Wednesday, November 29, 2017

331. Charles Shannon In The Mirror Exhibition

The National Gallery in London devotes an exhibition to the influence of Jan van Eyck's painting known as the Arnolfini Portrait on the Pre-Raphaelites: Reflections. Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites. The five rooms contain 43 sketches, paintings and mirrors, and although the title is too grand for the occasion, the show is interesting for the inclusion of two paintings by Charles Shannon. 

Charles Shannon, 'The Bath of Venus' (1998-1904)
The unusual perspective and the reflections in the circular mirror in Van Eyck's painting have been imitated in many nineteenth-century paintings, and as the Pre-Raphaelites's influence continued in the early twentieth-century, later paintings remind us of the fifteenth-century masterpiece.

Shannon's paintings are both on loan from the Tate Britain. One is 'The Bath of Venus' (No. 35 in the catalogue), the other one is 'Les Marmitons' (No. 36). The presence of a circular mirror in these paintings is quite different. In the first one, as the catalogue note explains, 'the circular mirror reflects the backs of the attendants and echoes the reflections seen in the water, basin and ewer'.

Charles Shannon, 'Les Marmitons' (1897)
The function of the mirror in the second painting, 'Les Marmitons' is not related to reflections; it is about disguise, and concealment. Two girls in fancy dress imitate kitchen helps ('marmitons'). The mirror is hazy, the reflection confusing, the view is obscured; the disguise has been enforced, acknowledged, and supported. 

This is echoed in the poses of the two girls, their bodies forming two demi-circles. This yin-yang-like arrangement stresses their intimacy, and questions their sexuality.

Ricketts and Shannon were under the spell of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Ricketts more than Shannon), whose house was full of circular mirrors. However, the meaning of Shannon's mirror is different from the connotations it had in Rossetti's work, and far removed from the significance of the mirror in Van Eyck's original painting.

The exhibition has its flaws - it was not well visited while we were there - but it is worth seeing the Van Eyck, and an opportunity to study the Shannon paintings. Photography is not allowed, but why? Images abound on the Internet.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

330. One Sketch for Two Bindings by Ricketts

The British Museum has digitized numerous archival materials by Charles Ricketts, and published images on the website. One of those is an image of a design by Ricketts for a binding.

Charles Ricketts, drawing for a binding (British Museum)

This preparatory drawing (Museum number 1962,0809.1.13) has been described as a 'pattern of leaves and flowers amongst grid of vertical and horizontal lines', executed in 'pen and ink with graphite and touches of pink watercolour and white bodycolour'. The drawing survived in an album of 46 drawings that was donated by Riette Sturge-Moore in 1962.

There are at least two bindings for Vale Press books for which this design has been used.

The first application of this design for a binding was for Shakespeare's The Passionate Pilgrim (published 1896) bound (in or after 1898) in red morocco.

Binding for The Passionate Pilgrim (Vale Press, 1896)
A copy of the Vale Press edition of Blake's The Book of Thel (published 1897) was bound in white pigskin after the same design. This raises some questions about the colour and materials used.

Binding for The Book of Thel (Vale Press, 1897)
The assumption was that white pigskin bindings were not unique bindings, but bindings that used the same design in small series. However, if a design was used again, the earlier one in red leather may have become less exceptional, as the design no longer could be termed unique. 

It is not possible to date these bindings. Originally, these early Vale Press books were only printed on paper, and published in plain paper covers. As soon as the Vale Press started to print a small amount of copies on vellum, in 1898, the publishers announced they would accept commissions for specially designed bindings. Collectors immediately picked this up, and asked for leather bindings designed by Ricketts for the earlier paper editions.

It is quite a puzzle, involving a colour code, specific use of materials, etcetera. To date, alas, there is not enough published evidence of those bindings.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

329. A Memorial Headstone for Oscar Wilde's Bibliographer

Yesterday, I received a new issue of Intentions (No. 104) containing an account of that contains a reportage of the installation and blessing (for what it's worth) of a headstone on the grave of Oscar Wilde's bibliographer, Christopher Sclater Millard (see blog No 163 for a review of a biography of Millard also known as Stuart Mason).

Intentions published by The Oscar Wilde Society (November 2017)
Millard's bibliography needs to be newly edited for it is - even a century later - an important document of Wilde's publishing endeavours. The stone was erected in St Mary's Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green, London, and designed by Lois Anderson who runs a letter-carving workshop in London.

Details can be found in the new issue of Intentions, published by The Oscar Wilde Society.

The celebration on 23 September was witnessed by representatives of the society, the family, and others, such as Timothy d'Arch Smith.

From Intentions published by The Oscar Wilde Society (November 2017)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

328. A Price for The Picture of Dorian Gray

Last week's blog was about a copy in dust-jacket of The Picture of Dorian Gray

Spine (detail) of Oscar Wilde,
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891),
designed by Charles Ricketts
This copy belonged to The Library of an English Bibliophile Part VII, auctioned by Sotheby's of London on 7 November. 

Dust-jacket (detail) for Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891),
designed by Charles Ricketts
As to be expected, it fetched more than the modest estimate of £5.000-£7.000. The book was sold for £31,250 (hammer price with buyer's premium).

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

327. A Picture of The Picture of Dorian Gray

Some books by Oscar Wilde with designs by Charles Ricketts, or in case of the plays, by Charles Shannon, are the darling of cameras. Photos of The Sphinx have not been scarce since the 1960s, and the Internet has multiplied the number of images of this book. Of course, images of Salomé with designs by Aubrey Beardsley have far outnumbered them.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), designed by Charles Ricketts
Images of The Picture of Dorian Gray belong to my favourites. The almost empty spine with the title, author's name and flower decoration at the bottom end is as modern as it was in its days. Most copies show damage, or have a discoloured vellum spine. 

However, in their 7 November sale, The Library of an English Bibliophile Part VII, Sotheby's of London offer a pristine copy of this book.

What's more, a large part of the original dust-jacket is present. Copies like this one are of a great rarity. The estimate is c. £5.000-£7.000.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), designed by Charles Ricketts
This is a low estimate, as a similar copy - well, according to the images, this is probably the same copy - was sold for over $40.000 in 2014.