Wednesday, April 25, 2018

352. Ricketts's Design of Oscar Wilde's Poems (1892) (4)

In last week's blog - No 351 Ricketts's Design of Oscar Wilde's Poems (1892) (3) - I have shown a scan of the lower part of the title page of Poems (1892). This page is part of a bifolium, four pages, of which only one is typeset (the half title). The last page is left blank, the second and third pages contain the limitation statement and the title page and these two have been reproduced after an original drawing by Ricketts.

Oscar Wilde, Poems (1892)
The bifolium has been pasted in at the front, before the other gatherings. 

Ricketts's hand-lettering was slightly reduced in size, as usual for relief blocks, minimizing the space between some lines in the limitation statement, and on the title page. 

The printing of the block has left traces in some copies of Poems. Next to the place name 'London', slightly to the left, a faint ink circle can be seen. This was not intended. 

Title page of Oscar Wilde, Poems (1892) (detail)
When the zinc plate was ready for use, it was mounted on wood to the height of type, and this was done with little nails. The head should remain below the inking surface, but the faint ink circle on the title page testifies that this wasn't always properly taken care of, causing the head of the nail to catch ink and print it on the paper. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

351. Ricketts's Design of Oscar Wilde's Poems (1892) (3)

When the remaining sheets of Oscar Wilde's Poems, published in 1881-1882 (sheets of the second printing, used for the fourth and fifth 'editions') by David Bogue, were used for the new 'edition' by Elkin Mathews and John Lane | At The Sign of The Bodley Head in 1892, quire Q with the list of Bogue's publications was cut out. Also, the first two preliminary leaves were discarded. The original pages contained (1) a half-tile, (2) a blank page, (3) title-page, (4) name and address of the printer. One leaf (4 pages).

Oscar Wilde, Poems (1881): half-title inscribed in Philadelphia (1882)
[Magdalen College, University of Oxford] and
Oxford (1885) [Worlds End Bookshop, London]
Charles Ricketts was asked to design the new preliminary pages, new endpapers and a new binding. For the first four pages, he designed a title-page and a facing limitation statement. The verso of the title page is blank. The recto of the first page contains the half-title. Or, in other words: (1) half-title, (2) limitation page, (3) title-page, (4) blank. One folded leaf, pasted in at the front.

Did Ricketts actually design the half-title, as is stated by Wilde's bibliographer Stuart Mason (Christopher Sclater Millard)?

Oscar Wilde, Poems (1892): half-title
The thing is, the half-title in the 1892 edition is almost identical to the one in the first edition of Poems, and the type used seems almost the same, including the dot after Poems

Apart from this typographical similarity, it is to be noted that this is the only page for which any typesetting had to be done. The other pages are reproduced after drawings by Ricketts. The lettering of those pages is not type-set, but originally drawn by hand, and slightly reduced in size for the block, as was the custom with illustrations. Even the place name, outside the double border, has been hand-lettered. The two 'n's and 'o's in London are not identical (as can be seen with a magnifier).

Oscar Wilde, Poems (1892): title-page

Hand-lettered place name in Oscar Wilde's Poems (1892)
Using a magnifier for the word 'Poems.' on the half-title, we see a very regular type.

'E' in half-title for Oscar Wilde, Poems (1892)
Advertisements for the book mentioned that the book had been printed at the Chiswick Press, 'with decorated title-page and end-papers, the binding "The Seven Trees," in gold on Iris cloth; designed by C.S. Ricketts'. The half-title isn't mentioned by the publisher in his letters to Wilde. However, Mason simply assumed that Ricketts designed the four new pages.

My inclination is to believe otherwise. 

Firstly, had Ricketts designed the half-title, a more interesting page would have been designed for which another block would have had to be made. The artist knew that the publisher wished to produce a limited edition book without spending too much. Rickets usually was very economical and resourceful when it came to meet the needs of publishers.

Secondly, the new half-title is not hand-drawn but typeset, and thus different in approach in comparison with the other preliminary pages.

Thirdly, the new half-title so much resembles the older one, that it can be assumed that the printer was commissioned to imitate the 1881-1882 half-title, and duly did so. The printer of this new sheet was the same as the one who printed the original 1881 and 1882 sheets: the Chiswick Press. It was also a matter of custom, and it may have been a printer's initiative to include the half-title. Moreover, this was the cheapest solution. Printers and binders needed half-titles to accommodate the workflow.

For the publisher, the half-title wasn't an important page. Why bother an artist like Ricketts for a special design for such a plain page that wasn't seen as the real entrance to the book?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

350. A Drawing of Ricketts and Shannon

The two paintings of Shannon in the National Portrait Gallery - Shannon's self-portrait and his portrait of Ricketts - seem to inspire contemporary artists. I found a recent double portrait on a site called 'Deviant Art'. I couldn't contact the visual artist who posted this drawing, so I hope she doesn't mind my reproducing it here.

Pumpkin-Pasty (Rosie), portrait of Shannon and Ricketts (2017?)
The comments are about his style: 'Beautiful, delicate way of painting - transparent soft of colour. Gentle painting'.  The drawing - by an art student? - is published on the site by 'Pumpkin-Pasty', or 'Rosie', who is, according to her tags, interested in traditional painting, drawings, portraits & figures.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

349. Fifty-Eight Years Ago: Art Nouveau

Fifty-eight years ago, one of the first exhibitions on Art Nouveau was on view at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. The catalogue Art Nouveau. Art and Design at the Turn of the Century, edited by Peter Selz and Mildred Constantine, duly mentioned that this show had been preceded by a small exhibition on Art Nouveau in the same museum as early as 1933. By 1960 scholars and collectors had accumulated enough material for a large exhibition. 

Art Nouveau at the MOMA, 1960
A photograph from 1960 shows a wall with books and prints, and one can easily recognize some Aubrey Beardsley illustrations, but also, to the left, on the second row from the bottom, two books designed by Charles Ricketts. Both books were closed, and only the front cover of these could be admired.

To the left is a copy of Hero and Leander (1894) from the collection of Mr and Mrs Leonard Baskin (Northampton, Massachusetts). To the right is Wilde's The Sphinx (1894), the Morgan Library copy.

Nice to know that illustrator, sculptor and book artist Leonard Baskin (1922-2000) and his wife nature writer Esther Tane Baskin (1925-1973) had a copy of Hero and Leander.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

348. Couples at the Rosenbach

On show at The Rosenbach in Philadelphia is the exhibition Of Two Minds: Creative Couples in Art and History

This is a collaboration with the Free Library of Philadelphia, and includes works from their collections of children's literature, prints and pictures and rare books. Represented are actors and artists, silversmiths and monarchs, journalists and ornithologists. Among the book artists who closely worked together are William and Catherine Blake, Diane and Leo Dillon, Donna and Peter Thomas, and Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon.

William Blake, Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793) [Collection of The Rosenbach, Philadelphia]
On show is the Rosenbach copy of William Blake's Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793). The role of Catherine Blake - feeding the press with paper and hand colouring the prints - is not always acknowledged, and if so, the less subtly coloured prints are attributed to her, even though details about their collaborative efforts are non-existent.

The collaboration of Ricketts and Shannon was certainly intense in their early days. However, each was an artist in his own right, and both signed their own works. Only at the early stages of their careers, one can see a few truly collaborative works, such as Hero and Leander, Daphnis and Chloe, and A House of Pomegranates.

Charles Shannon by Elliott and Fry, albumen cabinet card, c. 1900
[National Portrait Gallery London]
The collaboration on Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates can also be seen as two artists working separately and following their own vocation. Ricketts designed the binding, title page, decorations, and illustrations, while Shannon produced four full page illustrations that were printed as etched relief prints by the Paris firm of Verdoux, Ducourtioux et Huillard.

Ricketts's illustrations can be found in between Wilde's words, on the same pages as the text of these fairy tales, but Shannon's prints are separately inserted.

At the Rosenbach, the beginning of the story of 'The Fisherman and His Soul' is on display. The pages show Ricketts's work only.

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891) [The Rosenbach, Philadelphia]
The Rosenbach copy is from the bequest of book artist Maurice Sendak - what would he have thought about Ricketts's and Shannon's illustrations?

[Thanks are due to Sara Davis and The Rosenbach for the illustration of the Blake and Wilde books.]

[My little series on Wilde's Poems - see blog 346 and 347 - will be continued.] 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

347. Ricketts's Design of Oscar Wilde's Poems (1892) (2)

Last week I wrote about the limitation statement of Oscar Wilde's Poems in the 1892 edition. (See blog No 346). Michael Seeney contacted me about the line in relation to Wilde's signature on the same page.

His astute observation is:

One thing that has always puzzled me is the printed line about three-quarters of the way down the limitation page. It seems to serve no purpose, although in my copy (No 1) and the one illustrated in Mason (No 7) Wilde joins his name to the line with a descender from the final 'e'. In other copies I've seen he just leaves the line floating - perhaps he became tired of signing with such a flourish.
Limitation statement and Oscar Wilde's signature in No. 109
The limitation statement seems straightforward as a text. However, its design is more complicated than it seems, and Seeney's remark allows us another look at the page as a whole.

The triangle of small ornaments at the top is positioned almost in the middle of the page (45 mm from the top, 50 mm from the left and 50 mm from the right). To the right is a block of text with written letters, numbers and two floral ornaments: a small ornament in line 4 and another one at the end of line 5. There is an initial 'T' (lines 1-3) and another one, 'N' (line 6-7). There are no divisions between the text lines, but the block has been divided into two parts.

Part one is about the edition size:

This edition
consists of
210 copies, 
200 of which
are for sale

The second part is about the individual copy:


The left margin of the two parts of this text block is not straight; it somewhat follows the form of the triangle to the left.

To balance the design on this page, there are two lines: a small one (4 mm) to the right of the second part of the text block, and a longer line (22 mm). The second line is somewhat smaller than the text blocks of which the lines measure 24 to 26 mm.

All these texts, ornaments and lines have been calligraphed by Ricketts, and are printed from a block. No material from the type case has been used.

The purpose of these two lines might have been to obtain an aesthetic balance of the black and white parts on the page, and to achieve a balance of this page with the title page opposite. 

After the page had been printed, Ricketts's design served as a certificate of limitation, and each copy was individualized by the inclusion of a number that was handwritten in ink, and each copy was authenticated by Oscar Wilde, the author of the book, who wrote his large signature in each copy.

Limitation statement and Wilde's signatures in copies No. 22, 91 and 95
Comparing four copies - No 109 (Christie's, 2012), No. 22 (private collection), No. 91 (Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library), No. 95 (Duke University [reproduced in Nicholas Frankel, Oscar Wilde's Decorated Books, 2000]) - it is noticeable that Wilde's signature appears to the lower left side of the page, with the name divided over two lines, the final 'e' unfinished, and ending in a downward stroke of the pen. 

In some cases that pen stroke touches the horizontal line; in some copies the signature appears between the limitation statement and the line; in some cases the pen stroke makes a sharp angle to the right. There seems to be no consistency; the signing of these 210 copies may have been done in several sessions, the author needing a rest or a drink in between. 

The numbers have been placed in the same spot in every copy, that is, between the text 'No of copy' and the small horizontal line. These numbers were not written by Wilde, but (most likely) by an employee at the premises of The Bodley Head. The writing of the numerals is consistent in style and in placement.

But what about the position of both - number and signature - in relation to the horizontal lines (the smaller one and the lower one)?

My theory is, that Ricketts had intended these lines not only to balance the whole design, but also to leave space for the number and signature. Examples of printed limitation statements show that dotted lines were normally used to indicate the place where the copy number and the author's signature should be written. In Ricketts's case, there were no printed lines, and he didn't draw dotted lines, he drew uninterrupted lines. His design was intended to have the copy number in a small script on the small line at the end of the limitation statement. However, the writer of these numbers ignored this intention (Ricketts was not present to instruct him), and the number ended up between the text and the line. That space should have been left blank.

And Oscar Wilde? His signature was never as small and precisely calligraphed as Ricketts's own modest and carefully written signature. Wilde came and confiscated the page, it was to be his book, and it certainly was his signature that would make the book worthwhile to buy. And in other cases, he had done the same. When Ricketts received his personal copy of another book that he had designed for Wilde, The Sphinx, he was infuriated, as T.S. Moore recorded:

Yet I can see his face crimson as he tore out the fly-leaf Wilde had inscribed from the copy of The Sphinx sent to him. 'Vulgar beast!' he cried, for the signature ended in a straight-lined 'z' scrawled right across the leaf, an outrage to the exquisite niceties of the artist's book building, in blatant contrast also with the modesty of his insect-like autograph.

And so it is with each and every copy of the 1892 edition of Wilde's Poems...

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

346. Ricketts's Design of Oscar Wilde's Poems (1892) (1)

One of the audacious and elaborate early book designs by Charles Ricketts was requested for a reissue of Oscar Wilde's Poems in May 1892.

The unsold (and unbound) sheets were leftovers of the 1882 edition. Bogue, Wilde's early publisher, sold around one thousand copies of the book before his bankruptcy. Sheets of the unsold copies were transferred to Chatto and Windus, and, later, to Osgood McIlvaine, before they were sold on to Matthews and Lane. This modernist firm acquired 230 sets of sheets, and as 10 were spoilt during binding, the new edition comprised 220 copies. These copies were signed by Oscar Wilde on the page with the limitation statement.

Ricketts had designed that page, the title page, the endpapers, and the binding. It is unclear who designed the half-title that was part of the new gathering that was added to the old sheets. 

Limitation statement in Oscar Wilde, Poems (1892)
The limitation statement has been reproduced after the written and drawn design by Ricketts. It starts with a motif that we have seen before in his work, a triangle of small flower decorations. There are eight rows of these, one line containing four flowers, followed by three lines having three flowers and two lines showing two ornaments, ending with two lines of only one flower.

A similar triangle of decorations can be found in the second issue of The Dial (1892). The last page in this magazine contained small bird decorations in four lines: three birds, two birds, one bird and another one in the last row. The decorative triangle was not placed on a blank page. To the upper right side of it, the name and location of the printer were mentioned, and under the triangle, somewhat to the right, the year of publication.

The Dial, No. 2 (1892)
In 1891, Ricketts had drawn a triangle of pomegranates for Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates. This triangle - three lines with three, two and one element respectively - was facing the title page. Here, the ornamental triangle was positioned underneath the dedication by Wilde to his wife Constance Mary Wilde. Three words underlined with three pomegranates. The ornament also appeared between the text lines in the book, and fulfilled different functions in the book.

Another example can be found on the cover of The Picture of Dorian Gray, issued by Ward, Lock & Co. in 1891. The name of Dorian Gray is placed on top of a triangle of four, three, two, and finally, one depiction of a flower.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
In Poems, published later than these other books, the triangle points to the text of the limitation statement that starts next to the two rows of flowers at the bottom of it.