  was not met by the publisher who had them printed at R. and A. Constable in Edinburgh.

The two plays published at the Bodley Head, later followed by two more plays that were published by Leonard Smithers, would be bound in similar, but distinctly different mauve bindings, as Wilde had demanded.

PS, 31 May 2024
The lot was sold for £4.500.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

668. Charles Ricketts Plants a Love Tree

Recently I reread all the catalogues of Claire Warrack & Geoffrey Perkins who offered mainly British and continental books from the 1880s-1920s, including many by and about the Vale coterie, including letters, ephemera publications and prints. 

One of these catalogues (Catalogue Sixty-one issued in 1987)  includes a description of Paul Verlaine's Romances sans paroles, an 1887 reprint. The provenance of this copy is fascinating. Charles Ricketts wrote on the title page: 'Cs Ricketts | The Vale | His Book'.

Charles Ricketts, ownership entry and drawings in
Paul Verlaine, Romances sand paroles (1877)
[© With permission of the executors of the Charles Ricketts estate,
Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmain O'Neil]

He gave this copy to John Gray, who had translated some poems by Verlaine, and who added his own bookplate with several Latin phrases such as 'E Bibliotheca' 'Domine Tu' and 'Omnia Nosti'. A later owner was A.J.A. Symons whose Brick House bookplate was pasted on the free endpaper, and there is a note by the famous dealer George Sims.

But the point is the first leaf of the book on which Ricketts wrote his name. In fact, he did more than that, he added two original pen drawings in india ink. The bottom one of these is a small decoration, but the other is an important drawing.

This drawing is related to several drawings Ricketts made for Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates, and a tentative assumption would be that the drawing dates from 1891. It is not the central figure we recognise from other images, as the sad harlequin does not appear in Wilde's book; it is the writhing thorn branches that recur in several drawings, for example on page 23 where 'the young king' is compared to Christ.

Charles Ricketts, illustration for Oscar Wilde,
A House of Pomegranates (1891, p. 23

Wilde's young king wore a 'leathern tunic' and a 'rough sheepskin cloak' and when his page asks him 'but where is thy crown?', he 'plucked a spray of wild briar', and 'made a circlet of it, and set it on his own head' (pp. 20-21). In the book illustration he is seen on the back.

Charles Ricketts, decoration for Oscar Wilde, 
A House of Pomegranates (1891, p. 59)

For the book Ricketts also designed several roundel devices, some of which were used a few times. This device of a rose, a heart and thorny rose branches was used solely on page 59. 

Charles Ricketts, illustration for Oscar Wilde, 
A House of Pomegranates (1891, p. 149)

Even more thorny branches are depicted in an illustration for Wilde's story 'The Star-Child'. This illustration of the star-child and the hare in a trap (p. 149) is signed by Ricketts: 'CR inv et del.'

In the case of this book by Wilde, attention is often focused solely on Shannon's plates (because of their technique and its partly unsuccessful execution in Paris), but Ricketts' illustrations are worth a closer look, if only because they can be divided into six types (excluding the decorative binding). There are decorative endpapers, chapter devices, illustrations, marginal circular devices, pomegranate ornaments and initials. 

Charles Ricketts, original drawing in a copy of
Paul Verlaine, Romances sand paroles (1877)

The words in the original drawing 'J'ai planté un arbre d'amour' do not refer to a line by Verlaine, but to the first line of the 18th ballad by François Villon: 'J’ay ung arbre de la plante d’amours'.

The whereabouts of Verlaine's book with Ricketts's drawings is unknown.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

667. Edward Woodville Ricketts's Album

Charles Ricketts was not fond of his father, but his grandfather was a different story. His house was hung full of art that Ricketts remembered many years later. Edward Woodville Ricketts (1808-1895) was also a skilled draftsman as we saw almost 140 blogs ago: he made an etching depicting the bell tower of Seville (read blog 528: Ricketts Grandfather in Seville). 

Yesterday, another 302 pencil and pen drawings and watercolour paintings came up for auction at  Chiswick Auctions, all demonstrating his talent.

Edward Woodville Ricketts, Album (c.1829-1860s)
[Chiswick Auctions, 14 May 2024]

The album contains 152 sheets on which most of the drawings are mounted, often several on a sheet, sometimes folding panoramas, while some drawings are loosely inserted. The album captures several of Ricketts's travels. There are landscapes, panoramas, coastal views and images of ships (grandfather Ricketts was a keen yachtsman).

Edward Woodville Ricketts, Album (c.1829-1860s)
[Chiswick Auctions, 14 May 2024]

But there are also portraits, costume drawings and images of architecture and plants. Some travel destinations were in Spain: Madrid, Toledo, Seville - as we saw earlier - Alameida, The Alhambra, Alhama, Loxa, Gaucin (with a view of Gibraltar and Africa), Algeciras, Ceuta, Tarifa, and Ricketts travelled on to Morocco where he drew the mosque of Tangier. This was a 1833 journey.

Edward Woodville Ricketts, Album (c.1829-1860s)
[Chiswick Auctions, 14 May 2024]

There are drawings of steam locomotives at Liverpool, of Bala Lake, the lighthouses at Pierhead, portraits of horses, ships that are firing salutes, and a view of Dover Castle.

Edward Woodville Ricketts, Album (c.1829-1860s)
[Chiswick Auctions, 14 May 2024]

Ricketts also made drawings in Smyrna (now Izmir), Athens, Rouen, Nice, of the Mont Blanc, the Eiger and even of a Dutch gunboat seen in 1849. The album was estimated at £500 - £700. It sold for £750.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

666. Ricketts and 'the Ridiculous Price' in 1900

As the deadline approaches for the Collected Letters of Charles Ricketts, John Aplin and I are frantically trying to fit undated letters into the chronology. But sometimes it is the content that is not dateable, for instance the day of a trip or an auction. 

Sometimes an envelope is preserved with a date stamp. This helped date a letter to Pissarro to 20 March 1900.

Dear P.

The Vale Books fetched tall prices at the sale notably your Queen of the Fishes which sold for £8-15-0.

There were quite a few auctions in March 1900 and it was not immediately clear which auction Ricketts attended.

In a postscript, Ricketts wrote:

I was unable to buy 3 books at double the published price. The Chaucer Kelmscott £65-0-0.

This could provide an auction date thanks to William S. and Sylvia Holten Peterson's The Kelmscott Chaucer: A Census (New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2011). However, in the 'Catalogues' section one cannot find any 1900 auction in which the Chaucer was sold for the amount Ricketts mentioned. Prices were £66, £67, and £72.

There is one auction that seemed interesting and promising. This was the Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge auction at 19 March, a day before Ricketts's letter: Catalogue of a Valuable Portion of the Library of H. Sidney. Disappointingly, Peterson and Peterson mention that the lot was 'withdrawn' and without sales, there was no price. In a footnote, the withdrawal is explained: 'According to a letter from [Frederick S.] Ellis to [Sydney] Cockerell, 26 March 1900 [...], Sotheby advertised an unbound copy of the Chaucer for its sale of 19 March but withdrew it when Ellis obtained an injunction.'

Due to the hack of the British Library website, John was unable to consult the catalogue of the 19 March 1900 sale. However, the Grolier Club sent me images of the relevant pages - thanks are due to Jamie Elizabeth Cumby, Kevin McKinney and Scott Ellwood.

Catalogue of a Valuable Portion of the Library of H. Sidney, Esq. ...
London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, 19 March 1900, p. 8
[Grolier Club, New York]

This is a priced copy. After the sale Sotheby distributed catalogues with the prices noted in the margins. This copy has the Chaucer lots crossed out. Thanks to Ricketts, who wrote a letter to Pissarro the day after, we know that initially the Chaucer must have been sold, only to be withdrawn sometime later. Its - never paid - price was £65. Ricketts was a reliable witness. All the prices he mentioned in his letter match those in the Grolier Club catalogue:

The book of Ruth & Esther £2-0-0. The Typographie £1-15-0, all books with the exception of the Milton nearly doubled their published prices[:] Hero & Leander £4-0-0 Daphnis etc £4-5-0. Sonnets Mrs Browning fetched the ridiculous price of £5-7-6. Hand & Soul £1-10-0 & £1-12-6 Keats £5-15-0.

The prices are indeed remarkably high, especially since all these copies were printed on paper, these were not vellum or specially bound copies and they did not include extras such as enclosed letters or portraits. 

Catalogue of a Valuable Portion of the Library of H. Sidney, Esq. ... 
London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, 19 March 1900, p. 14
[Grolier Club, New York]

By the way, H. Sidney did not exist. The collector had used a pseudonym and his name was Sidney Humphries (1862-1941). This is probably a unique case. Usually, when a collector wanted to stay anonymous, her or his collection was advertised as 'The Property of a Lady or 'The Property of a Gentleman'. To think of a pseudonym - reversing the name Sidney Humphries to H. Sidney - seems a bit redundant. Anyway, when 'the remaining portion' of his library was sold, the same pseudonym was used. This portion, again, contained many Vale Press books, including duplicates and vellum copies.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

665. A Select Danish Vale Press collection

Small collections of Vale Press books in northern Europe mostly emerged after the death of William Morris, while new museums for applied art were established under the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement. A collection in Sweden grew under the influence of the printer Waldemar Zachrisson, see blog 657. A similar core collection was established in Hamburg by Justus Brinckmann and his assistant Richard Stettiner. In Denmark, books and many other objects were collected by the Kunstindustrimuseet which is now the Designmuseum Danmark.

Vale Press books
Designmuseum Danmark
[Photo: Sara Fruelund]

The collection comprises nine Vale Press editions. There is also a single edition illustrated by Ricketts and Shannon, Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates. The books were obtained over a long period of time, but the nucleus was gathered in the 1890s.

One of the first books that was acquired was a pre Vale book, Daphnis and Chloe (1893). It was bought at Hacon & Ricketts in May 1898 for £2 12s. The original price had been £2 2s.

Daphnis and Chloe (1893)
Designmuseum Danmark: II464
[Photo: Sara Fruelund]

The other early acquisition was Lucien Pissarro and Charles Ricketts's De la typographie et de l'harmonie de la page imprimée. William Morris et son influence sur les arts et métiers (1898) which was bought in May 1898 at H. Floury (Paris), who is mentioned on the title page as the French co-publisher, and had received fifty copies of this book at the beginning of April.

Charles Ricketts, Lucien Pissarro,
De la typographie et de l'harmonie de la page imprimée.
William Morris et son influence sur les arts et métiers
Designmuseum Danmark: I703
[Photo: Sara Fruelund]

Founded in 1890, and opened to the public in 1894, the Danish Museum for Art and Design (Kunstindustrimuseet) amassed a collection of porcelain, faience, silver, furniture, glass and textiles that was exhibited in several galleries. In 1898, the secretary Charles Arnold Been (1869-1914) travelled to London to acquire material for exhibitions. Been had not finished his university education (History), and in 1893 joined the museum for which he undertook some travelling.

Letter from Ch. A. Been, 29 December 1898
Designmuseum Danmark
[Photo: Sara Fruelund]

In a letter, dated 9 December 1898, Been reported back to the museum about his finds, mentioning the names of Ashbee, Nicholson, and Hacon and Ricketts. His purpose was to collect English illustrations, books and posters for an exhibition that was opened the following year. From 7 February to 12 March 1899 works by Walter Crane, Aubrey Beardsley, William Morris, William Nicholson, Lucien Pissarro, Robert Anning Bell, and Dudley Hardy were exhibited. (There is no catalogue, but these names are mentioned in a review.)

Ricketts's name is not mentioned, but several of his books were on display. These (or a selection of them) were acquired by the museum after the exhibition closed. In May 1899, four books were not returned to Hacon and Ricketts, but added to the museum's collection:

Matthew Arnold, Empedocles on Etna (1896): 8s 5;
Apuleius, The Excellent Narration of the Marriage of Cupide and Psyches (1897): £1;
The Sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney (1898): 16s 10;
Michael Field, The World at Auction (1898): 12s.

Then, in December 1900, the museum acquired the second pre-Vale publication Hero and Leander (1894). It was bought from no other than Been himself, who had apparently also bought books for himself, but now decided to add his copy to the museum's collection. He was paid 25 Danish Kroner for it.

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891)
Illustrated na designed by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon, Lucien Pissarro,
Designmuseum Danmark: I1254
[Photo: Sara Fruelund]

A few years later, in November 1903, two more Vale Press books were acquired - along with books from The Eragny Press and the Essex House Press. These were bought from the German firm Breslauer & Meyer, founded in April 1898 by Edmund Meyer and Martin Breslauer. The first one was Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates (1891) which cost 40 Mark, the second one was Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (1903), priced at 27 Mark.

Accession Protocol 1899
Designmuseum Danmark
[Photo: Sara Fruelund]

Accession Protocol 1899 (detail)
Designmuseum Danmark
[Photo: Sara Fruelund]

Between these two titles featured The Parables, illustrated by Millais, one of the Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces of the 1860s, showing that the museum's interest in the English book was broader than just the modern 1890s.

In the following years, the Vale Press collection more or less ground to a halt. Only in 1941 another purchase followed: Thomas Campion, Fifty Songs (1896). This came with a large collection of books from the Forening for Boghaandvaerk (The Association for Book Craft) in May 1941.

The Vale Press collection at the Designmuseum Danmark was created largely through active acquisition in the years 1898-1903, making it a typical example of a national collection that sought to inspire local arts and crafts through purchases (among others) of contemporary foreign works from the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau period. The question arises: have any publishers or artists actually been influenced by Charles Ricketts's work? 

In Germany, his influence is visible, for example, in the work of Marcus Behmer. For Sweden and Denmark it seems less clear.

[Thanks are due to Sara Fruelund, teamleader Biblioteket / Bibliotekar, Designmuseum Danmark, for her answers to questions, her provenance research and her photographs.]