Wednesday, March 26, 2014

139. William Morris and a Dutch eye-witness

On 2 November 1893 William Morris gave a lecture 'On the Printing of Books' at a meeting in the North Gallery of the New Gallery, 121 Regent Street, London, under the auspices of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. The Unpublished Lectures of William Morris (edited by Eugene D. Lemire, 1969) mentioned that 'no text remains' of this lecture, although it must have been comparable to one published in Arts and Crafts Essays (1899). 

The William Morris Internet Archive Chronology also mentions the lecture, and states that the text was published in The Times, 6 November 1893: 'On the Printing of Books'. However, The Times did not print the text of the lecture, only an account of it: 'Mr. William Morris on the Printing of Books'.

The Times asserted that the gallery was completely filled and that Morris was received with cheers. Morris lantern-lecture was a short history of printing, showing pages printed by Gutenberg, Schweinheim, and others up to 1532.

In the audience was at least one Dutch reporter: Leo Simons (1862-1932). Simons was a Dutch critic, reporter and publisher, who lived in London between 1893 and 1897, when he was a partner of publishing firm Henry & Co. Among the last books issued by the short-lived firm was the second volume of Charles Shannon's and Gleeson White's magazine The Pageant. The firm went bankrupt in 1897. (Around 1881, by the way, Simons had been a student at the Kensington Art School to learn drawing.)

In 1893, Leo Simons wrote a series of articles on the Arts and Crafts movement for a major Dutch newspaper, Opregte Haarlemsche Courant. He had been its theatre critic since 1885. The first part appeared on 16 October 1893, the second one on 30 October, and the last one on 4 December 1893. Next week, I will quote from the third issue those parts that were about Ricketts and Shannon.

Leo Simons
The two earlier instalments were mainly devoted to William Morris, as was part of the last issue that contained an account of the lecture that Morris had delivered on 2 November. It had been announced at the end of Simons' second article: 'On the Second of November William Morris will deliver a lecture on "the art of printing"'. As Simons lived in London, he decided to attend.

These three articles are a remarkable early Dutch testimony of the importance of the Arts and Craft movement, and were previously unknown. They were not mentioned in a bibliography on the Dutch reception of Morris and his works in the Netherlands: William Morris in Nederland. Een bibliografie. Geschriften van en over William Morris verschenen in het Nederlands taalgebied 1874-2000, edited by Lieske Tibbe, Wim Gerlagh and Sjaak Hubregtse (Leiden 2003). A more recent publication, Anne van Buul's In vreemde grond geworteld. Prerafaëlitisme in de Nederlandse literatuur en beeldende kunst (1855-1910) (Groningen 1983) did not mention them either. Only recently, when I blogged about the Flemish arts nouveau periodical Van Nu en Straks, did I stumble upon a reference to Simons's articles. There is no online archive of this newspaper, and I had to consult the microfiche edition at the National Library of the Netherlands.

Starting point for the three articles was the recently opened Fourth Arts and Crafts Exhibition (2 October-2 December 1893). Because of his importance to the Arts and Crafts movement, Simons began with a portrait of Morris, whom he described as 'a somewhat stout figure of average height', dressed in 'an oversized blue jacket that is worn with age'. His somewhat casual dress and his shabby wide-brimmed hat were in contrast with his 'powerful head and its grey square beard', and with his 'steady eyes that were half hidden by his glasses'. 

William Morris
In his first essay, Simons described the work of Morris & Co. and of the Kelmscott Press. He also gave a short catalogue of furniture that was for sale at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition. Simons saw the importance of Morris, but argued that the Gothic inspiration would make these chairs and tables unsuited for the modern home.

The second essay was an introduction to the history of the Arts and Crafts, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: Maddox Brown, Rossetti, Burne-Jones. Simons also mentioned the work of Walter Crane and the Fitzroy Picture Society, before announcing Morris's lecture of 2 November.

His third essay started with another picture of William Morris:

William Morris was standing on the low platform, dressed slightly more careful than usual, broad, and round, in his blue jacket, unlike the formal and respectable dress of English gentlemen at a soirée. No orator, no raconteur; he is a teacher who wants to instruct his audience, and does not care for  the style of his lecture. His talk was held together by awkward interjections such as 'now I have still to say this' and 'now I must add' [Simons actually quoted these phrases in English!], and his lecture was a disruptive flow of stuttered comments to lantern slides of early printed books.

Simons concluded that it was almost impossible to give a summary of this presentation. His detailed account mentions that Morris talked about calligraphy, and the art of the book. Morris contested that a beautiful book did not need decorations, which Simons found remarkable as the Kelmscott Press books displayed numerous decorative illustrations. He talked about type, and discussed his preference for Gothic types. He then discussed lay-out, margins, paper, ink, and ended with pictures of his own books. It is interesting to see that Simons, a relative outsider, wrote about the quality of the lecturer, and his appearance on the platform; and also that he did not summarize (as The Times did) the history of the book in Morris's lecture (which did not contain anything new), but concentrated on what was novel: Morris's view of 'the ideal book'. 

Leo Simons

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

138. Charles Ricketts on Modern Women's Dress

Charles Ricketts wrote about fashion several times. He contributed pieces about 'Greek Dress' and 'The True Significance of Dress' to the Saturday Review in January and February 1909, and he became well known as a designer of costumes and scenery for the stage. His most famous designs were done for Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado in 1926.

His view on modern dress was published in an interview for the Evening News; and reprinted in the Daily Mail, 2 June 1928. This interview has, to my knowledge, not yet been used for articles or books about Ricketts.

Modern Women's Dress is "Graceful and Charming in Every Way."

Handsome Tribute from a Royal Academician - Short Skirts of the Grecian Girls - Splendid Combination of Utility and Beauty - But the Corsage is Too Monotonous - And Footwear Should be Well-studied - A Glance Backwards: When the Bustle was a Delight

Daily Mail Atlantic Edition, 2 June 1928
Women's taste to-day is sound. Of that I have received ample assurance from Mr. Charles Ricketts, Royal Academician, a distinguished authority in historical dress and designer of costumes for many plays, including "St. Joan" and "The Mikado."

"I love the clean and new head," he declared, "though I must admit I wasn't sure of it at first. The shingle allows you to appreciate the shape of a girl's head and her carriage of it as you never could when all that bird's-nest business was the fashion.
"But the appearance of women is now graceful and charming in every way - I even think girls' faces are prettier than ever they were! And I should not be surprised if that were because of the dresses and the wide interests of their lives."

He reminded me that there is nothing new in short skirts; the girls of ancient Greece wore them - strange that elderly connoisseurs should so admire a short skirt on an ancient decorated bowl, and yet be blind to its beauty in reality. But though it is no new thing, it is new to us.
"Women have only recently learned how to carry short skirts," he said. "You can see that if you watch an older woman in one - she doesn't know where to put her legs.
"Nearly every period of dress has charm - or has had charming exponents of its best points. The bustle, which most people think of as an enormity, was wonderful on some graceful women; they moved like swans. The 'aesthetic' type that was ridiculed was really an extremely beautiful arrangement of lines, on the right person. And to see an elegant woman moving swiftly in those huge hooped skirts was a delight."

Portrait of Charles Ricketts in Daily Mail Atlantic Edition, 2 June 1928
I asked Mr. Ricketts which recent fashion he admired most, and he said that during the two years before the war women were the most gracious and elegant fashions of his lifetime.

"That period was immeasurably better than the twenty or so previous years," he said, "but there was a sad falling-off immediately after the war, when the fashions became violent and vulgar and skirts shortened to just the wrong length.
"Now, as I said, they are lovely; but there is just one thing about women's dress that, as an artist, I regret: the monotony of the corsage. It is dull and rather childish - in fact, when it's pink, it might have come straight from the nursery. Of course, it is very much better than the upholstered eggcup affair, but we ought to think of something more interesting.
"I hate all the talk of the 'indecency' of modern dress," he went on. "It is anything but indecent. It is a splendid combination of mere sex-appeal."

"But I do wish women would pay more attention to their shoes," he said, earnestly. "In America - but then, American women carry modern dress to perfection. Footwear is an art over there; it completes the dress. Shoes should never be chosen because they look smart in themselves; it is essential that they should be a part of the whole dress."

Mr. Ricketts has been designing costumes for a play about the Spanish conquest of Mexico, and he showed me two exquisite designs. "Do you think," he asked," that these old Mexican dresses would be modest enough for a bishop?"
From an interview in the London "Evening News,' associated with the "Daily Mail."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

137. Multiple Portraits of Charles Shannon

The Late Victorian Portraits Catalogue of the National Portrait Gallery in London contains a list of all known self-portraits, portraits by other artists, and photographs of Charles Shannon, whose death occurred on the 18th of March, 1937. Perhaps, those in London can have a view of one of those portraits on the 18th of this month to commemorate the artist.

A portrait of Charles Shannon, in Daphnis and Chloe (1893): seated at the table on the right are (right to left): Ricketts, Shannon, Thomas Sturge Moore, Lucien Pissarro (with a full beard) and Reginald Savage.
The contribution for the Portraits Catalogue is written by Dr. Jan Marsh. Listed are self-portraits from 1892 to 1928, photographs from the mid-1870s to 1922, and a series of portraits by other artists from 1893 to 1920.

A portrait of Charles Shannon, in Daphnis and Chloe (1893)
In the earlier years, Shannon was portrayed by Charles Holmes, William Rothenstein, Alphonse Legros, and Charles Ricketts, all from his close circle of friends. In later years, portraits by R.F. Watts, Jacques-Emile Blanche, Francis Dodd, Max Beerbohm, Kathleen Scott (Lady Kennet), and Edmund Dulac, testify to his growing reputation in the art world.

A portrait of Charles Ricketts, in Daphnis and Chloe (1893):

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

136. A Collector's Story

This week’s blog is written by Paul Durham (1966), an English collector of the work of Ricketts, and particularly Shannon. Here is his story:

In Search of Ricketts & Shannon

Those of us who collect are sometimes asked why or how we started collecting. It is not always easy to pinpoint the reason, but in my case I can.

As a teenager with time on my hands, I was flicking through a book on art, turning page after page without anything standing out, and then on one page I was confronted with a black and white drawing 'The Dancer’s Reward' by Aubrey Beardsley which stopped me in my tracks. Its stark boldness and all that blood interested me; it was full of strange beauty but at the same time horrific. It was an illustration to Oscar Wilde’s Salome published by Elkin Mathews & John Lane in 1894. My interest in the 1890’s was born. I came to realize that books can be interesting not just for the text within, but also for their illustrations and decoration of the covers.

I bought all 13 volumes of The Yellow Book when I was about 17, and I started to buy Ricketts and Shannon when I was around 19 or 20. (I was born in 1966.)

Beardsley was a dominant force with his notoriety gaining the spotlight and he stood out as a true original. Oscar Wilde shone out and eclipsed all the other writers. His brilliant wit and the story of his downfall enhanced his subsequent reputation. Others would emerge from the fog of time and some would fade back into the gloom taking shadowy roles. However, two individuals continue to jostle for attention and demand to be better known: Charles Ricketts and his partner Charles Shannon.

At first I found it difficult to discover much information about them, but one thing was clear: they were connected with all the important personalities of the decadent movement. Their artistic world and work was one of refinement.

I started to collect, seeking out their work. But at first there were slim pickings; the only books I found were some early commercially produced books, Poems, Lyrical & Dramatic of Lord de Tablay (1893), and In the Key of Blue by John Addington Symonds (1893), both published by Elkin Mathews and John Lane.

Three lithographs by Charles Shannon: ‘The Toilet’ (1895), ‘Salt Water’ (1895) and ‘The Sower & the Reaper’ (1904) 
I had started to hear about the Vale Press but had not yet seen any volumes published by it, only the odd black and white photograph of some. And then by a stroke of good luck I found my first Vale Press book in a book shop in Woodstock, long since closed. I still have it. It is a rather tatty edition of The World at Action by Michael Field (1898), the spine rubbed and split. Just holding it made me feel it was different to the other books I had found. Both the paper and the printing made me aware of the effort and expertise that had gone into the making of this book. I wanted to find more of them, but what was published by the Vale Press was unknown to me so I was working blind. I was able to make a small list of books mentioned or illustrated in other books, but it was not clear to me how many or what they had done. This is where the collector needs help.

I had no clue at the time of existing bibliographies and lists, I had only heard of Ricketts and Shannon in biographies of Oscar Wilde and Beardsley. It was only ever in passing references. I found Darracott’s book The World of Charles Ricketts a bit later on. As now all the early books were hard to get hold of, and bookshops at the time did not want to be helpful, as I was young and a punk.

Therefore, Maureen Watry’s The Vale Press: Charles Ricketts, a Publisher in Earnest (2004), was the first book that enabled me to ascertain what the Vale Press published in full, including the ephemera. Then I found my first lithograph by Shannon at an Antiques fair, ‘The Toilet’ (1895), this was a find, but it would be a long time until I found my next one.

Shannon’s lithographs have been listed by Paul Delaney in his book The Lithographs of Charles Shannon published by Taranman (1978) which gave me pointers firstly to know what to look out for and secondly to assess the date, title and edition number of my latest find. I am glad to say my collection has grown over the years, to some forty five volumes by the Vale press and eight lithographs by Shannon. Among other prints I have two woodcuts by Shannon for Daphnis and Chloe (1893), which I found in a junk shop in 2007: ‘The Topmost Apple’ (woodcut for page 75) and ‘Chloe singing’ (woodcut for page 15). Both are signed by him.

Charles Shannon, two proof woodcut illustrations for Daphnis & Chloe (1893), signed, and a roundel woodcut, ‘The Dovecot’ (1903)
But as a collector I am aware there are gaps in the jigsaw. And the largest of these is the work of Shannon. He has lived far too long in the shadow cast by Ricketts and I should like to know what he did, what he produced.

Little information is available as to what his work is about, the symbolism used. It has always been seen that he played a supporting role to Ricketts, but maybe it is time to re-examine the interaction in the work of the two men. Such a study could flag up missing works, a painting or a set of wood block proof pulls to an illustrated book that was never realized in full, but all now lost to the scholar. Equally a collector could come across a letter slipped in to a book or a dedication inscribed on a flyleaf to a confidante hinting to some unknown deed or lover. So, the academic and the collector working together could one day fill in a gap or two in the puzzle, creating an understanding of the lives of Ricketts and Shannon.

That is why this collector keeps looking, just maybe one day in a box of old picture frames in the sale room or junk shop the portrait of Willie Hughes, commissioned by Oscar Wilde and painted by Ricketts but now lost is waiting to be rediscovered.

Paul Durham