Wednesday, October 26, 2016

274. Christ Seen From Behind

Last Saturday, we visited the Fra Bartolomeo (or Bartolommeo, 1472-1517) exhibition at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam. Dozens of drawings illustrate his working method for religious paintings: pencil and ink studies of arms, draperies, bended foots of patrons, saints and other figures. The Rotterdam museum has the largest Fra Bartolomeo collection in the world, which mainly consists of hundreds of drawings that were gathered into two albums by the Florentine collector Niccolò Gabburri (1676-1742).

A large altar piece dominates the exhibition rooms. The upper part of this 'Madonna della Misericiordia' (1515) from the collection of the Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, Lucca has an image of Christ with his arms outstretched representing the crucifixion.

Fra Bartolomeo, 'Madonna della Misericordia' (1515)
Two small sketches illustrated the working process for this part of the painting. Several sketches of the head of Christ and his naked torso with the outstretched arms show that Fra Bartolomeo studied every detail and considered several options, before he started on the painting.

Elsewhere in the museum, in a dark cellar like long room, a selection of drawings from other Renaissance artists such as Albrecht Dürer are on display from the museum's print room. Included is yet another sketch by Fra Bartolomeo: 'Studies for the upper half of the body and right arm of the crucified Christ seen from behind', executed in black chalk, heightened with yellow on ochre prepared paper (inventory number I 563 N39).

Fra Bartolomeo, study for Christ (Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam)
Earlier I tried to find such images of Christ seen on the back, because Ricketts included an image of the crucified Christ seen from behind as the last image in Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx (1894) - see blog 92 'With the back to the viewer'

Charles Ricketts, illustration from The Sphinx (detail)
This is a very rare example of Christ with the back to the viewer. Fra Bartolomeo never depicted Christ in this position, but needed to study the musculature from all angles. The museum's description of this image states:

A wooden crucifix that belonged to the preacher Savonarola was probably the inspiration for the type of crucified Christ that Fra Bartolommeo developed in his early years. Given the precision with which the tension in the muscles and tendons is depicted, this early drawing must have been made from a live model. Fra Bartolommeo has drawn the right arm a second time, focussing on light and shade.

There seems to be no relation to the paintings and other studies. Can Ricketts have known an image of this drawing?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

273. A Dedication Copy of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray

In 1932, Elkin Mathews Ltd., London, published catalogue Forty-Two, Books of the "Nineties". Included were six books by the Victorian author Eugene Lee-Hamilton (1845-1907).
Eugene Lee-Hamilton as an invalid (1889)

For twenty years, Lee-Hamilton led the life of an invalid, after he suddenly lost the use of his legs in 1873. He was nursed by his mother, but from time to time his half-sister Violet Paget (the writer Vernon Lee) also looked after him. Gradually, some improvements in his situation were noted, but a complete recovery occurred only after his mother had died.

He alluded to this recovery in a letter to Oscar Wilde included in the catalogue that was published by Elkin Mathews in 1932. A copy of Sonnets of the Wingless Hours (1894) was inscribed "To the author of Salomé, a little tribute of admiration. Florence. May '94'. This was before his complete recovery in 1896.

This copy came from the collection of A.J.A. Symons, an ardent collector of the 'nineties'. Inserted in it was a letter from Lee-Hamilton to Oscar Wilde, in which he gave some details of 'his miraculous recovery and thanking Wilde for a gift of The Sphinx upon which he makes detailed observations’. No letters from Oscar Wilde to Lee-Hamilton seem to have survived.

The copy of The Sphinx is now offered for sale. Sotheby's is selling The Library of an English Bibliophile and in Part VI of these sales (scheduled for 20 October) lot no. 185 describes the copy that Oscar Wilde had sent to him. The dedication reads:

Eugene Lee-Hamilton | from his | friend the author. | in memory of | one delightful | afternoon and | many delightful | sonnets. | June | 94

Sotheby's estimates that this copy will fetch £20.000-£30.000.

Dedication by Oscar Wilde to Eugene Lee-Hamilton (1894)
Note, 30 October 2016:
The book fetched £37.500.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

272. A Parable Painted by Charles Ricketts

In 1945, a painting by Charles Ricketts was sold at Sotheby's Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York. It was acquired by The Newark Museum (New Jersey). This week the museum is selling the painting to benefit the acquisitions fund. The painting is called 'The Prodigal Son', and measures 44.5 x 57.2 cm. Christie's auction of 12-13 October, lists the painting under lot number 23, and expects to sell it for an estimated US$ 3,000-5,000. 

Charles Ricketts, 'The Prodigal Son'
Ricketts had used several subjects from the Parables for his paintings, and this is one of them. He also executed two wood-engravings on this subject for his Vale Press publication of The Parables from the Gospels (1903). Sketches, proofs and prints of these are now on view at the commemorative exhibition in Museum Meermanno in The Hague, celebrating Ricketts's birth in 1866, 150 years ago. 

More information about the Meermanno exhibition can be found on the museum's website.

Ricketts's birth was registered at Geneva, where his parents were staying at the time. Of course, his birth was also registered in the British Consular's administration: Ricketts was British by birth. 

However, Christie's, in their catalogue of Sale 12198 ('Living with Art'), calls him a 'Swiss' artist. I am not confident that Ricketts would have liked that. From the recent publication, Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother, we may gather that Ricketts was born in Geneva, moved to Great Britain, France, and Italy, before finally returning to London where he would live for the rest of his life. His mother was Italian, with a drop of Spanish blood, and had lived in France before she met Ricketts's father in Naples.

The book about the European background of Ricketts's mother was presented in Museum Meermanno a week ago. (Price, including postage: €40).

Presentation Museum Meermanno, 1 October 2016
Front row: Corine Verney (author), Huug Schipper (designer) and Paul Delaney (author)

Photo: Aafke Boerma/Museum Meermanno
Christie's also sells a second Ricketts painting from the holdings of The Newark Museum. This is 'The Horses of Achilles', estimated to sell for US$5,000-7,000.

The museum states that these deaccessions are a logical step, as the museum, since its establishment in 1909, 'has always focused on painting and sculpture by American artists, especially because at the time we were founded it was difficult for modern American artists to exhibit or be acquired by many American museums'. 

However, a selection of European works of art were given to the museum by several patrons. These donations resulted, as the museum says, 'in a random assemblage of non-American painting and sculpture of varying quality and having no relationship to the focus of the American art collection'. 

Thirty years ago, it was decided to sell these European paintings and sculptures.

'All proceeds from deaccessioning become part of an endowment dedicated to acquisitions'.

So, the Ricketts paintings had to go.

[Note, 14 October 2016:
Prices realized are: US$1,000 (The Prodigal Son) and $3,000 (The Horses of Achilles).]

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

271: Published: Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother

Charles Ricketts's mother died in Genoa in 1880. She was buried in the English cemetery. A year later, this cemetery was closed to make room for the city's expansion, and its contents was transferred to the English corner of the Cimetario Monumentale di Staglieno, the same place as where the monument to Constance Wilde, wife of Oscar Wilde, was to be placed after she died in 1898.

Constance Wilde's grave in Genoa
Constance Wilde's grave is marked. The exact burial place of Ricketts's mother is not recorded. However, last week a little monument to the memory of Mrs Ricketts has been published as a book. Written by J.G.P. Delaney and Corine Verney, Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother has been designed by Huug Schipper|Studio Tint in The Hague, printed by Van Deventer in 's Gravenzande, and bound by Van Waarden in Zaandam. The edition is limited to 100 copies. Publisher: At the Paulton, The Hague.

Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother (2016)

Ricketts's mother was not French as was previously thought, nor was she a child from the Soucy family, although at a certain point she used that name. It turns out that she was not called Hélène, but Cornelia, and in full: Cornelia Pia Adeodata Marsuzi de Aguirre. Born in Rome in 1844, she had an adventurous life, which has been described in the new book. 

The book also contains some illustrations, including a photo of Charles Ricketts as a child (about six years old) that has never been published before.

The price of the book is €30 (€40 including postage), and copies can be ordered via paulton[at] [Replace [at] with the @ sign].

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It is a colourful book of 48 pages, including an epilogue by Corine Verney who is a descendent of the daughter from an earlier marriage of Cornelia's.

Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother (2016)