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Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon
While the traditional Dublin Pride has moved online this year due to the covid-19 pandemic, pride events are usually held around the world in late June. The 28 June marks the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York which are often said to mark the birth of the modern gay rights movement. At this time we thought we’d reflect on two artists who feature in the current exhibition, The Lane Legacy, Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon, who enjoyed a lifelong creative and personal partnership after meeting at art school.
Charles de Sousy Ricketts (1866 – 1931) was born in Geneva and travelled around Europe as a child. Charles Haslewood Shannon (1863 – 1937) was born in Lincolnshire, the son of a village rector. The pair met in London at Lambeth Art School (now City and Guilds Art School) in 1882. They disliked the materialism of the industrial revolution, and looked back to the renaissance and to ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration. They were key member of the Aesthetic Movement in England, which championed pure beauty and 'art for art's sake' over practical, moral or narrative concerns. They were influenced by James McNeill Whistler and by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, whose advice they sought out in Paris after leaving art school. He advised them to stay in London.
In 1888, the pair took over the Whistlers’ house, The Vale, in Chelsea and let rooms as workshops to other artists to help pay the rent. One of these, Thomas Sturge Moore, wrote that between Ricketts and Shannon “existed the most marvellous human relationship that has ever come within my observation, and in their prime was each other’s complement.” Both artist worked in a variety of media and designed and illustrated books. They produced their own magazine, The Dial, from 1889 to 1897, and established a publishing house, The Vale Press, in 1896. They designed many books for Oscar Wilde, who stated that “The Vale is one of the few houses in London where you will never be bored.”
Shannon narrowly survived from a fall when hanging a painting. Ricketts sold part of their collection to fund his nursing care. Shannon outlived Ricketts by 6 years.
The painting by Ricketts on display is called The Parable of the Vineyard (c.1906). Both artists often looked to literary, mythological or religious subject matter. It depicts the biblical story of a vineyard owner who handed his land over to tenants while he travelled abroad. When the grapes were ripe, he sent his servants to harvest them, but the tenants beat and killed the servants. The owner sent his son to intervene but he was also beaten to death, as illustrated in this painting. The staging of this dramatic composition is evocative of a scene from a play and among his many talents, Ricketts worked in costume and set design for theatres, including for Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. WB Yeats wrote of Ricketts’ costume designs “they are full of dramatic invention, and yet nothing stands out or seems eccentric.”
Charles Shannon’s The Bunch of Grapes (c.1906) hangs alongside The Parable of the Vineyard in The Lane Legacy. The bunch of grapes is a circular painting, a form – known as a tondo – that that harks back to the renaissance, as it became popular in Italy during the 15th century. Although his Irish connections were rather tenuous, Hugh Lane included Charles Shannon in an exhibition of Irish art in the London Guildhall in 1904. When this gallery opened in 1908, The Bunch of Grapes was hung among “Irish Painters (by Birth or Descent) while another painting by the artist was hung among the “British Schools”. The American Magazine of Art then reported, “Had the Municipal Gallery contained nothing fine save Mr. Shannon’s ‘Portrait of Mrs. Hacon’ and his ‘The Bunch of Grapes’… the Museum would still have been memorable”.
The works of Shannon and Ricketts are hanging in The Lane Legacy amongst paintings by other British artists associated with the Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic Movements. These include Simeon Solomon, whose life and career took a different path as he was arrested and jailed for attempted sodomy in London in 1873 and again for an outrage to public decency in Paris in 1874. You can read more about Simeon Solomon’s works in the Hugh Lane Gallery collection in an essay by Dr Carolyn Conroy in the publication, Sir Hugh Lane: That Great Pictured Song, which is available from the gallery’s bookshop.
Charles de Sousy Ricketts, The Parable of the Vineyard, c. 1906. Oil on canvas, 73.7 x 63.5 cm. Donated by the artist. Reg. 258
Charles Haslewood Shannon, The Bunch of Grapes, c. 1906. Oil on canvas, 104.1 x 104.1 cm. Lane Gift, 1912. Reg. 21