Wednesday, May 25, 2016

252. Cyril W. Beaumont

Recently, a new issue of The Private Library was published. It is the Winter 2014 issue, published with the magazine's customary delay in April 2016. 

The Private Library (Winter 2014) [cover, detail]
The issue, written by Stephen R. Thomson, is entirely devoted to the publications of Cyril W. Beaumont that appeared between 1917 and 1931. Starting as a private press, with its own printing press, The Beaumont Press soon developed into a semi commercial firm that focussed on illustrated books and books about ballet.

The Vale Press and Charles Ricketts are mentioned a few times. Cyril Beaumont belonged to a younger generation (he was born in 1891 and died in 1976) and when he considered setting up his own press, the major private presses of the 1890s had all closed down. Beaumont, Thompson writes, 'claimed to have been particularly inspired by the Kelmscott Press, Doves, Vale and Eragny presses'.

The Private Library (Winter 2014)
In 1920, printing books in his basement of 75 Charing Cross Road in London came to an end, and he abandoned craft printing. He, as Thompson argues, 'was happy to oversee and assist staff at an established printing firm'. He may have felt that he was 'departing from the private press ideal', but Thomson sees it differently: 'In reality, though, he had moved to a state of production similar to that of Charles Ricketts, whose publications were printed at the Ballantyne Press as though they were private press books, using a carefully selected group of compositors, readers, pressmen and binders released from their normal work routine to concentrate on the printing of the Vale Press books.' (page 161).

Some details in the last statement are arguable, but there are some similarities. Beaumont was not merely a publisher, he also acted as an editor and a writer, which Ricketts also did. But Ricketts could go further and illustrate the books he published. Beaumont never designed his own illustrations. 

There is a further similarity that could have been noted. Both men were lovers of ballet and modern dance, and they were especially delighted by the Ballet Russe that visited London for a popular series of performances. Ricketts, however, was disappointed by the later shows. During the 1920s, Beaumont published some books about the later group of dancers: The Art of Lydia Lopokova (1920), and Serge Lifar (1928) were among these.

The Private Library (Winter 2014)
Ricketts decided, when the Russian Ballet had returned to London in September 1918, that the principle dancers such as Lopokova and Massine had lost their genius, and that the ballets were no longer the 'life-events' that had impressed him so thoroughly. Massine could not compare with Nijinski or Fokine; he lacked imagination and temperament, although his appearance was tempting:

He is stark naked save for rather nice bathing-drawers, with a huge black spot on his belly. Two or three idiot girls in the gallery shrieked with laughter when he came on. They shrieked again when the nice coral-red men came on, they again shrieked when Cleopatra was brought out of her veils and when the fauns appeared.

[Ricketts's diary had: 'fawns'].

[A photograph of Massine in this production of Cleopatra was made by E.O. Hoppé, and can be viewed on the website of the E.O. Hoppé Estate.]

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

251. Mother and Child

Last week, a drawing by Charles Shannon came up for auction. The auction house of Cheffins in Cambridge listed it in the catalogue for their Art & Design from 1860 sale which took place on 12 May.

Charles Shannon, 'Mother and Son' (undated drawing)
The description of lot 395 read: 

Charles Haslewood Shannon (British, 1863-1937) 

Mother and child 
Signed lower right "Charles Shannon"
H:26 W: 18 cm

The estimate for this drawing was £300 - £500. It was sold for £460.

The condition report mentioned a 'foxing spot on the mother's hand and another at the bottom of the drawing, and a little dirt under the glass'. It was framed.

Backside of the frame for Charles Shannon, 'Mother and Son' (undated drawing)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

250. An Announcement to Celebrate Blog 250

On 20 July 2011, almost five years ago, I started this blog, and now and then I have been fortunate enough to publish a blog by scholars of Ricketts's work. Blog No 11, for example, was written by J.G. Paul Delaney whose 1990 biography of Ricketts is the most important source for the study of his life and work. His blog carried the title 'The Mysterious Hélène'.

The Hélène in question was Ricketts's mother, of whom no photograph seems to have survived.

Paul Delaney wrote:

Everything that I wrote in my biography about Ricketts’s mother was wrong. [...] The only true information in her English marriage certificate was that her father was of noble origin, though he was not the marquis de Sousy.

Five years later, the mystery of her identity has not been resolved. It is time the story was told, and Paul has agreed to write it. The title will be: Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother. It is scheduled to appear on 2 October 2016. That day, 150 years ago, the mysterious mother gave birth to Charles Ricketts.

The book will be designed for us by Huug Schipper|Studio Tint, who recently designed my new book Artists & Others. The Imaginative French Book in the 21st Century (Vantilt Publishers, Nijmegen). 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

249. Sonnets from the Portuguese: A Third Copy in White Pigskin

In an earlier blog about the Hodson sales, we established that there were at least two copies of the Vale Press edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese that were specially but identically bound in pigskin. 

Both copies were printed on paper and bound in white pigskin after a design by Ricketts. To quote blog 121: 'There is a geometric panel on the covers, with small flowers and roundels tooled in blind and gilt'. One copy, however, bears the initials HR of the publishers Hacon and Ricketts on the inside of the lower cover. The other copy did not.

A third copy is on the market now. Nudelman Rare Books offers it for sale, most recently in Catalogue Thirty-Six (issued just now).

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnetts from the Portuguese (1897)
The third copy is unsigned. It had been offered for sale earlier in 2011 by Thomas G. Boss, as Nudelman notes in his description. This binding underlines, once again, that these bindings in white pigskin are designed exclusively for paper copies of Vale Press books. Vellum copies have been bound in leather in several colours (red and green for example). Ricketts used some sort of colour system to differentiate between deluxe and ordinary copies of his books, even if luxury bindings were commissioned for them. We have to remember that the paper copies of this book were issued in a blue paper binding. All other bindings for these paper copies were private initiatives. Now we know, that at least three collectors at the time asked Ricketts to design a binding for such an ordinary copy (there were eight copies on vellum). For vellum copies Ricketts designed a one-off binding; but paper copies had to do with one design for multiple copies. 

Still, a wonderful design, although the spine of the third copy is somewhat browned. The front cover is as white as that of the Hodson copy. The second copy seems to have been bound in a more cream-coloured pigskin.

Personally, I find these identical copies - with their small differences - far more interesting and revealing than the unique designs for vellum copies. They tell an untold story about the marketing strategy of Vale Press books.