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.

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).]

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

183. A Portfolio of Woodcuts by T. Sturge Moore

The recent issue of the Imaginative Book Illustration Society's Studies in Illustration, No. 58 (Winter 2014) contains an interesting article by Vincent Barlow about the elusive portfolio of woodcuts by Thomas Sturge Moore that was issued as a Vale Publication. For years, no copy of this edition could be located, and even Sturge Moore's widow came to believe that the publication was only announced, and never realized.

Announcement of Sturge Moore's Portfolio of Woodcuts in Notice of the Vale Publications (1896)
A Notice issued by the Vale Press in early 1896 (also advertised in The Studio of April 1896) listed '"A Portfolio of Woodcuts." Metamorphoses of Pan and other original woodcuts by T. Sturge Moore. Four remain at four guineas net.' 

Barlow has located a copy and describes its contents in detail. The portfolio does not mention the names of Ricketts or Shannon, nor the editor, the Vale Publications. Only the title is printed in gold on the spine of the vellum backed grey Ingres paper covered boards (400x317x40 mm).

Thomas Sturge Moore, A Portfolio of Woodcuts (spine) (1896)
Inside are ten mounted engravings, printed in a variety of colours, but mainly green and red. On the inside of the upper cover of the portfolio is attached a sheet of unbleached Arnold hand-made paper giving the title, the subtitle, a list of engravings, and a limitation statement:

Metamorphoses of Pan and other woodcuts by T. STURGE MOORE.
[follows a list of 10 woodcuts, numbered 1-8]

Barlow gives an account of the way the portfolio was described (or not) in earlier articles. He comes to the conclusion that it was published in June 1895, and already sold out in 1898. His contribution on Sturge Moore ends with a detailed list of the publication and the woodcuts in it.

T. Sturge Moore, 'Baby Giants' and 'Childhood'
[woodcuts 7(i) and 7 (ii) in A Portfolio of Woodcuts (1896)]
The numbering of the woodcuts follows the number of the mounts of Ingres paper with rounded corners. Two mounts contain two woodcuts each.
T. Sturge Moore, 'Pan Mountain'
[woodcut 3 in A Portfolio of Woodcuts (1896)]

More images and details on the portfolio and the woodcuts can be found in: Vincent Barlow, 'Metamorphoses of Pan and other woodcuts by T. Sturge Moore', in: Studies in Illustration, No. 58 (Winter 2014), p. 6-13.

Copies of the magazine can be bought online at the website of the Imaginative Book Illustration Society [] for £6. 
I ordered a copy on Sunday and received it today!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

182. Chas. Ricketts: The Puzzle

Art reproductions abound on the Internet. Images of paintings can be ordered as posters, photographs are scaled up to be used as wallpaper, and imitations of paintings are sold by a variety of websites. Recently, I came across a website that sells drawings by Powys Evans (1899-1981), originally published in his book of portraits, Fifty Heads (London, Sheed and Ward, 1931). 

Well, drawings. Not exactly. The drawings are reproduced as... jigsaw puzzles, and one of them is his portrait of Charles Ricketts, advertised as Photo Jigsaw Puzzle of Chas Ricketts (Evans).

Jigsaw Puzzle of Charles Ricketts (Sold by PrintsPrintsPrints)
The price is $34.99 + $5.95 shipping, and for that you get a 'Photo Jigsaw Puzzle' featuring 'a cropped image of Chas Ricketts (Evans) chosen by Mary Evans'. The 'estimated image size' is: 356x254mm. The portrait is a '10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces'. It comes 'Packed in black cardboard box of dimensions 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top. Puzzle pieces printed on RA4 paper at 300 dpi.'

The Mary Evans Picture Library is the source for this piece of merchandizing. The puzzle is made by PrintsPrintsPrints, that is to say, How many people would, actually, want a jigsaw puzzle of Charles Ricketts? By the way, no puzzle of Shannon is available.

Ricketts's puzzle is 'in stock' (printed on demand of course). And, no, I did not order a copy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

181. Théo Van Rysselberghe meets Ricketts and Shannon

The other day, I received an email asking for background information about a card written by Charles Ricketts to the Belgian artist Théo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926).

Théo van Rysselberghe, Self-Portrait (1916)
The correspondence card contains a short message, and is addressed to: 

T. Van Rijsselberghe Esq
c/o Mrs Morrell
1 Craven Street
Charing Cross

The card is postmarked with the date 6 June 1894. Mrs. Morrell was Charlotte Morrell, wife of William Morrell, a 'Private Hotel Keeper'. There were many small and quiet family hotels in the neighbourhood of The Strand.

Charles Ricketts, Autograph Letter to Théo van Rysselberghe, June 1894 (Private Collection)
In May 1894, Van Rysselberghe was in London. At the end of May, Lucien Pissarro wrote to his father Camille: 'Pas étonnant que tu n'aies pas de nouvelles de Rysselbergh[e] il est à Londres' (in reply of a letter of 26 May 1894): 'no wonder you haven't heard from Rysselbergh[e], he is in London'. Camille Pissarro, his wife Julie and their son Félix were planning a trip to Brussels, and on 25 June Théo van Rysselberge would greet them at the train station of the Belgian capital.

Before Van Rysselberghe returned to Belgium, he met Ricketts and Shannon. He was introduced to them by Lucien Pissarro. Contacts between Ricketts and Dutch or Belgian artists had already been established in the previous years. Leo Simons, for example, had been an intermediary between Ricketts, Shannon and the editors of Van Nu en Straks, a Belgian magazine that counted among its collaborators both Ricketts and Van Rysselberghe. The French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the Belgian poet Émile Verhaeren paid Ricketts and Shannon a visit in 1894. And Ricketts's books would be exhibited in Brussels by La Libre esthétique in 1894 and 1897.

In May 1894, Van Rysselberghe visited London with his friend Pierre-Marie Olin (1865-1931). In 1887 he painted a portrait of Olin and in 1891 he decorated his book of poems, Légendes puériles. Olin wrote about art and had been the editor of the symbolist magazine La Wallonie (1886-1892). Olin dismissed Lucien Pissarro's paintings as lacking in strength and character, but his opinion of Lucien's wood engravings had been favourable.

Pissarro received them in Epping. He and Van Rysselberghe discussed working with glass, but nothing came of this. 'Ce bon Théo est vraiment bien charmant', wrote Lucien: 'The good Théo really is a charming fellow'.

Lucien accompanied Van Rysselberghe to The Vale to meet Ricketts and Shannon, and apparently Van Rysselberghe asked Pissarro about their furniture. Ricketts wrote to him:

Dear Mr. Van Rijsselberghe
Pissarro tells me you are fascinated by our chairs.

Dining Room, The Vale, around 1890
Paul Delaney described their rooms of this period: 'Furnished simply with scrubbed wood furniture and a table later usually covered with wood-blocks and burins, this was their work-room as well as the place where they received their guests.'

The Parlour, The Vale, around 1889
Another room was discussed by Stephen Calloway: 'In the parlour at the Vale, a new uncluttered and deliberately unpretentious approach is apparent. The chimneypiece, screened with a good piece of eighteenth century needlepoint, is flanked by two plain chests of drawers of the same period and by a pair of simple wooden cottage armchairs of a type costing about five or ten shillings only, when a Morris Sussex chair was not so durable and could not be had for less than seventeen.'

Ricketts's letter is more specific about the chairs:

They are ordinary high-backed kitchen chairs but unvarnished [.] this necessitates their being ordered a few days before wanted [.] they cost 6 shillings & we attained ours at a little shop at the entrance to The Vale itself [.]  The name of the man is Brown.
Yours in haste
C. Ricketts

It is unlikely that Van Rysselberghe ordered new chairs from this shop.

The card testifies Van Rysselberghe's extended stay in London, and his visit to Ricketts. It is delightfully detailed about a minor point, the provenance of Ricketts's and Shannon's cheap furniture in The Vale.

Charles Ricketts, Autograph Letter to Théo van Rysselberghe, June 1894 (Private Collection)
[Thanks are due to the private collector for permission to illustrate Ricketts's letter to Van Rysselberghe.]
[The information about Mrs Morrell was provided by Michael Seeney.]

Stephen Calloway: ‘“Tout pour l’art”. Charles Ricketts, Charles Shannon, and the arrangement of a collection’, in: The Journal of The Decorative Arts Society 1890-1940, Number 8, 1984, p. 21.
Paul Delaney, Charles Ricketts. A Biography. Oxford 1990, p. 40.  
Adrienne et Luc Fontainas, Théo van Rysselberghe. L'ornement du livre. Catalogue raissonné. Antwerpen 1997, p. 54-55.
André Gide et Albert Mockel, Correspondance (
1891-1938). (Ed. Gustave Van Welkenhuyzen). Genève 1975, p. 50.
The Letters of Lucien to Camille Pissarro 1883-1903. Edited by Anne Thorold. Cambridge 1993, p. 363-368, 372, 383-384, 389.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

180. A Bibliography of Charles Ricketts

Shortly, the Paulton Press will publish a simple unillustrated booklet in a limited edition, A Bibliography of Charles Ricketts, listing the essays on typography and art written by Ricketts, including book reviews, prose stories, art books, and letters written to the editors of several newspapers.

'Puvis de Chavannes' (The Dial, No. 1, 1889):
text and wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts
The first descriptions in the bibliography are from 1889:
  • [C. Ricketts], ‘Puvis de Chavannes’, in: The Dial, No. 1 ([August] 1889), p. 1-4. [a]
  • C. Ricketts, ‘A Glimpse of Heaven’, in: The Dial, No. 1 ([August] 1889), p. 19-22. [p]
  • C. Ricketts, ‘The Cup of Happiness’, in: The Dial, No. 1 ([August] 1889), p. 27-33. [p]
  • [Chas. H. Shannon, Cs. Ricketts (the editors?)], ‘Apology’, in: The Dial, No. 1 ([August] 1889), p. 36. [a]

The last items in the bibliography (apart from the posthumous publications) are:
  • Charles Ricketts, ‘Detestable, but a Poet. A Study of Baudelaire’, in: The Observer, 19 July 1931, p. 4. [r]
  • Charles Ricketts, ‘Age-Long Egypt’, in: The Observer, 16 August 1931, p. 4. [r]

Copies will cost €15,00 (including postage). If you order a copy now, you will automatically and without costs receive the first updated edition that appears in the future. Orders can be mailed to: paulton[at]

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

179. December 31, 1900

The last day of a happy year, free from humiliations or ill-health. Our positions have strengthened and reached that phase when small hostilities show themselves once more after a lull, due to the surprise at Shannon's and my return to the front as living art quantities, he as a successful painter and I as a printer. With comparative success and a lack of anxiety, one is conscious of the fragility of the thread of success to be followed, when all about makes for silence and indifference.

Charles Ricketts concluded his diary for 1900 with these dualistic phrases. He also remembered his great friend:

Our sorrow: the death, at first hardly felt, of poor Oscar Wilde; this affects one at stray moments, when one is off one's guard: at sundown, or at sunrise: moments, with me, of introspection, hesitation, or regret.

[Self-Portrait Taken from the Letters & Journals of Charles Ricketts, R.A. London 1939, p. 50].

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

178. A Small Nativity Drawing by Charles Ricketts

The early published drawings of Charles Ricketts usually depict biblical or historical scenes. Five of those appeared in a children's book with Christian quotations in 1888: Our Father's Promises. There were also ten drawings by Geo. C. Haité, who edited the book as part of the 'St Pauls Series', published by Griffith, Farran & Co. One of Ricketts's drawings depicts a nativity scene, tucked away in a corner of the image.

Charles Ricketts, untitled drawing in Our Father's  Promises (1888)
The subject of the illustration is an outdoor winter scene. In a garden with a lantern, flower pots and a bare tree, two girls and a boy form a close group. They are playing the three magi. One of the girls holds a staff with the six-pointed star that symbolizes the star of Bethlehem and the journey of the magi in search of Christ.  

Charles Ricketts, untitled drawing [detail] in Our Father's  Promises (1888)
A small separate scene in the lower right corner depicts the adoration of the magi with Maria and child, measuring only 32 by 51 mm. Due to the format of the reproduction in Our Father's Promises it is sketchy - the original drawing will have been larger, as was the custom. However, the major figures are easily discernible, as is the donkey in the stable behind mother and child. 

Ricketts's signature is to the left of the small nativity scene. Please consider this blog as our season's greetings.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

177. Charles Ricketts in an Art Nouveau Border

Last Wednesday, 11 December, a Dutch translation of Oscar Wilde's Poems in Prose with drawings by Charles Ricketts was presented in Rotterdam by the publisher, Nadorst. The venue was a bar, Café Vermeulen, which was opened in 1903, and still boasts of its period appearance with brown panelling, a high dark brown ceiling, and Art Nouveau stained glass windows. It was a calm night with only a small number of regulars, chatting about local politics, and drinking beer. At the back of the narrow room a pool table was surrounded by a dozen literary visitors. A box on the table held copies of the newly published book.

Box containing Poems in Prose (Rotterdam, 11 December 2014)
Around half past eight, the presentation by the translator Joris Lenstra began. Lenstra translated works by Jack Kerouac and Walt Whitman, this was his first Wilde book. He told the audience that he had rejected a translation of the early poems of Oscar Wilde that was proposed to him by a professor of English, as the poems were too elaborate and artificial. Wilde's Poems in Prose, however, offered exactly the mixture of storytelling, erudition, and surprise that characterized Wilde as a conversationalist. 

Lenstra read one of the Poems in English. Gradually, the regulars at the bar end of the room were getting restless, chanting slowly, "Oscar Wilde, Oscar Wilde", as if it was the name of their favourite football player, and it was time for him to appear on the stage. A phone rang, and one of the regulars, who had just ordered a new pint of beer, answered what seemed to be a call from his wife, and used the best excuse for a habitual drinker I can imagine. 'I am in the middle of a book presentation', he said. By now, the book launch had been interrupted, because the man talked quite loudly. After the call was broken off, the story about Wilde was resumed, and Lenstra read one of his translations. Finally, the box was opened and copies of the new publication could be acquired.

Oscar Wilde, Poems in Prose (2014) with a drawing by Charles Ricketts

Two sketches by Charles Ricketts, published in Oscar Wilde, Poems in Prose (2014)
The drawings by Ricketts are taken from the collection of Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery Trust, and most of them have never been published before. A few additional sketches follow the poems, such as a slight sketch of three dancing figures (page 60) and a sketch for 'The Actor and the Mask'. 

All pages - including those with Ricketts's drawings - are contained within an art nouveau border printed in gold. Seven different borders occur in this book, none of them similar in any way to the borders that were designed by Ricketts. The origins of these are not English, but Belgian or French. The application of these borders comes from the wrong assumption, that Ricketts's drawings are art nouveau in style. They are not. They were drawn in the 1920s, and, like the drawings in Beyond the Threshold, published 1929, they should have been reproduced without a border.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

176. A New Book Illustrated by Ricketts

Today a new book with illustrations by Charles Ricketts will be published by Nadorst in Rotterdam, Oscar Wilde's Poems in Prose

The bilingual edition - English with a Dutch translation and introduction by Joris Lenstra - is to be presented at café Vermeulen, Nieuwe Binnenweg 332, Rotterdam at 20.00 hours.

Ricketts's illustrations were discussed in an earlier blog, see "Pen and Ink Drawings in my Earliest Manner" (5 June 2013).

The drawings were made in 1894 or 1895, remained unpublished, and as they were stored away by Ricketts they were forgotten until he rediscovered them in 1918. In 1924 Ricketts produced another series for the same Poems in ProseSee also: Poems in Prose (10 August 2011).

Next week more about this new book.

Oscar Wilde, Poems in Prose (2014)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

175. Books from Oscar Wilde's Library Discovered in The National Library of the Netherlands

The Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands, has discovered in its holdings five books from the private library of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). Five seems a small number, however, up to now, only 42 books from Wilde's library were known to have survived in public collections. Almost 3.000 have never been located.

Oscar Wilde knew quite a few modern artists and writers in England as well as in France, and he received dedication copies for his beautifully designed library in London. He also bought great numbers of foreign language books, particularly French, from several London booksellers. Wilde's arrest on 4 April 1895 immediately affected his library. On 25 May Wilde was convicted for homosexual acts (gross indecency) and sent to jail. In the meantime, his library was sold in public.

Early April, his creditors demanded to be paid, which resulted in Wilde's bankruptcy. His assets were seized, and an auction took place at his house in Tite Street, Chelsea. On 24 April books from his library, paintings, even some children's toys were sold. Books were bound together randomly and hastily sold from the bow window of his ground floor library.

Auction Catalogue of Oscar Wilde's Library (1895)
The auction catalogue shows that his books were sold together in bulky lots, and most of the catalogue descriptions are rather vague, which today makes it amost impossible to determine whether a book has been part of his library. Copies with extensive notes in his handwriting are more easily recognizable. Dedication copies have often been damaged, due to the scandal surrounding Wilde's trial a month later (25 May 1895). New owners erased inscriptions from the books to avoid any connection with the now notorious author. Many association copies have been mutilated and can not be traced back to Wilde's collection. Parcels of books were sold for small sums of money, mainly to dealers, and in no time his books were distributed over the many book stalls and shops in London. Wilde's library with all its literary connotations had been destroyed. 

Therefore, it is remarkable that the National Library of the Netherlands can state with certainty that five books have belonged to Wilde's library. Three of these books are dedication copies, given to Oscar Wilde, and two others bear a handwritten note stating the provenance.

Five Books from the Library of Oscar Wilde
in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands
These books are:
  • Lettres de Cecil Standish. Paris, Alphonse Lemerre, 1893. Copy no. 136 of 250 numbered copies. With handwritten dedication by Henry Standish: ‘To Oscar Wilde Esq. In remembrance of my brother, Henry Standish’. 
  • Maurice Maeterlinck. Alladine et Polomides, Intérieur, et La Mort de Tintagiles. Bruxelles, Edmond Deman, 1894. With handwritten dedication: ‘à Oscar Wilde Hommage de M. Maeterlinck’.
    Below the dedication is a note in pencil: ‘from Oscar Wilde’s Sale 16 Tite St. Chelsea April 24 / ‘95’. 
  • Richard Le Gallienne, Prose Fancies. London, Elkin Mathews & John Lane, 1894. With handwritten dedication by Richard Le Gallienne: ‘Oscar Wilde from his friend Richard Le Gallienne. 17, June, ’94. The fact of a man being a preacher is nothing against his Prose’.
    Facing this page is a note in pencil: ‘From Oscar Wilde’s Sale April 24th, ’95 16 Tite St. Chelsea’. 
  • Lord Henry Somerset. Songs of Adieu. London, Chatto & Windus, 1889.
    On the endleave is a note in pencil: ‘From Oscar Wilde’s Sale 16 Tite St Chelsea April 24th 1895’. 
  • W.J. Linton, Poems and Translations. London, John C. Nimmo, 1889. No. 280 of 780 numbered copies.
    On the endleave is a note in pencil: ‘From Oscar Wilde’s Sale 16 Tite Street Chelsea April 24th 1895’. 
Inscribed by  Maurice Maeterlinck to Oscar Wilde

Inscribed by Henry Standish to Oscar Wilde
The five books are contemporary literary works. The Maeterlinck dedication is not very personal, although the relation between Wilde and Maeterlinck was of consequence. The dedication from Richard Le Gallienne is the longest. Wilde did not make any notes in these books. Two of them - Maeterlinck and Standish - have been bound by the National Library after they were acquired.

Inscribed by Richard Le Gallienne to Oscar Wilde
The fascinating provenances were not recorded in the library's catalogue. I discovered the first book by accident, and the others after extended provenance research.

For an essay about limited editions, I needed a column written by Richard Le Gallienne, 'The Philosophy of "Limited Editions"'. It discusses the craze for bibliophile publications in the early eighteen-nineties, Wilde's years of glory. Le Gallienne, now a forgotten poet, shared a publisher with Wilde, The Bodley Head.

When I opened the book I was amazed to see a written dedication to Oscar Wilde. Moreover, from the title page I could deduct that the library had bought the book in 1895, the year of Wilde's disgrace. The acquisition note mentions the year and month, October 1895: '1895 / 10 / a / 1278'. This was the 1278th book that was acquired by the library in 1895. The note enabled me to search for books that were bought at the same time, having the same provenance.

Richard Le Gallienne, Prose Fancies (1894)
The archive of the library contains the acquisition ledger for 1895, showing that on the same date ten books were acquired from the same dealer. These were registered on 10 October 1895 from antiquarian book dealer W.P. van Stockum in The Hague. (The municipal archive contains some material concerning this bookseller and auction house, but nothing about 1895.) A printed catalogue - from which the works may have been selected - has not been preserved.

Acquisition ledger for 1895 (Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands)

We can not ascertain where Van Stockum had originally acquired the books. However, five of the ten books that were bought on 10 October show evidence of the Wilde provenance. The other five may have belonged to his library as well, but there is no evidence, and it is not likely. The books were not acquired for their association with Wilde, - who by that time had been imprisoned, and had fallen out of favour - they served to enrich the library's collection of English literature. I examined more than ten books, of course, in fact I requested to see huge piles of other books that had been bought since April 1895, but alas, I did not find more books from Wilde's library.

The invoice was settled early 1896, and shows that the prices varied greatly. Standish was priced at ƒ 3,90, Linton and Maeterlinck each at ƒ 4,90, Somerset ƒ 12,00 and Le Gallienne ƒ 18,10.

Invoice of W.P. van Stockum (1896)
The highest price was paid for the most recently published book by a popular author - on 11 January 1894 the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Handelsblad had called Le Gallienne 'een der beste Engelsche dichters' (one of the best English poets).

The annual report of the National Library (Verslag over den toestand der Koninklijke Bibliotheek in het jaar 1895, published 1896), duly mentioned the acquisitions in the section of English language studies and literature, but did not quote the provenance. The same goes for the card catalogue, and this reflects that the provenance was not considered important at the time. Nowadays, more than a hundred years later, the Oscar Wilde provenance of these books is seen as a remarkable and interesting feature. They are the testimony of his literary and social relations. The five books will be moved to the rare book department.

Annual report of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek,
National Library of the Netherlands for 1895

[Thomas Wright wrote a book on Oscar Wilde's library and the auction of his books, see: Oscar's Books (2008).]

See the press release by the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands.