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.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

197. Signed by the Artist

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

196. An Almost Silent Spine

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

Title on the spine of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891 and 1895)

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

195. Charles Ricketts in Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

194. The Myth of Danaë (5): Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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