Wednesday, April 15, 2015

194. The Myth of Danaë (5): Conclusion

This little series of blogs about Ricketts's images that illustrate the myth of Danaë, published to accompany a poem by Thomas Sturge Moore, comes to a close.

Charles Ricketts, 'In polisht walls a sister found is kissed'
(wood-engraving for Danaë, 1903) (detail)
We started with some observations by Julia Kölnner on the representation of Danaë in art. She pointed out a few details in one of the wood-engravings connecting the myth of Danaë to the stories about the biblical figure of Maria. Ricketts knew about this connection, and inserted a lily in the central image (the second illustration in the book), the one that depicts Zeus penetrating the prison cell of Danaë, impregnating her with his sun rays.


Charles Ricketts, 'She kneels in awe beholding lavish light'
(wood-engraving for Danaë, 1903) (deatil)
The same scene would be illustrated by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) a few years later (1907-1908). Klimt's depiction of Danaë's union with the god Zeus is far more erotic and direct. 


Gustav Klimt, Danae (1907-1908)
Klimt depicts Danaë receiving the god in a dreamy position, she is not actively taking part in the lovemaking. In Ricketts's picture, the god descends in the prison cell, also taking the form of golden rays that, in this case, do not touch Danaë, but strike the floor of the room. Ricketts's Danaë is not in a dreamy state at all, she seems afraid of the rays, as if she is aware of the consequences of her being visited by Zeus.


Charles Ricketts, 'She kneels in awe beholding lavish light'
(wood-engraving for Danaë, 1903) (deatil)
Ricketts's depiction of Danaë has a more intellectual and classical approach to the subject than Klimt's. The small series of three images that Ricketts engraved for Sturge Moore's poem all testify to that. 

We have also studied the sequence of the images that was criticized by Edward Hodnett who characterized the last as superfluous. However, we have established that Ricketts willfully concentrated on the captivated Danaë, a situation that he dramatized by showing us her loneliness (in kissing her own mirror image), in her aloofness and distress when she is visited by the god Zeus, and in her longing for the outside world in the third picture where she is found gazing out of a small window.


Charles Ricketts, 'Danaë at her twilit lattice ponders'
(wood-engraving for 
Danaë, 1903) (detail)
The point of all this is that casual observations about details and thorough criticism of the sequence can make us look more carefully to what an illustrated book is all about. I had never looked this close at the images of the book before, and most critics simply remarked that the images belong to the best Ricketts ever did for a book, relating the quality to the ten wood-engravings he designed for The Parables, as they show the same care for detail and a similar independent attitude towards the text. Herbert Furst characterised the Danaë pictures as 'belonging to Ricketts's principal woodcuts', and Cecil French has called them 'romantic, ingenious, fanciful, and of the best order of technical excellence'.

Most readers of the book will have had an experience like this. It is the 'last book' published by the Vale Press, as announced in its colophon, but it is by no means the easiest book to grasp. The type chosen for the text is the King's Fount, that was dismissed by many critics as an abhorrence. The Morris devotee and type connoisseur Robert Proctor - a young assistant keeper - was vehement in his judgment when he saw the book in the British Museum. In his diary of 22 July 1903] he wrote that he found 'the last issue of the “Vale Press”' a 'very ugly' book. 

Ugliness or beauty are not constant factors, and a book is best judged by examining it closely, independent of taste. Any incentive may serve to do the job, and I am sure that in the future other opportunities involving new ways of looking at these images will turn up.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

193. The Myth of Danaë (4): The Titles of the Images

Charles Ricketts's images for Thomas Sturge Moore's poem Danaë (1903) are wood-engravings, for which the artist, as he usually did, made carefully prepared and considered sketches that are now in the British Museum. Each image depicts the heroine of the story, and although the poem also includes scenes of her exile, the images do not. Danaë is only depicted as a lonely young woman in the brass tower. The nurse (or 'crone') has not been visualized by Ricketts. The only other one present is Zeus, be it in the form of sun rays.

Ricketts worked on these illustrations in the Spring of 1902. His diary notes reveal that he engraved the series of illustrations on 17 April 1902. In July he finished at least one of the blocks. 

Did he read Moore's text before he designed the illustrations for Danaë? Moore reworked the poem so heavily that it became twice as long as the original text that was published in The Dial (Number 3, 1893). Moore later testified that Ricketts had asked him to write a longer version for the book he had in view. Moore may have finished the text before Ricketts made the illustrations, however, Ricketts may also have finished his designs before Moore edited his poem.

The titles are:
(1) In polisht walls a sister found is kissed.
(2) She kneels in awe beholding lavish light.
(3) Danaë at her twilit lattice ponders.
The titles of the illustrations are a bit of a riddle. I don't think anyone has remarked that they look like quotations - probably, they are generally assumed to be just that. They certainly look like quotations from the poem. The words are completely in style with Sturge Moore's poem that piles up 'thy' and 'ye' and 'hath' and 'claimeth' and 'thee' and 'thou'. There is also a similar grammar, Moore's text includes many inversions; we find a few in the titles as well, such as 'a sister found'. The titles for Ricketts's images seem to have copied this characteristic from the second version of Moore's poem (the Dial version is less complicated).
Charles Ricketts, 'In polisht walls a sister found is kissed' (wood-engraving for Danaë, 1903)
Typographically, the titles resemble Moore's own verses as well. They have been printed in the same typeface. The whole book has been printed in the so-called King's Fount, a hybrid type that unites uncial like characters and roman type. The typeface, designed by Ricketts, integrates text and image titles, enveloping the whole in a gothic atmosphere. The titles have been printed in red, as are the marginal notes, the page numbers, the introduction, the colophon, and the running title, but they have been separated from the text by the use of a paragraph mark at the beginning of each title. The paragraph mark does not occur anywhere else in the book.




'Polisht', 'a sister found', 'beholding', 'twilit', 'ponders': Moore could have written these titles.

However, as each reader of the poem knows, these words do not occur in the verses of Moore's poem; that is, not in the original 1893 edition (which is almost exempt of Moore's later antiquating phrases), nor in the 1903 edition of Danaë

My guess would be that the titles have been provided by Ricketts himself. This is supported by the images, as they can not be traced back to particular verses of the poem. The scenes depicted by Ricketts are inspired by Moore's words, but do not actually occur in the poem. For example, the title 'In polisht walls a sister found is kissed' may refer to a scene in the poem that twice uses the word 'polished'. In these verses, Moore calls Danaë's mirror image a 'sister' (but also 'her companion-self', or 'the twin'), and although the word kiss is not used, the action is mentioned: 'she [...] bunched up her lips to meet the lips outthrust to them' (page xi). On the other hand, 'She kneels in awe beholding lavish light' and 'Danaë at het twilit lattice ponders' are far more removed from the text than one would think.


Charles Ricketts, 'She kneels in awe beholding lavish light' (wood-engraving for Danaë, 1903)

Charles Ricketts, 'Danaë at her twilit lattice ponders' (wood-engraving for Danaë, 1903)
The images and the titels form a separate story that runs parallel to Moore's poem. Ricketts never simply 'illustrated' literary works, he added interpretations, symbols, atmosphere, demanding his own part of the work of art that constitutes an illustrated book.

This also explains why certain assessories that are mentioned in the poem can not be seen in the images. The images do not illustrate Moore's poem about Danaë, Ricketts's images illustrate the original myth of Danaë, or his own version of it. The antiquated titles are meant to blend the images in with the text, to unite text and images. Not only do the images not really illustrate Moore's poem, they are not compatible with each other. Granted, the figure of Danaë seems to be consistently depicted, but the room is not the same room in the three engravings.

It is impossible to sketch a floor plan that agrees with all engravings. In one of them, the bed is in the far end of the room, with a round window to the left wall; in another one, the bed is to the left and the window on the opposite wall, while in a third another type of window is just above an alcove with cushions that might have been the same as that in the second engraving, but then the position of the bed and the other window have become mysterious.

Ricketts did not even try to picture Danaë in a particular room. He shows Danaë in three independent situations that convey claustrophoby, loneliness, and hope, as in each of the images a hint of her future freedom, and companionship, is given: (1) she kisses her mirror image, (2) she receives Zeus's light, and (3) she stands on a step ladder to look out of a small window to see the surrounding landscape and the people in it. This ambiguous imagery - lonely Danaë is not really alone - integrates the story of her imprisonment with the myth of her giving birth to a demi-god, and the story of her escape.

Edward Hodnett's criticism that the last image is redundant and that Ricketts should have illustrated more dramatic scenes (her sea voyage, or her escape), ignores the fact that Ricketts build a sequence of his own: Danaë meets herself (in a mirror image), Danaë is visited by Zeus (in the form of a golden light), and Danaë sees companions who are outside. The first image confirms her strenght, and her wish to survive; the second image makes an end to her solitude; and the third image looks forward to a return to society, and to her future freedom.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

192. The Myth of Danaë (3): Danaë's Possessions

Charles Ricketts made three wood engravings for Thomas Sturge Moore's poem Danaë that was published as a Vale Press edition in 1903. The poem itself, without illustrations, had appeared in The Dial of 1893, but Moore had rewritten the poem, adding many verses for the new edition. In the introduction the tower erected by Acrisius to imprison his daughter Danaë is described:

a tower of brass, so strong that it might never be broken into, so smooth that it might never be scaled, and so high that his daughter was reared in the top of it beyond the reach of any man. (p. iv)

Danaë is attended by a 'crone', however, the myth being a myth, almost no details about food or hygiene are given, although Moore points out that her 'nurse' daily brought her fresh water from a well (and carried a bucket up the winding stair), and that her clothes are taken away on a weekly basis, and returned to her 'smooth and neatly folded' (p. xii). Although the tower is said to be impenetrable, garments and water are regularly brought in. The nurse never leaves the tower, and 'scarcely the room for much more than an hour' (p. xxxviii).

An embroidery frame in Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving 'She kneels in awe beholding lavish light' (1903) [detail]
The poem does not say much about the room that keeps Danaë a prisoner. Details about her small possessions are given in some verses: she owns a 'coral necklace' (p. xvi), a pair of sandals (p. xiii), a napkin (p. xvii), 'little terra-cotta dolls' (p. xvii), a 'simple nightdress' (p. xx), needle work (p. xxii), 'balls of silk', shells, 'silver trinkets, and gold mugs', and a bowl of maple wood (p. xxxvii), and a 'tall embroidery frame' (p. xxv).

An embroidery frame in Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving 'In polisht walls a sister found is kissed' (1903) [detail]
Ricketts showed the embroidery frame (in his first and in his second wood-engraving), and he also depicted the pair of sandals. The nightdress has been illustrated as well; in all three wood-engravings Danaë seems to be dressed in the same long white garments. The toy-dolls, the napkin, and bowls have been ignored by the artist.

A pair of sandals, in Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving 'Danaë at her twilit lattice ponders' (1903) [detail]
But Ricketts has added other objects that Moore does not mention in his poem, such as a wicker basket (illustration 1). In a preparatory drawing for this in the British Museum one can see a second basket in the front, which, in the final design, has been replaced by a step.

A basket in Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving 'In polisht walls a sister found is kissed' (1903) [detail]
How to illustrate a mythical place? Ricketts seems to have used objects, garments, furniture, and room constructions that could have existed in Greece, the location of the story. However, he also introduced objects that look too modern, like the books that occur in the first two illustrations. They have a codex form that was not in use in Greece 'at the time', but then, a myth is without a fixed time in history.

A book in Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving 'In polisht walls a sister found is kissed' (1903) [detail]
A book in Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving 'She kneels in awe beholding lavish light' (1903) [detail]
As the poem progresses some features of Danaë's prison are mentioned:

A window:
For nothing saw she, save her room's few things,
Beside the well-conned window-view (p. ix)


So tall and slender later on she grew
That, planted on a footstool, she could view
The many lanes that led up through the fields (p. xxvii)


Ricketts gives an image of Danaë looking out of the small window, however she is not on a footstool but on a small stepladder.

Flight of stairs in Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving 'Danaë at her twilit lattice ponders' (1903) [detail]

A window in Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving 'In polisht walls a sister found is kissed' (1903) [detail]

Danaë at her window in Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving 'Danaë at her twilit lattice ponders' (1903) [detail]
A mirror:
the great mirror's polished round (p. ix)

Ricketts shows a mirror with a peacock feather as a decoration.

A mirror in Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving 'Danaë at her twilit lattice ponders' (1903) [detail]
A cupboard:
a cupboard on the wall (p. xii-xiii)

Ricketts did not illustrate this piece of furniture.

A bed:
How long it took before her bed was made!
[...]                                                   It stood,

A scaffold house of slender painted wood,
Secluded like a shrine far in the room
Where curtains through the day made hallowed gloom. (p. xvii)


The bed's mattress 'hung on straps of pliant leather, which, through, each other plaited, joined the frame', the pillows were soft, the sheets were white and the quilt was 'beyond blue'.

Ricketts includes a canopy bed, with a decorated headstand and long curtains, in his second wood-engraving.

A canopy bed, in Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving 'She kneels in awe beholding lavish light' (1903) [detail, below]
A carpet
across the carpet treads (p. xxii)

A bath
         in her bath she washed herself that morn (p. xxiii)
The bath is in the room where Zeus envelopes her in his light for the first time, and she does not hear:
                                          her nurse's knocks
Or voice that bids her raise the latch that locks
The door from the inside (p. xxiv)


The carpet and the bath have not been illustrated by Ricketts.
Later, Zeus's light approaches her in another room:
                                     Zeus even dared
Come close up to the tall embroidering frame 
(p. xxv)

And this brings us to the architecture of the tower, or better, the floor plan of Danaë's prison room(s).

[To be continued.]

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

191. The Myth of Danaë (2): The Lily

Julia Köllner, in her thesis on the representation of Danaë (see blog No. 190), argues that the depiction of Danaë is as varied as can be, but that there is one constant image that allows viewers to recognize her, which is a golden rain streaming down into a woman's womb. This image identifies such a female figure as Danaë.

In her thesis, Köllner wishes to establish the common factor in the representation of Danaë, independent of the medium (text, painting, wood engraving, drawing etc.), and her research indicates that the myth of Danaë has survived thanks to its successful imagery, especially that of the golden rain, that has lent itself to contradictory interpretations in subsequent periods of western art and literature. The imagery served different masters: it helped to form a view of morality and virtue, or could masque the enjoyment of erotic pleasures. Furthermore, Köllner argues that the change of golden rain into golden coins, established another interpretation, based on trade, whereby both Zeus and Danaë exchanged 'goods', or gold for a child. That may be true, the Ricketts images, however, do not really support the last thesis, as both Sturge Moore and Ricketts who illustrated his friend's poem, held on to the image of the golden rain or golden light.

In some images of Danaë a parallel has been established between Danaë and Maria, or the Madonna in Christian art. Ricketts also alludes to the Madonna in his second illustration.

Charles Ricketts, wood engraving 'She kneels in awe beholding lavish light' (1903)
Köllner points out that the allusion to Maria is put into the right hand lower corner where a flower pot contains a lily, symbol of the annunciation (archangel Michael wearing a lily) and purity.

Charles Ricketts, wood engraving 'She kneels in awe beholding lavish light' (1903) [detail]
In Sturge Moore's poem, the lily is mentioned almost at the beginning, as a flower that grows, 'deep-delled and fragile', but 'very stilly', just like Danaë who is growing up unseen in her brass tower. Moore's lines sensuously describe her changing contours, as she becomes a teenager.

[To be continued.]


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

190. The Myth of Danaë (1): The Story

The representation of Danaë in art was the subject of a thesis by Julia Köllner (University of Vienna, 2013). The text is in open access under the title La Danae tra testualità e rappresentazione. It deals (according to its synopsis) 'with the myth of Danae in texts and images, with a focus on the Italian production', starting with an inventory of representations of Danaë, followed by an analysis, that is, 'a communicational concept'. 

Ricketts's illustrations for Thomas Sturge Moore's poem are listed as IMM 54 to IMM 56, and some details are discussed. 


Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving 'Danaë at her twilit lattice ponders' (1903)
Danaë was the daughter of Acrisius, who was told by an oracle that he would be killed by his daughter's son. To prevent this, he enclosed her in a bronze tower or cave. However, Zeus came to her in the form of golden rain, and she gave birth to a son, Perseus. Mother and son were cast into the sea, in a wooden chest, but they survived, and washed ashore of an island that was ruled by Seriphos. Danaë declined the love of king Seriphos, and when Perseus had grown up, in order to prevent a forced marriage between his mother and the king, Perseus was tasked with bringing him the head of Medusa. 

Köllner's first illustration by Ricketts (IMM 54) depicts Danaë in her prison cell, standing on a flight of stairs, and staring out of a small latticed window. Köllner points at a vanitas symbol: 'uno specchio decorato con piumo di pavone. Immagine riflessa del suo volto visibile nello specchio'. The mirror is above the bed, positioned between two long curtains. A peacock's tail is attached to the mirror that reflects Danaë's face.


Charles Ricketts, wood-engraving 'Danaë at her twilit lattice ponders' (1903) [detail]
Other features that are mentioned are a pair of slippers, a pillow, and metal walls. The image symbolizes, according to Köllner, lust and desire.

These illustrations by Ricketts have not been the subject of an in-depth study yet, however, in his 1988 work Five Centuries of English Book Illustration Edward Hodnett wrote about the wood engravings in some detail: 'They record moments during Danaë's immurement in a tower of brass [...]. The designs convey poignantly the claustrophobic effect of Danaë's imprisonment and the melancholy of Moore's lang[u]orous verse. The first engraving, familiar from reproductions, shows the lonely girl kissing her reflection - "In polisht walls a sister found is kissed." In the second, her lover Zeus visits her as a shower of gold - "She kneels in awe beholding lavish light." Danaë kneeling and holding her head suggests pain rather than awe. In the third design, Danaë stands on portable steps to look out [of] a small round barred window - "Danaë at her twilit latice ponders." In this series of three illustrations, the third one of Danaë alone in her small room seems repetitious, particularly since a few pages later comes the most graphic event in the poem and in Danaë's part of the myth: Danaë and her baby (Perseus) being set adrift at sea in a chest.' (p. 211)

Hodnett is critical of Ricketts's illustration 'Danaë at het twilit lattice ponders'. In comparison to Köllner's listing, some points should be made.

Firstly, Hodnett compares the illustrations in connection with the text of the poem, which Köllner does not do. This allows him to remark that an important dramatic scene in the poem has not been illustrated by Ricketts.

Charles Ricketts, 'In polisht walls a sister found is kissed' (1903)
Secondly, Hodnett has actually seen the book, while Köllner took her images from the British Museum website. Not only the relation between text and image is lost, even the order of the images has been confused. Köllner's first Ricketts image (IMM 54) is the last one in the book, and Köllner's last image comes first in the book. The use of a database for research on book illustration is not without its dangers, and even if one does not have access to the printed book itself (the book, however, is mentioned in the bibliography of this thesis), an e-version is readily available on the website of the Internet Archive.

[To be continued.]

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

189. A Portfolio of Five Photographs after Pictures by C.H. Shannon

This week's contribution is written by Vincent G. Barlow, whose website on '19th and 20th Century Books and Prints' is worth checking out.


A Portfolio of Five Photographs after Pictures by Charles H. Shannon


In my recent article on a rare Ricketts and Shannon portfolio publication (see A Portfolio of Woodcuts by T. Sturge Moore, blog No. 58) I described a copy of the portfolio 'Metamorphoses of Pan and other Woodcuts by T. Sturge Moore' published in 1895. This was one of a series of portfolios showing works by members and associates of the Dial circle of artists of the 1890s including as well as the Sturge Moore, two of wood-engravings by Lucien Pissarro, three of lithographs by Charles Shannon, and one of lithographs by William Rothenstein.

There is, however, one more portfolio in this series about which even less is known than those mentioned above. I refer to that entitled Five Photographs after Pictures by Charles H. Shannon published around August 1899. I shall give a description of a copy of this portfolio which I have in my collection later in this article.

I would first like to offer a little information and background leading up to its publication.

Although Ricketts and Shannon did, on occasion, exhibit works in the mid 1880s it was decided not to exhibit again for some time as stated in a letter sent from the Vale c.1889 to J.W. Gleeson White in which Shannon writes 'There is no great hurry with regard to the picture gallery prices etc. as we do not contemplate exhibiting ourselves for at least two or three years' (from a letter in my collection).

It was in fact not until the Summer of 1897 that Shannon began to exhibit his oil paintings in earnest when he was awarded a gold medal at the Annual Exhibition of the Fine Arts at the Royal Crystal Palace in Munich. The two paintings which won him the first class prize were 'A Wounded Amazon' and 'The Man with a Yellow Glove' both of which are included in the portfolio of five photographs.


Charles Shannon, 'The Man with a Yellow Glove'
(photograph from A Portfolio of Five Photographs)
In the meantime Ricketts and Shannon continued doing hack work, mainly illustrations and advertisements for magazines such as the Universal Review, Black & White, Atalanta, and others.

Shannon's last illustrative works were done for the books Daphnis and Chloe (published 1893), a joint effort in roughly equal proportions with Ricketts, and for Hero and Leander (published 1894) to which he contributed one of the seven illustrations namely 'Hermes disdains the amorous Destinies' (page 13). The illustration is very much influenced by Ricketts other drawings for the book and is almost indistinguishable from them. It remains, however, a very beautiful drawing in pen and grey ink on prepared paper. This drawing, a first state signed proof of the wood-engraving in black and a finished state signed proof in green are now in my collection.

Charles Shannon, original drawing for 'Hermes disdains the amorous Destinies' (collection of Vincent Barlow)
On the completion of Hero and Leander it was decided that Shannon would cease doing illustrations and concentrate on his painting becoming 'the complete and undeniable master', while Ricketts would continue to work at the decorative arts and drawing illustrations and anything else to bring in 'a little money' (C.J. Holmes, Self & Partners (Mostly Self). London, 1936, p.164).


A List of Books Issued by Messrs. Hacon & Ricketts (1899)
In 1899 the Portfolio of Five Photographs was probably published to show the artists' mastery of his art at this time. The only reference I have to it is in a Vale Press list of August/September 1899 which states "PHOTOGRAPHS. A Portfolio of five Photographs after Paintings by C.H. Shannon. Price three guineas net'.

The list is printed in Vale type. There is no mention of how many copies were published but due to its rarity, and taking into account the limited number of copies of the other published portfolios, one could guess at a figure of no more than twenty five copies or less.

A Portfolio of Five Photographs
The portfolio itself consists of a wooden-hinged lidded box (630 x 485 x 25 mm), deep covered in dark green cloth. We know the maker of the box because of a printed label attached to the lower right hand inside corner which states: 'W.A. Fincham & Co., Box Manufacturers, 172, St. John Street E.C.'

Box maker's label in A Portfolio of Five Photographs
On the inside of the lid is attached a piece of paper (c. 135 x 98 mm) with the title and list of contents and copyright statement ('Copyright reserved'), printed in Vale type. 

List of contents in A Portfolio of Five Photographs
The five photographs are laid down in closed grey paper fronted mounts measuring 605 x 455 mm each bearing the rubber stamp of the photographer on the back which reads 'Henry Dixon & Son, Photographers, 112, Albany Street, London. N.W.'

Photographer's stamp used in A Portfolio of Five Photographs
The five photographs are listed 1-5 in this order:

1.The Man in a Black Shirt. (A self-portrait, 1897).
2. The Man in an Inverness Coat. (A portrait of Charles Ricketts, 1898).
3. The Wounded Amazon (1896) [There is an earlier lithographic version of this painting entitled 'Atalanta', 1893, as published in The Dial, number 4, 1896).
4. A Souvenir of Vandyck (1897).
5. The Man with a Yellow Glove. (A portrait of Thomas Sturge Moore, 1898).

The paintings represented at 3 and 5, were awarded a first place gold medal at the exhibition in Munich in 1897.

I would be pleased and grateful if any reader can supply more information regarding this elusive publication.
                                                                                                       Vincent G. Barlow

Charles Shannon, 'The Man in an Inverness Coat'
(photograph from A Portfolio of Five Photographs)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

188. The Vale Press on YouTube?

The YouTube channel has always included advertisements. Recently, an entry on Maureen Watry's book on The Vale Press has been published on YouTube on 3 February 2015 as Synopsis: The Vale Press.

The 'film' is not a film at all; it consists of two 'stills', quoting the blurb (the text on the dust wrapper) and showing an image of the front cover. That is all. The internet keeps amazing us.

It is 'published' by 'Heavy truck', which seems to be related to 'Justasummary', and that is a website under construction... Etcetera, etcetera. The maddening labyrinth of commerce.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

187. A Passionate Pilgrim

A recent auction at Bloomsbury's contained a lot with a copy of the Vale Press edition of The Passionate Pilgrim and the Songs in Shakespeare's Plays (1896).


The Passionate Pilgrim and the Songs in Shakespeare's  Plays (1896) (label on front cover)
The hammer price was £600, the book was sold for £744. That seems a lot of money, even for a copy with a valuable provenance. This copy has the book-label of the writer Marguerite Radclyffe Hall and her lover Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge. Recently, the price of ordinary copies of this book have been around £200. 

However, the book was offered as part of a lot containing multiple items of which this title was mentioned first. Some of the other books in the lot were a Nonesuch Press edition of Milton's The Mask of Comus, and some publications of the Casanova Society. In fact, the catalogue description mentioned only six titles (in 20 volumes), while the whole consisted of circa 60 volumes in total.

Lot 370 in Bloomsbury Auctions, 'Bibliophile Sale', 12 February 2015
A private collector will not want to bid on a collection like this, but one never knows. Perhaps, a Radclyffe Hall collector wanted to have this copy, or, of course, a Casanova collector saw an opportunity to complete his collection. Probably, this lot was bought by a book dealer. Nowadays, buyer's names are not revealed. In the past, auction houses published the results in which the names of buyers were mentioned, which is now an important source for provenance research.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

186. Ricketts's Last Review

A few weeks before Charles Ricketts died on 7 October 1931, his last book review appeared. The Observer published it on 16 August 1931.

In this piece of criticism Ricketts turned to Egyptian art, one of his favourite subjects, which was treated by the authors of The Art of Egypt. Through the Ages, published by The Studio in London (1931). Ricketts's review, as usual, contains maxims and opinions that are highly quotable, such as: 'art has learnt to smile'.


The Art of Egypt. Through the Ages (1931, spine)
This particular review has never been reprinted, as was the case with many critical pieces that Ricketts wrote for magazines and newspapers.


Age-Long Egypt



Egypt has been described as the fountain head of ur Western civilisation; to-day other contributory sources are known; this has not invalidated her achievement. No other culture has shown so long a period of success; where Persia, India, and China can boast more than two thousand years of Art, Egypt can claim many millenniums. Two causes have saved the vestiges of this civilisation, a desire for the imperishable in the materials used, and the cult of the dead. Over the several schools of official and sacred  sculpture hung the rigour of ritual and rule, not in the same degree the service of the tombm and to this we owe the preservation of countless beautiful things of everyday use. It is often said that Art for its own sake, save in Greece, Italy, China, and Japan, is of modern invention; like all theories the exceptions prove the opposite to be equally true; necessity does not command a delight in technical beauty, and in all things of personal adornment we detect in Egypt the aesthetic impulse, divorced from utility. The volume under review fulfils a need for such a work in English, for, despite the epoch-making discoveries of our archaeologists, such as Sir Flinders Petrie and Mr. Howard Carter, an apathetic and somnolent British Museum has made the public indifferent to Egypt. Even in this book, outstanding treasures in our national collection are not included, such as the Lion found on the site of Gebel-Barkal, the world's supreme masterpiece in animal scripture, nor the head of Amenhotep III, the most technically perfect example of colossal sculpture known, while illustrating several things in Bloomsbury which most museums can rival or outclass. We miss the famous portrait of Nefretiti, besides some unique early base-reliefs also in Berlin. There is, however, a welcome avoidance of dry technicalities in the text, the preface by Sir Denison Ross is pleasantly lucid, Professor P. Newberry, Mr. Howard Carter, and Professor E.A. Gardner contribute short authoritative articles, while the anonymous paper on Muslim glass and ceramics is of the utmost interest.


The Art of Egypt. Through the Ages (1931, front cover, detail)

In this brief review it is impossible to discuss the blending of early cultures and races, which, about three thousand years B.C., resulted in works wherein Egyptian art seems to spring into spontaneous existence. From the second dynasty a dual character is ever present, one tending to formality, the other to greater realism; it is as if a compelling hierarchy strove constantly to control the expression of this artistic race with rigid laws impeding a free rendering of the human body, not so in the face, nor the character of animal life. The early period of the pyramids achieved masterpieces in realistic and idealised portraiture and narrative bas-relief, though our knowledge is confined to shattered monuments and rifled tombs.

Several centuries later, within the reign of a few kings, we reach the technical climax of Egyptian sculpture, in effigies of Sesostris III. and Amenemhet III.; in these a searching quality in facial modelling, an austere and ardent inner life makes us mourn the sudden eclipse of this noble phase of Egyptian art under a barbaric foreign invasion lasting over a century.

With the advent of a strong native rule (the eighteenth dynasty) sculpture, architecture, painting, and countless exquisite crafts display a variety which justifies us in calling this epoch the Egyptian Renaissance. Owing to the chances of preservation we know more about this period than about any earlier or subsequent time. A new vivacity, a conscious striving for grace appears, art has learnt to smile. The energy expressed in the earlier sculptures melts into sweetness, elegance, pensive charm, and even melancholy. Under the patronage of the heretic pharaoh, Ikhnaton, child, bird, and flower are given enchanted preservation, ceilings become  clouded with doves and butterflies, while fragile painted pavements recall gardens and flowering water pools, painting strives to break with dimensional convention in tangled growths, clustered flights of birds, and probably in genre subjects. No passage in history reveals the moral and artistic changes brought by Ikhnaton, whose personal effort, during ten years only, broke the encroaching power of the priest, and revolutionised an immemorial tradition.

Statue of Akhenaten (Ikhnaton), Aten Temple, Karnak

He built a city where the poor could be exalted and privilege given to Art, there he could brood on his vision of beauty and peace, when death struck him down before the recoil of a hostile world, who annihilated his work and strove to destroy every vestige of his name, even upon the ribbons of his shroud. The tomb of one of his immediate successors, Tutankhamen, has yielded a fabulous mass of treasure, which has transformed our conception of Egyptian art. Among masterpieces are even some things resembling Parisian articles of the Place Vendôme.

This heyday of artistic adventure gives way to the formal splendours of the Ramesides, and for centuries there were revivals, realistic and archaistic. Architecture develops, in Ptolemaic and even Roman times, the fantastic double capitals of Esna anticipating Byzantium. In fact, Egyptian architecture never died, it was killed by Christianity, which plunged the activities of the race into Coptic work which looks like the effort of an unhappy black beetle.


Francis Bedford, photograph,'The capitals of the Portico Temple of Khnum, Esna' (1862) (detail)
The crafts of the weaver and ceramist survive later to achieve success under Mohammedan rule, when the people of the Nile rose again to artistic magnificence in superb mosques, mausoleums and delicate domestic architecture to the very threshold of the last century, when the art of creative building vanished there as it has throughout the entire world.

The conclusion of this piece, as a matter of course, denies the values of modern architecture that emerged in the 1920s: Gerrit Rietveld's Schröder Huis in Utrecht (1924), Walter Gropius Bauhaus (1925), Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion (1929), and William Van Alen's Chrysler Building in New York (1930).

Ricketts's admiration for past masters did not always allow him to discern masters among his contemporaries.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

185. Type Found in the River Thames

In Blog No 44 (Printed on Vale Press Paper) I wrote:

'The Vale Press was the first private press to dispose of its type by throwing the punches into the River Thames, an example that was followed a decade later by T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, and ultimately by Esther Pissarro (crossing the Channel). The lead of the type itself was too valuable to throw away, the types were melted down.'

Ricketts himself wrote that he disposed of the punches and matrices in that way:

The punches and matrices are for the most part in the Thames, and on the completion of the last page of this pamphlet, the type becomes type metal again.
(A Bibliography of The Books Issued by Hacon & Ricketts, 1904, p. iv) 

A Bibliography of The Books Issued by Hacon & Ricketts (1904)
The phrase 'for the most part' is puzzling, however, in 1937, the British Museum Print Room Acquisitions Register recorded the deposit of the matrices for the Avon Fount, King's Fount and the Vale Founts, so it seems only the punches were thrown into the river (if at all).

Anyway, they disappeared, as the matrices in the British Museum were mislaid at one point, and have never surfaced again, while the punches in the River can not be found, as we do not know where to start the search.

Recently, some of the lead type that was given over to the Thames by Cobden-Sanderson has been discovered by a type designer who worked on a digital version of the Doves type. He carefully rethought Cobden-Sanderson's position on Hammersmith Bridge when he wanted to dispose of the type. Cobden-Sanderson could not have the type melted down - like Ricketts did - because he did not want to reveal his wish to dispose of it to Emery Walker, who was part owner of the type and with whom he had quarrelled about the ownership.

Robert Green searched for the type at the bottom of the river near the bridge, and instantly found some examples of lead type. See his extraordinary story on Creative Review, and some images of the recovered type. An amazing story that adds a new dimension to the history of the Doves Press!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

184. Some Marginal Recollections of the Nineties

When the painter William Rothenstein published his memoires Men and Memories in 1931, Ricketts was asked to write a review for The Observer. It was published on 15 May 1931. In it, Ricketts referred to himself as a 'belated witness of the 'nineties'; he was 64 years old at the time and many of the nineties' artists from the period had died, such as Beardsley, Condor, and Wilde. 

He introduced himself 'in my new capacity as a reviewer', but that was too modest as his first exhibition review had been published in 1897, and his first book review had appeared in 1904. At least twenty reviews had preceded this one, which I will quote in fullThe review contains some characteristic phrases and maxims, for example: 'criticism in England is mainly fault finding'. It makes an enjoyable read, with some anecdotes about Wilde and Whistler, including some instances of retaliation (Pennell).

[The illustrations and the paragraphs titles have been added by me.]


William Rothenstein [photo: Edwardian Culture]

Some Marginal Recollections of the Nineties

A belated witness of the 'nineties, I have been asked to write on Sir William Rothenstein's "Men and Memories," the many interests of his book needing more than a single notice. In my new capacity as a reviewer I will hasten to complain that too many minor personalities have been included who obscure the major interests. After this stricture, for criticism in England is mainly fault finding, I would hasten to add that nothing could be better than the portraits of several eminent men, the accounts of Verlaine, Whistler, and Wilde being of the utmost value. Remain charming impressions of older Englishmen of the Golden Age: Watts, Swinburne, Burne Jones, at that time about to disappear, leaving the field to a new generation to struggle under the shadow, not of these great Victorians but of their friends and parasites.

The fin-de-siècle in France
If in the 'nineties the terms "fin-de-siècle" or  decadent" (pronounced "dickeydong") were freely used in England as a reproach against new effort, in France both terms were used to describe the later tendencies of a splendid century, proud of its past, still intensely active, if conscious of a coming change, since nothing is permanent. France still claimed such masters as Puvis de Chavannes, Dégas, Gustave Moreau; still attracted the entire world by a flourishing and flamboyant Salon. The Impressionists, notably Monet, were becoming fashionable: those were the days when a drawing by Forain, mordant in line and wit alike, was a daily occurrence; while a society conscious of its elegance - the world of Proust, and his mentor Count R. de Montesquiou - recognised its smartness in the pictures of Whistler, Helleu, and in a lesser degree in the more cosmopolitan paintings of Sargent and Boldini. In literature the Realists still held the field, while Verlaine, the new Villon, Mallarmé, the verbal alchemist, poor gentle Laforgue, and the fastidious Villiers de l'Isle Adam, fascinated the younger men who had tired of realism and of the resonant verses of the "Parnassiens." The French stage was still unrivalled, with Sarah dominant, Rejane at her zenith, and Yvette Guilbert, immortalised by Lautrec, becoming famous.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 'Yvette Guilbert' (1894)
Into this charmed epoch the author carries us when, as an astonished young provincial, he left the frozen gloom of London for Paris, then called "La Ville Lumière." Among many others that are excellent, the portrait of Verlaine is perhaps the best in the book (this applies also to the illustrations). We realise the childlike morality and seeming innocence of the man, half angel, half faun, who would receive £3 in payment for a slim volume of exquisite verse about repentance, to be instantly spent by his parasites of all the known sexes. A friend once said to him, fascinated by the strange Socratic and Mongolian cast of his face, "You resemble a Chinese philosopher," "Un chinois, oui, mais si peu philosophe."

A Portrait of Whistler
With Rodin we witness the craftsman, not the later celebrity, exploited by all exploiters. Of Dégas, we would like to know more, for in these pages he seems kindlier than his legend, if a little pompous, a little professorial, or, as Legros said of him, "Un garçon trop enseignant." It is to Legros I owe Dégas verdict on his own work when, turning to stacks of unfinished pictures he exclaimed, "Mon Dieu, quel Gâchist"; for once his tongue was not turned against old friends, his peers, such as Puvis, Gustave Moreau, or Monet. If France during the 'nineties was still conscious of her past and proud of her present, these years in England mark the increasing isolation and disappearance of the major men, Watts remains, splendid and kindly; Burne Jones (like Moreau) was outwearing his vein of invention in a fever of work never to be completed. Millais, whom Dégas and Fantin still admired, has lapsed into a popular painter outwearing his popularity. Things were very stagnant, and current criticism praised only work reflecting a lagging phase of French realism, for the clock in England is always twenty years behind the time. In these art tendencies W.E. Henley helped, and alas! Whistler, in so far that his laughter was against all things. Of Whistler, Sir W. Rothenstein gives a carefully considered portrait, when he was as famous as Cézanne is to-day. I would add my personal tribute to Whistlers kindness to younger men, if the latter were not involved in some tedious feud or newspaper grievance, for, like Manet, Whistler believed in the Press; both kept torn press cuttings in their pockets to read to embarrassed friends. I remember Wilde once saying of Whistler, "Oh yes, yes, wonderful of course, but Jimmy explains things in the newspapers. ... Art should always remain mysterious and, like the gods, no artist should ever leave his pedestal." Belief in publicity was this painter's tragedy; embittered by the Ruskin law suit (where he had challenged a British idol before a British jury) he had made the discovery that when Whistler was laughing at the public the public was laughing at him. France had not yet rehabilitated the painter, and success came too late; his best canvases, done twenty years before, were half pawned, half lent, or "quaintly acquired" by half friends. In various troublesome transactions concerning the disposal of his work, Charles Howell had been invaluable, but also a danger; Howell was a new Cagliostro, spiritualist, dealer, expert blackmailer and whitemailer, whose known and unpublishable adventures could make a novel in the manner of Balzac. One of his mistresses forged Rossetti drawings, yet Rossetti declared, "Howell costs me £400 a year, but is cheap at the price!" Among his victims were Ruskin, Rossetti, Burne Jones, how many others! When I spoke to Whistler of Howell's death:  No, no, not he (was the reply); he has tried that game before; his ghost has appeared to Ada Cavendish, and after she had swooned away, a valuable bracelet was missing." In the estimate of Whistler's art, the uncouth praises of Joseph Pennell, one of his henchmen, was ill-timed. This man illustrated Whistler's confession: "My known taste for bad company." In Paris Whistler returned to a world in which his personality was perplexing, and his attitude incomprehensible, even to Americans  who dimly recognised traces of another generation dating before the Civil War. I have praised the reminiscences of Verlaine; next in value and importance are the pages about Wilde.

A Portrait of Oscar Wilde
That the wit of this extraordinary man surpassed his written work is common knowledge, but apart from André Gide's reminiscences, which describe the flow and magic of his talk, much that is remembered is not of the best. Like all brilliant speakers, Wilde was influenced by his listeners, sometimes he gave carefully-prepared impromptus, meant for public exhibition, but the appositeness, rapidity, and brilliance of his speech cannot be captured. Many a heavy paradox was said with humorous exaggeration, of which the British listener was not always aware. The author has stressed Wilde's kindliness to common people; it is not known that, even in prison, he won the regard of his warders, who brought him buns and scones when he was cold and hungry; for some of these men Wilde worked out prize-yielding word competitions, thereby securing a piano, a plated tea set, and, I believe, a bound set of Charles Dickens. It is rare to-day to find intimate biographical details concerning celebrities which do not belittle them, or else smooth out all characteristics like our public statues (approved by relatives). Rothenstein avoids both tendencies, though in the case of Verlaine and Rodin he shows these men at grips with the need for money, and this can  sterilise and corrupt the finest characters. Some of Wilde's letters belong to his period of poverty and disgrace, they shed light on this seemingly complex character, whose secret was that he never grew up when most men are born middle-aged. I believe this is the key to many exceptional men. Shelley died adolescent, Baudelaire was a spoilt child, while poor Verlaine needed a nurse. To one interested in the 'nineties the facts about Beardsley, at that time world-famous, will be interesting, for Beardsley, like Wilde, is typical of that decade which clothed its hedonism with brilliance, but also with the wish to astonish and "arrive." In this tendency Whistler had shown the way. A close friend of Beardsley, the author describes the draughtsman of "Salome" with great sympathy; this is generous, for Beardsley, intoxicated with success, was not always pleasant to his friends or appreciative of those who helped him to succeed. Wilde, for instance. There were important nobodies at that time who pontiffed on Literature, who cast their little shadow and have gone. To these lenient treatment has been given, for in these pages hostility, when shown, is expressed by implication so gentle that one pauses to wonder, "Was that all; did the oracle of the moment count so little?" I would add these Victorian parasites on the talent of others are of the past; to-day may lack many admirable things belonging to the great nineteenth century, but, outside politics, the utter humbug is no longer respected, and the critic powerless: he seems to have lost the use of his teeth in trying to bite Bernard Shaw.



William Rothenstein, 'Portrait of Charles Rickets' (1894)
Charles Conder
I must now recall Charles Conder, often classed with Beardsley, but different in every characteristic, both as a man and as an artist. It is in the estimate of this painter that I am in disagreement with Sir William; not on the point of his merit, but on the nature of his achievement. The Realistic school and its offshoot, Impressionism, were concerned in snatching from life elements which could be transmuted into Art. Toulouse Lautrec, in France, and Walter Sickert, in England, were then typical of this tendency.

Conder was different, he never saw life, not even the human face. This votarist of "La Vie Heureuse" moved, as an artist, in a coloured mist. To his memory, trees resembled clouds, and clouds were shaped like roses. The voluptuous ghosts who are the denizens of his world are shadows of romance, the wraiths of Lucien de Rubempré, Mlle. de Maupin, Fantasio, Cherubin. They move under the garlands of some imaginary festival where the flowers and violins have grown a little tired. Turner's visions of Venice, the Bengal fires of Monticelli, the vaporous apotheosis of Fragonard, all are too concrete for comparison. In the infinitely varying balance between art and reality, between things imagined and things seen, this charming minor painter ranks among those whose source of inspiration  was all for Art and derived from Art, and whose actual achievement is hardly more explicit than some music.

Conclusion
The author of "Men and Memories" must accept this criticism; it is made to show that "Anch' io son Professore." I have added it to temper my praises. Wilde once said: "To be praised in England is dangerous, you are not forgiven: to be admired you must be wrong sometimes." In his estimate of Conder Sir William Rothenstein has been mistaken and influenced by biographical facts, not by the painter's work.

[More reviews by Charles Ricketts will be listed in my forthcoming Bibliography of Charles Ricketts (see blog no. 180 if you wish to acquire a copy).]