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 occasionnally 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 762 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).

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.

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.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

216. Oscar Wilde's Sphinx in Paris

The director of the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Yves Peyré, has published a book about the bookbindings in the collection of this Parisian library, Histoire de la reliure de création (Éditions Faton, 2015).

Yves Peyré, Histroire de la reliure de création (2015)
When he was appointed director of the library, Peyré took note of the desiderata in its holdings. The historical collection was quite strong in bookbinding, but not in modern bookbindings. Peyré set out to collect modern French bookbindings from 1870 onwards, but, remarkably, he also acquired a more international collection of German, Dutch, Belgian, Danish, Italian and British bookbindings. 

Among the latter are copies of books printed and designed by Lucien and Esther Pissarro, books bound by T.J. Cobden Sanderson, William Morris, and Charles Ricketts, whose design for Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx is called 'le sommet de sa carrière de relieur'. The short paragraph on his work states that Ricketts had a preference for vellum bindings with designs in gold. He designed only a few of those, in fact, Ricketts fancied cloth bindings with blind embossed designs.

Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (1893), designed by Charles Ricketts
The Bibliothèque Geneviève acquired a copy of The Sphinx in 2014. As a photograph shows, it is a far from immaculate copy. The spine is damaged, the covers are blemished and there are black stains, affecting the gold images. The catalogue description repeats an often made mistake: the initials 'LSH' on the back have been identified as 'Laurence Housman, interprète, Henry Leighton, relieur'. One often finds this double mistake in older antiquarian catalogues. 'LSH' stands for 'Leighton, Son, & Hodge', the London bookbinder's firm. The artist Housman, a good friend of Ricketts, had nothing to do with Ricketts's design. 

It is a pleasure to note that French libraries display an interest in the book arts of other countries, and that lavish catalogues including foreign books are being published. I hope the Geneviève library will continue this acquisition policy and affirm its resolution to expand the collection with an international focus.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

215. An Attribution For Sale, and Sold

The auction of Fine Art, Antiques and Collectables by Gorringes in Lewis included a pastel and pencil drawing that was attributed to 'Charles Haslewood Shannon (1863-1937)'. The auction took place on 2 September. 

Attributed to Charles Shannon, Portrait of a girl
The attribution is based on 'the title on the mount', according to the catalogue description, but there is no title, only an inscription: 'Charles H. Shannon R.A.'

The framed drawing is a portrait of an anonymous girl. The title given by the auction house is 'Study of a girl'. Measurements are 13.5 x 10.75 inches, which must be the dimensions of the frame as the drawing has not been taken out of the frame to check the attribution, or the state of the drawing.

Estimated Price: £120 - £180. Sold for 

(Thanks to Steven Halliwell).

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

214. A Summer Miscellany: Choosing a Mask

The Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum in the Midlands owns a painting by Charles Shannon, a portrait of Ricketts: 'The Man with the Greek Vase' (1916), formerly in the collection of Mrs. Edmund Davis, and bequeathed to the museum in 1954. 

The museum's collection also holds another painting that was given in 1954. This is not a well-known painting, and probably an early one, by Charles Ricketts. This is called 'Choosing a Mask'.

Charles Ricketts, 'Choosing a Mask' (Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum)
The oil on canvas painting is not dated, measures 43 x 38 cm, and depicts a figure in an interior. The catalogue's description is: 'A naked man is sitting and trying on a mask with his back to the viewer. There are many other masks on the wall in front of him'.

Ricketts started painting around 1900, copying the darkness of Renaissance masters, and these early paintings are by now extremely darkened (they were thus in the 1930s). But this painting is not darkened, and the tone is lighter, and more colourful; it might date from a somewhat later date. 

There is a red chalk sketch for this painting in the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle, along with two pencil drawings. A fourth preparatory sketch is in an album with proofs and drawings. As the other drawings in this album are all of early works by Ricketts, it is perhaps not unreasonable to suggest that this painting was of around 1905. It is suggested that it was the first painting by Ricketts that was exhibited.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

213. A Summer Miscellany: La Peste

Visiting Paris, you might want to stroll through the Musée d'Orsay, looking for pictures by, for example, Ricketts and Shannon.

The museum owns an oil painting by Ricketts, catalogued as 'La Peste'. The picture (114 x 165 cm) is signed in the lower right hand corner with Ricketts's initials 'C.R.'. 

Charles Ricketts, 'La peste' (painting) [Musée d'Orsay, Paris]
The catalogue does not mention a date, but informs us that the painting was part of the famous collection of Edmund Davis, who in 1915 donated it to the Musée du Luxembourg, also in Paris. It then started a long, and perhaps typically French tour around the city, being moved from one museum to another, - the Jeu de Paume in 1922 and the Musée National d'Art Moderne in 1946. Later it was allocated to the Louvre, and ended up in the Musée d'Orsay in 1980.

The painting was done in 1911 and its English title is 'The Plague'. Paul Delaney described the scene as 'blind victims groping their way among prostrate bodies of the dead and dying'. In his biography of Ricketts, Delaney included an illustration of it. Davis had offered the painting to The Tate in London first, but it had been refused.

I have never seen the original on display; the museum's website does not provide information on the painting being on view or not; and it is a pity that the museum's catalogue record has not been kept up to date.

The same goes for a painting by Shannon in the Musée d'Orsay. This is a portrait of 'The Sculptress (Mrs. Hilton Young)' that has been catalogued as 'Une Statuaire, Miss Bruce'. The painting dates from 1907 and, in 1909, was bought from the artist by the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris. Its journey from one museum to another was almost identical to that of 'The Plague'. The museum's collection also holds a fascinating oil sketch for the same painting.

Charles Shannon, ''The Sculptress (Mrs. Hilton Young) [Musée d'Orsay]
Only the faces (of the model, of her mirror image, and that of her clay model) have not been worked out, but the composition is almost identical to that of the finished painting. 

Kathleen Bruce had studied sculpture with Rodin. Shannon fell in love with her in 1906, and painted her likeness a few times. She, in turn, made statuettes of both Ricketts and Shannon. She married R.F. Scott, the explorer of the Antarctic. He died in 1912, and ten years later she married the politician Edward Hilton Young, and when Young was created Baron Kennet, she came to be known as Baroness Kennet. She had three names: Bruce, Young, Kennet - no wonder cataloguers have been confused.

It would be nice to see the painting with the sketch alongside one day at the museum, or in another museum.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

212. A Summer Miscellany: La Biondina

Are you travelling to New York and visiting the Brooklyn Museum? The museum owns four lithographs by Charles Shannon, one of which is 'La Biondina', also called 'La femme aux chats' (that is, the copies issued in France by L'Estampe Originale). It dates from 1894.

Charles Shannon, 'La Biondina' (1894)
The lithograph is signed, in pencil, 'C.H. Shannon' in the lower right corner. It is printed on Japan paper, and measures 21.4 x 25.1 cm.

'Biondina' was given to the Brooklyn Museum by the Charles Stewart Smith Memorial Fund. The museum has three more lithographs by Shannon: 'An Idyll' (1905), 'The Wayfarers' (1904), a lithograph described as 'Woman Bathing' (the title is incorrect, and there are several lithographs that might be intended), and a colour woodcut, 'Autumn' (1898).

The lithographs are not on view.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

211. A Summer Miscellany: Don Juan

During the Summer - the holiday season for some (not me) - I will show a few works by Ricketts and Shannon that could be in a museum's gallery, but usually are kept in storage. Today, the first of a sunny series, Charles Ricketts's painting of Don Juan.

Charles Ricketts, 'Don Juan', c. 1911 (Tate Gallery, London)
The painting, oil on canvas, inscribed below right 'CR', measures almost a square metre (1162 x 959 mm; frame: 1515 x 1323 mm) and was presented to the Tate Gallery in London by Sir Otto Beit (who bought it from the artist, for this purpose) in 1917. It is one of series of paintings Ricketts undertook on the subject of Mozart's Don Juan. He could also refer to his friend Bernard Shaw’s play Don Juan in Hell and Lord Byron's poem on the theme. Once again, we see that the Vale Press did not publish all authors or works that Ricketts was fond of. There are Shelley and Keats editions, but the name of Byron lacks conspicuously from the VP publisher's list.

In Ricketts's Self-Portrait, a letter by Ricketts to Muriel Lee Matthews of 18 May 1918 is published. At the time the painting was on show at Grosvenor Gallery and called 'The Death of Don Giovanni'. Ricketts wrote that the curtain 'represents the rush of the wood instruments in the Overture' of Mozart's opera.

In Beyond the Threshold Ricketts relates a story about Don Juan, as told by Oscar Wilde, supposedly.

The painting of Don Juan is not on display at the Tate Gallery, but that should not keep you from visiting the museum. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

210. A Plaque to Commemorate Charles Ricketts

Gavin Morrison and Scott Myles are working on a project concerning the gravestones of type designers, A History of Type Design. Gavin asked me if I happened to know where Ricketts was buried, and if he had a headstone. 

The result of the project combines aspects of typography and art. I quote from the site: 

'[...] using a variation on the Japanese frottage technique of Takuhon, impressions have been taken from the headstones of prominent type-designers. These images have then been used within magazines [...] and have been used to create a lithographic edition with the Barcelona print studio Polígrafa Obra Gráfica. This body of work exists as an ever expanding, but idiosyncratic, anthology of type design. It is necessarily erratic in that it is constrained by the difficulties of determining locations, access and the logistics of finding the grave sites. As a result certain prominent type-designers will fail to feature.'

The research is based on the question whether the designer's own type-design is utilized in the stone-carving. Imprints have been taken from the type-designer graves of William Caslon (1692-1766), William Morris (1834-1896), Eric Gill (1882-1940), Kurt Schwitters (1887-1947), Jan Tschichold (1902-1974) and others.

Ricketts designed and put into execution a monument for Michael Field in 1926, but it has not survived. He did not design a headstone for his own grave, and there is no grave.

Ricketts died on 7 October 1931. He was cremated at Golders Green, and his ashes were to be scattered to the four winds in Richmond Park. His friends found out that the shoe box they were given contained a seemingly endless quantity of ashes, so they decided in the end that Cecil Lewis would take the remaining ashes to be scattered in Arolo near the Lago Maggiore. (The Arolo land had been a present from Ricketts to Lewis.)

Lewis himself hollowed out a niche of the cliff, placed Ricketts's head in bronze (by F.R. Wells) facing the mountains, and a plaque was attached underneath it, 'duly inscribed', as Lewis wrote. The inscription is probably his, but the carving itself may have been a local job.

Bust of Charles Ricketts by F.R. Wells (1902), Arolo, Italy [photograph J.G.Paul Delaney]

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

209. A First Visit from Ricketts and Shannon

The diaries of Katharine Bradley (1846-1914) and Edith Cooper (1862-1913) have not yet been published in their entirety, but they will be, 'soon', as The Victorian Lives and Letters Consortium assures on its website.

'Michael Field' (1891)
Bradley and Cooper published poems and plays under the pseudonym 'Michael Field'. Katharine was called 'Michael' and Edith 'Henry'. They were lovers and in Ricketts and Shannon they recognized a similar relationship. They were introduced to each other in January 1894, and on 22 May of that year Ricketts and Shannon paid them a visit in Reigate.

The account of this visit was not published in the heavily edited extracts from the journals in the posthumously published Works and Days (1933), edited by T. Sturge Moore, nor in a more recent anthology Michael Field, the Poet (2009), edited by Marion Thain and Ana Parejo Vadillo. A passage was quoted in Emma Donoghue's 1998 biographical sketch We Are Michael Field, and the complete entry was published in Ivor C. Treby's anthology Binary Star. Leaves from the Journal and Letters of Michael Field, 1846-1914 (2006). Treby (1933-2012), whose archive is available in the Bodleian Library, did much to make Michael Field's poems and diary notes accessible to a larger public, and although his editing method involved too many abbreviations and confusing cross references, we cannot be thankful enough for his dedication to the work of Michael Field.

It is from Binary Star (page 130) that I quote Michael Field on the first visit of Ricketts and Shannon. The entry is written by 'Henry', the younger half of Michael Field: Emma Cooper:

They bring their Vale Edition of Hero & Leander but will not have the parcel opened as long as they stay. ..(Ricketts) is an ardent lover of Shannon, his elder by a year - loving him as my Love loves me - following him about with rippling banter & eyes that deprecate the Beloved's wilfulness.. Shannon is called also "Hazelwood" & his second name manages to sum him up. ..I suspect he does not show the pagan fun in him, any more than I do, except in deep intimacy.. We persuade them to stay for our evening meal, & a walk around the garden is proposed.. Ricketts knows a great deal about flowers - Shannon asks the name of the buttercup every spring.. In the study we talk about art - Beardsley & Rothenstein (By the way, Beardsley, who gesticulates now & leads conversation is the only man who sits on Rothenstein with success).. At evening meal Shannon specialises in salmon, Ricketts in gooseberries & cream.. we bid our guests goodbye with a sense we have walked into friendship as deep as mowing grass.. These 2 men live & work together & find rest & joy in each other's love just as we do.. yet Ricketts lovingly teases Shannon because he works in a separate room - "I call Shannon sulky" he laughs.. (Michael) is happy in another's company - sometimes (as with "Dockie") the other takes it to mean more - & afterward is disappointed - no fear of this with Ricketts!'

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

208. From the Library of Gary Prouk

The sale of English Literature, History, Children's Books & Illustrations at Sotheby's in London on 14 July included books from the library of the late Gary Prouk (1944-2013). Prouk was a Canadian advertising man from Toronto who ended his career as creative director at Sebastian Consultancy, which he and his wife Susan Andrews had founded in 1998. There are several memorial pieces about him online.

Prouk's office was filled with art, but he was a book collector as well.

Gary Prouk in his office
Gary Prouk collected fin-de-siècle books and autograph materials, including first editions of Oscar Wilde and a copy of John Gary's Silverpoints alongside books illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley and letters from French and English artists. He also loved private press books and modern first editions. According to Sotheby's report of the sale, lots with these books 'were recognised for their quality and attracted international bidding.' 

That may be true, however, some lots remained unsold on the day of the auction, and among these unsold books were a number of lots with Vale Press books. The descriptions of these were not detailed enough to see why, but probably Prouk did not only buy pristine copies. Most of the VP books were not in perfect condition, and, moreover, they were ordinary copies. There were no vellum copies, dedication copies, or copies in special bindings, and his set of the Vale Press Shakespeare was far from complete: Prouk owned only eight volumes.

The market for ordinary copies of Vale Press books is not great at the moment, and Prouk may have paid far more for individual books than a series of twelve is worth now. 

Lot 205, for example, contained four works that used to belong to the most wanted Vale Press books: the English and Latin editions of Apuleius's The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche (1897) and De Cupidinis et Psyches Amoribus (1901), the edition of Ecclesiastes (1902), and The Parables from The Gospels (1903). The hammer price with buyer's premium for this lot was £688, being 
£172 a book. Only twenty years ago, The Parables alone fetched three times that price (£525). Anyway, prices are only one side of book collecting. Let's hope that Prouk enjoyed his books whatever their value.

All in all, Prouk acquired two pre-Vale publications (Daphnis and Chloe, and Hero and Leander), and 53 Vale Press books in 55 volumes, of which 28 did not immediately find a buyer.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

207. Charles Shannon's Portraits of E.J. van Wisselingh

The Dutch art dealer E.J. van Wisselingh (1848-1912) and his British wife Isa (Isabella Murray Mowat Angus, 1858-1931), daughter of a Scottish art dealer, moved to London in 1892. The same year, Van Wisselingh opened The Dutch Gallery at Old Bond Street 26. He showed and sold Dutch and French paintings. Ricketts and Shannon met the art dealer in the 1890s en he exhibited their drawings, lithographs, and wood-engravings, in London and in The Netherlands as early as 1895; later he would also put their pastels and paintings on show. In 1900, Van Wisselingh was the first to sell a Shannon painting to a public collection. Ricketts and Shannon befriended the Dutchman, and occasionally they made use of him, for example to bid for them at auction, or to buy furniture for trade prices. Ricketts had his first one-man show of paintings at Van Wisselingh's gallery in 1906, and when Van Wisselingh died, Ricketts designed the lettering on the urn. A Van Wisselingh show of works by Ricketts and Shannon was characterised in a review: 'This is modern of the moderns, as is always the case here' (The Times, 8 July 1902). 

Charles Shannon, portrait of E.J. van Wisselingh (1899)
[Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, see]
Shannon made several portraits of Van Wisselingh. In 1895 he executed two portraits in lithography, 'E.J. van Wisselingh' and 'E.J. van Wisselingh in a hat'. In 1899 Shannon finished and signed a portrait in black, white and red chalk (on pink paper) that originally was owned by Van Wisselingh, and in 1924 was still in the possession of his widow. In 2005 the portrait was bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York by its famous curator William Slattery Lieberman (1923-2005) who had worked for the MET since 1979.

Another portrait of Van Wisselingh was done by Shannon in 1900. It is an unsigned oil on canvas, 24 to 20 inches, that was given by the artist to the artist Francis Dodd (1874-1949), later given to Henry Rushbury (1889-1968), and through inheritance left to the painter Theo Ramos. The painting was sold by The Canterbury Auction Galleries on 8 October 2013, and is now offered for sale at The Maas Gallery in London for £8,500.

Charles Shannon, portrait of E.J. van Wisselingh (1900)
This oil portrait was exhibited in The New Gallery by The Society of Portrait Painters in 1902. In The Times (13 November 1902) a critic remarked that the hue was so sombre that it looked 'an exercise in black upon black', though it was 'most solidly thought out and executed', and would in future years be regarded 'as a noble "old master".' 

[Thanks are due to The Maas Gallery for the scan of Shannon's painting.]

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

206. A Dark Sketch of Medea

A small Charles Ricketts oil sketch will be auctioned today by Dreweatts at Donnington Priory in a sale of Fine Pictures (lot 160).

Charles Ricketts, 'Medea and her Children' (1903)
The sketch is painted in oil on board and measures 29 to 26 cm. The painting was exhibited in 1918 when The Goupil Gallery sold the collection of the Welsh county court judge William Evans (1861-1918). In the foreword of the Goupil catalogue Charles Aitken described Evans as 'a man who took a real delight in painting, and acquired the works of the younger artists as they painted them, instead of the safe, established dead'. 

The Evans collection seems to have started somewhere before 1900. The judge collected paintings by Wilson Steer and Henry Tonks before they became well-known. Aitken wrote: 'he secured works by Conder, Ricketts, Shannon, John, Orpen, Nicholson, Connard and Lamb in their early days, and most of the men whose work is now being more and more appreciated, found in him a genial patron in those trying days before their battle with an apathetic public was won ...'. (Charles Aitken, 'Preface', in Catalogue of a Collection of Oil Paintings, Watercolours & Drawings formed by the Late William Evans. London, Goupil Gallery, 1918, p.7-8).

The sketch of Medea and her children is rather dark and vague, but, according to Dreweatts's catalogue description, it 'captures the immediacy of the artist's creative process and draws inspiration from the working methods of Rubens and other old masters of the 17th century'. Estimated auction price: £1,200-£1,800.

[Note, 13 July 2015: The oil sketch was sold for £992 (hammer price: £800).]

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

205. A Sea Nymph by Charles Shannon

Today, an early painting attributed to Charles Shannon is included in an auction of Sheppards in Ireland.

There is no title, but the image is described as a 'Pre-Raphaelite study of a sea nymph in a cave'. The painting (90 x 70 cm or 36 x 28 inches) is signed with the initials CHS. There is a label on the back, but the image on the auctioneer's website is not clear.

Charles Shannon, undated painting of a sea nymph
The oil on canvas (lot 1070 in the sale of 'Glenmalire House, Laois and Other Important Clients' on 30 June and 1 July) has an estimated price of €4,000-€6,000.

[Note, 2 July 2015: Apparently this lot remained unsold.]

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

204. The Art of Sir William Rothenstein

The William Rothenstein exhibition at the Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford will be on show for another fourteen days. It opened on 7 March and will close on 12 July.

Exhibition catalogue The Art of Sir William Rothenstein
William Rothenstein (1872-1945) is perhaps best remembered for his highly entertaining memoirs (Men and Memories) and his lithograph portraits of artist friends and famous contemporaries, whereas his paintings of interiors, Jewish life, French and English country landscapes, and heavily bombed landscapes of war are not often seen.

Rothenstein shares with Ricketts the fate of a man with many identities, making him difficult to grasp, and unfit for comfortable exhibition stories.

William Rothenstein, English Portraits (1898)
Rothenstein's recollections of Ricketts and Shannon are full of detail and wonderful insights. The Bradford exhibition catalogue contains one portrait of Ricketts and Shannon that was published in English Portraits. A Series of Lithographed Portraits. The portraits were issued in parts in 1897 and 1898, and then collected in a book. Part IX, issued in January 1898, included the portrait of Ricketts and Shannon.

William Rothenstein, 'Mr. C. Ricketts and Mr. C.H. Shannon', English Portraits (1898)
Ricketts holds a wood-block, while Shannon looks on, and probably expects Ricketts to start talking again in a minute.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

203. Hand-Coloured by an Anonymous Artist

Last week I blogged about Miss Gloria Cardew. The name is a pseudonym for an artist who coloured black-and-white book illustrations, mainly for the London bookseller Frank Karslake. He organized exhibitions of bookbindings and books with coloured plates in 1897, and in 1898 created the Guild of Women Bookbinders. 

Cardew also seems to have coloured copies of Kelmscott Press books, ordered directly by some collectors, and this may well have been the case for Vale Press books. The article on Cardew (written by Denis Collins) notes that she always signed her work:

She always identified her work either by signing the book or by attaching, often to the verso of the front free endpaper, a small label stating: "The Illustrations in this Book were coloured by hand by Miss Gloria Cardew."'

The Vale Press books that were hand-coloured by Cardew were published around the time that she was active as a colourist (between 1897 and 1904). One of the coloured Vale press books was published in 1896, two others in 1897.

Vincent Barlow - who earlier this year contributed a blog about Shannon - wrote to say that he owns a coloured copy of another early Vale Press book, the 1897 edition of The Excellent Narration of the Marriage of Cupide and Psyches by Apuleius. The hand-coloured illustrations have not been signed by the artist, so it seems another colourist was trying her or his hand at colouring Vale Press books as well. The quality of the colouring is of a high standard.

All six wood-engravings in the book have been coloured (in watercolour), as well as the opening initial T. The initial was printed in red, the engravings in black.

Charles Ricketts, 'Love's Pact with Jove' (1897)
There is one important similarity between the illustrations coloured by the anonymous artist and those by Cardew: both artists leave parts of the design uncoloured. However, Cardew's illustrations display a quality that these do not have. Collins writes about Cardew's work: 'The colour was always kept firmly within the lines of the design'. In these illustrations the colouring does not have this flawless quality. In 'Love's Pact with Jove', for example, the red colour of the wings of Love has touched the naked body of Love.

Charles Ricketts, 'The Leap from the Rock' (1987)
Lucius Apuleius, The Excellent Narration of the Marriage of Cupide and Psyches (1897)
Cardew always coloured the images after the book had been bound. She did not colour separately issued proofs of the wood-engravings for Vale Press books. Of the wood-engravings for the Apuleius edition, Ricketts printed several proofs, on India paper, in grey, green, or blue, but these have not been hand-coloured by Ricketts, or by other artists. 

The coloured images change the book's appearance and design. The original colour scheme of the book was black (text and images), white (paper), and adornments in red: the title and initial on page 3, a song on page 7/8, notes and page numbers throughout the book, the 'finis' on page 56, and the two colophon pages with the publisher's device. The wood-engravings blend in with the text. In the coloured copy this is not the case; the images are more conspicuous, and disturb the original balance.

Charles Ricketts, 'Psyches' Invisible Ministrants' (1987)
If Miss Gloria Cardew did not colour this copy, the anonymous artist may have done it at the time of publication, or at any later time, around 1900, or much later, say, the fifties, or even more recently. Karslake sold such coloured copies because they fetched a higher price than the ordinary copies, and such mercantile thoughts certainly have not disappeared from the trade.

The colouring - though less harmonious than that by Cardew - not only displays qualities that testify of artistic talent, the fact that all six wood-engravings, and the initial have been coloured suggests that the colourist enjoyed a high degree of perseverance and purposefulness. Alas, we do not have a name to attach to the coloured images yet.

I think that Ricketts would not have liked these added colours, but one never knows. The initial on page 3 - a page that shows a carefully considered balance between black and red - has been gilded, while the branches and bunches of grapes have been coloured in green.

Lucius Apuleius, The Excellent Narration of the Marriage of Cupide and Psyches, page 3 (1897)
The hand-colouring of such pages does reflect a period in the history of printing that was studied by most patrons of private presses between 1890 and 1900. The earliest printed books in Italy for example imitated lavishly illustrated manuscripts, and the opening pages of these uncunabula were often hand-painted with striking scenes in many colours, including lapis lazuli and gold. The initials in those volumes were often hand-drawn and coloured as well. Printing multi-coloured illustrations was not possible at the time. In the days of the Kelmscott and Vale Presses colour printing was mostly confined to lithography, especially chromolithography, a technique that William Morris nor Charles Ricketts chose to use. 

The addition of colour in Vale Press books remains a question of taste, particularly the collector's taste, and in the last century that taste has changed radically. The modern collector prefers to see the book as it was issued, as a work of art of which all details are decided upon by one artist. A collaboration between artists and dealers usually diminishes the artistic value, while the interventions of collectors are mostly too personal to keep their value. That is to say that a unique coloured copy is not always more valuable than an ordinary uncoloured copy, on the contrary, but now that ordinary copies of Vale Press books are less valuable than ten or twenty years ago, such a copy might fetch a higher price.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

202. Hand-Coloured by Miss Gloria Cardew

Charles Ricketts's wood-engravings and decorations for the Vale Press books were printed in black, and Ricketts did not intend to add colour. A unique and experimental hand-painted illustration has survived. It was done on a proof page for Hero and Leander, a book that predates the foundation of the Vale Press. Ricketts did not make such attempts for any of the later books.

Charles Ricketts, decoration on a proof page
of Hero and Leander (1894) [detail]
However, there was the search for added value in a book. London booksellers were always looking for copies that could be sold at higher prices than ordinary copies. Frank Karslake (1851-1920) was one of them. Denis Collins, in an article for The Ibis Journal 5 (2014), wrote about the practice of attaining added value:

'There were various ways of doing this: a book might be bound in an attractive cloth cover or rehoused in a fine leather binding, or the standard edition of a work might be accompanied by a limited edition either on large paper or on japan vellum. Karslake actually commissioned special copies of books on japan direct from the publishers.'

Karslake also offered copies of books that were hand-coloured by Miss Gloria Cardew, who is the subject of Collins's article in The Ibis Journal: 'Gloria Cardew: Colourist of the 1890s'. The name appears to have been a pseudonym for a colourist who was born around 1878 and worked between 1897 and 1904 - there are photographs of her, but no biographical facts.

Portrait of Miss Gloria Cardew (from The Sketch, 28 December 1898)
Karslake organised an exhibition of books that were bound by women bookbinders at his Charing Cross Road shop in November 1897. Included were 32 books with hand-coloured illustrations by Cardew. Among the illustrators whose work had been 'improved' were Robert Anning Bell, Paul Woodroffe, and Charles Ricketts.

Poems by John Keats, illustrated by Robert Anning Bell,
and hand-coloured by Gloria Cardew
Most books Cardew coloured involved a lot of work. Poems by John Keats for example contained about eighty illustrations that were all worked in watercolour. The Vale Press did not issue books with that many wood-engravings, and Cardew probably only coloured the frontispiece and the opening pages - I haven't seen any reproductions of her Vale Press work. The three books that were executed by Cardew were early Vale Press books (Denis Collins provides a checklist of her work):

Michael Drayton, Nimphidia and the Muses Elizium (November 1896)
William Blake, The Book of Thel, Songs of Innocence, and Songs of Experience (May 1897)

Michael Field, Fair Rosamund (May 1897)

Denis Collins does not provide any additional information on previous owners and the current location. 

The Drayton copy was described by Howard M. Nixon in his British Bookbindings presented by Kenneth H. Oldaker to the Chapter Library of Westminster Abbey (London, Maggs Bros, 1982), and should now be in that library. It was purchased by Oldaker from the firm of Heywood Hill.

The Blake was offered for sale by Bromer Booksellers in Boston in 2001.

The Michael Field copy has left no traces that I could find. Perhaps the readers of this blog may help us out?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

201. Bindings for Daphnis and Chloe

Artcurial (Brest, Poulain, F. Tajan) in Paris has announced an auction of Livres et manuscrits modernes (Modern Books and Manuscripts) to take place on 22 June. More than 200 lots are described in the catalogue and 78 of these are from the collection of Jan van der Marck, an American museum administrator, book and art collector of Dutch origin who died in 2010. At the end of his life Van der Marck donated bookbindings and printed works to several institutions. The Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands, received 200 objects, including unique bookbindings and a collection of French works printed by Léon Pichon. Van der Marck also sold parts of his collection, and wrote the catalogue descriptions for the Bloomsbury auction in 2009 that contained examples of English and Dutch fine printing from his vast collection. He told me he wanted the catalogue to make a plea for the high typographical qualities of Dutch book production in the twentieth century. 

Bookbinding by J.Frank Mowery for Daphnis and Chloe with wood-engravings by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon (1893)
Lot 171 in the Artcurial auction in June is a book that remained unsold at the 2009 Bloomsbury auction. It is a copy of Daphnis and Chloe with wood-engravings by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon (1893). Van der Marck ordered a binding for it by the American bookbinder and paper conservator J. Franklin Mowery: a black morocco binding, ruled in blind in blocks of diagonal rules and titled in gilt, with black suede doublures and moiré silk flyleaves, signed at foot of rear doublure 'JFM 93'. The book is housed in a modern cloth slip-case.

Daphnis and Chloe is a relatively large book - measuring 29 by 22 cm. It was issued by Elkin Mathews and John Lane at the Bodley Head in 210 copies, all bound in plain green cloth.

Daphnis and Chloe with wood-engravings by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon (1893)
The book belongs to the early works of the Vale Artists, as they were called in several portraits of them in The Sketch (1895): Ricketts, Shannon, Lucien Pissarro and Reginald Savage. The name referred to Ricketts's and Shannon's house and studios in The Vale, and would become the name of their private press as well: The Vale Press. The cover for Daphnis and Chloe testifies of their wish to publish the book themselves, and mentions 'The Vale' on the spine. While the artists were still working on the engravings, John Lane of The Bodley Head agreed to take the risk of publication, and paid for the costs of printing and binding. 

Usually the book is found in its original green cloth binding. Van der Marck's copy in a new binding is a modern exception; it has lost the reference to 'The Vale' on its spine.

Another Dutch collector, Paul May (see my blog about a vellum Vale Press book from May's collection), ordered a binding from Sybil Pye.
Bookbinding by Sybil Pye for Daphnis and Chloe: bound in 1928 for Paul May
Sybil Pye bound two copies of this edition. The May copy is bound in 'Blue goatskin, inlaid with deep red, green, and natural goatskin, and gold-tooled', and a copy for G.F. Simms was bound in ‘Black pigskin, inlaid with red niger goatskin and undyed goatskin, and gold-tooled' (Marianne Tidcombe, Women Bookbinders 1880-1920). One of those is now at the William Andrews Clark Library in Los Angeles. It was acquired in 1959. 

Another rebound copy is at The Houghton Library at Harvard University: green morocco, gilt extra, bound by Rivière for Harold Wilmerding Bell, while The Huntington Library in San Marino, CA, owns a copy in crushed brown Levant morocco extra, uncut, top edges gilt, acquired from the library of Frederic R. Halsey in 1900.

I have no knowledge of a copy in a binding designed by Ricketts himself, and I doubt if he ever did a design for this book, other than the original plain green cloth binding. Today, Daphnis and Chloe in a unique Ricketts binding would be special. 

There was a time that every book that was brought to a private library had to be bound in a matching colour. Then, a taste for novel and unique bindings was developed and each book was given an individual binding. Later in the twentieth century the original state of issue became of primary importance to collectors, and books that were authentic were sought after, thus separating collectors of private press books from collectors of bookbindings. The Van der Marck copy of Daphnis and Chloe will probably be of more intense interest to a collector of - abstract, 1990s - bookbindings than to a collector of works by Ricketts and Shannon. 

[The Van der Marck copy was sold on 22 June. Hammer price: €1,300.]

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

200. 200th Blog Post Celebration

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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