Wednesday, March 21, 2018

347. Ricketts's Design of Oscar Wilde's Poems (1891) (2)

Last week I wrote about the limitation statement of Oscar Wilde's Poems in the 1892 edition. (See blog No 346). Michael Seeney contacted me about the line in relation to Wilde's signature on the same page.

His astute observation is:

One thing that has always puzzled me is the printed line about three-quarters of the way down the limitation page. It seems to serve no purpose, although in my copy (No 1) and the one illustrated in Mason (No 7) Wilde joins his name to the line with a descender from the final 'e'. In other copies I've seen he just leaves the line floating - perhaps he became tired of signing with such a flourish.
Limitation statement and Oscar Wilde's signature in No. 109
The limitation statement seems straightforward as a text. However, its design is more complicated than it seems, and Seeney's remark allows us another look at the page as a whole.

The triangle of small ornaments at the top is positioned almost in the middle of the page (45 mm from the top, 50 mm from the left and 50 mm from the right). To the right is a block of text with written letters, numbers and two floral ornaments: a small ornament in line 4 and another one at the end of line 5. There is an initial 'T' (lines 1-3) and another one, 'N' (line 6-7). There are no divisions between the text lines, but the block has been divided into two parts.

Part one is about the edition size:

This edition
consists of
210 copies, 
200 of which
are for sale

The second part is about the individual copy:


The left margin of the two parts of this text block is not straight; it somewhat follows the form of the triangle to the left.

To balance the design on this page, there are two lines: a small one (4 mm) to the right of the second part of the text block, and a longer line (22 mm). The second line is somewhat smaller than the text blocks of which the lines measure 24 to 26 mm.

All these texts, ornaments and lines have been calligraphed by Ricketts, and are printed from a block. No material from the type case has been used.

The purpose of these two lines might have been to obtain an aesthetic balance of the black and white parts on the page, and to achieve a balance of this page with the title page opposite. 

After the page had been printed, Ricketts's design served as a certificate of limitation, and each copy was individualized by the inclusion of a number that was handwritten in ink, and each copy was authenticated by Oscar Wilde, the author of the book, who wrote his large signature in each copy.

Limitation statement and Wilde's signatures in copies No. 22, 91 and 95
Comparing four copies - No 109 (Christie's, 2012), No. 22 (private collection), No. 91 (Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library), No. 95 (Duke University [reproduced in Nicholas Frankel, Oscar Wilde's Decorated Books, 2000]) - it is noticeable that Wilde's signature appears to the lower left side of the page, with the name divided over two lines, the final 'e' unfinished, and ending in a downward stroke of the pen. 

In some cases that pen stroke touches the horizontal line; in some copies the signature appears between the limitation statement and the line; in some cases the pen stroke makes a sharp angle to the right. There seems to be no consistency; the signing of these 210 copies may have been done in several sessions, the author needing a rest or a drink in between. 

The numbers have been placed in the same spot in every copy, that is, between the text 'No of copy' and the small horizontal line. These numbers were not written by Wilde, but (most likely) by an employee at the premises of The Bodley Head. The writing of the numerals is consistent in style and in placement.

But what about the position of both - number and signature - in relation to the horizontal lines (the smaller one and the lower one)?

My theory is, that Ricketts had intended these lines not only to balance the whole design, but also to leave space for the number and signature. Examples of printed limitation statements show that dotted lines were normally used to indicate the place where the copy number and the author's signature should be written. In Ricketts's case, there were no printed lines, and he didn't draw dotted lines, he drew uninterrupted lines. His design was intended to have the copy number in a small script on the small line at the end of the limitation statement. However, the writer of these numbers ignored this intention (Ricketts was not present to instruct him), and the number ended up between the text and the line. That space should have been left blank.

And Oscar Wilde? His signature was never as small and precisely calligraphed as Ricketts's own modest and carefully written signature. Wilde came and confiscated the page, it was to be his book, and it certainly was his signature that would make the book worthwhile to buy. And in other cases, he had done the same. When Ricketts received his personal copy of another book that he had designed for Wilde, The Sphinx, he was infuriated, as T.S. Moore recorded:

Yet I can see his face crimson as he tore out the fly-leaf Wilde had inscribed from the copy of The Sphinx sent to him. 'Vulgar beast!' he cried, for the signature ended in a straight-lined 'z' scrawled right across the leaf, an outrage to the exquisite niceties of the artist's book building, in blatant contrast also with the modesty of his insect-like autograph.

And so it is with each and every copy of the 1892 edition of Wilde's Poems...

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

346. Ricketts's Design of Oscar Wilde's Poems (1891) (1)

One of the audacious and elaborate early book designs by Charles Ricketts was requested for a reissue of Oscar Wilde's Poems in 1891.

The unsold (and unbound) sheets were leftovers of the 1882 edition. Bogue, Wilde's early publisher, sold around one thousand copies of the book before his bankruptcy. Sheets of the unsold copies were transferred to Chatto and Windus, and, later, to Osgood McIlvaine, before they were sold on to Matthews and Lane. This modernist firm acquired 230 sets of sheets, and as 10 were spoilt during binding, the new edition comprised 220 copies. These copies were signed by Oscar Wilde on the page with the limitation statement.

Ricketts had designed that page, the title page, the endpapers, and the binding. It is unclear who designed the half-title that was part of the new gathering that was added to the old sheets. 

Limitation statement in Oscar Wilde, Poems (1892)
The limitation statement has been reproduced after the written and drawn design by Ricketts. It starts with a motif that we have seen before in his work, a triangle of small flower decorations. There are eight rows of these, one line containing four flowers, followed by three lines having three flowers and two lines showing two ornaments, ending with two lines of only one flower.

A similar triangle of decorations can be found in the second issue of The Dial (1892). The last page in this magazine contained small bird decorations in four lines: three birds, two birds, one bird and another one in the last row. The decorative triangle was not placed on a blank page. To the upper right side of it, the name and location of the printer were mentioned, and under the triangle, somewhat to the right, the year of publication.

The Dial, No. 2 (1892)
In 1891, Ricketts had drawn a triangle of pomegranates for Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates. This triangle - three lines with three, two and one element respectively - was facing the title page. Here, the ornamental triangle was positioned underneath the dedication by Wilde to his wife Constance Mary Wilde. Three words underlined with three pomegranates. The ornament also appeared between the text lines in the book, and fulfilled different functions in the book.

Another example can be found on the cover of The Picture of Dorian Gray, issued by Ward, Lock & Co. in 1891. The name of Dorian Gray is placed on top of a triangle of four, three, two, and finally, one depiction of a flower.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
In Poems, published later than these other books, the triangle points to the text of the limitation statement that starts next to the two rows of flowers at the bottom of it. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

345. The 2018 Alphabet: S

S is for Samson.
Samson, the strongest of the children of men,
I sing; how he was foiled by woman's arts,
By a false wife brought to the gates of death.

Charles Ricketts, initial 'S' for William Blake, Poetical Sketches (1899)

For the two Vale Press books with poems by William Blake, Charles Ricketts designed some wonderful initial letters. Three of those appeared in The Book of Thel (1897) - initials H, P and T - and four initials were especially designed for the Poetical Sketches (1899): O, P, S and T. They testify of Ricketts's admiration for Blake's works.

Charles Ricketts, opening pages in William Blake, Poetical Sketches (1899)
The initials 'O' and 'P' were drawn for the opening pages. The other two illustrate one poem each. The 'S' is a woodcut that runs over 19 lines of text, measuring 89x43 mm. It is one of the larger initials that Ricketts designed. Three or four leaves form the curves of the letter S. The figure is not that of Samson, nor of the woman that brings him 'to the gates of death' (as Blake writes). It is the white-robed Angel:

O, white-robed Angel, guide my timorous hand to write as on a lofty rock with iron pens the words of truth, that all who pass may read.

The poetical sketches were presented in prose, however, the Vale Press edition has arranged them as poems.

The Angel is accompanied by the figure of a dove holding a palm-branch.

Charles Ricketts, page lxxxiii in William Blake, Poetical Sketches (1899)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

344. Ricketts and the Reichstag on One Page

On 11 March 1933, the Illustrated London News published a new collection of photographs in their regular feature 'The Camera as Recorder. News by Photography'. There were photographs of the remains of the old cathedral found at Amalfi, the new headquarters for the South African High Commissioner in London, a new American airliner, recent research on locusts, the Garrison Church at Potsdam that served as a substitute meeting-place after the incendiary of the Reichstag, the Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe, and 'The Masterpiece of Last Week at the Victoria and Albert Museum'.

Reichstag Fire, 27 February 1933 (Photo German Federal Archives)
The Reichstag fire had been on 27 February 1933, more than a week earlier. 'The Masterpiece of Last Week' was a sketch by Charles Ricketts.

Ricketts's didn't live to see the outcome of the political unrest in Europe in the twenties and thirties; he died in 1931. He would have been surprised to see art mixed with politics, archaeology, science, and industry on one and the same newspaper page.

'The Masterpiece of Last Week' (March 1933)
The drawing was a watercolour, a design for a theatre costume, dating from 1922. The newspaper added: 'This drawing was made for the costume of the Prince in a proposed production of Laurence Binyon’s "Sakuntala," and is typical of all Ricketts’ work in the perfect adjustment of colour and the vigorous beauty of the design. A representative display of his work for the theatre is included in the Winter Exhibition of the Royal Academy.'

The drawing had been exhibited earlier at the same venue in The Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts 1925. The show ran from 4 May to 8 August 1925. In the South Rooms where the watercolours, miniatures, drawings, and engravings were hung, a drawing by Ricketts was on view. This was number 642 (according to the catalogue): 'Theatre Costume ("Sakuntala")'.

The drawing was acquired by the V&A in in 1926. See the museum's website for a description of this sketch.

Charles Ricketts, sketch for 'Sakuntala' (1922) [V&A]
Sakuntala was an Indian tale, written by Kalidasa, and translated by Kedar Nath Das Gupta, who asked Laurence Binyon to rewrite his translation for the stage. It was performed in 1919, the text published in 1920. Ricketts didn't design the costumes for this production. The artist William Rothenstein was asked to design curtains (Rothenstein had visited India in 1910, and Binyon had met Rabondranath Tagore at William Rothenstein's house in 1912), but by 1919 Rothenstein was located in Belgium as an official war artist.

Eventually, the scenery for the two performances at the Winter Garden Theatre in London in November 1919 was assigned to the artist Bruce Winston - later Ricketts would write a dedication for him in a  copy of Beyond the Threshold. Actress Sybil Thorndike served as the play's main attraction. There was a mixed audience of Indian and British guests, among whom were the Aga Khan and Maharaja of Baroda.

Other stagings by the Repertory Company followed; a performance in the Festival in Cambridge took place in October 1939. By June 1950, the play had been taken on by the Falcon Players at Bayshill Hall in Cheltenham. Local productions, all of them.

Ricketts's costume design must have been inspired by his attending a performance, but it was never produced.

Two designs have been preserved, according to Eric Binnie's list in The Theatrical Designs of Charles Ricketts (1985), one for 'Buffoon' (now at V&A), and one for 'Prince' (at the Ashmolean). However, the V&A describes their design as being for the 'Prince'.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

343. Collections Online: William Andrews Clark Library

The other week, a new website on the history of the book was launched by Johanna Drucker: History of the Book. Coursebook.

The introduction explains its purpose: 

'This online course book uses materials in the UCLA Special Collections as the basis of a bibliographically based approach to the history of the book. Every chapter is structured around artifacts, sometimes of the period under discussion, and sometimes simply referencing those periods (as in section 1. Prehistory). The chapters are meant to provide a through-line narrative for the history of the book, an introduction for anyone interested in a basic overview of major developments, changes in technology, cultural attitudes, circumstances, or other aspects of this history.'

Apart from the 'Coursebook', there are sections for 'Exhibits' and 'Gallery'.

Included in the 'Exhibits' are several examples from the vast collection of the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library that holds exceptional material on Wilde, and on Ricketts and Shannon.

There is an image of a Sybil Pye binding for the pre-Vale publication Daphnis and Chloe (1893). The binding is in black pigskin, inlaid with red niger and undyed goatskin, and gold-tooled (as described by Marianne Tidcombe). This binding was ordered by G.F. Simms and acquired by the library in 1959. The cover mentions 'The Loves of Daphnis and Chloe', a title that doesn't occur in the book itself.
Daphnis and Chloe (wood engravings by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon) (1893)
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
Another example is in the 'British Aestheticism' section. This is a deluxe copy of Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx, with its extended design on the vellum covers (larger than the ordinary edition). There are only 25 copies, and this one still has the original fragile ties.

Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx. Binding design by Charles Ricketts.
Deluxe copy: front and back of binding.
(William Andrews Clark Memorial Library)
A long appraisal of the book can be found in the section on 'Modern Art of the Book'. This essay on The Sphinx with more images is written by Kristin Cornelius Way.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

342. Similar Book Formats

One of the more famous book designs of the 1890s is undoubtedly John Gray's book of poems Silverpoints, published by John Lane, 'At the Sign of The Bodley Head in Vigo Street'. Its small and slim volume was regarded as innovative, especially in combination with the decoration of wavy lines and willow leaves stamped in gold on the green cloth covers and the page design with its vast areas of blank paper underneath a small block of text printed in italics.

Charles Ricketts's design was copied 'in various media'. The binding design was 'stolen' by other publishers such as Thomas Bird Mosher (see blogs nos 146 and 148), and shameless imitations popped up in many prize competitions.

London publisher Grant Richards also liked the format of Silverpoints. In 1917 he used a similar format for Thomas Burke's London Lamps. Its binding was of plain orange cloth. Earlier he adopted the format for a new translation of Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, or rather a 'paraphrase from several  literal translations' as the subtitle duly noted, by Richard Le Gallienne. The book is only slightly larger.

Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1897) and Silverpoints (1893)
Rubáiyát measures 23,0 x 11,5 cm; Silverpoints is 21,5 x 11 cm. The proportions are quite similar. The Omar Khayyám paraphrases only just occupy the upper half of the pages (as can be seen in the introduction); the page is 23,5 cm high, the texts don't go below the 9,5 cm line from the top, the page number can be found at two-thirds of the page in a sea of white.

Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1897) and Silverpoints (1893)
The poems all start with a small and plain initial. There is no comparison between the subtle lay-out of Ricketts's Silverpoints and the design for Le Gallienne's version of Omar Khayyám. Ricketts decided to print all lines of verse in italic, adding large initials in roman.

The Grant Richards publication followed the trend of luxurious books, printing the Omar Khayyám book on Unbleached Arnold handmade paper. There was also a small number of copies on so-called Japanese vellum. The lay-out also followed a trend of large margins, and an elegant though affected placement of text at the top of the page.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

341. An Oscar Wilde Book Signed by Ricketts and Shannon

The 51st California International Antiquarian Book Fair opens at the Pasadena Convention Center on Friday 9 February (open 9-11 February). More than 200 booksellers from around the world will exhibit their treasures, all for sale of course. 

Last week, John Windle Antiquarian Books (San Francisco) published a list of 32 Works of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, and most of these will be on view at the fair.

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891)
(photo: John Windle Antiquarian Books)
One of the books that will interest Ricketts, Shannon and Wilde devotees is a copy of Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates (1891). This is a signed copy of the first edition of Wilde's short stories, although, surprisingly it is not signed by the author himself, but by the two designers and illustrators, Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. That is quite exceptional; I have no knowledge of another copy with their signatures, and the artists rarely adorned a book with their joint signatures. An absolute rarity.

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891):
signed by Ricketts and Shannon (photo: John Windle Antiquarian Books)

The provenance of this copy is only partially established by the presence of two bookplates and one inscription. The inscription is dated 1922. In March of that year, Marie J. Lauer (I have not been able to establish her biography), gave the book as a present to Nina, who, according to her bookplate was Nina Ranger Herzog, later Lilienthal (New York, 1898 - San Francisco, 1963). Apparently, this copy has been in the USA since the early 1920s, and perhaps even earlier.

There is another bookplate that probably identifies the first owner of the book.

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891):
bookplates on endpapers (photo: John Windle Antiquarian Books)
This bookplate was owned by its designer, the artist Herbert Warrington Hogg (1862-1893). He was born in Folkestone, where he became an apprentice in a porcelain factory, and developed into a successful designer of forms. He moved to Bournemouth after a breakdown, married, and early 1893 a daughter was born. 

His illustrations appeared in magazines, such as The Strand Magazine, The Gentlewoman, and The Studio. He also started a career as a book designer for John Lane who asked him to make drawings for the cover and the title page of William Watson's The Eloping Angels in 1893. It must have been one of his last works, as he died at the age of 31 in October 1893.

The Wilde book was published in 1891. Hogg may have met Ricketts and Shannon at an exhibition in London, or at the publisher's. But it is a puzzle. Had Warrington Hogg asked Ricketts and Shannon to sign the book? Why is there no dedication? Why is the form of Shannon's signature - with its long reversing tail - unusual? And why on earth would Hogg paste his large bookplate on one of the beautiful endpapers. These endpapers were specially designed for this edition by Ricketts. Hogg's example was followed later by the collector Nina Ranger Herzog...

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

340. Collections Online: The MET

In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, The Met, in New York, one can find a portrait of the Dutch art dealer Elbert Jan van Wisselingh (1848-1912) by Charles Shannon. I don't think it has ever been on show in The MET. (See my earlier blog on Shannon's portraits of Van Wisselingh: 207 Charles Shannon's Portraits of E.J. van Wisselingh).

Charles Shannon, portrait of E.J. van Wisselingh (1899)
Van Wisselingh took over his father's business in 1881. Under his leadership modern French paintings were sold in the Netherlands, and the company expanded into an internationally regarded firm. A London shop was established in 1892 (The Dutch Gallery), and Ricketts and Shannon became friends of Van Wisselingh, who ensured some early sales of their work outside Britain.

The portrait is a drawing in black, white and red chalk on pink paper, signed 'C.H.S. 99'. It was bequeathed to The Met in 2005 by William Slattery Lieberman (1923-2005). Lieberman's collection of documents relating to the modernist ballet 'Parade' by Jean Cocteau and Eric Satie comprised the more important part of his donation. Lieberman was a long-time curator at MOMA before he moved to The Met where he became chairman of the Twentieth Century Art Department.

One wonders how he got hold of this particular Shannon drawing that has been digitized by the museum and published on its website alongside some other works by Ricketts and Shannon (mostly book illustrations).

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

339. Collections Online: Harvard Art Museums

More and more collections are being digitised and images of books, illustrations, and art works become freely available to a large audience. They are picked up and posted on Pinterest, Instagram, and what have you.

The Harvard Art Museums currently shows 14 works online: stage designs, costume drawings, and book illustrations, among them is the series of drawings for a projected but unpublished edition of Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx.

Charles Ricketts, illustration for Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (Harvard Art Museums)
One of the drawings in brown ink over graphite on cream wove paper (30,1 x 21 cm) depicts the sphinx with images of a naked man and woman

The series of illustrations was sold by Scott & Fowles in New York (through Martin Birnbaum) in 1923 to Grenville L. Winthrop, who donated the works to Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University in 1942 as part of his art collection.

Grenville Lindall Winthrop (1864-1943), a lawyer, assembled his collection in an Upper East Side townhouse in New York. The Ricketts drawings found themselves in the company of some 4000 other works of art, including paintings and drawings by William Blake, Edward Burne-Jones, Ingres, Daumier, Van Gogh, Whistler, Moreau, Delacroix, and Beardsley. Not bad company at all.