Wednesday, February 24, 2016

239. Vale Press Vine Borders (2)

Last week, vine borders designed by William Morris and Charles Ricketts were shown. In a vellum copy of the Vale Press edition of Michael Field's play Julia Domna, antiquarian book dealer Ed Nudelman found a drawing for a vine border.

The sketches - there are three small drawings - cannot be ascribed to Ricketts, for several reasons.

Anonymous design for a vine border
The designs are unsigned, and the assumption that Ricketts is connected to these sketches, is solely based on the fact that these drawings have been found in a Vale Press book. The copy of that book comes from the collection of Laurence Hodson, and Hodson commissioned special bindings, and other art works from many artists during the 1890s. However, the auction catalogue of his collection does not mention these sketches in the description of this copy.

The handwritten notes include instructions for the block maker or printer, indicating which part of the border should be connected to another part of the drawing. The three drawings cannot form a border, some parts are lacking, and it is unclear which parts should be fitted together to form a complete border that can enclose an illustration or a page of text on four sides.

Ricketts never made separate drawings for the four sides of a border, there was only one complete drawing for each border. An example is published in Self-Portrait (1939). This design was made for the two volumes of Tennyson's poems that appeared in December 1900.

Charles Ricketts, design for the Vale Press edition of
Alfred Lord Tennyson's poems (two volumes, 1900)

This example, and another one, are part of the Gordon Bottomley collection in Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery in Carlisle.

An important difference between the drawings by Ricketts and the anonymous sketches is the pattern of horizontal and vertical lines that seem to indicate that these sketches are made by a pupil and not by an esteemed artist. The pattern is not meant for reproduction purposes, and in fact, the drawings are too small for that. Drawings for reproduction in books are usually larger than the intended format after reproduction. The lines must have been drawn by a pupil who carefully tried to copy an example. It explains the handwritten note underneath: '1st attempt'. He needed more than one go.

The grid could also mean that this was a design that was to be reproduced in another medium, in which case it would be enlarged, for example for a tapestry, a curtain, or a painting. However, in that case, it would have been unlikely for an artist to draw such small sketches.

Anonymous design for a vine border (detail)
Looking closely at one of the drawings (see above), we observe a few other distinctive qualities that make it the work of a student. 

Firstly, the lines that form the stems of the vine are somewhat clumsily drawn, especially the awkward and stiff curves to the left of the design that lack the reassured fluency of the professional draughtsman.

And there is another remarkable feature of the design. If we look again at Ricketts's borders (see last week's blog), and those of Morris too, for that matter, we see that they carefully position the grapes of the vine to the left or to the right side of the border, in order to obtain a variety in colour and density. Here, however, the student has positioned the grapes at the centre of the drawing. The result is surely less lively than an artist would want it to be.

Next week, more about Ricketts's vine borders.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

238. Vale Press Vine Borders (1)

A vine border was a popular decoration in private press books around 1900. William Morris designed a border of grapes and leaves of the vine for several books, including his edition of Chaucer.

William Morris, border for The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1896)
The antiquarian book dealer Ed Nudelman (check out the website of Nudelman Rare Books) recently found a drawing for a vine border in a vellum copy of the Vale Press edition of Michael Field's play Julia Domna, and as this copy came from the famous Hodson collection, he was tempted to think that the design was by Ricketts himself. Meanwhile, he has changed his mind, and I agree with him. The sketches - there are three small drawings on three small slips of tracing paper - cannot be ascribed to Ricketts, for several reasons, which I will discuss in next week's blog. 

Ricketts designed quite a few vine borders for the Vale Press. There is a small one in Rossetti's Hand and Soul (1899), there are three medium sizes borders for Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1901), The First Part of King Henry IV (part of the Vale Shakespeare edition, this volume appeared in 1902), and finally in A Bibliography of Books Issued by Hacon & Ricketts (1904). There was one large format vine border, used to decorate Thomas Browne's Religio Medici, Urn Burial, Christian Morals, and Other Essays (1902).

Some of these borders are delicately designed, intricate, crowded and lively borders. Others are more sparse in detail, less artificial, and almost naturalistic, like the little design for Hand and Soul that measures 130 x 95 mm.

Charles Ricketts, vine border for D.G. Rossetti, Hand and Soul (1899)
The text on this page (page 3) refers to art of painting in Florence. Ricketts remarked in his bibliography that the block for this border 'was burnt at the printers'.'

Ricketts's border was repeated on page 37. The text on that page begins as follows: 'In the spring of 1847, I was at Florence.' This is intended to be an Italian vine border.

Small as it is, it shows some hallmarks of Ricketts's border drawings. The space between the curling stems, forming knots, has been filled in with black, subtly changing the density of the drawing. The balance of black and white is carefully considered, the grapes show their weight, some of them slightly tilted to one side, all pointing downwards, as they do in reality. The pattern is simple, alternating leaves (with their surface made white and their black nerves) and bunches of grapes (all similar but different, individually drawn).

The other designs, such as the paragraph marks and the initials, have not been adapted to the grape motive.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

237. Chas. H. Shannon: Visiting Card

In the 1890s, Charles Shannon used a visiting card like any other Victorian in London. He lived in the house in The Vale between 1888 and October 1894, before Ricketts and Shannon moved to 31 Beaufort Street. After the move, he continued to use his visiting card with The Vale address, but crossed it out, and wrote the new address next to it.

Visiting card of Charles H. Shannon (ca. 1894-1898)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

236. Yours Ever: Letterheads (2)

From May 1923 to his death in October 1931, Charles Ricketts lived at Townshend House, Albert Road, Regents Park. His correspondence cards and letters carried a letterhead that mentioned the address, but no name.

Omitting the name, allowed both Ricketts and Shannon to use the same stationary. Although Ricketts designed books, bindings, invoices, announcements, and other office papers, for The Vale Press, he did not apply his art to his private writing paper.

Letterhead, correspondence card
Ricketts's letters are signed with his signature C Ricketts. Ricketts did not place a dot after his initial C.