Wednesday, February 28, 2018

344. Ricketts and the Reichstag on One Page

On 11 March 1933, the Illustrated London News published a new collection of photographs in their regular feature 'The Camera as Recorder. News by Photography'. There were photographs of the remains of the old cathedral found at Amalfi, the new headquarters for the South African High Commissioner in London, a new American airliner, recent research on locusts, the Garrison Church at Potsdam that served as a substitute meeting-place after the incendiary of the Reichstag, the Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe, and 'The Masterpiece of Last Week at the Victoria and Albert Museum'.

Reichstag Fire, 27 February 1933 (Photo German Federal Archives)
The Reichstag fire had been on 27 February 1933, more than a week earlier. 'The Masterpiece of Last Week' was a sketch by Charles Ricketts.

Ricketts's didn't live to see the outcome of the political unrest in Europe in the twenties and thirties; he died in 1931. He would have been surprised to see art mixed with politics, archaeology, science, and industry on one and the same newspaper page.

'The Masterpiece of Last Week' (March 1933)
The drawing was a watercolour, a design for a theatre costume, dating from 1922. The newspaper added: 'This drawing was made for the costume of the Prince in a proposed production of Laurence Binyon’s "Sakuntala," and is typical of all Ricketts’ work in the perfect adjustment of colour and the vigorous beauty of the design. A representative display of his work for the theatre is included in the Winter Exhibition of the Royal Academy.'

The drawing had been exhibited earlier at the same venue in The Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts 1925. The show ran from 4 May to 8 August 1925. In the South Rooms where the watercolours, miniatures, drawings, and engravings were hung, a drawing by Ricketts was on view. This was number 642 (according to the catalogue): 'Theatre Costume ("Sakuntala")'.

The drawing was acquired by the V&A in in 1926. See the museum's website for a description of this sketch.

Charles Ricketts, sketch for 'Sakuntala' (1922) [V&A]
Sakuntala was an Indian tale, written by Kalidasa, and translated by Kedar Nath Das Gupta, who asked Laurence Binyon to rewrite his translation for the stage. It was performed in 1919, the text published in 1920. Ricketts didn't design the costumes for this production. The artist William Rothenstein was asked to design curtains (Rothenstein had visited India in 1910, and Binyon had met Rabondranath Tagore at William Rothenstein's house in 1912), but by 1919 Rothenstein was located in Belgium as an official war artist.

Eventually, the scenery for the two performances at the Winter Garden Theatre in London in November 1919 was assigned to the artist Bruce Winston - later Ricketts would write a dedication for him in a  copy of Beyond the Threshold. Actress Sybil Thorndike served as the play's main attraction. There was a mixed audience of Indian and British guests, among whom were the Aga Khan and Maharaja of Baroda.

Other stagings by the Repertory Company followed; a performance in the Festival in Cambridge took place in October 1939. By June 1950, the play had been taken on by the Falcon Players at Bayshill Hall in Cheltenham. Local productions, all of them.

Ricketts's costume design must have been inspired by his attending a performance, but it was never produced.

Two designs have been preserved, according to Eric Binnie's list in The Theatrical Designs of Charles Ricketts (1985), one for 'Buffoon' (now at V&A), and one for 'Prince' (at the Ashmolean). However, the V&A describes their design as being for the 'Prince'.