Wednesday, December 26, 2012

74. The signatures of In the key of blue

Last week I wrote about the signatures of the gatherings in a proof copy and compared them to the signatures in the regular copies of the first edition of John Addington Symonds's In the key of blue and other prose essays (1893). The first edition was published in late January 1893 and the gatherings are lettered from 'A' to 'T', but a proof copy has them lettered: 'A*' to 'T*'.

After removing the asterisks and before printing the entire edition, the signatures were  moved to the right. The 'A*' is below the letters 'na' in the word 'cinnabar'. In the regular edition the 'A' is below the letters 'ab', whether copies have a blue or a cream coloured binding.
Signature A* in a proof copy of J.A. Symonds, In the key of blue and other prose essays (1893)
Signature A in J.A. Symonds, In the key of blue and other prose essays, first edition, regular issue (1893)
This separates proof copies from the regular ones. However, there are more copies with the signature placed more to the left (under 'na'). Fifty copies of a 'Large Paper Edition' were printed on Arnold unbleached handmade paper, dated 1891. There is a limitation statement on the verso of the title page. In these copies the 'A' is also positioned below 'na' in 'cinnabar'.
Signature A in J.A. Symonds, In the key of blue and other prose essays, first edition, large paper issue (1893)
The book was reprinted in the Summer of 1893 with an edition statement on the verso of the title page: 'Reprinted July 1893'. Copies of this edition have the 'A' below the letters 'na' as well. This is true for all later editions. There was a third edition in 1896 and another reprint was issued in 1918.
Signature A in J.A. Symonds, In the key of blue and other prose essays, reprint (1893)
However, one can see that there is a small difference between the position of 'A' in the reprints in comparison with the other editions: all the reprints have the 'A' slightly more to the right than in the proof copy or the large paper edition and more to the left than in the regular copies of the first edition.

From the correspondence of J.A. Symonds we know that the publisher had stereotypes made after the first edition had been printed. On 20 March 1893 Symonds wrote: 'Since the type is moulded, there will be no question of making additions or alterations in a second edition; & the book can be printed without my seeing proofs'. James G. Nelson, in his book The early nineties. A view from the Bodley Head (1971) mentions that 'molds' were listed in a transcript of the final inventory sheets of the firm (c. 1894).

We can deduct from this that the later editions were all printed from moulds. For these the signatures of the gatherings were adjusted: the 'A' was moved slightly to the left - it should be pointed out that the signatures of all gatherings underwent these small changes.

The regular edition had been printed from type that had all signatures more to the right. It was usual to print the large paper copies after the regular edition, and this means that the signatures were adjusted three times: 
1. the asterisk was removed after the proofs had been corrected and the signature was moved to the right (below 'ab'), and the regular edition was printed; 
2. the signature was moved to the left (under 'na'), and the large paper edition was printed;
3. the signature was moved to the right (under 'na'); the plates were stereotyped.

And there is more...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

73. The first issue of In the key of blue

When I wrote about the colour of In the key of blue a few weeks ago I mentioned Percy L. Babington's bibliography of the writings of John Addington Symonds. We have to reconsider part of his description of In the key of blue (no. 56 in his listing).

'List of books in belles-lettres', 1892-93, in J.A. Symonds, In the key of blue (1893)
In his note to the binding Babington mentions that some copies were bound in blue cloth, but that the main part of the edition was bound in cream coloured cloth. These share the same collation formula, which mentions that at the back a 16-page list of books issued by Mathews and Lane was inserted. According to Babington (who did not mention the exact title), this 'List of books in belles-lettres' was dated '1892-3'; in fact, the list is dated '1892-93'.

Three copies of the first edition of J.A. Symonds, In the key of blue (1893): it is difficult to find a copy in cream cloth in good condition.
Apart from this regular issue, there was a limited 'large paper issue', bound in full vellum to the same design. In these fifty copies the list of books is omitted.

It is rather puzzling to read bookseller's descriptions or catalogue entries that describe the regular cream copies as 'second issue' and the blue copies as 'first issue'. An example is a catalogue compiled by G. Krishnamurti for the National Book League in 1973: The Eighteen-Nineties. A literary exhibition. No. 642 in the exhibition was a cream copy ('buff cloth'), that was listed as: 'First edition, 2nd issue'. It should be said, that there are no separate issues; the only bibliographical fact is that there are two different colours used for the bindings of the regular issue of the first edition.

All copies in blue and in cream cloth have the same list. There were later reprints, which had other lists. More about those editions later.

There is, however, one exception. In November 1894 Elkin Mathews inscribed a copy to Miss Alice Horton. It is a copy in cream cloth and it does not have the 'List of belles-lettres' bound in at the back. The book has another irregularity, which has to do with the signatures of the gatherings, which are lettered from A to T, but in this copy the signatures are A* to T*. An asterisk has been added to the letters, which means that these were proof sheets. In the printing process these asterisks were removed after the text was corrected and before the book was printed. One can also see that the signature was moved to the right.
J.A. Symonds, In the key of blue (1893), page 1, proof copy
J.A. Symonds, In the key of blue (1893), page 1, copy in cream cloth
More details will be given in a later blog.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

72. 'The best copy in the world'

In April of this year a special copy of Daphnis and Chloe, illustrated by Ricketts and Shannon, was on sale and on 9 May I reported that the book had been sold for 8.780 US$. Recently it turned up in catalogue 138 of Bromer Booksellers in Boston under a caption that emphazises its unique character: 'The best copy in the world'.

The presentation copy was inscribed by the artists to their publisher, Elkin Mathews, and is dated May 19, 1893. Thomas Sturge Moore, to whom the book was dedicated, also signed it on the dedication leaf. Added is a set of twenty-seven proof impressions of the woodcuts on twenty-six sheets, each signed by one of the artists in order to identify the designer of the woodcut. The designs were divided between the two, then all were drawn on the wood by Ricketts, and subsequently engraved by both.
Wood-engraving by C.H. Shannon, for Daphnis and Chloe, signed by Shannon (p. 37) [© Bromer Booksellers]
Bromer's website shows that the woodcuts on pages 15 and 37 were signed by Shannon. There are other copies known that identify the illustrations, one of which is in the British Museum. The Bromer copy is described as 'a scholar's copy', and the book has been extensively annotated with pencil notes on the rear blank leaves, comparing the proofs to the published illustrations. Price of the Bromer copy: US$ 14,500.
Wood-engraving by C.H. Shannon, Daphnis and Chloe (p. 33), identified and initialled by T. Sturge Moore (copy in a private collection)

Wood-engraving by C.H. Shannon or C.S. Ricketts, Daphnis and Chloe (p. 33), identified and initialled by T. Sturge Moore (copy in a private collection)

Wood-engraving by C.S. Ricketts, Daphnis and Chloe (p. 57), identified and initialled by T. Sturge Moore (copy in a private collection)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

71. The Greek collection

After I wrote the blogs on Greek art and the works of Ricketts and Shannon (nos. 67, 68 and 69) I read an essay on their Greek and Roman collection in the Journal of the history of collections (vol. 24, no 3, 2012, p. 369-378). The advance access publication date of this issue of the e-journal was 19 April 2012, but through my library (the National Library of the Netherlands) access was delayed until 18 November, while the two supplementary documents are unavailable to this date. It it sometimes difficult to get access to new essays on Ricketts and Shannon, however, the author of the essay, Christina Rozeik, kindly send me the additional material, which sheds light on the acquisition history of the collection of Greek and Roman artefacts in the collection of Ricketts and Shannon that is now located in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Cover for All for art. The Ricketts and Shannon collection (1979)
The museum has always treated the donation as a treasure. The exhibition All for art, edited by Joseph Darracott in 1979, contained 232 objects from this collection, including Egyptian and Japanese art. Sixty objects from the Greek and Roman collection were described, which roughly equals 25% of all objects on display.

All for art. The Ricketts and Shannon collection, p. 38-39 (1979)
Another catalogue, edited by Eleni Vassilika, was published as a Fitzwilliam Museum handbook in 1998: Greek and Roman art. This book showed objects from the vast collection of the museum, including donations by other benefactors: individuals such as C.B. Marlay and institutions such as the Wellcome Trustees. Out of the 64 pieces that were presented twelve were from the Ricketts and Shannon bequest, which is 20%, more than from any other single collection, signalling the importance of the objects that were originally collected between 1898 and 1930 by Ricketts and Shannon. The book was dedicated to their memory.

Cover for Greek and Roman art (Cambridge, 1998)
Although their interest in Greek and Roman art started soon after they began to share rooms in 1886, they could not afford original artefacts right away. The first recorded acquisition is of some Tanagra statues in December 1898, when Shannon's diary attested that 'the weakest of the three cost us £35, the largest sum we have yet paid for a single thing', while Ricketts recorded that 'both our banking accounts vanished in this sale'. He added that the Tanagras 'proved forgeries and were given away'. A footnote in the article by Christina Rozeik, 'A maddening temptation', points out that an annotated copy of the sale catalogue shows that they paid nearly £57 in total. This is an amazing amount of money, as the artists were not that rich at the time, having been forced to move from their too expensive house in the Vale in 1894 to a dark and gloomy house in Beaufort Street in Richmond; however, by 1898 things were getting better and they moved to a pleasant house at 8 Spring Terrace in Richmond.

Rozeik describes the development of their collection as well as the restoration history of the collection. I will follow up on this story at a later date.






Wednesday, November 28, 2012

70. The colour of In the key of blue

Last week Paul Rassam inquired 'whether there was a reliable source for the story about the trial binding of In the key of blue'.

What is the story? Late December 1892 a new book by John Addington Symonds, In the key of blue and other prose essays was issued under the joint imprint of Elkin Mathews & John Lane, London, and Macmillan & Company in New York. Symonds (born 1840) died a few months later, on 19 April 1893, and was buried in Rome.
Charles Ricketts, cover design for J.A. Symonds, In the key of blue and other prose essays, first edition, bound in tan cloth (1893)
Charles Ricketts had been commissioned to design In the key of blue, and he delivered a cover that incorporated floral motives. The prospectus did not specify these floral decorations, but mentioned the name of the designer: 'The title-page and binding designed by C.S. Ricketts'. An early advertisement, listed in List of books in belles lettres, issued by Mathews and Lane and dated '1892-93' described it in more detail: 'with Cover (Hyacinths and Laurel) designed by C.S. Ricketts'. In a later advertisement, in Elkin Mathews & John Lane's list of new and forthcoming books, dated 1893, the 'hyacinths' were exchanged for 'blue-bells'. As hyacinths and blue-bells are common names for the same flower, this exchange seems to be meaningless. Symonds's bibliographer, Percy L. Babington, quoted the earlier description of the design in his Bibliography of the writings of John Addington Symonds (1925), as did James G. Nelson in his study of The early nineties (1971, p. 74), while Alfred L. Bush, in Wilde and the nineties opted for 'lily-of-the valley' (1966, p. 64).

Apart from the ordinary edition that was bound in 'smooth cream' or 'tan' coloured cloth, the publishers advertised a deluxe edition of 50 copies, bound in full vellum, which had the same design. However, the 'story' about the colour of the cover for In the key of blue has to do with a so-called 'trial issue', which was issued in blue cloth.

The press notices at the time of publication did not mention a blue edition, although some reviewers suggested that blue would have been a more suitable colour for a book that had the colour blue in its title. The Saturday review (14 January 1893) wrote: 'The book has a pretty decorative design of hyacinth and laurel on the cover, which is not blue.'

Babington, however, asserted that there were copies in blue cloth: 'A few copies were bound in light blue cloth, and the late Mr. Mathews informed me that the whole of the ordinary issue was to have been so bound, but that Mr. Ricketts came in and objected, making a jest about "Ricketts' Blue", and therefore the cream was substituted. Copies in blue cloth were very few, and fetch considerably more than others.'
Charles Ricketts, cover design for J.A. Symonds, In the key of blue and other prose essays, first edition, bound in blue cloth (1893)
A reliable story? It was recorded more than 30 years after the publication of In the key of blue, while Mathews's words were not written down. Ricketts never commented on the issue. And there are other issues to be dealt with. Is it true that the whole edition was to be bound in blue? Why would Ricketts have objected to a blue cover?

'Ricketts's Blue', of course, was a joke for a popular laundering aid, used for whitening, called Reckitts's blue.

Advertisement for Reckett's blue (© Frank H. Jump, 1997)

The name of 'Reckitt's blue' was frequently misspelled as 'Ricketts's blue'. I found some examples in Dutch newspapers, and others in British newspapers. Ricketts may have protested against it for several reasons. The popularity of Reckitts's blue and the likeness of the binding to the light blue colour might have reminded him of the jokes that could be made, and, what is more, had been made in the past, notably by the eminent jester James McNeill Whistler. Whistler's target had been the art critic Harry Quilter in whose magazine The universal review Shannon and Ricketts published illustrations in 1889. 

In The gentle art of making enemies (1890) Whistler wrote about Quilter as an artist 'with bird's-eye belcher of Reckitt's blue' (p. 72-73), while one of his books on art was described by Whistler: 'I saw it - a book in blue - his own, and Reckitt's - all bold with brazen letters: "Giotto by 'arry"' (p. 123). Ricketts would have remembered these phrases, and probably preferred to avoid such witticisms at his own expense.

There may have been another reason for Ricketts's protest, an artistic one. Ricketts may have asked for a cream coloured cloth, to match the vellum edition. This way, the design was more subtle, as the design in gold blends with the pale colour of the cloth. On a blue cover the gold is less subtle and can even be seen as obtrusive. Blue was not a favourite colour of Ricketts. Most of the cloths that were used for bindings with a design by him were cream, or green, or purple, and this was the only blue one.

Were there any trial bindings to comment upon? Usually there were, and in this case we know more about it from the correspondence of the author, John Addington Symonds. In September 1892 he reported to have corrected the proofs. In October 1892 he wrote to the publisher, Elkin Mathews, that he had not yet seen a design for the cover or the title-page, but by December 1892 he had: 'Book cover received. Think it admirable in design; but in colour should have preferred a ground of greyish blue with the pattern in Silver or dull gold. Could some copies be sent out in that way?' 

Later that month (20 December 1892) he wrote to tell Mathews that he was charmed by the book: 'It satisfies my every sense of what is desirable is design, binding, typography, and paper', and: 'Will you tell Mr Ricketts how greatly I admire the cover. The colour is quite right, the design lovely.'

What colour was he referring to? In another letter, dated 10 January 1893, Symonds wrote to Gleeson White: 'I wish my own work in In the key of blue were worthy of the charming cover and excellent typography. Please tell Mr. Ricketts how very much I admire his design. It is a pity, I think, that some copies have not been issued in blue.'

From this it seems possible to deduct that Ricketts had asked for a cream coloured cloth for a subtle treatment of his design, for which he apparently had not chosen to use blue or gold or silver. The author, however, took his title more literally and asked for a 'greyish blue' cover with the design stamped in gold or silver, a wish that was granted. Probably, the author received more blue than cream coloured presentation copies, as his remark about 'some copies [that] have not been issued in blue' seems to indicate. However, I have not seen a dedication copy to proof this assumption. Other presentation copies, for the press, had the cream binding, as the piece in The Saturday review testifies.

Was there a trial issue, bound in blue cloth, as opposed to the ordinary edition, bound in cream cloth? I do not think so. I have to assume that, to please the author, some copies were bound in blue cloth, while the bulk of the edition was bound in cream cloth. These copies were released simultaneously.

This, however, is not the final word. The story continues, another time, as there were more blue copies to follow and the design was to be altered for later editions.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

69. Scale patterns

The decorative scale pattern dates back to ancient civilizations. Examples can be seen in any museum, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Scale pattern on a terracotta painted oil flask, ca. 640-625 BC (© The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The scale pattern occurs in several versions. On a terracotta painted oil flask, an aryballos from the seventh century BC, the scale pattern comes with dots in the centre. Others have a blank space, signs or stripes in the middle. The dotted pattern has been used for pottery in Greece since around 2500 BC.

It has been a common decorative pattern to the present day. On our recent trip to Athens we saw a modern carpet with the scale pattern in the Nikos Chatzikyriakos Gikas museum. On the top floors, where one finds the artist's library and his studio, the carpet adorns one of the rooms that are left in the original state.

Carpet, Nikos Chatzikyriakos Gikas Museum, Athens
The dotted scale pattern has also been applied on bookbindings. Charles Ricketts used it for several designs for commercial publishers in the early twentieth century. One of his lesser known designs was for a short-lived series of anthologies for John Lane (between 1907 and 1910). At the bottom of the front cover three sets of dotted scales are seen, probably representing earth - this is part of a stylized wheat pattern.
Charles Ricketts, binding for Golden thoughts from the Gospels (1907) [detail]
Ricketts used this pattern - sometimes upside down - for several books, the collected works of W.B. Yeats among them. The pattern can easily be identified on the dust wrappers for these volumes, where it is located in an architectural form, a pediment, used on all four sides of the central panel with concentric circles.
Charles Ricketts, design for the binding and dust wrapper of W.B. Yeats, Essays (1924) [detail]
To fill in the spaces left between the round forms of the scales and the straight, triangular lines of the pediments, Ricketts has added two extra dots outside the scale forms, thus illustrating that the use of an ancient pattern needs revision and original adaptations for reuse.

Charles Ricketts, design for the binding and dust wrapper of W.B. Yeats, Essays (1924) [detail]

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

68. A Greek pomegranate

Among the grave steles in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens is a wonderful marble one, registered as Inv.No.733. It is a marble stele, found in Larisa in 1882, 113 cm in height. We made a photograph of it, only to lose our camera the next day. However, on Flickr an image of it has been posted by Unforth.
Marble stele, c. 440 BC, National Archaeological Museum, Athens [© All rights reserved by unforth, posted on Flickr]
The stele has been described by Nikolaos Kaltsas in his book Sculpture in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens (2002) (see p. 99, no. 175): 'It depicts a female figure, the dead Polyxenaia, standing and facing right with her left knee bent. She wears a chiton and a himation that also covers her head. Both garments hang in heavy, straight, severe pleats. In her right hand she holds a pomegranate, while with her left she “unveils herself”, drawing back the himation from the head. Thessalian work dating from about 440 BC.'

The name of the dead woman is written in Greek characters on the left side of the stele, and translated as 'Polyxene' on the display in the museum (the catalogue has: Polexenaia).

Grave stele of Polyxene, National Archaeological Museum, Athens (detail of a photo by Ark in Time, posted on Flickr)
The figure of Polyxene or Polyxenaia is almost 2500 years old. Such images do sometimes recur in other artefacts of a different era, or they have the ability to remind you of familiar images. While I was looking at the grave stele in Athens, earlier this month, my mind wondered and I recalled a drawing by Charles Ricketts for A house of pomegranates by Oscar Wilde (1891).
Charles Ricketts, illustration for Oscar Wilde, A house of pomegranates (1891)
In this book the figure of a pomegranate picker reappears after each story, and towards the end of the book her basket of pomegranates is filled. Of course, there is no real connection between the Greek stele and the Ricketts drawing, apart from the pomegranate, and the use of an ancient symbol. In Greece the pomegranate was known as 'the fruit of the dead'.
Charles Ricketts, illustration for Oscar Wilde, A house of pomegranates (1891)

D.G. Rossetti, 'Persephone' (1874)
Ricketts must have been familiar with Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting of Persephone, holding a pomegranate and symbolizing the seasons. In other cultures the fruit was regarded a symbol of prosperity and fertility, and Ricketts probably had these significances in mind when he drew the figure of the pomegranate gatherer for Wilde's book.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

67. Ricketts in the front row

The last few weeks we were in Greece to visit my brother and his family, and while we toured the Attic sunny landscape, finding our way to the Artemis Brauron sanctuary and museum, or to the amphitheatre near Lavrion, ending our tour on Cape Sounion for the temple of Poseidon, we remembered that Ricketts and Shannon visited Greece only once, just over a century earlier.

Our stay at an apartment in Athens, where we fell in love with the cat of the mansion, was mainly dedicated to old stones, although we spend some time in exhibitions about twenty-century Greek culture (see next week's blog). 

Ricketts wrote about his stay in Athens and a photograph of him, sitting next to the seat of the high priest in the Theatre of Dionysos, is reproduced by Paul Delaney in his edition of Ricketts's Pages from a diary in Greece (1978), as well as in his biography (1990).

Charles Ricketts in the Theatre of Dionysos, Athens, front row, next to the seat of the High Priest (1911) [detail]
In February 1911, when there were 'parches of snow in the hollows of the scattered stones', while now, in October, there were only dry blades of grass, Ricketts described the south slope of the Acropolis:

We approach the lesser shrines on the flanks of the Acropolis. We can hear the cries of children at play near the Theatre of Dionysos.

Nowadays, these children should have paid for entering the gates surrounding these 'lesser' shrines, but still, one can hear children's voices, coming from a school building in a street nearby.

Ricketts continued:

we now stand on the marble floor of the orchestra between the proscenium (the gift of Nero) and the tiers of stone seats which were here when the plays of Sophocles and Euripides were new. The place is almost sacred to the imaginative memory. How small it seems to us with our vast modern opera houses and stages; yet this was deemed sufficient in times of genius; a lesser stage than this one was the pedestal for the tragedies of Aeschylus; in this circle were chanted the sorrows of "Oedipus at Colonus" and the agony of Phaedra; it is here that the triumphant laughter of Aristophanes rang out!

Delaney, in a footnote, remarked that the 'masterpieces of fifth century drama were performed in fact before tiers of seats constructed with earth and wood; the theatre of Dionysos was rebuilt in stone c. 330 B.C. The present stage and proscenium probably date from the reign of Nero (54-68 A.D.). The auditorium was altered under Hadrian, Emperor, 117-38 A.D.'

The seat of the high priest (with the wing-like arm-rests) and to the left of that the marble chair that Ricketts occupied for his portrait picture

There is a little snow on the proscenium; I brush away a handful of half-frozen water from the seat of the High Priest; for years the winter was bitten into this throne, which is a miracle of art. On this, the panel of Persians and gryphons may recall some actual Asian work, captured from Xerxes, formerly placed on this spot as a trophy when the theatre and its seats were of wood and not of marble as to-day.
The vestiges of the auditorium end abruptly; the grass has spread among the last seats and pedestals, placed here in the time of Hadrian, and on the naked rock our feet constantly touch splinters of marble and flakes of black pottery drifted here through centuries of ruin wrought by man and time.

We did not find any pieces of pottery; they have all found there way to museum collections, and we could not walk onto the proscenium of the theatre, which is fenced off from the public and constantly guarded by a group of attendants. Ricketts could approach the marble seats in the front row and sit down in the one next to that of the high priest. That is no longer possible.

Your blogger, in the Theatre of Dionysos, Athens, somewhere in the umpteenth row behind the seat of the high priest
The front row with the seat of the high priest, Theatre of Dionysos, Athens, 30 October 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

66. A Sybil Pye binding

Sybil Pye (1879-1958) took up bookbinding in 1906 and she bound quite a few Vale Press books, using some of the tools that Charles Ricketts, whom she had first met that year, had given to her. Her story is told by Marianne Tidcombe in her excellent book on Women bookbinders 1880-1920 (1996), in which Appendix III reproduces impressions of the 31 tools (leaves, wheat and ornaments) that Ricketts had designed for specially commissioned Vale Press bindings.

A recent list of Sophie Schneideman Rare Books (London), 145 years of fine bindings, includes an early example of Pye's work. This was one of two bindings she made for the Vale Press edition of Thomas Sturge Moore's poem Danaë that was published in 1903. Tidcombe mentions the binding in white pigskin, blind- and gold-tooled, as being done for 'Miss Cooper' (Emma Cooper, one of the women who wrote under the name Michael Field) and another one for 'Miss Withers'. Both were presumably executed around 1906, a few years after the closure of the Vale Press. Sybil Pye did not design publisher's bindings, all her bookbindings are unique pieces.

Sybil Pye, binding for Thomas Sturge Moore, Danaë (1903): front cover [image kindly provided by Sophie Schneideman]
The binding is described in Sophie Schneideman's catalogue: 'full pigskin tooled with Ricketts-style tools in blind with gilt circles, hearts and dots on covers and turn-ins, with leaf pattern and gilt ruling and lettering on the spine, her monogram is in blind on the lower turn-in'. The spine, alas, is 'rather rubbed' and the book has 'some browning throughout', which is not unusual. It is not clear whether this is the Cooper or the Withers copy.

Sybil Pye, binding for Thomas Sturge Moore, Danaë (1903): back cover [image kindly provided by Sophie Schneideman]
There is some confusion over the type Sybil Pye used for the titling on the spine of her bookbindings. Tidcombe (page 148) asserts: 'The letters she used were Vale Capitals designed by Ricketts', but how was that possible? Pye met Ricketts in 1906, two years after the Vale Press was closed down and Ricketts had the type melted down and the punches thrown into the Thames. Tidcombe does not quote a source for her assumption. This needs further investigation. In the meantime, I do not suppose that Pye had access to Vale type capitals for her books.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

65. Alphonse Legros (3)

Earlier, I referred to an exhibition of paintings, drawings and etchings by Alphonse Legros that was held at the Dutch Gallery in London and that was reviewed by Ricketts in The Saturday review of  17 April 1897. The review has not been reprinted.
Catalogue of the Exhibition of pictures, watercolour drawings & etchings of Alphonse Legros (1897) (detail of the title-page)
Legros

In 1859, M. Legros painted "L'ex Voto" and "L'Angélus." In the waning of subsequent years and of many fashions in art, we find his work, with added powers of realization and control, characterized to-day by the same dignity of outlook that made it remarkable thirty-eight years ago. To men who, like Baudelaire, were the first to hail experiments in painting that have since distinguished schools, the work of Legros appealed with a definitive aspect of reticent mastery, at that time rare in art. To-day, in the Babel of methods and aims his pictures remain as a survival from a finer epoch. As is the case with most enduring work, their force has long been felt; but from habit their appeal to old admirers would seem to have slackened with the approach of the first grey hairs and the falling away of some cultured illusions. The appreciation of his work, like the qualities that work embodies, would seem to belong to an epoch of greater enthusiasm and refinement, such as we find incarnated in those collections, now, unfortunately, for the most part dispersed, in which were to be found pictures by Rossetti, Watts, Burne-Jones and Whistler - collections that cannot be formed again. So much for the conditions under which M. Legros's public appearances have become more and more rare, till the fortunate coincidence of this small, but representative, show at Mr. Van Wisselingh's with the purchase of an important picture for the nation has at last given us an opportunity of seeing some of his work in its many phases.
Catalogue of the Exhibition of pictures, watercolour drawings & etchings of Alphonse Legros (1897) (detail of title-page, note the raised space between '14' and 'Brook Street')
We miss, it is true, an adaquate collection of the portraits, by virtue of which M. Legros takes rank among the great portraitists of the world. There are charming drawings of children's heads, but no portion of that gallery of the notable men of our time which can be compared in its own way - that is to say, within the conditions of line work - with the series painted by Mr Watts. With a disdain for that casual aspect of things which keeps the modern realist busy upon the solution of problems that are unnesessary, M. Legros has sought, even in the deliberate choice of such conventional mediums as etching and silverpoint, for the serious forces that underlie the peculiarities of complexion or lighting, and so has noted the mansuetude of Newman, the intense inward disillusion of Manning as intimately as the elemental energies of Carlyle or Berlioz. This collection contains several landscapes, remarkable for a sense of structure in the rendering of ground and trees - along grey roads, beneath the rising of a hill, nestles the quiet of old houses becoming absorbed by the ground; here, the majesty of ancestral trees strikes across the stress and movement of the sky; there, we have the action of repose of figures, thrown into those "antique" gestures that hang about the washing of linen, the hewing of wood, or the rest of the wayfarer. By lovers of the rosy, the sentimental, a touch of sadness will be felt beneath the steady vision of growth and change that we admire in the art of Alphonse Legros. If at times he notes the desolation of the season, or those tragic vicissitudes of the storm and the quarry, we must remember that no sane or quite sincere view of nature should disregard the other side of things - an over-insistence upon sorrow may sometimes, have been a weakness in the great art of Eugène Delacroix, a total disregard of it is often an element of weakness in the best English art.
Alphonse Legros, 'Cardinal Manning' (photograph by George P. Landow)
In the picture "Femmes en Prière," now the property of the nation, we will note a total absence of false sentiment. A row of women at prayer - such is the subject. These women have come to the church to think about their troubles, to find consolation; perhaps merely for the cool and quiet of the walls; and, by their sides are the bundles and umbrellas of the market place. Think of the rendering of a like matter by a common artist. The too-pretty peasant girl, sop for the male susceptibilities, and the "human" interest for those touching home instincts of ladies - a child gazing at a careful sunbeam that cheers with its spilth of pink the natural quiet of the place. M. Legros has pleased himself with a set of hands which are delicate portraits that alone would point to a real study of Holbein. His picture touches one with its quiet and sincerity. There are delightful things for the art lover, common things but charming; the homely plaid upon a scart reminds one that Titian found a small check quite fine enough for the significance of the supper at Emmaus.

Some drawings  of a Progress of Death are at once spontaneous in handling and also in conception. Death forgets his nature (or, perhaps, remembers it) in love, and with youth - Death becomes an enchanter in the music of church service. Here we would instance one marvellously tender drawing, a musician playing to a crowd, that in its admirable rendering of poise and gesture, and in some kindred undercurrent of thought, would seem to belong to this set of Death and the passing of things.

If, glancing round the walls, one is tempted to define the peculiar excellence of the work shown here, an essential quality forces itself upon our attention that makes a difference between the incalculably rich in art and the very poor - the difference between Puvis and Burne-Jones on the one hand and workers with loud recent reputations on the other. That quality is design - design underlying the initial impulse. These designs were remarkable, worth the doing, before they were actually carried out, and the gifts of a rare temperament have been controlled to retain and enhance them. Mr. R.A.M. Stevenson, in his sympathetic note to the Catalogue, quotes le père Corot in support of those powers of memory, that independence of models which separates the master from the workman. This should be insisted upon, for in showing this independence M. Legros has only followed what has been the almost universal practice of artists from Giotto to Tiepolo.

A Burgundian by birth, M. Legros adds to a study of great students in art, such as Raphael, Mantegna, and Poussin, that native raciness of observation found in the realistic sculptors of Burgundy and the mediaeval painter Foucquet. In Burgundy the Roman brick is still turned up in the hoeing of the old vine soil, and, like that of his compatriot, M. Puvis de Chavannes, the work of M. Legros is tinged with an element of breeding, an element of antique taste, the heritage of a race that was civilized more than a thousand years ago. With much that is excellent in French art he combines the faculties of the sculptor, and so we find here medals that would have charmed Matteo da Pasti, and a torso that might have been found at Arles, Nîmes, or Vaucluse. We are told that sculpture can no longer find room in our spaceless houses, yet these medals that might go down to our children as evidences of our own refinement may be held in the hollow of a hand, the frail torso could be niched anywhere.

A contemporary of Manet, Faintin, and Degas, owing to a great precocity his début as an artist belongs to the year in which Millet exhibited "Les Glâneuses" and Courbet began to attract attention. Though in the course of years, like Puvis de Chavannes, he might have achieved a tardy reputation in France, it is in England that he has chosen to remain, and it is here that he won the friendship and admiration of such men as Watts and Rossetti.
                                                                                     Charles Ricketts

Charles Ricketts, 'Legros', in: The Saturday review, 17 April 1897, p. 406-407 [review of an exhibition at the Dutch Gallery, London, April-May 1897].
Catalogue of the Exhibition of pictures, watercolour drawings & etchings of Alphonse Legros (1897) (page xiii)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

64. Twelve (no: eleven) woodcuts

Bassenge Buchauktionen in Berlin-Grunewald issues hefty catalogues of books, prints, art, manuscript material and objects since its foundation in 1953. The catalogue of Moderne Literatur & Kunstdokumentation has been published in conjunction with the hundredth auction on 20 October 2012.

Title-page of Twelve woodcuts in black and color (1891-1893)
In it, a copy of the rare portfolio with woodcuts by Lucien Pissarro is described as number 3534, Twelve woodcuts in black and colors, also known as the First portfolio. Work on this was begun in 1891 and Ricketts and Shannon decided with Pissarro to issue the portfolio as a Vale edition. Pissarro wrote to his father Camille (14 January 1892) that only 12 copies would be printed. During 1892 he printed the colour woodcuts (which went back to designs that he made in the previous year) and it seems that the portfolio was issued a year later, in January or February 1893, although its title-page has '1891'. Art dealer P. Durand-Ruel (according to a letter from Camille to Lucien Pissarro, 27 February 1893) prefered the landscapes to the figures and argued that the price was prohibitive (6 guineas). The Dutch art critic and artist Jan Veth wrote about the portfolio on 5 March 1893, and especially liked the colouring of 'First steps', depicting a girl leading a younger girl. This woodcut was printed in deep brown and hand-coloured in pink, blue, red, yellow, and green.

Lucien Pissarro, 'First steps' (woodcut)
Pissarro also added highlights in bronze powder (looking like gold) on several woodcuts, such as 'April' and 'Le tennis'.
Lucien Pissarro, 'April'
The Berlin set - estimated price 5000 - is not complete. It lacks the woodcut 'Le tennis'. Remarkably, the same set was auctioned at Haarlem in May of this year at Bubb Kuyper Auctions. However, the set remained unsold with an estimate of 5000 to 7000. The same set had been auctioned almost ten years earlier at Van Gendt Book Auctions in Amsterdam (Print auction No. 87, 19 June 2001), when it sold for 4200 Dutch guilders (approximately 2000) to a Dutch collector. The set may have been in Dutch collections before that 2001 auction, as it was listed in catalogues of the art dealer Van Wisselingh between 1895 and 1904. The price at the time was 100 Dutch guilders.

A complete set of this portfolio was listed by Sims Reed in 2002 and 2003 for £16.000.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

63. Alphonse Legros (2)

Charles Ricketts engraved three wood-cuts after drawings by Alphonse Legros. They were exhibited during 'The first exhibition of original wood engraving' at the Dutch Gallery in 14, Brook Street, London in 1898.
The first exhibition of original wood engraving (London, The Dutch Gallery, 1898, p. v: detail)
The three woodcuts were also listed in A catalogue of paintings, drawings, etchings and lithographs by Professor Alphonse Legros (1837-1911) from the collection of Frank E. Bliss, Esq. (1922) as items 342-343. The first one (342), 'Une messe macabre or Death in the Chantry', was called 'La mort musicienne' in the Dutch Gallery catalogue of 1898. In the background a skeleton is conducting the congregation, while another skeleton plays the organ to the left. The music has made the audience jumpy. 
Charles Ricketts, 'Une messe macabre' (or Death in the Chantry), woodcut after a drawing by Alphonse Legros
The other two (listed together as 343) are 'Death the wooer' (earlier title: 'Death the persuader') and 'Young girl and death' (also known as 'Jeune fille et la mort'). The former of these was reproduced on the cover of the 1922 catalogue; the latter was printed in Léonce Bénédite's Alphonse Legros (Paris, Librairie Paul Ollendorff, 1900, facing p. 20) and an illustration of that image can be found on: Adventures in the print trade (2008). Both woodcuts show a young woman and a skeleton. In 'Death the wooer' the woman is seen from the front. Death has stripped her of her robe, and is offering a money-bag. In 'Young girl and death' we see them from behind and the skeleton has become her lover.
Charles Ricketts, 'Death the wooer', woodcut after a drawing by Alphonse Legros
Charles Ricketts, 'Young girl and death', woodcut after a drawing by Alphonse Legros
The inclusion of the three woodcuts after drawings by Legros in the 1898 exhibition of original wood engraving, an initiative of the Vale Press coterie, was an attempt to link the efforts of a younger generation - T.S. Moore, C.H. Shannon, C. Ricketts, R. Savage, L. Pissarro and William Nicholson - to those of the generation of J.F. Millet and Alphonse Legros. A year earlier, the Dutch Gallery had shown an exhibition of paintings, drawings and etchings by Legros, which was reviewed by Ricketts in The Saturday Review.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

62. Extra illustrated

The catalogue for sale 2289 of the New York based Swann Auction Galleries describes a complete set of the Vale Shakespeare, which will be auctioned on 11 October. The headline in the catalogue promises a unique copy:

Copy Number One, The very uncommon extra illustrated edition.

This set comprises the 37 volumes of the Vale Press edition of Shakespeare, which was issued in 1900-1903, in 'full turquoise morocco' bindings, displaying 'hand tooled wavy gilt surrounding a red inlaid flower design in gilt-ruled borders'. The illustration shows how lavishly the bindings have been decorated. It is not mentioned that for this set the original buckram bindings, with a blind-stamped design by Charles Ricketts, who designed the series from cover to cover, have been discarded.

The Vale Shakespeare edition (1900-1903) as offered by Swann Auction Galleries, 2012
The set has been extra illustrated with original watercolour frontispieces, with Grolier plates, Boydell plates and handcoloured Pillé plates, according to the catalogue, and also with 'original drawings of Shakespearian characters in watercolour'.

Title page of Shakespeare, The life of Timon of Athens (Vale Press, 1900), an extra illustrated copy
None of these additional drawings or prints are by Ricketts, however, the description, by stating that this is the 'uncommon extra illustrated edition', suggests that it was his own intention to add these to the volumes, and this extra illustrated copy is a special Vale Press edition. The book contains an extra limitation page, announcing:

The Vale Press edition of the works of Shakespeare is limited to 300 copies. This is copy number one.

This page is not set in the Avon type, which was used exclusively for the edition, nor in one of the other two types that were designed by Ricketts for the Vale Press. The limitation page is certainly not an initiative of the Vale Press, but probably the work of a collector or dealer. John Lane, who distributed copies in the United States, never advertised such an edition. Whoever was responsible followed the fashion of the times, first by having the complete set rebound in leather, secondly by adding all these plates, and thirdly by adding these bogus limitation pages. There is no number one, we can only say that there was a collector who wanted to be a Number One Collector.

Inserted limitation page in Shakespeare, The life of Timon of Athens (Vale Press, 1900)
The idea was to create a luxurious, personal and unique copy, and if this meant that the unity of the book's design was distorted, who cared? The collector clearly did not share Ricketts's ideals and opinions on book design. He inserted the limitation page where Ricketts had intended two opposing pages to form a whole.
Original opening pages in Shakespeare, The life of Timon of Athens (Vale Press, 1900)
This is not a Vale Press book along Ricketts's lines anymore, but has become a Victorianized edition, and, as such, it is a memento of a certain collector's tradition, though not a representative of the private press revolution that involved the Vale Press in setting an example for commercial presses. Here we see the collector as a traditionalist, destroying the aspirations of a more modern movement in book design.