Wednesday, March 28, 2012

35. To V.F. from C.R.

Earlier this month, Paul Rassam sent us a pre-publication copy of his new catalogue 25: Late 19th & 20th century literature. Number 127 in this catalogue describes a copy of Lord de Tabley's Poems, dramatic & lyrical (1893) with a late dedication 'To V.F. from C.R., 1919'. The recipient's bookplate helps to identify 'V.F.' as Vivian Forbes (1891-1937).
Cover for Lord de Tabley, Poems, dramatic & lyrical (1893), designed by Charles Ricketts
Forbes was a young painter who, in 1915, had met his future lover, the painter Glyn Philpot (1884-1937), with whom he had a troublesome relation that ended when Philpot died in 1937 and Forbes, who depended on him for moral and financial support, killed himself. 
Plaque at Lansdowne House, erected by Greater London Council, 1979
Philpot's work was influenced by that of Ricketts and Shannon, and when the two older artists left Lansdowne House for Townshend House, Forbes and Philpot moved into their former flats and studios. Although Ricketts & Shannon and Forbes & Philpot knew each other, they never became close friends. They probably met in about 1918, and Ricketts took a liking for the lesser talented Forbes, about whom he wrote to Gordon Bottomley, 29 May 1919: 'The war caught him when hardly a man, and he is seeing Russian ballets, National Gallery pictures, and hearing Wagner or Chopin as novelties'. To Thomas Lowinsky, he had written, December 1918: 'We have taken a great liking to Forbes, the sensual beast who ate my strawberries at Chilham'. Ricketts and Shannon had a country retreat, the Keep of Chilham Castle in Kent, which had been purchased by their friend Edmund Davis. (*) The dedication by Ricketts in a copy of Lord de Tabley's book dates from these years of admiration for the young painter. It was offered by Paul Rassam in the Summer of 2011 at the Olympia Fair in London, the price has now been reduced to £650.

Dedication from Charles Ricketts to Marcus Behmer in Lord de Tabley's Poems, dramatic & lyrical (private collection)
Another dedication copy of the same book has no date in it, but mentions the full name of the recipient, another young artist: 'To Marcus Behmer, from his friend, Charles Ricketts'. Marcus Behmer was an admirer from Germany, who had lived in Paris and may have met Ricketts before the First World War. He wrote about Ricketts's designs for the Vale Press on several occasions.

Ricketts's dedications are usually as short as these two, omitting dates, or reducing names to initials. Longer and intimate dedications are rare.

(*) Paul Delaney, Charles Ricketts. A biography. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990, p. 314. Self-portrait taken from the letters & journals of Charles Ricketts, RA. London, Peter Davies, 1939, p. 308. See also: J.G.P. Delaney, Glyn Philpot. His life and art. Aldershot, Ashgate, 1999, plate 8, for a portrait of Vivian Forbes painted by Glyn Philpot.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

34. An original print

On 18 March, 1937 - 75 years ago - Charles Shannon died. Next week, an exhibition on printmaking 1893-1895 will include a lithograph by Shannon at the Minneapolis Institute of Art exhibition about L'estampe originale. Shannon's contribution to this important series of original prints was a lithograph of a woman and cats, 'La femme aux chats', also called 'La Biondina'. This lithograph was described in Ricketts's Vale Press Catalogue of Mr. Shannon's lithographs (1902) as number 24: 'Biondina. A replica of No. 3 in reverse, more forcible, however in effect and execution. About fifty proofs exists'.

Charles Shannon, 'Biondina', lithograph (1894)
Lithograph number 3 was printed in 1890 in an edition of 12 copies. It was called 'The fantastic dress': 'a woman in a wide skirt moves to the left towards a mirror. In the foreground is the indication of a sofa on which are two cats'. The lithograph was later, in 1893, published in a small series, called Early lithographs, of which only 8 copies were for sale.

Ricketts's contribution to the same issue of L'estampe originale (album VII) was a woodcut, which was not well received: the wood engraving (89 x 94 mm) was printed in black on Japan paper (197 x 240 mm) and mounted on a larger sheet (433 x 596 mm). It was signed in pencil, lower right: C Ricketts. A blindstamp designed by Alexandra Charpentier for L’Estampe originale was embossed on the bottom left of the mounting sheet. Ricketts depicted a loggia to the left with a group of people, and to the right is a dragon on the roof. This engraving is known in France as 'Inondation', and in Great Britain as 'Deluge'.

Charles Ricketts, 'Inondation', or, 'Deluge', wood-engraving (1893)
The exhibition in Minneapolis will be on show from Saturday, March 24, 2012 to Sunday, December 9, 2012.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

33. Patterned papers (d: Bird, arrow, and rose)

Ricketts published four plays by 'Michael Field' (his friends Edith Cooper and Katherine Bradley), the first of which was Fair Rosamund. This was not a new text, it had originally been issued (twice) in 1884, but for the Vale Press edition the authors revised the text before and during printing, demanding more proofs than Ricketts cared to give them. As they had published a dozen books and he was only a 'young' publisher, they insisted on deciding how many proofs were necessary, and wanted to have a say in the design of the book. Ricketts's revenge was to be secretive about the cover, and when they asked if they would like it, he responded: 'I shall be immensely wounded & unforgiving, if you do not'. (*)
'Bird, arrow, and rose', patterned paper for Michael Field, Fair Rosamund (1897)
The authors received a copy on 14 April 1897, and a month later their diary carried this note: 'It is partly green as the summer peascod with creamy rose-trellis, the roses crowned with briar-thorns & under them fat doves transfixed with arrows as thoroughly as St. Sebastian'. This was another instance of Ricketts's revenge; he had consciously fattened the doves, while he usually did the opposite: he was famous for his elongated art nouveau figures. 'The half-binding is of mist-like blue, flecked with leaves & shapes in brownish purple - the most restless effect ever produced by a volume. The green is sharp, the design complex. The whole binding seems the result of the first spasm of the Spring that is to release Oscar on the imagination of Ricketts'. [Oscar Wilde was released from prison on 19 May 1897.] The diary entry continued: 'But the doves! - sentimental, revolting... We suffer inexpressibly. The relation of cover & book does not exist; there is nothing of our beloved Rosamund in this Valentine symbol, so obvious, so unlovely'. (**)
Patterned paper for the spine of Michael Field, Fair Rosamund (1897)
While the authors denied a link between the text and the patterned paper for the binding, several scholars have pointed out that Ricketts carefully took elements from the story for his imagery. Susan Ashbrook, for example, contended: 'The decorations of the binding include a diagonally repeating motif of a dove with a Plantaganet crown over its head, pierced through the breast by an arrow, against a trellis of roses. The symbolism is clearly that of innocence destroyed through love, with the arrow doing double-duty as a symbol of love and death. The rose is an obvious allusion to Rosamund. At the close of the play the king says to the dead body of his mistress: "A Rosa Mundi, thou | That were to the king a tender sweet brier-rose, | They've shed thy petals".'
Patterned paper for the boards of Michael Field, Fair Rosamund (1897)
Legend has it that Rosamund Clifford, a mistress of King Henry II (1133-1189), had to hide in a hunting lodge at Woodstock, which was surrounded by a maze, or with roses, as she was threatened by the Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. There are many stories surrounding Rosamund's hiding place and her death, but no indisputable facts are available. Rosamund was known as The Fair Rosamund or The Rose of the World, and became the subject of many poems and stories.
Dove, signed 'CR', patterned paper for Michael Field, Fair Rosamund (1897) [detail]
Ricketts signed the paper with his monogram CR on the rump of one of the doves (it was repeated on the back cover), clearly establishing the design as his own, regardless of the author's opinion. It should be noted that there are two patterned papers, one for the spine, and one for the boards. The first design of petals and dots alternated with roses and leaves is printed in red on blue paper. The second paper is printed in green on buff coloured paper; this is a complicated design, with several diagonals: the arrows pointing to the left cross the trellis going from left to right. The doves are fixed to the lines of the trellis - forming an angle of 60 degrees. However, the doves form a pattern of their own on a line that forms an angle of 30 degrees. The roses, also, have been clustered along these lines in different angles.

A combination of two patterned papers, printed in red and green, was also applied for a later Vale Press edition: The Rowley poems of Thomas Chatterton (1898).

(*) Diary of Michael Field, 18 February 1897.
(**) Ivor C. Treby, The Michael Field catalogue. A book of lists. London, De Blackland Press,  1998, p. 34; Diary of Michael Field, 23 March 1897, quoted after Paul Delaney, 'Book Design. A nineteenth-century revival', in: The connoisseur, August 1978, p. 282-289.
(***) Susan Ashbrook: The private press movement in Britain 1890-1914. Boston, Boston University Graduate School, 1991, p. 154.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

32. Frequent cycle-rides

Thomas Sturge Moore wrote about his friend Charles Shannon in a catalogue for P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., who in their Bond Street premises held a commemorative 'Exhibition of the lithographs of the late Charles Shannon, R.A.', from 20 January to 3 February 1938. Moore's foreword described Shannon as 'very handsome', with 'an energetic sturdiness' and an eye 'full of mockery'. Shannon could work very fast, a lithograph, such as 'The modeller', a portrait of Thomas Sturge Moore, would take ('final touches, and all') little over an hour.
Charles Shannon, 'The modeller', lithograph, 1891: a portrait of Thomas Sturge Moore 
Shannon had his own lithographic press and Moore would help him with the printing, however, they shared other interests:

When I came to help him with the press, he would sometimes propose a cycle-ride, and we would set out from 8 Spring Terrace, Richmond, through Leatherhead, always alighting to admire the old bridge, on through Dorking and Guildford, where the second hand shops would be visited to discover satin-wood, not yet "the rage," so that fine pieces could be picked up cheaply. Or we went to Hampton Court, and he would examine the Titian intently, as though he had never seen anyting like it before. "The fresh eye is the seeing eye; the eye that thinks it knows all about it only recognizes, never discovers."

Titian, 'Portrait of a man (known as Alessandro de Medici)' in Hampton Court (from: Charles Ricketts, Titian, 1910, plate xxxvi)
Apparently, Moore had learned to cycle early in 1896 on the bicycle of his friend the sculptor Henry Poole, and Poole and Moore went on a cycling tour in France later that year. 'His mother begged him not to venture into the heavy traffic of London and enclosed newspaper cuttings of cycling accidents, Uncle Appia sent messages warning of the dangers of the roads in France, even Uncle George in Jersey, a cyclist himself, wrote urging extreme caution'. His father 'offered a loan for the purchase of a thoroughly reliable machine'. Moore was prone to accidents, he pulled off the handlebars on one occasion and injured his knee on another, but eventually he became 'a hardy long-distance cyclist'. From Shannon's London address to Guildford, for example, was about 20 miles. In 1898, on a stay in Broadstairs, he taught Shannon how to master the bicycle.(*)

Moore and Shannon made frequent long cycling trips, such as those to Wells and Marlborough (April 1901) and to Salisbury, Glastonbury and Winchester (August 1901). Paul Delaney wrote:

Not long after this Shannon began to teach Ricketts to ride a bicycle. The old machine that had served to teach Sturge Moore and Shannon was passed on to him. With his haste and impatience he had no more aptitude for the bicycle than the piano, but perhaps he minded not being included when his two friends went off ther frequent cycling trips. He certainly missed Shannon. When Ricketts was "wicked", Shannon used to threaten to go off cycling with Sturge Moore. On his first lesson, in July 1901, Ricketts did "unexpectedly well", and in August he was still "improving wonderfully". Shannon even bought  him a new bicycle. But by October the next year the bicycle was for sale and Ricketts's cycling was over: "I collapsed with nervous exhaustion at Cambridge", he told the Fields, "& I fear shed tears upon the Trumpington Road & for the first time the bike has passed into history." From then on, when Shannon "biked", Ricketts "trained". Shannon cycled and played ping-pong or tennis but the only exercise Ricketts took was walking.'(**)

Advertisment for cycles (1901)

Illustration from Isabel Marks, Fancy cycling (1901)
(*) Sylvia Legge, Affectionate cousins. T. Sturge Moore and Marie Appia. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1980, p. 94, 134.
(**) J.G.P. Delaney, Charles Ricketts. A biography. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990, p. 156-157.