Wednesday, August 26, 2015

213. A Summer Miscellany: La Peste

Visiting Paris, you might want to stroll through the Musée d'Orsay, looking for pictures by, for example, Ricketts and Shannon.

The museum owns an oil painting by Ricketts, catalogued as 'La Peste'. The picture (114 x 165 cm) is signed in the lower right hand corner with Ricketts's initials 'C.R.'. 

Charles Ricketts, 'La peste' (painting) [Musée d'Orsay, Paris]
The catalogue does not mention a date, but informs us that the painting was part of the famous collection of Edmund Davis, who in 1915 donated it to the Musée du Luxembourg, also in Paris. It then started a long, and perhaps typically French tour around the city, being moved from one museum to another, - the Jeu de Paume in 1922 and the Musée National d'Art Moderne in 1946. Later it was allocated to the Louvre, and ended up in the Musée d'Orsay in 1980.

The painting was done in 1911 and its English title is 'The Plague'. Paul Delaney described the scene as 'blind victims groping their way among prostrate bodies of the dead and dying'. In his biography of Ricketts, Delaney included an illustration of it. Davis had offered the painting to The Tate in London first, but it had been refused.

I have never seen the original on display; the museum's website does not provide information on the painting being on view or not; and it is a pity that the museum's catalogue record has not been kept up to date.

The same goes for a painting by Shannon in the Musée d'Orsay. This is a portrait of 'The Sculptress (Mrs. Hilton Young)' that has been catalogued as 'Une Statuaire, Miss Bruce'. The painting dates from 1907 and, in 1909, was bought from the artist by the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris. Its journey from one museum to another was almost identical to that of 'The Plague'. The museum's collection also holds a fascinating oil sketch for the same painting.

Charles Shannon, ''The Sculptress (Mrs. Hilton Young) [Musée d'Orsay]
Only the faces (of the model, of her mirror image, and that of her clay model) have not been worked out, but the composition is almost identical to that of the finished painting. 

Kathleen Bruce had studied sculpture with Rodin. Shannon fell in love with her in 1906, and painted her likeness a few times. She, in turn, made statuettes of both Ricketts and Shannon. She married R.F. Scott, the explorer of the Antarctic. He died in 1912, and ten years later she married the politician Edward Hilton Young, and when Young was created Baron Kennet, she came to be known as Baroness Kennet. She had three names: Bruce, Young, Kennet - no wonder cataloguers have been confused.

It would be nice to see the painting with the sketch alongside one day at the museum, or in another museum.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

212. A Summer Miscellany: La Biondina

Are you travelling to New York and visiting the Brooklyn Museum? The museum owns four lithographs by Charles Shannon, one of which is 'La Biondina', also called 'La femme aux chats' (that is, the copies issued in France by L'Estampe Originale). It dates from 1894.

Charles Shannon, 'La Biondina' (1894)
The lithograph is signed, in pencil, 'C.H. Shannon' in the lower right corner. It is printed on Japan paper, and measures 21.4 x 25.1 cm.

'Biondina' was given to the Brooklyn Museum by the Charles Stewart Smith Memorial Fund. The museum has three more lithographs by Shannon: 'An Idyll' (1905), 'The Wayfarers' (1904), a lithograph described as 'Woman Bathing' (the title is incorrect, and there are several lithographs that might be intended), and a colour woodcut, 'Autumn' (1898).

The lithographs are not on view.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

211. A Summer Miscellany: Don Juan

During the Summer - the holiday season for some (not me) - I will show a few works by Ricketts and Shannon that could be in a museum's gallery, but usually are kept in storage. Today, the first of a sunny series, Charles Ricketts's painting of Don Juan.

Charles Ricketts, 'Don Juan', c. 1911 (Tate Gallery, London)
The painting, oil on canvas, inscribed below right 'CR', measures almost a square metre (1162 x 959 mm; frame: 1515 x 1323 mm) and was presented to the Tate Gallery in London by Sir Otto Beit (who bought it from the artist, for this purpose) in 1917. It is one of series of paintings Ricketts undertook on the subject of Mozart's Don Juan. He could also refer to his friend Bernard Shaw’s play Don Juan in Hell and Lord Byron's poem on the theme. Once again, we see that the Vale Press did not publish all authors or works that Ricketts was fond of. There are Shelley and Keats editions, but the name of Byron lacks conspicuously from the VP publisher's list.

In Ricketts's Self-Portrait, a letter by Ricketts to Muriel Lee Matthews of 18 May 1918 is published. At the time the painting was on show at Grosvenor Gallery and called 'The Death of Don Giovanni'. Ricketts wrote that the curtain 'represents the rush of the wood instruments in the Overture' of Mozart's opera.

In Beyond the Threshold Ricketts relates a story about Don Juan, as told by Oscar Wilde, supposedly.

The painting of Don Juan is not on display at the Tate Gallery, but that should not keep you from visiting the museum. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

210. A Plaque to Commemorate Charles Ricketts

Gavin Morrison and Scott Myles are working on a project concerning the gravestones of type designers, A History of Type Design. Gavin asked me if I happened to know where Ricketts was buried, and if he had a headstone. 

The result of the project combines aspects of typography and art. I quote from the site: 

'[...] using a variation on the Japanese frottage technique of Takuhon, impressions have been taken from the headstones of prominent type-designers. These images have then been used within magazines [...] and have been used to create a lithographic edition with the Barcelona print studio Polígrafa Obra Gráfica. This body of work exists as an ever expanding, but idiosyncratic, anthology of type design. It is necessarily erratic in that it is constrained by the difficulties of determining locations, access and the logistics of finding the grave sites. As a result certain prominent type-designers will fail to feature.'

The research is based on the question whether the designer's own type-design is utilized in the stone-carving. Imprints have been taken from the type-designer graves of William Caslon (1692-1766), William Morris (1834-1896), Eric Gill (1882-1940), Kurt Schwitters (1887-1947), Jan Tschichold (1902-1974) and others.

Ricketts designed and put into execution a monument for Michael Field in 1926, but it has not survived. He did not design a headstone for his own grave, and there is no grave.

Ricketts died on 7 October 1931. He was cremated at Golders Green, and his ashes were to be scattered to the four winds in Richmond Park. His friends found out that the shoe box they were given contained a seemingly endless quantity of ashes, so they decided in the end that Cecil Lewis would take the remaining ashes to be scattered in Arolo near the Lago Maggiore. (The Arolo land had been a present from Ricketts to Lewis.)

Lewis himself hollowed out a niche of the cliff, placed Ricketts's head in bronze (by F.R. Wells) facing the mountains, and a plaque was attached underneath it, 'duly inscribed', as Lewis wrote. The inscription is probably his, but the carving itself may have been a local job.

Bust of Charles Ricketts by F.R. Wells (1902), Arolo, Italy [photograph J.G.Paul Delaney]