Wednesday, March 27, 2013

87. Nothing

Indicators of influenza activity across the Netherlands show that influenza is circulating, and as I am now one of its victims, this week's blog comes to nothing but a quote:

April 8 [1915]
Like Louis XVI, who records 'rien' in his diary on the tragic days of the Revolution and his trial, I have nothing to say.
(Self-Portrait taken from the Letters & Journals of Charles Ricketts, R.A., 1939, p. 237)

Dust-jacket for Self-Portrait taken from the Letters & Journals of Charles Ricketts, R.A. (1939)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

86. The Man with a Yellow Glove

Bonhams in New Bond Street, London, issued a catalogue for their auction of 8 May, when the third part of The Roy Davids Collection of poetical manuscripts and portraits of poets will be on sale.

Davids owned one or two manuscripts of almost all important English poets, and he also collected portraits, photographs, drawings, engravings, and a few paintings. One of the items in the sale is a large portrait of the poet and artist Thomas Sturge Moore (75x67 cm) by Charles Shannon.
Charles Shannon, 'The Man with a Yellow Glove'
This portrait is known as 'The Man with the Yellow Glove' and it was awarded a gold medal at the International Exhibition at the 'Glaspalaste', the Royal Chrystal Palace, in Munich, in 1897. This was one in a series of exhibitions of the Munich 'Secession' for which Franz von Stuck had designed the poster.
Franz von Stuck, Poster of the 7th International Art Exhibition, Munich
Shannon had sent one other painting to Munich, 'A Wounded Amazon'. When the portrait of Moore was returned, Shannon wrote in his diary that it was 'rather too black', and that it seemed to be 'more dark than when it went'.

Around the same time, Shannon finished a self-portrait and a portrait of Ricketts, having similar titles: 'The Man in a Black Shirt' and 'The Man in the Inverness Cape', now both at the National Portrait Gallery.

The portrait of Thomas Sturge Moore in its original matt gold frame formerly belonged to Colin Franklin (1923), a writer, bibliographer, book-collector and antiquarian bookseller, before it passed into the collection of Roy Davids. Davids was a writer of biographies of members of parliament, before he came to work for Sotheby's as a cataloguer of manuscripts. He worked for the auction house from 1970 until twenty years later, when he started his own business as a manuscript dealer (the Roy Davids Ltd. website has not been updated since 2007). Since 2005, Davids has been selling his collection in parts, not because 'he has shrugged off the collecting bug, nor is he close to death' (as was written on Paul Fraser Collectibles), but 'partly because I have to do something with it', as Davids says in a video presentation. He believes that the manuscripts should return to the market. 

The first part of the Davids collection was sold in 2005, the second part in March 2011, the third part will be on sale on 8 May 2013.

Note: The painting was sold for £4,550 inc. premium and tax.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

85. March 18, 1937

Seventy-six years ago, on 18 March, 1937, Charles Shannon died. A year later, P. & D. Colnaghi & Co in London devoted an exhibition to his lithographs. In the catalogue, Thomas Sturge Moore wrote about his sitting for a portrait in 1896. He recalled Shannon's eye for quality and their frequent cycle-riding adventures. He especially remembered Shannon's 'energetic sturdiness'.

Images of a number of lithographs by Charles Shannon are available online. His first experiment in lithography, dated 1889, depicts 'The Vale in Snow'. The image is provided by the British Library. We barely see the house of Ricketts and Shannon on this lithograph of which only eight copies seem to have been made.

Charles Shannon, 'The Vale in Snow', lithograph, 1889 (British Library)
Shannon's self-portrait, and his portrait of Ricketts, are now in the Portrait Gallery in London. More paintings by Shannon can be seen on the website of the BBC. 

Charles Shannon, 'Girl Bathers in a Boat', painting, c. 1905-1910 (Hammersmith Archives and Local History Centre)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

84. A new interpretation of The Great Worm

Until recently, John Gray's story 'The Great Worm', which was published in the first issue of The Dial in 1889, was not taken seriously. Gray's biographer wrote:

It is a story of a dragon who dies from unrequited love; its silliness is so precisely balanced with pathos, its parody by bemused self-parody (the worm turns out to be the dreamer of the tale), that one must suspend judgment about its success. The risks alone are worth reading of it, as if a rococo artist had painted (say, in gold and white) one of Oscar Wilde's fairy tales. (Jerusha Hull McCormack, John Gray. Poet, Dandy, and Priest, 1991, p. 25).

Charles Ricketts, vignette and initial for John Gray's story 'The Great Worm', in The Dial, 1889, p. 14.
Earlier, Richard Harold Quinn wrote a thesis on The Dial in which the story was relevated:

'The great Worm' is best described as a dream vision, but it is clearly one of the most curious of its type. Asleep in a garden of lilies, a poet sees a gold and white worm, an 'unaffected beast', who lived 'somewhere in the belly of one of those mountain ranges in Central Asia, with a name as ragged as its silhouette.' Having offered his services to the prince of the region, the worm is sent out at the head of an army to establish order among wavering subjects. The expedition goes well until an unnamed 'figure of silent whiteness,' the inhabitant of a glorious city, offers the worm a lily, which he then wears on his breast. That night he is heard to moan 'Why am I a worm?' And within days, the lily having taking root, he is dead. 
Faced with the task of interpreting 'The Great Worm,' one is tempted by allegorical possibilities (the dragon of evil defeated by purity; sin destroyed by Holy Church) and even by Symbolist possibilities (the mysteriousness of the worm's identity and motives; the metaphysical suggestiveness of the lily and the 'figure of silent whiteness'). On the other hand, to quote Alexandra Zaina, 'it seems unlikely that this story was meant to be taken seriously.' (Richard Harold Quinn, Charles Ricketts and The Dial, 1977, p. 112-113)

But why not take the story seriously? The Dial was a serious attempt to ventilate new ideas about art, and one of its editors - Ricketts - considered it worthwhile to devote no less than four illustrations to this story: a vignette/initial at the beginning, a tailpiece at the end, a colour lithograph and an etching.
Charles Ricketts, illustration to 'The Great Worm', lithograph, in The Dial, 1889, plate AA.
Another later commentator, C.N. Pondrom, wrote: 

Much of the original literary contents of the  periodical show an affinity with the pseudo-medieval, fantastic, misty literature associated with the pre-Raphaelite movement, and in this sense, as well as in the frequency and excellence of illustration, the Dial is a clear successor to the Germ. Examples of this affinity may be seen in the Charles Ricketts' short story 'The cup of Happiness' and John Gray's parable 'The Great Worm'. (Cyrena Norman Pondrom, English Literary Periodicals 1885-1918, 1966, p. 74). 

A new interpretation was published earlier this year in English Literature in Transition, 1880-1930, volume 56 (2013) 1, p. 33-50: Petra Clark's essay 'Bitextuality, Sexuality, and the Male Aesthete in The Dial: "Not through an orthodox channel"'. Petra Clark is a Lasner Research Assistant at the University of Delaware, where I met her during my visit in February.

Her essay is firmly rooted in modern research theories, inspired by such scholars as Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Elaine Showalter, and Dennis Denisoff. Clark's sometimes witty interpretation focuses on the sexual imagery in the story, and likens the worm's physique to the male sexual organ.

the varied representations of masculinity and the blatant sexual (and arguably homoerotic) imagery it contains have been largely overlooked, as well as how these factors contribute to the notion of the artist that the Dial seems to be constructing.

More about this study in blog no. 88: 'The Great Worm revisited'.