Wednesday, December 13, 2017

333. Snow

Two days of snow in The Netherlands - hundreds of flights cancelled, public transport came to a halt, one can imagine the situation - some find it hard to remember the joy of snow. 

The Hague in the Snow (photo: Ton Leenhouts, 2017)
Here is how Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon depicted snow in the early 1890s.

In 1887, an illustration by Charles Ricketts was published by Cassell & Company: 'Flight of Matilda from Oxford Castle'. (See blog 224.)

Illustration by Charles Ricketts (1887)
Empress Matilda was said, in one of the more popular versions of this medieval story, to have escaped from the castle in December 1141, while the Castle Mill Stream was frozen over. According to myth, she was dressed in white as camouflage in the snow. Ricketts depicted her, wearing a white mantle over het dark dress, to stress the camouflage.

Two years later, Charles Shannon did a first attempt at lithography, and produced a limited edition of 'The Vale in Snow'. (See blog 85).

Charles Shannon, 'The Vale in Snow' (1889)
The lower half of the image is empty, that is, full of snow, while in the background, every object is only visible because of its being covered in snow: the garden wall, the roof, the trees.

In 1894, Ricketts and Shannon collaborated on Daphnis and Chloe. A scene, called 'Love in the Snow' was designed by Ricketts.

Charles Ricketts, 'Love in the Snow' (1894)
The Hague, situated near the coast, can never boast of a long snow season...

The Hague in the Snow (photo: Ton Leenhouts, 2017)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

332. A Charles Shannon Painting of Ashtoreth

Last week's blog about two Charles Shannon paintings on show at the National Gallery prompted a reader of this blog to send me an image of an early painting by Charles Shannon, 'Ashtoreth'. This private collector apologizes for the image that reflects other pictures opposite; still, we do get a fairly good impression of the pastel that was exhibited in 1888.

Charles Shannon, 'Ashtoreth' (c. 1888) [Private collection]
According to the label on the reverse, the pastel was first exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery's Pastel Exhibition in 1888. It is quite large, measuring 112x51 cm. The label on the back mentions the name of the artist ('Chas.H. Shannon'), the title ('Ashtoreth'), and the artist's address ('The Vale Kings Road Chelsea').

Label on the reverse of Charles Shannon's 'Ashtoreth' (c. 1888) [Private collection]
Ashtoreth is also known as Astarte, a deity associated with war, sexuality and fertility. One could have expected Shannon to symbolize her by depicting a horse, a lion, a sphinx, a dove or a star within a circle. None of these associations appear in the image. We see a red-haired naked woman at the bath.

A year after the picture was exhibited (and probably drawn), Ricketts and Shannon collaborated on an illustration job for Harry Quilter's magazine The Universal Review. [See blog No 26: Universal Disdain]. Julian Corbett's story 'Jezebel' was decorated with an initial, a frontispiece, and three illustrations by Ricketts and Shannon. Ricketts depicted 'Astarté', as a god of fertility, surrounded by heart-shaped symbols of love, and with doves in the sky.

The body shape of Ricketts's 'Astarté' is sketchy, and symbolic, while Shannon's image is more realistic, and erotic, turning her head to the viewer. 

Recently, this pastel was sold by Eastbourne Auctions in a Fine and Antique Sale (lot 1165).

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

331. Charles Shannon In The Mirror Exhibition

The National Gallery in London devotes an exhibition to the influence of Jan van Eyck's painting known as the Arnolfini Portrait on the Pre-Raphaelites: Reflections. Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites. The five rooms contain 43 sketches, paintings and mirrors, and although the title is too grand for the occasion, the show is interesting for the inclusion of two paintings by Charles Shannon. 

Charles Shannon, 'The Bath of Venus' (1998-1904)
The unusual perspective and the reflections in the circular mirror in Van Eyck's painting have been imitated in many nineteenth-century paintings, and as the Pre-Raphaelites's influence continued in the early twentieth-century, later paintings remind us of the fifteenth-century masterpiece.

Shannon's paintings are both on loan from the Tate Britain. One is 'The Bath of Venus' (No. 35 in the catalogue), the other one is 'Les Marmitons' (No. 36). The presence of a circular mirror in these paintings is quite different. In the first one, as the catalogue note explains, 'the circular mirror reflects the backs of the attendants and echoes the reflections seen in the water, basin and ewer'.

Charles Shannon, 'Les Marmitons' (1897)
The function of the mirror in the second painting, 'Les Marmitons' is not related to reflections; it is about disguise, and concealment. Two girls in fancy dress imitate kitchen helps ('marmitons'). The mirror is hazy, the reflection confusing, the view is obscured; the disguise has been enforced, acknowledged, and supported. 

This is echoed in the poses of the two girls, their bodies forming two demi-circles. This yin-yang-like arrangement stresses their intimacy, and questions their sexuality.

Ricketts and Shannon were under the spell of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Ricketts more than Shannon), whose house was full of circular mirrors. However, the meaning of Shannon's mirror is different from the connotations it had in Rossetti's work, and far removed from the significance of the mirror in Van Eyck's original painting.

The exhibition has its flaws - it was not well visited while we were there - but it is worth seeing the Van Eyck, and an opportunity to study the Shannon paintings. Photography is not allowed, but why? Images abound on the Internet.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

330. One Sketch for Two Bindings by Ricketts

The British Museum has digitized numerous archival materials by Charles Ricketts, and published images on the website. One of those is an image of a design by Ricketts for a binding.

Charles Ricketts, drawing for a binding (British Museum)

This preparatory drawing (Museum number 1962,0809.1.13) has been described as a 'pattern of leaves and flowers amongst grid of vertical and horizontal lines', executed in 'pen and ink with graphite and touches of pink watercolour and white bodycolour'. The drawing survived in an album of 46 drawings that was donated by Riette Sturge-Moore in 1962.

There are at least two bindings for Vale Press books for which this design has been used.

The first application of this design for a binding was for Shakespeare's The Passionate Pilgrim (published 1896) bound (in or after 1898) in red morocco.

Binding for The Passionate Pilgrim (Vale Press, 1896)
A copy of the Vale Press edition of Blake's The Book of Thel (published 1897) was bound in white pigskin after the same design. This raises some questions about the colour and materials used.

Binding for The Book of Thel (Vale Press, 1897)
The assumption was that white pigskin bindings were not unique bindings, but bindings that used the same design in small series. However, if a design was used again, the earlier one in red leather may have become less exceptional, as the design no longer could be termed unique. 

It is not possible to date these bindings. Originally, these early Vale Press books were only printed on paper, and published in plain paper covers. As soon as the Vale Press started to print a small amount of copies on vellum, in 1898, the publishers announced they would accept commissions for specially designed bindings. Collectors immediately picked this up, and asked for leather bindings designed by Ricketts for the earlier paper editions.

It is quite a puzzle, involving a colour code, specific use of materials, etcetera. To date, alas, there is not enough published evidence of those bindings.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

329. A Memorial Headstone for Oscar Wilde's Bibliographer

Yesterday, I received a new issue of Intentions (No. 104) containing an account of that contains a reportage of the installation and blessing (for what it's worth) of a headstone on the grave of Oscar Wilde's bibliographer, Christopher Sclater Millard (see blog No 163 for a review of a biography of Millard also known as Stuart Mason).

Intentions published by The Oscar Wilde Society (November 2017)
Millard's bibliography needs to be newly edited for it is - even a century later - an important document of Wilde's publishing endeavours. The stone was erected in St Mary's Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green, London, and designed by Lois Anderson who runs a letter-carving workshop in London.

Details can be found in the new issue of Intentions, published by The Oscar Wilde Society.

The celebration on 23 September was witnessed by representatives of the society, the family, and others, such as Timothy d'Arch Smith.

From Intentions published by The Oscar Wilde Society (November 2017)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

328. A Price for The Picture of Dorian Gray

Last week's blog was about a copy in dust-jacket of The Picture of Dorian Gray

Spine (detail) of Oscar Wilde,
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891),
designed by Charles Ricketts
This copy belonged to The Library of an English Bibliophile Part VII, auctioned by Sotheby's of London on 7 November. 

Dust-jacket (detail) for Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891),
designed by Charles Ricketts
As to be expected, it fetched more than the modest estimate of £5.000-£7.000. The book was sold for £31,250 (hammer price with buyer's premium).

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

327. A Picture of The Picture of Dorian Gray

Some books by Oscar Wilde with designs by Charles Ricketts, or in case of the plays, by Charles Shannon, are the darling of cameras. Photos of The Sphinx have not been scarce since the 1960s, and the Internet has multiplied the number of images of this book. Of course, images of Salomé with designs by Aubrey Beardsley have far outnumbered them.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), designed by Charles Ricketts
Images of The Picture of Dorian Gray belong to my favourites. The almost empty spine with the title, author's name and flower decoration at the bottom end is as modern as it was in its days. Most copies show damage, or have a discoloured vellum spine. 

However, in their 7 November sale, The Library of an English Bibliophile Part VII, Sotheby's of London offer a pristine copy of this book.

What's more, a large part of the original dust-jacket is present. Copies like this one are of a great rarity. The estimate is c. £5.000-£7.000.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), designed by Charles Ricketts
This is a low estimate, as a similar copy - well, according to the images, this is probably the same copy - was sold for over $40.000 in 2014.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

326. The Pageant & The Dial

Two weeks ago I wrote about the digital edition of The Pageant (1896-1897) prepared by Frederick D. King (The University of Western Ontario). King spoke about the change of the Aesthetic Movement around the time of publication of the two volumes of this magazine that was edited by Charles Shannon and Gleeson White, while Ricketts was deeply involved.

King talked about The Pageant at the North American Victorian Studies Association's supernumerary conference in Florence (17 May 2017). He kindly sent me the text.

According to King, by 1895, the Aesthetic Movement emphasized Decadence and 'evocations of sexual dissidence', but for The Pageant the editors settled for 'art history and the material production of British Aestheticism'. Their selection of essays and artists placed the Aestheticism in a historical frame, comparing contemporary art to that of the Pre-Raphaelites, the French Symbolist movement, and the bookmakers and wood-engravers of the Renaissance.

King analyzed four essays on art, one of which is by Gleeson White, who, in his essay about Ricketts wrote that Ricketts's designs are 'subtle, and do not seek to shock the reader in the manner of a Beardsley illustration'. However, their sensuality and eroticism should be considered to be part of a long tradition starting with the Italian woodcuts of the Renaissance. This way, the importance of the contribution of the Aesthetic Movement to print culture was emphasized. Theoretically, the movement was linked to Walter Pater's theory of the Renaissance.

The Pageant, I would like to add, was not the only magazine that explored these new connections for the Aesthetic Movement. Ricketts's and Shannon's The Dial that had appeared since 1889 was an infrequent witness of their ideas. The last issues were published in 1895 and 1897, and show, not surprisingly, the same shift in focus from Symbolism and Decadent poetry to a broader history of art, especially the Renaissance.

From The Dial (No. 1, 1889)
The Dial No 1 (1889) included two essays on French symbolism: (1) 'Puvis de Chavannes' and (2) 'Les Goncourt'.
The Dial No 2 (1892), again, included an essay on Puvis de Chavannes, and contained poems by two decadent French poets: Verlaine and Rimbaud.
The Dial No 3 (1893) presented pieces on symbolist painting ('Gustave Moreau'), decadent poetry (Rimbaud), but also to early Victorian art ('Garth Wilkinson'), and to French Renaissance poetry (Ronsard) and Italian literature ('St Francis of Assisi').
The Dial No 4 (1895) discussed another Decadent French artist (Huysmans), but also contained a poem by Michael Field on Tintoretto.
The Dial No 5 (1897) included a translation from a work by Maurice de Guérin, and contained an essay on nineteenth-century Japanese art by Utamaro.

From The Dial (No. 5, 1897)
The shift from Decadent and Symbolist work to a wider perspective including Italian and Japanese art was already manifest in The Dial from 1893 onwards, suggesting that King's interpretation of The Pageant's course was in accordance with Ricketts's and Shannon's artistic development. 

Around the same time, Shannon started to work on his Renaissance inspired portraits  and paintings, aspiring to become the Titian of the early 1900s, while Ricketts took examples from continental printing (especially French and Italian Renaissance type, initial letters and decorations) for his Vale Press designs. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

325. Gay Pride

There are quite a few websites posting information on Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon as a gay couple, which, historically and factually, poses a few problems of interpretation. Presumption, projection, and suggestion may blossom as there is a lack of evidence. Ricketts was a gay man, and although he never talked about his sexual orientation in public, there is enough evidence of his activities and his preferences. Shannon may have been gay in his early years, but eventually turned out to be a heterosexual, and his lithographs testify of that. 

Michael Field, Wild Honey (1908): cover designed by Charles Ricketts
In June, for Pride Month in New York, the Fales Library & Special Collections posted some images of book covers designed by Charles Ricketts.

The introduction to this posting argued their gay identity by using concepts as 'partner', 'lived together', and 'queer luminaries' in order to emphasize their gayness as a couple. However, no collaborative works by Ricketts and Shannon were chosen to illustrate this. The images were of cover designs for books by Ricketts for Oscar Wilde, Thomas Hardy, and Michael Field:

'Ricketts founded the literary journal The Dial in 1889 with his partner Charles Shannon. Shannon and Ricketts lived together at Ricketts’s Chelsea home, The Vale, after which Ricketts’s press took its name. Ricketts associated and worked with late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century queer luminaries of the Aesthetic movement such as Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde; Beardsley and Ricketts both designed and/or illustrated editions of Wilde works.'

The phrase 'Ricketts's Chelsea home' suggests that he was the main inhabitant, while, in truth both artists had rented the home, and other occupants and fellow artists needed to live there in order for them to afford the rent.

It is good to honour one's heroes, but it is hard to acknowledge facts. In general, the intentions of the introductory text are quite sympathetic even if almost every sentence contains a slip of the pen.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

324. The Pageant Online

Earlier this year, Frederick D. King (Huron University College) wrote about his preparations for a digital edition of the periodical The Pageant. See his blog 'The Pageant, Aestheticism, and Print Culture' on The Floating Academy.

King's 2014 dissertation, called The Book Beautiful: Aestheticism, Materiality, and Queer Books, contains much about Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. His blog about The Pageant reveals that he discovered the work of Ricketts through his study of Oscar Wilde, John Gray, and other Aesthetes and Decadents of the 1890s.

Charles Ricketts, Dove design for The Pageant (1896)
The Pageant, according to King, 'repositions British Aestheticism outside of its own brief moment of influence in the 1890s, and into conversation with the history of European print culture with roots in the Italian Renaissance.' King argues that the influence of Early Modern Italian illustrators 'helped to differentiate the Aesthetes from the nationalist interests of their Pre-Raphaelite predecessors'. King links this cosmopolitan approach to condemnations of Wilde's homosexuality: 'By historicizing the movement and bringing attention to Ricketts's Renaissance influences, The Pageant serves as a comment on the philistinism that condemned Wilde and Aestheticism. It accomplishes that feat by demanding that readers also connect Aestheticism's controversies to the broader history of literature, of art, and of print culture.'

Ricketts designed the binding for both volumes of The Pageant (1896-1897) [published 1895-1896], and although he was not mentioned as an editor, he was very much involved in the compilation of both volumes. The art editor was his partner Charles Shannon, the literary editor was their friend J.W. Gleeson White. From their contributions - particularly Gleeson White's study of Ricketts's work published in the first volume - a shared appreciation of Italian art can be deduced.

Charles Ricketts, Dove designs for The Pageant (1896)

Ricketts designed two small devices for the binding of The Pageant. Both were repeated three times, the one in lower right corner bears his monogram 'CR'.

Meanwhile, the online edition of The Pageant has been launched, and is in open access at The Yellow Nineties Online. The images are based on a withdrawn copy from Huron College Library. The covers of those copies are in bad shape, and show traces of a misguided  restoration effort with tape. The spine has not been reproduced in the online edition, the pages have been cut and do not show the edges of the paper. One would have hoped that better copies could have been digitized.

There is no introductory essay about The Pageant. I hear that will be published later. 

The addition of The Pageant to The Yellow Nineties Online is a step forward in disclosing 1890s material to scholars and students.

Cover for The Pageant 1896 (The Yellow Nineties Online)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

323. Dedicated to T. Sturge Moore

Last Saturday and Sunday, the Amsterdam International Antiquarian Book & Map Fair hosted an international company of antiquarian booksellers. One of the exhibitors was Sophie Schneideman from London.

Charles Ricketts, Beyond the Threshold (1929)
Among the treasures on view on her shelves were several Ricketts related books. One of those was a copy of Beyond the Threshold that Ricketts dedicated to Thomas Sturge Moore: 'To T. Sturge Moore from his old friend C. Ricketts.'

A touching dedication from Ricketts's later years, including a phrase that he used for several other friends of long standing. The 'old friends' possibly became even dearer to him when Charles Shannon became disabled after a fall in 1928, a year before the publication of Beyond the Threshold. Due to Shannon's amnesia, Ricketts lost his companion who sometimes even acted hostile towards him. Lonely years followed, and Ricketts died a few years later, in 1931.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

322. Numbers and Letters for Gordon Bottomley

Charles Ricketts designed several bindings for plays by Gordon Bottomley (1874-1948). In November 1921, Constable & Company Limited published a volume containing two of Bottomley's plays, Gruach and Britain's Daughter.

The cover design by Ricketts looked like a stage design with a building, towers, a stable with a horse, steps, a door and the silhouette of a draped person. Ricketts's intention had been to have the design in gold on white buckram, but due to the cost of gold after the Great War, most copies were bound in red buckram having the design in yellow. Only sixty copies were bound in white cloth with the design in gold. 

Charles Ricketts, design for Gordon Bottomley,
Gruach and Britain's Daughter (1921) (detail)
As customary with deluxe editions, the limitation statement only appeared in the deluxe copies. The ordinary copies in red buckram mentioned the binding design and the copyright statement.

Gordon Bottomley, Gruach and Britain's Daughter (1921)
For the deluxe edition of sixty numbered copies four text lines were added stating:

Of this edition have been issued fifty numbered copies for sale, and ten (lettered A-J) not for sale. No. 

Gordon Bottomley, Gruach and Britain's Daughter (1921)
Bottomley numbered and signed the copies in brown ink, and he (or his publisher) added a line of dots on which Bottomley (or the publisher) placed the written number (the dots were not printed).

The ten lettered copies were individually lettered on the press.

Gordon Bottomley, Gruach and Britain's Daughter (1921)