Wednesday, October 28, 2015

222. Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World (2)

Last week Petra Clark's article in the September issue of the Journal of Victorian Culture was mentioned: '"Cleverly Drawn": Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and the Art of the Woman's World' (it can be downloaded from Journal of Victorian Culture Online). 

It is assumed, by scholars such as J.G.P. Delaney and David Peters Corbett, that Wilde and Ricketts met before 1889, when, according to Ricketts Wilde had been sent a copy of Ricketts's and Shannon's magazine The Dial. It seems logical to state that they must have met before that, and to find a possible reason for a meeting in the drawings Ricketts had done earlier for The Woman's World during Wilde's editorship.
The Woman's World, Volume I, No. 7, June 1888
In Oscar Wilde. Recollections (1932, p. 28) Ricketts recalled: 'A copy sent to Wilde brought him to the house I shared with Charles Shannon in the Vale, Chelsea.' Ricketts does not mention an earlier meeting. He then says, 'I had imagined him a younger man - do not forget at that time only his volume of 'Poems', 'The Happy Prince' and a few articles had appeared.' The memories of Wilde were, of course, written late in Ricketts's life (and published posthumously), but the details seem to be convincing, and from them it may be gathered that Ricketts and Wilde (and Shannon) met for the first time after sending The Dial. In fact, that is what Ricketts remembered: '[...] my first meeting in 1889, which I have described' (p. 38).

There is no reason to assume that Wilde and Ricketts met earlier, simply on the basis of the drawings Ricketts did for The Woman's World. Magazine editors did not work like that. True, since June 1888, Wilde and Ricketts shared a publication space, but there was no need for them to meet each other, or even correspond.

Oscar Wilde's Role as an Editor

What was Wilde's role as an editor? Petra Clark quotes part of a letter that Wilde wrote to Wemyss Reid (1842-1905), early 1887. Reid was a manager at Cassell & Company, the publishers of The Lady's World that was relaunched as The Woman's World under Wilde's editorship in 1888. 


Clark suggests that Wilde could decide upon the important matter of advertisements: 'Consequently, Wilde abolished all advertisements as part of his editorial remodelling, and relegated an abbreviated version of the fashion pages (which had once taken precedence) to the back of each issue.'

Indeed, Wilde suggested that the magazine should open with literature, art, travel, and social studies: 'let dress have the end of the magazine'. His complaint about some articles being only thinly disguised advertisements did not refer to the actual advertisements that Cassell needed as an extra source of income. And they were not abolished at all. Each issue of The Woman's World contained advertisements for non-literary and mundane products such as soap, baking powder, 'linene collars and cuffs', 'medicinal food', beauty cream, 'corset waists', and railways, alongside Cassell's own advertisements for new publications. Clark may have missed these advertisements, as libraries used to discard the covers and advertisements when the issues were bound up, and, also, because Cassell & Company offered yearly bound volumes of The Woman's World (advertised each December) and in these the advertisement leaves were also removed.

The Woman's World, Volume I, No. 7, June 1888: advertisements at the back

The New Cover Design for The Woman's World

Clark quotes a passage on the artistic content of the magazine:

'It seems to me', wrote Wilde, 'that just at present there is too much money spent on illustrations, particularly on illustrations of dress. They are also extremely unequal, many are charming [...] but many look like advertisements, and give an air to the magazine that one wants to avoid, the air of directly puffing some firm or modiste. A new cover also would be an improvement.' (The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, 2000, p. 298).

The magazine got a new cover, as Clark writes: 'no longer did the magazine bear the former green cover of the Lady's World, which featured an "idealized goddess" vainly gazing at her reflection in a mirror, for the cover of the Woman's World sported "a William-Morris-type spray of leaves" and "serpentine women with sensuous chests", done in red ink on a pinkish ground. (The quotes are from an article by Laurel Brake, 'Oscar Wilde and The Woman's World', 1994).

The new cover was signed by L.F.D., and designed by the Arts and Crafts decorator Lewis Foreman Day (1845-1910), who had worked for Cassell's before.

Clark writes that 'Wilde made an implicit effort to align the appearance of the Woman's World more closely with Arts and Crafts publications such as the Century Guild Hobby Horse than with other mass-market magazines'. I think that this may have been Wilde's intention, but it was not his decision. That was left to the publishers and the managers.

Literary Editor

If we re-read Wilde's letter carefully, we see what he says about the illustrations and the cover. He wrote, in much more detail, about the literary contents of the magazine and went out of his way to mention possible future authors of articles. He mentions almost thirty names of new literary collaborators, but does not mention one artist, let alone an artist for the cover design. He may have had ideas about the art contents, but he did not ventilate them, and was not asked to do that.

In the beginning of this long letter to Wemyss Reid, we find a reason for this. Wilde writes: 'I have read very carefully the numbers of The Lady's World you kindly sent me, and would be very happy to join with you in the work of editing and to some extent reconstructing it.'

Wilde was not asked to be its new editor-in-chief, but its literary editor, as he mentions in quite a few letters that he wrote to future collaborators: 'I have been asked to become literary adviser to one of the monthly magazines' (letter to Louise Chandler Moulton), 'I have been asked to become the literary adviser of one of Cassell's monthly magazines' (letter to Minnie Simpson), 'It is for a magazine of Messrs Cassell's to which I am a sort of literary adviser' (letter to Phoebe Allen). There are some letters that state that he is asked 'to edit' the magazine (letters to Julia Ward Howe and to Eleanor Sidgwick), which may leave some room for a wider interpretation of his function. I believe that Wilde's initial answer to Reid should be taken for what it is: he was to be the literary editor of a magazine that for the rest would be managed by Cassell's managers.

In some letters Wilde asked if an article was in need of illustrations: 'The article will be illustrated as you may direct' and 'Would you, however, desire it to be illustrated? If so, it would be necessary to get it done as soon as possible' (letters to Phoebe Allen), or: 'We should set about the illustrations at once.' (letter to Violet Fane). This suggests that Wilde worried over the illustrations, but left it to the authors to suggest the subjects for the illustrations. He did not decide upon the illustrations himself, nor on the names of the illustrators. He did not make any suggestions other than work should be started on time in order to ensure that the issue would not be held up. Now and then he made simple suggestions for a frontispiece portrait of the author or of a painting to go with an essay about a particular artist: 'We might also have for the frontispiece of the magazine an engraving of a good Jan Steen or any other picture you might care to select.' In a letter to Oscar Browning Wilde writes: 'If you send me the photographs I will get them reproduced at once, so as to have no delay about the publication.' Soon after, Wilde complained to John Williams, assistant chief editor of Cassell's, that 'I find that without a staff of some kind a magazine with special illustrated articles cannot get on' (October 1888). He was to be assisted by Arthur Fish. In his last letter to Wemyss Reid he writes: 'I am specially indebted to Mr Bale, whose artistic knowledge and experience have always been at my disposal'. Only one letter to Edwin Bale has survived: 'Dear Mr Bale, I send you the photographs of Lady Archibald Campbell - one for frontispiece, two for setting into the article. Also three drawings by Godwin to be set into the text - like marginal sketches.' Bale was a watercolourist who worked for Cassell as Art Director between 1882 and 1907.

All other letters written as an editor of The Woman's World (as published in The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, 2000) were sent to literary collaborators. There are no letters to artists that mention work for The Woman's World, not even to the important artists, such as Walter Crane. Wilde's work did not involve working with artists, giving them commissions, judging their work, making suggestions for changes. I presume that Bale did all that, as was the custom with many magazines: the 'art' contents was left to the managers of Cassell's, who had at their disposal a large number of decorators and artists that worked for the magazines and illustrated works the firm published. Wilde alludes to this side of the matter in a letter to T.J. Cobden-Sanderson: 'The photographer of the Art Department here is quite accustomed to photographing delicate works of art.'

Wilde did not suggest a name for the artist who designed the new cover for The Woman's WorldThe commission for drawings that Charles Ricketts received form the editors of The Woman's World were not dependent on Wilde's intervention or judgment, and therefore Ricketts will not have sent them to Wilde, but to the Art Director.

What really happened? See next week's blog.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

221. Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde's Woman's World (1)

PhD candidate Petra Clark (University of Delaware) recently published an article in the September issue of the Journal of Victorian Culture: '"Cleverly Drawn": Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and the Art of the Woman's World'. It was accompanied by a blogpost on the Journal of Victorian Culture Online from where the article can be downloaded.

The Woman’s World (1887-1890) was the successor of The Lady's World; Wilde was asked to become its editor, and subsequently suggested some changes such as a new title. Wilde did not write many pieces for the magazine himself, his job was to solicit new texts. 

Petra Clark argues that Charles Ricketts approached Wilde while he was editor of the magazine in order to get commissions for drawings, and that his early drawings for this magazine quickly became more than 'hackwork', as he introduced new art nouveau styled elements that transcended the message his illustrations were supposed to convey to the readers. Ricketts got some orders for large format drawings that fitted his growing specialism: costume, especially Elizabethan dresses and surroundings.

Charles Ricketts, header for 'The Latest Fashion' (The Woman's World, December 1889)
Petra Clark writes: 

Despite their subjects being dictated by the articles for which they were commissioned, many of Ricketts’s illustrations are nonetheless highly personalized, even going so far as to suggest his relationship with other artists.
One such interaction that particularly stood out was Ricketts’s with Gustave Fraipont. Fraipont was a Belgian-born French artist who contributed illustrations to a number of magazines during this period, and created many headers for the Woman’s World over the course of its run, particularly for the 'The Latest Fashions' and 'Paris Fashions' sections of each monthly instalment. Fraipont’s header designs for earlier issues emphasized feminine accessories such as fans, lace, powder puffs, and ribbons. At some point during 1889, Ricketts seems to have been given the 'The Latest Fashions' headers to do, which is where things get interesting. Ricketts too draws the same sort of items as Fraipont, but adds in mischievous putti who gambol across the header and, more often than not, disrupt the order of the toilette with their own uses for these items.
Such plump imps were a common element in Renaissance and Baroque art, so employed here, they at once invoke high art as well as the sentimental, while undermining both. It is unclear whether Ricketts was mocking such figures that may have appeared in pre-existing designs by Fraipont, or if he just found the putti a convenient vehicle to playfully engage with the work of the older artist. In any case, Fraipont’s subsequent headers for 'Paris Fashions' began to feature his own putti, though it is likewise difficult to know why: possibly he decided to fight putti with putti, or he recognized the appeal of Ricketts’s designs and sought to assimilate them into his own. These dozen or so putti headers become more and more ridiculous as each artist took his turn, finally reaching a fever-pitch of absurdity and excess before dying down.

Next week I will publish some footnotes to this article, commenting upon the way these early commissions for The Woman's World came about, and how the relationship between the firm of Cassell, the publisher of The Woman's World, and the artist Ricketts evolved, and how Oscar Wilde as an editor may have played a role.

The problem of each article on Ricketts's early works lies in the absence of archives (the Cassell archive was destroyed, no early letters between Ricketts and Wilde have survived), and therefore conjecture must be called in to fill in the gaps. Clark hands us some material to further our thoughts about Ricketts's early commissions, although I think that Wilde's role is needlessly overrated, and that we have to turn to our knowledge of the daily practice of running a magazine to get some answers. As I see it, there is no reason to assume that Ricketts had sent his drawings to Wilde.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

220. Proctor, Ricketts, Morris, Pissarro, Cobden-Sanderson

Monomaniacal readers are of all times, and in the nineteenth century some of them ended up in a library. More than 120 years ago this happened to Robert Proctor (1868-1903), who became assistant in the British Library department of printed works. In this capacity he developed into an expert of incunabula and typefaces. From the type in a book, he could deduce in which city and in what year a book had been printed. Nowadays, scholars know that there is more to it, such as paper and the watermarks in the paper, but Proctor established a sort of standard, and reached international fame for his descriptions of the incunabula in the British Museum collection. He could not enjoy his new status for long; he was 35 when he disappeared during a walking tour in the Alps. 

A Critical Edition of the Private Diaries of Robert Proctor.
The Life of a Librarian at the British Museum
His diaries survived, and were published in 2010 (edited by J.H. Bowman, and published by the Edwin Mellen Press). The entries are rather short, and sometimes cryptic, basically describing the weather. One day it is sunny, another one it rains; and day after day, year after year the daily reports on clouds, showers, heat and fog can guarantee nothing else than tedious reading. However, his notes on the commuter's railway journeys to London acquired the dreariness of an obsolete mantra; he routinely wrote down at what time his train had departed and when exactly he changed trains, or arrived at a certain station, and what the weather was like over there - but with some patience, every now and then, one meets a remark that is noticeable.

Robert Proctor, diary note for 21 July 1903
His views on current matters in typography and the book arts are those of an impassioned scholar in his thirties, blunt, deeply felt, and totally black-and-white. He adored the work of William Morris, whose every piece of paper he ardently collected (not for the B.L., but for his private collection), paying barely affordable prices for books and pamphlets at auctions. He vehemently rejected the books of other private presses: Charles Ricketts and his Vale Press were only capable of muddling, and Lucien Pissarro's Eragny Press was even worse.

Robert Proctor, diary note for 22 July 1903
He loved Doves Press books, as they had been designed by his friend Emery Walker who had also been an important inspiration for Morris; however, the other Doves Press owner, Cobden Sanderson was rated a fool.

For now, I am not concerned with the accuracy of his findings; what is fascinating in his diaries, is the emotional power of his remarks on modern typography. His diary is one of the few sources for contemporary enthusiasm for William Morris and the Kelmscott Press expressed by a member of the younger generation. We know that Morris was revered by many, but seldom we hear the voice of the younger acolytes. The force of their adoration underlines the importance of the revival of printing that Morris brought about. 

Morris was dead by the time Proctor started his diaries in 1899, and he belonged to a past generation of Pre-Raphaelites, whose Arts and Crafts movement educated the audience's taste for a new approach to typography, forcing commercial publishers to adapt the style and the materials of their books; Morris's views eventually brought about major changes in book design, and resulted in graphic design as we know it today. 

Proctor's alacrity for every scrap of paper touched by Morris's ideas, and his zeal for a modern typography was important at the time, and can only be compared to the admiration of the earliest disciples of Steve Jobs, and the worship of Apple products. William Morris was the Steve Jobs of the nineteen-nineties.

This adoration for Morris played a distinctive part in the export of private press ideas to other countries. We can detect this early enthusiasm outside Great Britain, for example in the Netherlands, or in Belgium, where one of these early fans was the artist, architect and book designer Henry van de Velde. 

[Part of the Miraeus lecture, held at the Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience in Antwerp on 6 May 2015].

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

219. A Painting by Ricketts's Father

Charles Ricketts's father was a marine painter, Charles Robert Ricketts (1838-1883). His paintings occasionally come up for auction and fetch prices between a few hundred and something over a thousand euro's, dollars, or British pounds.

An auction of Fine Art & Antiques is to be held on 13 October. In it the Canterbury Auction Galleries offer for sale a painting by Ricketts's father, called 'The Hero of London' (lot 269). 

Robert Charles Ricketts, 'The Hero of London' 
The scene is of the ship 'Hero of London' that stranded on the Goodwin Sands off the Kent coast on 16th October 1872. The brig, built in 1822, had come from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, carrying coal, destined for Truro. The Walmer lifeboat 'Centurion' went to her aid. The crew could be rescued, but the vessel was wrecked.

The oil on canvas picture measures 76,2 by 127 cm, signed 'C.R.Ricketts', and dated 1872. It has been reframed in a modern gilt moulded frame. 

The painting has been on the market before. It was sold on 11 September 2007 by Bonhams in London (lot 97).

Note, 27 November 2015:
The painting will be on sale again at Canterbury Auction Galleries on 8 December 2015, now with an estimate of £750-£1000 (starting bid: £740).

Note, 4 February 2016:
The painting has come up for sale once again. This time Canterbury Auction Galleries mentions a starting bid of £600. The auction takes place on 16 February 2016.