‘A Fancy Dress Dinner Party’ by Charles Ricketts, c.1904
A small canvas in the Tullie House Gallery, Carlisle, offers a fascinating insight into the social life of a small group of Edwardian artists. The painting, by the multi-talented Charles Ricketts, depicts seven guests assembled at 11-13 Lansdowne Road, Holland Park, the house of Sir Edmund and Lady Mary Davis, on the 10th December 1904.
The Australian-born Edmund Davis was a highly successful businessman, who made most of his money in various South African ventures; not least gold and diamond mining. In 1889 he moved to London and married the talented Mary Halford, who encouraged his interest in art, which the couple started collecting in the late 1890s. Their tastes ranged widely, incorporating Old Master paintings, eighteenth century sculpture and contemporary works by the likes of Rodin (it is said that Edmund ‘liked to exercise surrounded by Rodin statues’). Continue reading
Charles Ricketts, Everything for Art: Selected Writings, edited by Nicholas Frankel (Rivendale Press, 2014)
Like many artists of his generation, the cultural contributions of Charles Ricketts (1866-1931) were wide and varied. He was, variously, a book designer, wood-engraver, draughtsman, painter, sculptor, costume and set designer, jewellery designer, and talented typographer. He founded one press – The Vale Press, whose beautiful books are still greatly sought after – and two short-lived yet influential magazines, The Dial and The Pageant. The latter promoted not only his own work (and that of his partner, the artist Charles Shannon), but also that of relatively unknown British artists and writers such as ‘Michael Field’, Thomas Sturge Moore and Charles Conder.
Ricketts and Shannon were, in their own quiet way, a power couple; their extensive art collection ranged from Persian miniatures to Puvis de Chavannes, whilst their Chelsea – and, later, Richmond – house served as a meeting place for like-minded individuals, many of whom (like Roger Fry and Charles Holmes) would go on to assume positions of great responsibility in the British art world. ‘The Vale is one of the few houses in London where one is never bored’ claimed Oscar Wilde, one of Ricketts’s most famous collaborators. Continue reading