Wednesday, November 25, 2015

226. Two deluxe copies of "The Importance of Being Earnest"

Part V of The Library of an English Bibliophile was scheduled for auction at Sotheby's yesterday, 24 November. The sale catalogue lists two deluxe copies of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde in a vellum binding designed by Charles Shannon (1899).

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (1899):
one of 12 copies bound in vellum
The play was published in an edition of 1000 copies. There were also 100 large paper copies printed on Van Gelder Zonen paper, numbered and signed by Wilde, and additionally there were twelve numbered copies on Japanese vellum. These copies were for presentation only.

For sale were number 3, with a handwritten dedication to Robert Ross, dated February 1899, and No. 5, with a dedication to Frances Forbes-Robertson, dated June 1899. The first one contains an autograph letter by Wilde to Ross promising three seats for the opening night of the play. Estimate of that copy was: £160.000-180.000 [it was sold earlier as part of the Jacques Levy collection in 2012; hammer price including buyer's premium was $362.500.] This time the hammer price including buyer's premium was £197.000.

Sotheby's estimate for the other copy (No. 5) was: £50.000-70.000. This copy remained unsold.

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (1899):
one of 12 copies bound in vellum
In Wilde's bibliography (1914) a few other copies were listed: No. 2 was dedicated to Edward Strangman [this copy was sold by Christie's in 2001, for $60.000], No. 4 was located in the British Museum; No. 10 had been sold by Hodgson's in 1911; in 1912 No. 11 had been sold by Sotheby's from the collection of C. Sebag Montefiore and No. 12 was said to be in the collection of Maurice Schwabe.

Since then copy 9 has been added to the British Library collection, it was acquired from the collection of Lady Eccles.

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (1899):
No. 9 of 12 copies bound in vellum
Another (?) copy was sold by Whitmore Rare Books in Catalogue 4. No. 10 is now in the J. Harlin O'Connell collection at Princeton University Library.

No. 1 Leonard Smithers (?)
No. 2 Edward Strangman [dedication]
No. 3 Robert Ross [dedication] [formerly in the collection of Jacques Levy]
No. 4 [location:] The British Library
No. 5 Frances Forbes-Robertson [dedication]
No. 6
No. 7
No. 8
No. 9 [location:] The British Library [collection Lady Eccles]
No. 10 [location:] Princeton University Press [collection J. Harlin O'Connell]
No. 11 C. Sebag Montefiore
No. 12 Maurice Schwabe

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

225. Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World (5)

In the previous episodes of my blog, we have established that Oscar Wilde's and Charles Ricketts's collaboration to The Woman's World (edited by Wilde) were not interrelated, that Ricketts did not have to turn to Wilde to get commissions for the magazine, that Wilde did not generously give Ricketts several important commissions, that the drawings for The Woman's World were not the first commissions Ricketts received from Cassell & Company, that Ricketts did not leave the firm or stopped contributing to the magazine when Wilde ended his editorship and left the firm, and, therefore, that no 'affinity between the two men's artistic visions even before their official partnership began' existed in reality.

The last quote came from Petra Clark's fascinating essay on Ricketts and Wilde in connection with The Woman's World. (See Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World (1) for more details.) Despite the fact that there was no early relationship between Ricketts and Wilde, we can see that they were heading in the same direction, and that they were on the same track. It did not take long for Wilde to conclude that Ricketts should design his books, but that decision was prompted by The Dial and not by The Woman's World.

Charles Ricketts, initial for The Woman's World
Ricketts's early drawings have been described as 'hack work', and as Clark points out, this qualification is based on an undeserved dismissal of his skills as a draughtsman. His fusion of Victorian interests with Pre-Raphaelitism, Arts and Crafts ideas, and Symbolist motifs sets his work apart from many anonymous artists. 

Clark writes: 'Like many "hack" artists at the time, Ricketts's work was largely anonymous'. However, when most illustrations in The Woman's World went unacknowledged in the captions, some of these mentioned the artist's names, and the contents pages in the yearly bound up volumes mentioned some of the illustrators as well. The illustrations themselves often contained the artist's initials, and for his earliest commissions Ricketts used his full name: 'C. Ricketts'. By June 1888, Ricketts had changed his signature to a series of monograms with the letters 'C' and 'R', often encapsulated within a small square border. Sometimes his drawings for an article were supplemented with drawings by other, anonymous artists, but even when Ricketts did not use a monogram, it is not that difficult to distinguish his drawings in The Woman's World from those by othersRicketts's drawings betray his affinity with the Aesthetic Movement, and in particular with the work of Pre-Raphaelite artists, whose work he alludes to, such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. His drawings are rich in detail (even if these do not serve the story), full of vivacity, movement, and a feel of modernism, even when the subject is Egyptian or Elizabethan. These drawings also 'exhibit the beginnings of his own style and his idiosyncratic approach to illustration' (as Clark writes).

A striking example of the last quality brings his hack work close to his free work. One of the tailpieces published in The Woman's World (May 1889) closely resembles one that Ricketts used in his own magazine The Dial (August 1889). The boundaries between work in commission and work after his own taste were gradually fading.

Clark reminds us of the general practice of illustrating articles and stories in magazines from the 1860s onwards: illustrations, such as chapter initials and frontispieces, anticipated the events, but during the 1880s and 1890s this 'gave way to increasingly conflicted relationships between word and image in illustrated texts', and an 'ironic' failing to match visual expectations 'seems to have become a preferred tactic for him', that is, Ricketts. Here, Clark follows the findings of other scholars, such as Jeromiah Romano Mercurio and Nicholas Frankel.

Charles Ricketts, initial for 'Boots and Shoes' (The Woman's World, May 1889)
Petra Clark:

'Ricketts's playful perversity is certainly apparent in the case of B. de Montmorency Morrell's May 1889 piece on the stylistic development of footwear entitled "Boots and Shoes". The images Ricketts supplies to accompany the article refer obliquely to the historical overview provided in the text by making visual some of the things to which the author refers, but in a way that must be deciphered. The decorated initial "T" at the start of Morell's article forms part of a frame that reads "Chrispinus Sutor", the Latin for "Crispin shoemaker", referring to the Roman martyrs of a similar name who later became conflated into the patron saint of shoemakers, Saint Crispin. This frame surrounds a central image of a hooded man with a halo (presumably an interpretation of Saint Crispin), who seems to be fitting an angel with a shoe. Ricketts clearly enjoyed fashioning these sorts of somewhat tongue-in-cheek medieval "illuminations", since he created a similar initial inscribed "Orpheus" in his headpiece for Wilhelmina Munster's June 1888 article "A Woman's Thoughts upon English Ballad Singers and English Ballad Singing". The tailpiece at the end of the "Boots and Shoes"article also calls for a slightly different interpretive approach; it transcends a merely illustrative function in relation to the text as shoes are not really the focus at all - only two or three pairs are even visible. Its image of four couples dancing seems innocuous enough until one more closely examines their dress and notices that the dancers are chronologically mismatched: their clothes all derive from different historical periods, ranging from a fourteenth-century lady wearing one of the "towering peaked and horned headdresses" referred to by the author of the article, to a shepherdess-like "merveilleuse" of the late eighteenth century, who sports an ostentatious bonnet and excess drapery.'

Charles Ricketts, tailpiece for 'Boots and Shoes' (The Woman's World, May 1889)
These comments by Clark are based on a thorough examination of the drawings in relation to the text, and as such add to our knowledge of Ricketts's motives, his working methods and his development as an artist.

Ricketts's 'playful irrelevance or irreverence towards the narrative' has been labelled 'collaborative resistance' (by David Peters Corbett) and 'faithful infidelity' by Jeremiah Mercurio. His drawings 'do not lend themselves to easy "reading"', as he intended them to be 'art'. We are fortunate to see that scholars like Petra Clark research Ricketts's work and publish their findings.

Charles Ricketts, illustration for 'Boots and Shoes' (The Woman's World, May 1889)

Charles Ricketts, illustration for 'Boots and Shoes' (The Woman's World, May 1889)

Charles Ricketts, illustration for 'Boots and Shoes' (The Woman's World, May 1889)

Illustration (anonymous, not by Charles Ricketts) for 'Boots and Shoes' (The Woman's World, May 1889)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

224. Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World (4)

Before the publication of his drawings in The Woman's World, edited by Oscar Wilde, the young artist Charles Ricketts had already received several commissions from the publishers Cassell and Company. 

His initial contribution to The Woman's World appeared in June 1888 (volume I, number 8, page 372), illustrating an essay on Elizabethan ballads.

His earliest drawings for Cassell and Company - as far as I know - had appeared more than six months before, in November 1887. These were, however, not his earliest published drawings as he had contributed drawings to an elusive periodical called The Alarum in 1886, while Shannon had made drawings for Judy, a comic journal. They must at least have tried to find more sources of income and may have been lucky with other journals. 

Charles Ricketts's signature, 1887

Cassell's History of England

For years, Cassell had published a multi volume publication on the History of England, and in 1887 the publisher issued volume I of a new edition that was advertised as the Jubilee Edition, referring to Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee that was celebrated on 20 June 1887. Since the 1850s Cassell's History of England had been a reliable seller, and the modern parts were updated regularly. The Golden Jubilee was too good an opportunity to pass up. New and revised editions had been advertised before, but large parts of the texts and numerous illustrations were republished in one after another edition.

Earlier, the publishers wrote in several introductions to the newly edited editions that revisions had been made, which may not always have been true: 'The preceding edition of this History has been most carefully corrected and revised, and the Publishers are thankful that the present one has not failed of a success more than equal to that which had attended its predecessor.' New editions came with added volumes: 'Ten years have passed since the publication of the Eight volumes of Cassell’s History of England, which originally ended with a notice of the lamented death of the late Prince Consort. The reader is now presented with a continuation of the narrative nearly to the present day'. Each time, the number of volumes grew. 

By 1887 it was time for another new and revised edition, and for the first time the texts were truly and thoroughly revised from volume I to the end. I compared several passages, and this time, the editors kept word: the texts have been rewritten. The title pages asserted: 'the text revised throughout, and profusely illustrated with new and original drawings by the best artists'.

Volume I ('From the Roman Invasion to the Wars of the Roses') appeared in 1887, volume 2 followed in 1888, volume 3 in 1889. These three volumes contain drawings by Charles Ricketts. Other volumes, without drawings by Ricketts, followed: volume 4 (1891), volume 5 (1892), volume 6 (1893), volume 7 (1894), and volume 8 (1895).

The new edition was issued in monthly parts (prices 7d at Ricketts's time), but I have not been able to locate any of these, as most, of course, must have been bound up. The 'New and Original Drawings' were 'specially executed for this Edition by Leading Artists', as an advertisement in The Publishers' Circular (6 December 1888) brought to the attention of the English booksellers.

Cassell's History of England. Volume I (1887)

The artists of Cassell's History of England

Who were these artists? Their names were not mentioned in the advertisements, nor in the list of illustrations that was published in each volume. Only a few illustrations mention the artist in the captions underneath the image, and these are for reproductions of paintings by John Gilbert (1817-1897) (p. 329), and Henry Gillard Glindoni (1852-1913) (p. 541).

The first volume of the Jubilee edition contained 36 full page illustrations, 162 normal illustrations (half or three quarter page illustrations), and 168 small illustrations. There were portraits of kings and other famous people (18), details of arches, pottery, dress, etc. (42), there were drawings or reproductions of coins, cameo's, rings, manuscripts, and engravings of objects (116), there were views of cities and buildings such as castles (60) and there were maps (2), and many of the illustrations depicted historical scenes (113). The historical drawings were mostly half and full page illustrations, and a large number of  these were signed by the artist.

However, most of the signatures are indecipherable: CDM (?),W[...]oot (?), and only some are signed with the full name of the artist. Most of them are not well known today. According to Cassell and Company the 'Leading Artists' of the day were R. Jones (p. 216), Herbert Railton (1857-1910), and L. Speed (p. 313), or  the French artists Jules Giraudet and Edouard Zier (1856-1924). These artist were at least ten years older than Ricketts, who was born in 1866, and was only 20 years of age in 1886.

Their drawings may not have been made for Cassell at all, because the publishers usually bought cheap blocks for illustrations in France, which explains the presence of French illustrators in a work about the history of England.

Most of the illustrators only made one drawing for this volume. However, Railton had six commissions (p. 261, 404, 413, 436, 480, 593), Zier did ten illustrations (p. 45, 69, 76, 121, 129, 145, 148, 228, 240, 337), Edmund Blair Leighton (1852-1922) signed seven illustrations (EBL: p. 149, 181, 249, 308, 344, 373, 512), while Wal Paget signed five (WP: p. 185, 193, 312, 525, 605), GB at least four (p. 97, 237, 368, 441), and most of the signed illustrations were the work of Henry Marriott Paget (1856–1936) (HMP: p. 8, 16, 41, 61, 124, 133, 184, 209, 220, 297, 397, 504, 588, and 596). He did fourteen illustrations.

A certain 'C.R.' did eight illustrations, but these were not carried out for the Jubilee edition, as his work appeared in earlier editions from around 1872 onwards. If we compare an earlier edition with the Jubilee edition, we see that most illustrations in the former were anonymous, while a lot of the illustrations in the Jubilee edition have been signed with initials. That was something of a novelty for illustrators at the time, and we can ascertain that a lot of the illustrations in this edition were, indeed, new, although they had not been produced by the most famous artists of the day. 

Anyway, 'C.R.' does not stand for Charles Ricketts, who initially signed his drawings for Cassell with his full name: 'C. Ricketts'. The other artists were at least ten years older than him.

Charles Ricketts, 'Flight of Mathilda from Oxford Castle'

Ricketts's first illustration for Cassell's

Rickett's five illustrations appear on page 176, 357, 381, 401 and 521. These are all signed 'C. Ricketts', and although they are not dated, we may be sure that at least two of them must have been published in the monthly instalments that appeared earlier, possibly in 1886, as drawings on page 213, 216 and 361 are dated 1886 and those on page 413 and 436 are dated 1887. Ricketts probably recieved his commission in 1886. The five included one full page illustration (page 401).

His first illustration, 'Flight of Mathilda from Oxford Castle', was a pen drawing, reproduced on a half page format (101x135 mm, within border: 105x140 mm), illustrating the text on page 176: 'One night in December, when the ground was covered with snow, Matilda quitted the castle at midnight, attended by four knights, who, as well as herself, were clothed in white. The party passed through the lines of their enemies entirely unobserved, and crossed the Thames, which was frozen over.' The escape by the Empress Matilda (c.1102-1167) took place in 1142.

The other illustrations were 'Capture of Bruce’s wife and daughter at Tain', 'Escape of Roger Mortimer from the Tower', 'Black Agnes at the siege of Dunbar Castle', and 'Arrest of the conspirators at Cirencester'. More about these drawings and those for volume 2 and 3 of the Jubilee edition will follow later.

Next week: back to Oscar Wilde's The Woman's World.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

223. Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World (3)

The first contact between Oscar Wilde and Charles Ricketts did not take place because of Ricketts's drawings for the magazine that Wilde edited, The Woman's World. This is sometimes suggested, although there is no evidence for it. Moreover, the practice of editing a journal for a huge firm like Cassell & Company at the end of the 1880s was determined by the business model of the publishers with particular departments for the work in hand. Wilde was appointed literary editor for the magazine in 1888, but he was backed by the art editor, Edwin Bale. Bale was responsible for the selection of drawings, for soliciting illustrators and artists, and for decisions on practical matters, such as format, and fees. Alas, no letters between Ricketts and Bale have come to light so far.

Speculating on the role of Wilde as an editor, Petra Clark (in her essay ''"Cleverly Drawn": Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and the Art of the Woman's World' (see my two earlier blogs on Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World), concludes that Wilde's involvement in the art direction of the magazine was shallow. However, she states:

'It is easy to imagine why the ambitious young Charles Ricketts would have sent Wilde some drawings that ultimately earned him occasional work for Cassell & Co., but it is unclear what prompted Wilde to generously give a relatively untested and (to him) unknown artist several full-page commissions. What is clear is that by the time Wilde left Cassell & Co., so had Ricketts, as there is no evidence of any drawings by him in the magazine's final year (1889-90) under Fish's editorship. Such a coincidence suggests an affinity between the two men's artistic visions even before their official partnership began.'

As we saw in last week's blog, Wilde was not the editor who gave Ricketts these commissions. And I can add that Ricketts did not leave the publisher, as, from November 1889 onwards, he received commissions for quite a few illustrations for another Cassell magazine, The Magazine of Art. And, in fact, Ricketts made several contributions to the final year of The Woman's World. He drew a headpiece for each of the monthly instalments of 'The Latest Fashions' between November 1889 (Vol. III, No. 25) and July 1890 (Vol. III, No. 33). He did not contribute any full page illustrations, true, but then he had many other publishers waiting for him, including the magazine Atalanta (from December 1888) and The Universal Review (from August 1889), and, with Shannon, he had embarked on a magazine of his own, The Dial that made its first appearance in August 1889.

Ricketts's first illustration for The Woman's World appeared in the June 1888 issue (page 372), that is in volume I, number 8.

Charles Ricketts, illustration for an article by Wilhelmina Munster, in The Woman's World, June 1888, p. 372.
The illustration was a headpiece for an article by Wilhelmina Munster, 'A Woman's Thoughts upon English Ballad-Singers and English Ballad-Singing' (p. 372-374). Based on a pen drawing, the reproduction measured 131x163 mm. It was signed CR. The reproduction was also signed by the engraver, H.K. Davey [?].

If Ricketts had sent in drawings to an editor of The Woman's World, they would not have been addressed to Wilde but to Bale. On the other hand, it may not have been necessary for Ricketts to make a drawing and risking rejection by an editor. He may have received an assignment for a drawing, as he had worked for the publishers before, and the art editors knew his work. Cassell and Company employed a great number of artists for their large range of magazines and copiously illustrated works. As was the custom at the time, these art editors had a waiting room for aspiring artists, who with a portfolio of drawings waited for a call. Ricketts must have visited several of these offices when he tried to earn a living as an illustrator, but the situation at Cassell's was different for him. The drawings for The Woman's World were not the first ones he made for the firm, and that he immediately got several important commissions for the magazine testifies to the trust the art editor had in Ricketts's skills.

What strikes us now is that his illustrations for The Woman's World are much more artistic than the drawings of other contributing artists.

Charles Ricketts, headpiece for 'Decebal's Daughter' by Carmen Sylva in The Woman's World, July 1888
Ricketts's second drawing in The Woman's World shows his ability to illustrate a story, while keeping his own preferences for scenery, costumes, and capricious details. It is a headpiece for 'Decebal's Daughter' by Carmen Sylva, translated by E.B. Mawer (p. [385]-389): a war scene featuring Decebal's daughter Andrada on a fortified tower looking down on the Romans led by Trajan invading the city of Decebal. Nearby is a wooden tower with fighting soldiers, one fallen to the ground, another leaning over the wall to fight. We see an approaching army and the burning city walls. In the lower left is an initial 'T', decorated with a kneeling figure, a sword, a shield and (partly outside the border) a fish; underneath is a small compartment containing a garland. 

Charles Ricketts, initial 'T' for 'Decebal's Daughter' by Carmen Sylva in The Woman's World, July 1888
The other illustrations for the June and July 1888 issues of The Woman's World are neo-Renaissance initials and vignettes, realistic or slightly romantic sketches of buildings and landscapes, portraits after paintings or photographs, reproductions of paintings, drawn impressions of sculptures or other art works, middle-of-the-road illustrations for stories, or static drawings of posing models showing new dresses. Ricketts's illustrations are startlingly different: they show fantasy, and movement, a great feeling for drama (for example in the use of perspective in the Carmen Sylva drawing), and they contain details that are not mentioned in the story.

Charles Ricketts, full page illustration for 'A Lady in Ancient Egypt' by Helen Mary Tirard in The Woman's World, July 1888
The first full page illustration for The Woman's World was: 'The Toilet of a Lady of Ancient Egypt'. It was signed by Ricketts with his monogram CR, and in the 'List of Full-Page Plates' was mentioned: 'Drawn by C. Ricketts'. Other full-page images in this volume (1887-1888) were done by Walter Crane, Paul Destez, and Gordon Browne, who each did one plate, while Ricketts did two. The image contains more than was necessary to illustrate the article: the lady and her dress, attended by three servants in a palace garden with a pond. Added are doves and two cats in order to enhance the intimate, idyllic atmosphere, which we do not find in any of the other illustrations in The Woman's World at the time.

As I said, Cassell & Company knew what they could expect of the young Ricketts - he was 21 at the time of his contributions to The Woman's World. They had given him other earlier assignments for a substantial new publication for which a large number of younger artists made drawings.

See next week's blog.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

222. Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World (2)

Last week Petra Clark's article in the September issue of the Journal of Victorian Culture was mentioned: '"Cleverly Drawn": Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and the Art of the Woman's World' (it can be downloaded from Journal of Victorian Culture Online). 

It is assumed, by scholars such as J.G.P. Delaney and David Peters Corbett, that Wilde and Ricketts met before 1889, when, according to Ricketts Wilde had been sent a copy of Ricketts's and Shannon's magazine The Dial. It seems logical to state that they must have met before that, and to find a possible reason for a meeting in the drawings Ricketts had done earlier for The Woman's World during Wilde's editorship.
The Woman's World, Volume I, No. 7, June 1888
In Oscar Wilde. Recollections (1932, p. 28) Ricketts recalled: 'A copy sent to Wilde brought him to the house I shared with Charles Shannon in the Vale, Chelsea.' Ricketts does not mention an earlier meeting. He then says, 'I had imagined him a younger man - do not forget at that time only his volume of 'Poems', 'The Happy Prince' and a few articles had appeared.' The memories of Wilde were, of course, written late in Ricketts's life (and published posthumously), but the details seem to be convincing, and from them it may be gathered that Ricketts and Wilde (and Shannon) met for the first time after sending The Dial. In fact, that is what Ricketts remembered: '[...] my first meeting in 1889, which I have described' (p. 38).

There is no reason to assume that Wilde and Ricketts met earlier, simply on the basis of the drawings Ricketts did for The Woman's World. Magazine editors did not work like that. True, since June 1888, Wilde and Ricketts shared a publication space, but there was no need for them to meet each other, or even correspond.

Oscar Wilde's Role as an Editor

What was Wilde's role as an editor? Petra Clark quotes part of a letter that Wilde wrote to Wemyss Reid (1842-1905), early 1887. Reid was a manager at Cassell & Company, the publishers of The Lady's World that was relaunched as The Woman's World under Wilde's editorship in 1888. 


Clark suggests that Wilde could decide upon the important matter of advertisements: 'Consequently, Wilde abolished all advertisements as part of his editorial remodelling, and relegated an abbreviated version of the fashion pages (which had once taken precedence) to the back of each issue.'

Indeed, Wilde suggested that the magazine should open with literature, art, travel, and social studies: 'let dress have the end of the magazine'. His complaint about some articles being only thinly disguised advertisements did not refer to the actual advertisements that Cassell needed as an extra source of income. And they were not abolished at all. Each issue of The Woman's World contained advertisements for non-literary and mundane products such as soap, baking powder, 'linene collars and cuffs', 'medicinal food', beauty cream, 'corset waists', and railways, alongside Cassell's own advertisements for new publications. Clark may have missed these advertisements, as libraries used to discard the covers and advertisements when the issues were bound up, and, also, because Cassell & Company offered yearly bound volumes of The Woman's World (advertised each December) and in these the advertisement leaves were also removed.

The Woman's World, Volume I, No. 7, June 1888: advertisements at the back

The New Cover Design for The Woman's World

Clark quotes a passage on the artistic content of the magazine:

'It seems to me', wrote Wilde, 'that just at present there is too much money spent on illustrations, particularly on illustrations of dress. They are also extremely unequal, many are charming [...] but many look like advertisements, and give an air to the magazine that one wants to avoid, the air of directly puffing some firm or modiste. A new cover also would be an improvement.' (The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, 2000, p. 298).

The magazine got a new cover, as Clark writes: 'no longer did the magazine bear the former green cover of the Lady's World, which featured an "idealized goddess" vainly gazing at her reflection in a mirror, for the cover of the Woman's World sported "a William-Morris-type spray of leaves" and "serpentine women with sensuous chests", done in red ink on a pinkish ground. (The quotes are from an article by Laurel Brake, 'Oscar Wilde and The Woman's World', 1994).

The new cover was signed by L.F.D., and designed by the Arts and Crafts decorator Lewis Foreman Day (1845-1910), who had worked for Cassell's before.

Clark writes that 'Wilde made an implicit effort to align the appearance of the Woman's World more closely with Arts and Crafts publications such as the Century Guild Hobby Horse than with other mass-market magazines'. I think that this may have been Wilde's intention, but it was not his decision. That was left to the publishers and the managers.

Literary Editor

If we re-read Wilde's letter carefully, we see what he says about the illustrations and the cover. He wrote, in much more detail, about the literary contents of the magazine and went out of his way to mention possible future authors of articles. He mentions almost thirty names of new literary collaborators, but does not mention one artist, let alone an artist for the cover design. He may have had ideas about the art contents, but he did not ventilate them, and was not asked to do that.

In the beginning of this long letter to Wemyss Reid, we find a reason for this. Wilde writes: 'I have read very carefully the numbers of The Lady's World you kindly sent me, and would be very happy to join with you in the work of editing and to some extent reconstructing it.'

Wilde was not asked to be its new editor-in-chief, but its literary editor, as he mentions in quite a few letters that he wrote to future collaborators: 'I have been asked to become literary adviser to one of the monthly magazines' (letter to Louise Chandler Moulton), 'I have been asked to become the literary adviser of one of Cassell's monthly magazines' (letter to Minnie Simpson), 'It is for a magazine of Messrs Cassell's to which I am a sort of literary adviser' (letter to Phoebe Allen). There are some letters that state that he is asked 'to edit' the magazine (letters to Julia Ward Howe and to Eleanor Sidgwick), which may leave some room for a wider interpretation of his function. I believe that Wilde's initial answer to Reid should be taken for what it is: he was to be the literary editor of a magazine that for the rest would be managed by Cassell's managers.

In some letters Wilde asked if an article was in need of illustrations: 'The article will be illustrated as you may direct' and 'Would you, however, desire it to be illustrated? If so, it would be necessary to get it done as soon as possible' (letters to Phoebe Allen), or: 'We should set about the illustrations at once.' (letter to Violet Fane). This suggests that Wilde worried over the illustrations, but left it to the authors to suggest the subjects for the illustrations. He did not decide upon the illustrations himself, nor on the names of the illustrators. He did not make any suggestions other than work should be started on time in order to ensure that the issue would not be held up. Now and then he made simple suggestions for a frontispiece portrait of the author or of a painting to go with an essay about a particular artist: 'We might also have for the frontispiece of the magazine an engraving of a good Jan Steen or any other picture you might care to select.' In a letter to Oscar Browning Wilde writes: 'If you send me the photographs I will get them reproduced at once, so as to have no delay about the publication.' Soon after, Wilde complained to John Williams, assistant chief editor of Cassell's, that 'I find that without a staff of some kind a magazine with special illustrated articles cannot get on' (October 1888). He was to be assisted by Arthur Fish. In his last letter to Wemyss Reid he writes: 'I am specially indebted to Mr Bale, whose artistic knowledge and experience have always been at my disposal'. Only one letter to Edwin Bale has survived: 'Dear Mr Bale, I send you the photographs of Lady Archibald Campbell - one for frontispiece, two for setting into the article. Also three drawings by Godwin to be set into the text - like marginal sketches.' Bale was a watercolourist who worked for Cassell as Art Director between 1882 and 1907.

All other letters written as an editor of The Woman's World (as published in The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, 2000) were sent to literary collaborators. There are no letters to artists that mention work for The Woman's World, not even to the important artists, such as Walter Crane. Wilde's work did not involve working with artists, giving them commissions, judging their work, making suggestions for changes. I presume that Bale did all that, as was the custom with many magazines: the 'art' contents was left to the managers of Cassell's, who had at their disposal a large number of decorators and artists that worked for the magazines and illustrated works the firm published. Wilde alludes to this side of the matter in a letter to T.J. Cobden-Sanderson: 'The photographer of the Art Department here is quite accustomed to photographing delicate works of art.'

Wilde did not suggest a name for the artist who designed the new cover for The Woman's WorldThe commission for drawings that Charles Ricketts received form the editors of The Woman's World were not dependent on Wilde's intervention or judgment, and therefore Ricketts will not have sent them to Wilde, but to the Art Director.

What really happened? See next week's blog.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

221. Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World (1)

PhD candidate Petra Clark (University of Delaware) recently published an article in the September issue of the Journal of Victorian Culture: '"Cleverly Drawn": Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and the Art of the Woman's World'. It was accompanied by a blogpost on the Journal of Victorian Culture Online from where the article can be downloaded.

The Woman’s World (1887-1890) was the successor of The Lady's World; Wilde was asked to become its editor, and subsequently suggested some changes such as a new title. Wilde did not write many pieces for the magazine himself, his job was to solicit new texts. 

Petra Clark argues that Charles Ricketts approached Wilde while he was editor of the magazine in order to get commissions for drawings, and that his early drawings for this magazine quickly became more than 'hackwork', as he introduced new art nouveau styled elements that transcended the message his illustrations were supposed to convey to the readers. Ricketts got some orders for large format drawings that fitted his growing specialism: costume, especially Elizabethan dresses and surroundings.

Charles Ricketts, header for 'The Latest Fashion' (The Woman's World, December 1889)
Petra Clark writes: 

Despite their subjects being dictated by the articles for which they were commissioned, many of Ricketts’s illustrations are nonetheless highly personalized, even going so far as to suggest his relationship with other artists.
One such interaction that particularly stood out was Ricketts’s with Gustave Fraipont. Fraipont was a Belgian-born French artist who contributed illustrations to a number of magazines during this period, and created many headers for the Woman’s World over the course of its run, particularly for the 'The Latest Fashions' and 'Paris Fashions' sections of each monthly instalment. Fraipont’s header designs for earlier issues emphasized feminine accessories such as fans, lace, powder puffs, and ribbons. At some point during 1889, Ricketts seems to have been given the 'The Latest Fashions' headers to do, which is where things get interesting. Ricketts too draws the same sort of items as Fraipont, but adds in mischievous putti who gambol across the header and, more often than not, disrupt the order of the toilette with their own uses for these items.
Such plump imps were a common element in Renaissance and Baroque art, so employed here, they at once invoke high art as well as the sentimental, while undermining both. It is unclear whether Ricketts was mocking such figures that may have appeared in pre-existing designs by Fraipont, or if he just found the putti a convenient vehicle to playfully engage with the work of the older artist. In any case, Fraipont’s subsequent headers for 'Paris Fashions' began to feature his own putti, though it is likewise difficult to know why: possibly he decided to fight putti with putti, or he recognized the appeal of Ricketts’s designs and sought to assimilate them into his own. These dozen or so putti headers become more and more ridiculous as each artist took his turn, finally reaching a fever-pitch of absurdity and excess before dying down.

Next week I will publish some footnotes to this article, commenting upon the way these early commissions for The Woman's World came about, and how the relationship between the firm of Cassell, the publisher of The Woman's World, and the artist Ricketts evolved, and how Oscar Wilde as an editor may have played a role.

The problem of each article on Ricketts's early works lies in the absence of archives (the Cassell archive was destroyed, no early letters between Ricketts and Wilde have survived), and therefore conjecture must be called in to fill in the gaps. Clark hands us some material to further our thoughts about Ricketts's early commissions, although I think that Wilde's role is needlessly overrated, and that we have to turn to our knowledge of the daily practice of running a magazine to get some answers. As I see it, there is no reason to assume that Ricketts had sent his drawings to Wilde.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

220. Proctor, Ricketts, Morris, Pissarro, Cobden-Sanderson

Monomaniacal readers are of all times, and in the nineteenth century some of them ended up in a library. More than 120 years ago this happened to Robert Proctor (1868-1903), who became assistant in the British Library department of printed works. In this capacity he developed into an expert of incunabula and typefaces. From the type in a book, he could deduce in which city and in what year a book had been printed. Nowadays, scholars know that there is more to it, such as paper and the watermarks in the paper, but Proctor established a sort of standard, and reached international fame for his descriptions of the incunabula in the British Museum collection. He could not enjoy his new status for long; he was 35 when he disappeared during a walking tour in the Alps. 

A Critical Edition of the Private Diaries of Robert Proctor.
The Life of a Librarian at the British Museum
His diaries survived, and were published in 2010 (edited by J.H. Bowman, and published by the Edwin Mellen Press). The entries are rather short, and sometimes cryptic, basically describing the weather. One day it is sunny, another one it rains; and day after day, year after year the daily reports on clouds, showers, heat and fog can guarantee nothing else than tedious reading. However, his notes on the commuter's railway journeys to London acquired the dreariness of an obsolete mantra; he routinely wrote down at what time his train had departed and when exactly he changed trains, or arrived at a certain station, and what the weather was like over there - but with some patience, every now and then, one meets a remark that is noticeable.

Robert Proctor, diary note for 21 July 1903
His views on current matters in typography and the book arts are those of an impassioned scholar in his thirties, blunt, deeply felt, and totally black-and-white. He adored the work of William Morris, whose every piece of paper he ardently collected (not for the B.L., but for his private collection), paying barely affordable prices for books and pamphlets at auctions. He vehemently rejected the books of other private presses: Charles Ricketts and his Vale Press were only capable of muddling, and Lucien Pissarro's Eragny Press was even worse.

Robert Proctor, diary note for 22 July 1903
He loved Doves Press books, as they had been designed by his friend Emery Walker who had also been an important inspiration for Morris; however, the other Doves Press owner, Cobden Sanderson was rated a fool.

For now, I am not concerned with the accuracy of his findings; what is fascinating in his diaries, is the emotional power of his remarks on modern typography. His diary is one of the few sources for contemporary enthusiasm for William Morris and the Kelmscott Press expressed by a member of the younger generation. We know that Morris was revered by many, but seldom we hear the voice of the younger acolytes. The force of their adoration underlines the importance of the revival of printing that Morris brought about. 

Morris was dead by the time Proctor started his diaries in 1899, and he belonged to a past generation of Pre-Raphaelites, whose Arts and Crafts movement educated the audience's taste for a new approach to typography, forcing commercial publishers to adapt the style and the materials of their books; Morris's views eventually brought about major changes in book design, and resulted in graphic design as we know it today. 

Proctor's alacrity for every scrap of paper touched by Morris's ideas, and his zeal for a modern typography was important at the time, and can only be compared to the admiration of the earliest disciples of Steve Jobs, and the worship of Apple products. William Morris was the Steve Jobs of the nineteen-nineties.

This adoration for Morris played a distinctive part in the export of private press ideas to other countries. We can detect this early enthusiasm outside Great Britain, for example in the Netherlands, or in Belgium, where one of these early fans was the artist, architect and book designer Henry van de Velde. 

[Part of the Miraeus lecture, held at the Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience in Antwerp on 6 May 2015].

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

219. A Painting by Ricketts's Father

Charles Ricketts's father was a marine painter, Charles Robert Ricketts (1838-1883). His paintings occasionally come up for auction and fetch prices between a few hundred and something over a thousand euro's, dollars, or British pounds.

An auction of Fine Art & Antiques is to be held on 13 October. In it the Canterbury Auction Galleries offer for sale a painting by Ricketts's father, called 'The Hero of London' (lot 269). 

Robert Charles Ricketts, 'The Hero of London' 
The scene is of the ship 'Hero of London' that stranded on the Goodwin Sands off the Kent coast on 16th October 1872. The brig, built in 1822, had come from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, carrying coal, destined for Truro. The Walmer lifeboat 'Centurion' went to her aid. The crew could be rescued, but the vessel was wrecked.

The oil on canvas picture measures 76,2 by 127 cm, signed 'C.R.Ricketts', and dated 1872. It has been reframed in a modern gilt moulded frame. 

The painting has been on the market before. It was sold on 11 September 2007 by Bonhams in London (lot 97).

Note, 27 November 2015:
The painting will be on sale again at Canterbury Auction Galleries on 8 December 2015, now with an estimate of £750-£1000 (starting bid: £740).

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

218. Wilde & Mallarmé (and Ricketts) at auction

The private library of Stéphane Mallarmé will be auctioned in Paris by Sotheby's on 15 October 2015. The collection contains his own copies of Le Corbeau (1875) and L'Après-midi d'un faune (1876), both with illustrations by Édouard Manet, and many other singular books and manuscripts including the manuscript of Un Coup de Dés jamais n'abolira le Hasard.

There are also two autograph letters by Oscar Wilde to Stéphane Mallarmé, written in February and November 1891 (Sotheby's dates both letters February 1891).

Oscar Wilde, letters to Stéphane Mallarmé (1891)
Both letters have been published in Oscar Wilde, The Complete Letters (2000) [pages 471 and 492].

The description of the lot puts the later letter first (here dated mid February 1891). The letter accompanied a dedication copy of Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray with a cover design by Charles Ricketts. The dedication in the novel reads: 'A Stéphane Mallarmé. Hommage d'Oscar Wilde, Paris '91'. 
The copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray is not included in the sale.

On 10 November Mallarmé responded to this letter, thanking Wilde for his gift. Wilde could not have written his letter in mid February, because the book appeared in April of that year.

In the second letter, in reality the earlier one, Wilde thanks Mallarmé for the gift of a copy of Mallarmé's translation of Poe's poem Le Corbeau. Like all Mallarmé disciples and admirers, Wilde calls him 'Maître', the poem is a 'magnifique symphonie en prose'. This letter is dated 25 February 1891.

Two letters about an exchange of books between two literary masters - the estimates for these exceptional pieces is €6000-8000.

[The lot was sold for 75.000.]

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

217. Charles Ricketts at the Curwen Press

An online bibliography, called Oliver Simon at the Curwen Press, contains information on three books with texts and/or illustrations by Ricketts: The Legion Book (1929), Beyond the Threshold (1929), and Troy (1928). The first two have bindings by Ricketts, the second one has texts by Ricketts, and the second and third title have illustrations by Ricketts.

Charles Ricketts, illustration for Troy (1928)

The bibliography by Robin Phillips has been in the making since 1963, so for more than fifty years. It contains descriptions of the books that were printed at the Curwen Press, Plaistow, London, between 1919 and 1955. During that period Oliver Simon was associated with the press. Phillips is adding new data regularly, and the descriptions contain information on author, title, format, size, typeface, paper, illustration methods.

Troy, a poem by Humbert Wolfe (1885-1940), was published as the twelfth publication in Faber & Gwyer's series The Ariel Poems. It appeared in a regular edition in September 1928 (legal deposit date 24 September); a limited edition of 500 copies signed by the author appeared in November.

Charles Ricketts, drawing for Troy (1928)
The print run of the ordinary edition is not mentioned in the bibliography, but must have been approximately 3000 copies. The poem was set in a 10 point Garamond italic (title and author's name in roman). The green outer wrapper was printed in black with the drawing of the Trojan horse. There were eight pages, sewn in the wrapper (145x122 mm).

The limited edition is bound in light blue wove paper covers, with the upper cover gold-blocked with author's name and title. Published in a larger format (219x143 mm), the booklet contained twelve pages (not including the endpapers). The Trojan horse appeared, not on its cover, but on page [3], printed in black on white. This edition was printed on English hand-made paper (there is no watermark).

Ricketts's second drawing was also a line-block, but printed in several colours: black, red, yellow, green, and blue. Some slight differences between the image in the two editions may have been the result of the softness of the deluxe paper, and of pressure.

The pattern in red has, in some copies, been placed somewhat to the left, causing the red strokes around the moon to intrude the black circle from the right; in other copies they pierce the moon circle from the left; or don't enter the circle at all. 

Another matter is the black in the woman's wrist. The seated woman with the naked back shows black ink in the copies of the deluxe edition, but not in the regular copies.