Joseph Pennell, 1857–1926
Letter L (Self-Portrait of the Artist, Seated). Ink, [c. 1890–1900].
Having studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Art (which in later years became the University of the Arts), Joseph Pennell had artistic roots in Philadelphia. His heart, though, was in London—at least the part of it that did not belong either to his American wife, the writer Elizabeth Robins Pennell, or to his aesthetic hero, J. M. Whistler. So ferocious a defender of the latter was he that he could brook no criticism of his idol, nor could he accept any ideal of art that differed from Whistler’s. In a 1912 article for the Century Illustrated Magazine, which he wrote with his wife, Pennell praised Whistler as a designer and launched into an attack on William Morris—who, like Whistler, was long dead. While seeming to admire Morris’s pronouncement “that all things useful should be beautiful,” the Pennells accused Morris of being a hypocrite and, moreover, of having had no lasting influence as a decorator. But, as the artist William Rothenstein noted in Men and Memories, Pennell “growled and snapped” all the time, and “his manners were so well known that no one minded them.” In this self-portrait, he has made himself look most uncharacteristically pleasant.
Letter to Henry Harland, 16 April .
Had Joseph Pennell not written to his London-based compatriot from America, introducing Aubrey Beardsley, the course of history probably would have been the same anyway. Both Henry Harland, a novelist and short-story writer, and Beardsley, the twenty-year-old artist from Brighton, found themselves later that year in the British Aesthetes’ summer colony at Dieppe. They certainly would have met there and begun plotting the creation of the Yellow Book (1894–97), for which Beardsley would oversee the visual art contributions and Harland the literary ones. Pennell’s more significant and wider-reaching introduction of Beardsley was the public one that also occurred in April 1893, when he reproduced drawings by the young English phenomenon in his article, “A New Illustrator: Aubrey Beardsley,” for the inaugural issue of a British periodical, the Studio: An Illustrated Magazine of Fine and Applied Art. Beardsley’s modern aesthetic appealed to him, in part, because it was the antithesis of William Morris’s ideal. As Pennellf explained in Pen Drawing and Pen Draughtsmen (1894), “Beardsley recognized that decoration means, not the production of three or four stock designs” for reproduction “on a hand-press,” but the creation of illustrations that “are quite as well, if not better, printed by steam than they have ever been by hand.”
Pen Drawing and Pen Draughtsmen: Their Work and Their Methods, A Study of the Art To-Day. London and New York: Macmillan, 1894.
The words “captious critic” should have been emblazoned on Joseph Pennell’s forehead, as a warning to others. Whether working as a journalist, a travel writer, a biographer, or a commentator on art, Pennell brought with him from his native Pennsylvania to the fin-de-siècle London art scene a sharply honed sensibility and an even sharper tongue. Pen Drawing and Pen Draughtsmen, which he produced for the British firm of Macmillan, was a compendious and formidably ambitious survey of historical and contemporary book illustration and engraving, covering examples not only from England and America, but Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Japan, etc. As an American in competition with British artists, especially more established ones, Pennell allowed his animus toward William Morris and his associates to color the chapter on Walter Crane (1845–1915), the socialist and Arts and Crafts designer. While admitting that Crane’s “best work was done for the Kelmscott Press,” and that some of it was “very fine,” he could not resist pointing out flaws in the execution of the illustration shown here (supplied to him by Crane). In “the woman’s face” and “the man’s back,” he insisted, Crane “has got in a mess and scribbled over it instead of carefully drawing it,” creating an image that could only be reproduced properly by “the wood-engraver or the photo-engraver” through an “elaborate and useless expenditure of time.”
John Oliver Hobbes, (pseud. of Pearl Richards Craigie) 1867–1906
Manuscript of The Fool’s Hour, .
As only Act One of this unfinished collaboration between Pearl Richards Craigie, who used the masculine pseudonym of “John Oliver Hobbes,” and the Irish-born Aesthete, George Moore, appeared in the first number of the Yellow Book (April 1894), the question has remained forever open as to which character might ultimately have turned out to be the “Fool” of the play’s title. The dialogue of the first scenes, composed in a recognizably Oscar-Wildean mode of social comedy, seemed to imply that it would be Lady Doldrummond, the fondly deluded mother of a would-be wastrel. Yet the events suggested that the son, a stage-door johnny who fancied an “American prima donna,” might later have had chief claim to that label. Craigie herself knew a great deal about foolish romantic hopes and misplaced trust. Although American by birth, she had lived most of her life in Britain and married an Englishman—a union that proved an utter disaster and from which she fled, taking her son with her, before obtaining a divorce in 1895. Her liaison with the womanizing Moore was equally unwise. It did, however, result in another collaborative work, the one-act play Journeys End in Lovers’ Meeting (1894), which was successfully produced on the London stage with Ellen Terry (1847–1928)—the peerless actress and divorced wife herself of the Pre-Raphaelite painter, G. F. Watts—as the female lead.
“Portrait of John Oliver Hobbes,” Saturday Review, First Illustrated Supplement, December 1896.
Most of her life was spent in Britain, but Pearl Richards was from a well-to-do American family and born in Massachusetts. Following her separation from her English husband, Reginald Craigie, four years after marrying him in 1887, she turned to literature as her profession. In a clear homage to the epigrammatic style of Oscar Wilde, she opened her first novel, Some Emotions and a Moral (1891), with the following line of dialogue: “‘Ideals, my dear Golightly, are the root of every evil.’” The novel, which she published under the name “John Oliver Hobbes” in T. Fisher Unwin’s series, the Pseudonym Library, received much acclaim, went into multiple editions, and earned her a reputation as both an Aesthete and a “New Woman”—an exponent of what Henry James would call, not wholly charitably, the “larger latitude” in fiction. Like her dear friend Lady Randolph Spencer Churchill, to whose Anglo-Saxon Review she would later be a literary adviser and a contributor, Craigie moved in prominent social circles, but received more gratification from her membership in the world of the arts. She sat for many portraits, including a drawing by the British Jewish artist, William Rothenstein, which was done for a Christmas Supplement of the Saturday Review, the magazine edited by Frank Harris. The first volume of Rothenstein’s Men and Memories (1931) reports that Craigie and her influential businessman father found the portrait insufficiently flattering and objected to its being published. As Harris had given Rothenstein editorial control of the 1896 Supplement, the drawing remained.
Poster for the Yellow Book, Volume 1, April 1894. Color lithograph, 1894.
Often thought of as the magazine that defined British Aestheticism and, especially through the black-and-white drawings of Aubrey Beardsley, introduced British Decadence, the Yellow Book was actually a transatlantic artifact from the start. Its literary contents, which outstripped its art contents in number, were chosen by Henry Harland, a fiction-writer from New York, who worshiped Henry James and spoke of him always as “the Master.” Not surprisingly, therefore, the first story in the inaugural issue was by James. Titled “The Death of the Lion,” it was a scathingly satirical attack on celebrity journalism, the incompatibility of art with social life, and the “larger latitude” (in moral terms) inhabited by writers of the so-called “New Woman” school. But it was also a transatlantic romance, ending with the marriage of the narrator, a British journalist, to a young American. The presence, in this first issue, of Americans who lived in England continued with a short story by Henry Harland himself, along with the opening act of The Fool’s Hour, a play co-written by “John Oliver Hobbes” (Pearl Richards Craigie). Among the artworks, too, was one by Joseph Pennell, J. M. Whistler’s disciple from Pennsylvania.
Henry Harland, 1861–1905
Letter to Edmund Clarence Stedman, 26 March 1895.
Just as American writers who went to Britain used their networks of contacts to enter the sometimes quite insular London literary world, so they performed the same service of making introductions and smoothing the path for those who traveled in the opposite direction. When Henry Harland and his wife Aline, who was also a writer, left New York in 1889, they arrived in London armed with invaluable letters from E. C. Stedman—poet, journalist, and editor—who was both literally and figuratively Harland’s “godfather.” Among the important figures to whom Stedman wrote, on behalf of his godson, were Edmund Gosse and Andrew Lang, both of them established poets and critics who helped Harland to meet other writers, as well as publishers. Six years later, Harland was the literary editor of the much-talked-about Yellow Book. Its publisher, John Lane, sailed to New York with Richard Le Gallienne, the poet who was also employed by Lane’s Bodley Head as a reader of manuscripts, to open an American office of the firm. Harland drew upon his close relationship with Stedman to ensure that Lane and Le Gallienne would be welcomed appropriately to New York. Stedman was the perfect person to contact, as he had just edited a poetry collection, A Victorian Anthology (1895), that assembled British writers such as Oscar Wilde, E. (Edith) Nesbit, and “Michael Field,” who were also published by the Bodley Head. Yet Harland’s efforts to ensure a good trip for his friend and publisher proved futile for, just weeks later, in April 1895, the trial of Oscar Wilde on charges of “gross indecency” with men threw the Bodley Head, the Yellow Book, and Lane himself—who was still in New York, receiving news of this catastrophe through newspapers and telegrams—into a state of panic and chaos.
“The Yellow Dwarf,” Yellow Book, Volume 11, October 1896.
Leaving behind a successful career as a novelist of New York Jewish life—although he was not Jewish—Henry Harland abandoned his literary pseudonym of “Sidney Luska” and his roots in Brooklyn, taking with him to London in 1889 only his American wife, Aline, who was also a writer. Once settled in Britain, he reinvented himself as an Aesthete, claimed that he had been born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and affected both a French manner and a French-inspired goatee. Max Beerbohm delighted in satirizing his dandified appearance in this 1896 caricature for the Yellow Book, published by John Lane. Although Harland was literary editor of the magazine and could have censored Beerbohm’s drawing, he clearly enjoyed this visual lampoon, which accompanied the column of literary criticism that he wrote as “The Yellow Dwarf.” The name was a play on words and probably an allusion to the malevolent figure in Madame D’Aulnoy’s French fairy tale, “The Yellow Dwarf,” which had been reprinted in Andrew Lang’s 1889 collection, The Blue Fairy Book, with Pre-Raphaelite-inspired illustrations by H. J. Ford.
José-Maria de Heredia, 1842–1905
Les Trophées. Paris: A. Lemerre, 1893.
His fellow Cuban, the poet and political revolutionary José Martí y Pérez (1853–1895), lived in exile in the U. S. for several years and, according to Himilce Novas, also visited Britain. There is no record, however, of José-Maria de Heredia ever having come to London; his heart yearned instead toward France, where he made his home and eventually was elected to L’Académie française. Nonetheless, his work did find an audience among British Aesthetes, whether in English translation or in its original French. Even readers who were too old to belong to the Yellow Book generation, such as the Victorian poet and associate of the Pre-Raphaelites, George Meredith (1828–1909), were among the appreciators of it. (This copy of Les Trophées belonged to Meredith, author of the 1862 poetic sequence Modern Love and of numerous novels, including the 1885 pro-feminist Diana of the Crossways.) Heredia later had a family connection with Wildean circles when, in 1899, his daughter married the writer Pierre Louÿs, to whom Oscar Wilde had dedicated the French version of his play Salomé. But the poems in Les Trophées show deeper links to the British Aesthetic movement through shared literary preoccupations. In their use of Egyptian, Classical, medieval, and Renaissance subjects, from sphinxes and Greek vases to stained glass and Michelangelo, Heredia’s verses demonstrate clear affinities with essays by Walter Pater and with poetry by figures such as Edith Cooper and Katharine Bradley, the aunt-and-niece romantic couple who published as “Michael Field.”
Poster for the Yellow Book, Volume 3, October 1894. Color lithograph, 1894.
The Yellow Book was published in London by John Lane (who was dissolving his partnership with Elkin Mathews in their firm, The Bodley Head, even as this volume went to press) while, for the purpose of sales in the United States, it was issued in Boston by Copeland and Day. This was the book-publishing business co-founded in 1893 by F. (Fred) Holland Day and responsible for a variety of titles by American Aesthetes and adherents of the Arts and Crafts philosophy. Transatlanticism was an important feature of the magazine from the start, especially given the regular contributions by its American-born literary editor, Henry Harland. The concept took on a broader meaning, however, with the publication in this number, first in French and then in English translation, of the poem “Fleurs de Feu” (“Flowers of Fire”) by an author identified as “José Maria de Hérédia of the French Academy.” Though he was indeed living in France and had been elected a member of L’Académie française, he was also a native of Cuba.
Elizabeth Robins Pennell, 1855–1936
The Feasts of Autolycus: The Diary of a Greedy Woman, edited by Elizabeth Robins Pennell. London: John Lane, New York: Merriam, 1896.
“From the moment of our arrival in England I see in memory my life by day as one long vista of work.” So wrote Elizabeth Robins Pennell in a 1916 memoir, looking back upon the three decades that she and her husband spent in London, from the mid-1880s until nearly the end of WWI. Some of the work she did involved collaborations with her husband, the artist Joseph Pennell, including their joint biography in 1908 of their close friend, J. M. Whistler. But much of it was in the form of journalism, such as her weekly column about food and cooking, “Wares of Autolycus,” for the Pall Mall Gazette. In the Introduction to The Feasts of Autolycus, her collection of highlights from that column, she spoke of “the Beauty, the Poetry, that exists in the perfect dish, even as in the masterpiece of a Titian or a Swinburne.” The reference to Swinburne was not coincidental. She was a devoted fan of the Pre-Raphaelites, and one of the notables who graced the Pennells’ Thursday night at-homes in Buckingham Street in the 1890s was the artist Frederick Sandys (1829–1904), “wearing the white waistcoat that was the life-long symbol of his dandyism, [and] full of Pre-Raphaelite reminiscences,” especially about D. G. Rossetti, “whom he most loved.”
Vincent O’Sullivan, 1872–1940
Manuscript poem on Discords by George Egerton (pseud. of Mary Chavelita Dunne), .
A Decadent of the British 1890s who was born in New York City? Seemingly an oxymoron, the label nonetheless fit Vincent O’Sullivan precisely. After coming to Britain as a young man to complete his education, he sought acquaintance with members of the Aesthetic movement, including Walter Pater and W. B. Yeats, but felt most at home among the Decadents who congregated around Leonard Smithers (1861–1907), the publisher and pornographer. Smithers issued his collection of horror tales, A Book of Bargains (1896), as well as his volume of poetry, Houses of Sin (1897)—the latter with a cover design by Aubrey Beardsley that the reviewer for the Literary World disparaged as “a gilded monstrosity.” Today, O’Sullivan is best remembered for his friendship with Oscar Wilde, whom he visited and even helped financially after Wilde’s release from prison in 1897, and whom he later defended in print. As this manuscript shows, O’Sullivan also had strong attachments to avant-garde women writers and their work. He admired “George Egerton,” the prototypical “New Woman,” and not only engaged in correspondence with her, but composed a poem inspired by her second book of short stories, Discords, published by John Lane in 1894. The bond between them was especially strong, as he was the son of Irish-born parents, and she was Irish herself, raised in Dublin.
M. P. (Matthew Phipps) Shiel, 1865–1947
Prince Zaleski. London: John Lane, 1895.
Racial ambiguity was only one of many sorts of mysteries, evasions, elisions, and inventions associated with the life and career of M. P. Shiel (born “Shiell”). Despite evidence that his heritage was Afro-British, when Shiel arrived from the Caribbean island of Montserrat and settled in England in 1885, he chose to identify himself as white. (Of course, he also chose later to identify himself as having been born the king of a tiny—and wholly fictitious—island nation in the West Indies, called “Redonda.”) He was a Decadent and an associate of other Nineties Decadents; unlike many in that rarefied circle, however, he had shrewd commercial instincts and designs on the mass market, which led him to the writing of sensational tales that played on turn-of-the-century British xenophobia and political paranoia, especially involving Asians. He proved a superb adopter and adapter of literary styles and genres. Thanks to his Welsh friend, Arthur Machen (1863–1947), he learned to write the sort of lurid, Gothic-inflected, science-fantasy fiction, often labeled “morbid,” that resulted in his other volume for the Bodley Head’s Keynotes Series, Shapes in the Fire (1896). The earlier Prince Zaleski, in turn, owed much to Arthur Conan Doyle. A critic for the Literary World noticed the debt at once, titling the review of Shiel’s book “Prince Sherlock Holmes” and finding in the protagonist of Shiel’s stories yet another “intellectual lounger with nothing to do but to be immensely smart at the expense of the police.” Shiel’s Zaleski was perhaps even more of an Aesthete than was Doyle’s detective. Instead of Dr. Watson, he had an associate conveniently named “Shiel,” to whom he could say loftily, of a case at hand, “‘Let us see if out of . . . [your] confusion we cannot produce a coherence, a symmetry’”; and instead of Mrs. Hudson, he had a servant with a “fierce, glistening, and ebon visage”—the “gigantic form of the negro Ham, the prince’s only attendant,” who assisted him whenever he played the music of Léo Delibes.
Poster for John Lane’s Keynotes Series. Color lithograph, .
The Bodley Head, the firm in Piccadilly responsible for the Yellow Book, was the brainchild of both Elkin Mathews and John Lane. In the autumn of 1894, however, these two went their separate ways as publishers. John Lane retained the aesthetic quarterly (and the services of Aubrey Beardsley as a book designer), as well as a series of avant-garde works of fiction named for Keynotes (1893), the volume of “New Woman”-themed short stories by “George Egerton” (pseudonym of Mary Chavelita Dunne [1859–1945]). With its daring exploration of sexuality from a woman’s perspective, Keynotes had enjoyed notoriety and impressive sales on both sides of the Atlantic. The series inspired by its success eventually comprised thirty-three titles and lasted from 1894 to 1897. Not only was it issued in the United States by the Boston firm of Roberts Brothers, but it included fiction by Henry Harland, the American expatriate author, and by M. P. Shiel, whose origins were in the Caribbean. Until April 1895 and the crisis occasioned by Oscar Wilde’s prosecution for “gross indecency” with men—when John Lane fired Aubrey Beardsley in an attempt to purge the firm of its Wildean associations—Beardley designed both the books in this series and the suggestive-looking publicity image for it (based on the title page of Keynotes).
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This exhibition is associated with the conference, "Useful & Beautiful: The Transatlantic Arts of William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites," which will be held October 7–9, 2010, at the University of Delaware (Newark, DE) and at the Delaware Art Museum and the Winterthur Museum & Country Estate (Wilmington, DE).