Wednesday, May 27, 2015

200. 200th Blog Post Celebration

Today, I'm celebrating the 200th blog post on 'Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon' with the publication of A Bibliography of Charles Ricketts that was announced earlier this year.


Unbound sheets of A Bibliography of Charles Ricketts:
the entry about  La Ronda
Copies can now be obtained. To celebrate the 200th blog post, I will add a separate booklet that contains an index to the bibliography. 

The bibliography and the index can be ordered by sending a mail to paulton[@]xs4all.nl.

The introductory price of €15,00 (including postage) is valid until 20 July 2015. On that date we celebrate the fourth anniversary of this blog.

A Bibliography of Charles Ricketts
with the index on the day of publication, 27 May 2015
I thank my advisers and collaborators who have inspired me with their comments and questions and who have written blog posts about Charles Ricketts, Charles Shannon and their circle. I especially wish to thank my readers and hope they will keep supporting this blog.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

199: Vellum Copies of the Vale Press Cellini Edition (2)

Ten copies on vellum exist of the Vale Press edition of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (1900-1901), but most of them are impossible to locate. They were not often exhibited, and their provenances are not easy to trace. In 1953 the British Council exhibited a vellum copy in an exhibition, Private Presses and Their Background. Occasionally, copies are offered for sale. This brings us to a complicating factor, namely that sets are sometimes divided over separate collections. In 1993, for example, Christie's in London sold a copy of the vellum Cellini in its original vellum binding, with ties, bearing the bookplate of William Crampton (1843-1910). However, this was volume I only. There must be a lonely vellum volume II somewhere.

Vellum copy of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini: volume II, colophon (Vale Press, 1901) [Private collection]

In 2014 the collection of Laurence W. Hodson was sold by Bloomsbury Auctions. This contained a special set of the vellum Cellini, in bindings designed by Ricketts for Hodson, and probably after his instructions. The covers show 'twenty-nine rows of alternating LH monogram and bird and spray of leaves tool interspersed with small dots', as the catalogue description has it. The bird and spray of leaves tool was based on the family crest. 

The Hodson copies had been on show in 1902 at the Wolverhampton exhibition, just one year after the publication of volume II. In May 1903, an interesting set was offered for sale by Sotheby's. This was part of 'The Remaining Portion of the Library of H. Sidney, Esq.' The volumes were not bound in vellum, but the leaves were folded, and enclosed in two boxes. Ricketts had finalised his publication programme for the Vale Press that month, in June the firm officially closed, and around that time several vellum sets in loose quires came on the market. Perhaps these were unsold copies, or leftover stock. Of most Vale Press books such sets of vellum leaves can be found, some complete, others incomplete, lacking a few leaves or wood-engravings.

Prior to 1902 Ricketts did not offer a uniform binding for vellum copies - paper copies were always bound in some way, but for the vellum covers he could supply a binding in leather after his design, or the customer could bring the leaves to his own binder. The Cellini set of leaves in a box may have been the original way these vellum copies were delivered to the subscribers if they had not asked for a Ricketts binding. On the other hand, the Crampton copy (volume I only) suggests that unsold copies may have been issued in a uniform vellum binding with ties before the closure of the press.

Ricketts himself owned an incomplete, or rather, unfinished set of the Vale Press Cellini. It may have been compiled from proof pages, or from discarded leaves. The volumes are now in the private collection left by Sir Paul Getty at Wormsley Library. Robert Harding of Maggs Bros. kindly informed me that this copy does not have the wood-engraved floral border or the opening initial (volume I, page 3). A plain green morocco binding holds the book, but this has been signed with the firm's monogram, "HR" for Hacon & Ricketts. This binding, remarkably, is unfinished. Harding writes: 'Sir Paul Getty believed it was Ricketts' own copy from the initials "CSR" on the titles (now very faded). It was subsequently owned by Sir Robert Leighton and Francis Kettaneh.' The collection of Francis Kettaneh (1897-1976) was sold in Paris by Claude Gurin, Hôtel Drouot, 20 May 1980. The Wormsley copy should be seen as the eleventh copy of the edition, an extra copy.

Vellum copy of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (Vale Press, 1900-1901), bound by Zaehnsdorf [Private collection]
Recently a private collector approached me, and asked about a copy in a binding that was not designed by Ricketts, but looks contemporary all the same. The binding is signed by the firm of Zaehnsdorf.

Vellum copy of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (Vale Press, 1900-1901), bound by Zaehnsdorf [Private collection]

This copy may have been acquired from Hacon & Ricketts in loose gatherings, or it may have been bought at the 1903 sale. It is also possible that the original vellum binding had been found too simple, and that a new binding was ordered from Zaenhsdorf. Whatever the case, this copy has a provenance history attached to it that brings us back to the time of publication, around 1900-1901.

Inscription in a vellum copy of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (Vale Press, 1900-1901) [Private collection]
There is an inscription in volume I, written by Helen Ladd Corbett, daughter of William S. Ladd, a wealthy mayor from Portland, Oregon, and founder of a bank. Helen - described as a woman with a 'potent vanity' and a 'love of luxury' - was married to Henry Jagger Corbett (born 1857). He suddenly died in 1895. Around 1899 she was involved with the Portland based poet and lawyer Clarles Erskine Scott Wood (1852-1944) who frequently had extramarital love affairs. He wrote a series of sonnets about their love affair, and though it lasted some time, the poet soon found other women to love. In 1914 Helen Ladd Corbett experienced financial troubles, forcing her to ask him for a loan, and then she reminded him of the 'lavish gifts' she had bestowed on him in the past, between 1899 and 1914.

So, although the inscription is not dated, we may assume that the book was given as a present between 1901 and 1914, probably early on in the affair.


Vellum copy of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (Vale Press, 1900-1901), bound by Zaehnsdorf [Private collection]
This search for vellum copies has brought to light - so far - four exceptional copies: one that was bound by Sybil Pye for Paul May, whose collection was taken by the Nazis, returned to the family, and sold in Switzerland; a second copy that seems to have been compiled from unfinished proofs, now in Wormsley Library; a third copy in an exceptional Ricketts binding from the collection of Laurence Hodson; and a fourth copy in a Zaehnsdorf binding, now part of a private collection, and telling a romantic story from Portland.

Where are the other copies? We may assume that that there are more copies in special bindings, but there may be original vellum bindings designed by Ricketts as well. Where have they gone? I would love to hear about them.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

198. Vellum Copies of the Vale Press Cellini Edition (1)

Vellum copies of Vale Press books are understandably rare, as only two to ten copies of each edition were printed on vellum. Vellum copies of The Parables (1903) or the Bibliography (1904) appear on the market now and then, but the larger formats, say, Ecclesiastes (1902) or The Amber Witch (1903), are seen less often. 

The two volumes of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (1900-1901), the largest book to date printed for the Vale Press, were issued in a paper edition (300 copies) and an edition printed on vellum (10 copies). The vellum copies occasionally appear in the auction room, the most recent one being the Lawrence Hodson copy auctioned in 2013.


Vellum copy of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini: volume II, page xxxv (Vale Press, 1901) [Private collection]
In 1938 a vellum copy was bound by Sybil Pye for the Dutch book collector Paul May (1868-1940). The black goatskin volumes were inlaid with natural goatskin, and gold-tooled. The set was 'stolen in 1942 during the German Occupation’, wrote Marianne Tidcombe, in her book about Women Bookbinders, 1880-1920, but the facts are slightly more complicated.

The story of the vellum copy as such can not be traced, but the fate of Paul May's library is well documented, see Ed van Rijswijk's contribution to the Community Jewish Monument

Siegfried Paul Daniel May was born in 1868; in 1897 he married Rosine Mariane Fuld who was two years his junior. May was a banker for the family business of Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co., and involved in many financial organizations, but also charities, and the KLM. An ardent bibliophile, he was co-founder of a private press, De Heuvelpers, in the 1920s, and he assembled a vast number of valuable books.


Country House De Breul
On 15 May 1940 Paul May and his wife committed suicide (by cyanide). The Lippman bank came under the supervision of the Nazis (under the German 'Verwalter', A. Flesche). May's library was located in his country home, De Breul in Zeist. Furniture and art from the house - paintings, Chinese porcelain, silver, jewellery - was sold by Frederik Muller's auction house in Amsterdam in October-December 1941, but the books were left at the country estate until February 1943.


Announcement of the second sale of paintings from the May-Fuld collection
(De Telegraaf, 30 November 1941)
The value of the library had been estimated at fl. 63.000. However, the firm of Frederik Muller, made a new calculation, and now estimated that it was worth far more: fl. 250.000. One part of the collection was packed in crates for the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, and sent to Amsterdam; later the other books were also confiscated by the Nazis (as was the house that had been occupied by the Luftwaffe); and a total of 23 large crates were needed to move the collection.


Paul May in 1936
The crates were transported to Germany, ending up - for the time being - in the High School of the NSDAP in Frankfurt am Main. After the war they were located in the Abtei Tanzenberg, a convent near Klagenfurt in Austria. The collection was returned to the heirs of Paul May, his daughter Ellen May and her husband Alexander von [later: van] Marx, who had been able to escape from Amsterdam to New York on 14 May 1940, four days after Germany attacked the Netherlands, and one day before her parents ended their lives. In 1962, when her uncle Robert died (her father's brother), she signed the death announcement as E. van Marx-May, 46 North Avenue, Westport, Conn., USA. Ellen van Marx-May (born 1897) died in 1970, her husband Alexander van Marx (born 1895) died in 1980.

The two vellum volumes of the Vale Press Cellini had been transported to Germany and Austria, and were since returned to the family, only to be auctioned in Switzerland as part of the Paul May collection. August Laube sold the collection in two parts, on 19 October 1949 and on 25 September 1956. The second sale included the Cellini edition in lot 358 (estimated price 1000 Swiss Francs). It was the only Vale Press edition on vellum in the Paul May collection, but it was not the only Vale Press book - there were 19 Vale Press lots, including the complete Shakespeare edition in 39 volumes. 

Paul May possessed more bindings by Sybil Pye: Daphnis and Chloe (1893, bound in 1928), The Poems of Sir John Suckling (1896, bound in 1926), Michael Field's The World at Auction (1898, bound in 1913), Maurice de Guerin's The Centaur The Bacchante (1899, bound in 1925), and Poems from Wordsworth (1902, bound in 1923). 

All in all, May possessed sixteen bindings by Sybil Pye (for twelve editions), only a few less than Major Abbey who is said to be Pye's main customer, and who ordered nineteen bindings (for fifteen editions). May had bindings that were dated 1913 and 1916, but it is highly probable that he purchased all these bindings between 1923 and 1938. There were bindings for editions of The Vale Press (five), The Eragny Press (three), The Kelmscott Press (one), one for a German Insel-Verlag edition, and two for Dutch private press editions. 


The current location of the Vale Press Cellini printed on vellum from May's collection is not known to me.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

197. Signed by the Artist

Tonight I will be giving a lecture about Flemish private presses around 1900 in the Nottebohm Room of the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library in Antwerp. There were three presses active at the time, the best known of them is that of Julius the Praetere. 

During the preparations, I read a book by Henry Nocq, Tendances Nouvelles. Enquête sur l'Évolution des Industries d'Art (1896) that discusses, among many other issues, the need for the artisan and the modern industrial artist to sign his work, and complaints about managers who signed the products as their own. Book artists knew the problem. Their illustrations were usually signed, and often a signature of the block maker was added, or the artist's signature was excluded. What was the private press practice at the time?

Sire Degrevaunt (Kelmscott Press, 1897): frontispiece by Edward Burne-Jones and borders by William Morris
William Morris never signed his decorative borders or initial letters. Edward Burne-Jones's monogram does not appear on, for example, the wood-engravings in the most famous Kelmscott Press book, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, for which he made the drawings, nor those for minor works of the press, such as Sire Degrevaunt (1897). His name does appear in the colophon, as does the name of the engraver. And, of course, Morris's name. In fact, the Chaucer mentions: 'Printed by me William Morris at the Kelmscott Press', which intellectually was true, but practically untrue, as he had a staff to print the books for him.



Lucien Pissarro, wood-engraving for Some Poems by Robert Browning (1904)
As a rule Lucien Pissarro signed his wood-engravings, even if the colophon of his books already stated that 'the frontispiece has been designed and engraved on the wood by Lucien Pissarro'. Charles Ricketts did not always sign his borders, decorations and wood-engravings, but frequently he did. As independent artists both Pissarro and Ricketts needed their work to be recognized as theirs. The border for the opening pages of Nimphidia and The Muses Elizium (1896) is signed by Ricketts in the lower right corner.



Michael Drayton, Nimphidia and The Muses Elizium (1896)
This will probably be mentioned only in passing during my speech, so if you want to hear the rest of the story, you will have some time travelling to do.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

196. An Almost Silent Spine

The cover of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray displays a rather austere design. On the front a triangle of ornaments supports the title of the book, or rather, no, not even that: only the name of the book's hero, Dorian Gray, is mentioned. That is all. Charles Ricketts, the designer of the book's cover and opening pages, has discarded the author's and publisher's names, and only used a pattern of daisy ornaments. Blankness, silence, mystery.
Title on the dust wrapper of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891 and 1895)
The ordinary edition of the first printing and the second edition both show this design. The spine design is not as silent as the front cover. It mentions the name of the author and the title. 


Title on the spine of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891 and 1895)
THE PICTURE OF | DORIAN GRAY | by | OSCAR | WILDE | [ornament]

The title is printed in gold on the spine, at the lower end, underneath a column of blank vellum. Even today, this kind of design is rare.

Copies in poor condition can sometimes be found at a price that is no comparison to the normal price of this book. Usually, the spine has disappeared, or the book has been rebacked, or the book has been rebound, and sometimes the original covers have been bound in. What to do if one has a copy like that?

I would say: nothing at all. Any  repair will be for the worse. The book will look fresher perhaps, clean, and proper, but the original design will not come back, and the book as a whole will suffer from the alienation of the book's original design and its subtlety, beauty, and, for that matter, value. If one wants to possess a perfect copy, the only remedy is to buy a perfect copy, and not to cheaply buy a battered copy in order to repair it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

195. Charles Ricketts in Japan

Recently I examined a copy of the Souvenir of Rupert D'Oyly Carte's Season of Gilbert and Sullivan Operas illustrating the New Dresses Designed by Charles Ricketts, A.R.A. for The Mikado, issued for the Princes Theatre London in the Fall of 1926. Before the opening night a short promotional film was released that featured in an earlier blog, Charles Ricketts on film.


The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive (seen: 19 April 2015)
A quick scan of internet sources on the programme leaflet uncovered some rather surprising 'facts' about Ricketts, who, according to The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive was 'a front-rank English artist who had lived in Japan and who was an authority on Japanese costume and art'. The fact of course is that Ricketts never lived in Japan, and never visited the country, although he was a keen collector of early Japanese prints by Hokusai, Utamaro, Harunobu, and others. 

But Ricketts, living in Japan? Who invented that story? It is, by all means, a lovely phantasy. One could imagine Ricketts in a Japanese studio, writing in his diary, contemplating art, painting, and entertaining guests.


The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive (seen: 19 April 2015)
The promotional film is introduced on the same website with another puzzling Ricketts commentary: 'In 1926 Rupert D'Oyly Carte decided to have The Mikado Re-dressed with new costumes. He chose to use Charles Ricketts to make new designs. Ricketts was trained at Dartington as was Bridget D'Oyly Carte and they knew each other. Ricketts was an ARA and getting well known in the arts world.'

Ricketts trained at Dartington? Of course not, the paragraph has Ricketts mixed up with a later Mikado designer, Peter Goffin. Bridget D'Oyly Carte (1908-1985) was only 18 when the re-dressed Mikado was launched.

In a letter to Gordon Bottomley, Ricketts wrote about the first night:

In the Mikado everything turned out perfectly in execution, the dresses being the most successful I have so far done. With the exception of Katisha - who hated her dress - all the women looked exquisite. Binyon was overwhelmed. The men, I regret to say, excepting Koko and Pooh Bah, were paralysed by their clothes and looked dressed up. The house on the first night, and the public since, have been enthusiastic. The hostility in the Press was, I think, due to some dozen interviews I gave to as many Pressmen at Townshend House in the dining-room before D'Oyly Carte. I think they thought me a gentle lunatic, but praised the drawings; hence sniffs and dispraise among the musical critics.
[Quoted after Self-Portrait Taken from the Letters & Journals of Charles Ricketts, R.A., 1939, p. 368-369.]

Binyon was Laurence Binyon,  (1869-1943), poet, and keeper of (oriental) prints at the British Library. He was a connoisseur of Japanese prints who visited Japan in 1929.

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 titles 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 accessories 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 claustrophobia, 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)