Charles Ricketts, painter, illustrator, theatre designer, writer on art, and collector was the friend and life long companion of Charles Shannon, whom he met at the Lambeth School of Art in 1882, where they were, students on the commercial wood engraving course. Ricketts, born in Geneva and soon orphaned, had a restless and volatile personality. Shannon, three years older, gave him emotional security and stability.

Ricketts's distinctive artistic personality first emerged in his book illustrations for various magazines, including the Magazine of Art, but between 1889 and 1897 he and Shannon issued their own periodical, The Dial, on an irregular basis. This was illustrated with wood engravings they had drawn and cut themselves. Ricketts found his friend Oscar Wilde's work particularly inspiring, and illustrated three of his books. The climax of Ricketts's work for commercial publishers was 'Daphnis and Chloe' (1893) issued by Elkin Matthews with thirty seven wood cut illustrations by Ricketts and Shannon, in a spare Italian Renaissance style. In 1896 Ricketts founded his own press, the Vale Press, which.he ran until 1904. Around 1900 he took up painting and sculpture, taught and influenced by his friend Shannon. His subjects are more tragic and disquieting than those of Shannon, and show the influence of Moreau and Delacroix. He exhibited at the International Society. 1906 saw his first one man exhibition of paintings at the Dutch Gallery and of sculpture at the Carfax Gallery. He was elected Associate of the Royal Academy in 1922 and Academician in 1928, and exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1923.

His artistic activities were very diverse. He first produced theatrical designs in 1906 for Lawrence Binyon and was subsequently involved in about forty productions including George Bernard Shaw's St Joan. He wrote several books on art and other subjects including a perceptive study of Titian (1910). He acted as art consultant to various individuals and institutions, and he organised the extraordinary exhibition of Italian art held at the Royal Academy in 1930.

With the income from these activities, he and Shannon built up their own fine collection of paintings, drawings and objets d'art which they bequeathed jointly to the Fitzwilliarn museum. Shannon's accident in 1929 devastated Ricketts. He worked manically to escape his own feelings and died of a heart attack six years before his friend. — Hilary Morgan



Darracott, Joseph. All for Art: The Ricketts and Shannon Collection. Exhibition catalogue. Cambridge: Fitzwilliam Museum, 1979.

Hind, C. Lewis. “Charles Ricketts: A Commentary on His Activities.” The Studio. 39 (February 1910): 259-66. Hathi Digital Library Trust internet version of a copy in the Cornell University Library. Web. 1 September 2017. [Complete text in the Victorian Web.]

Morgan, Hilary and Nahum, Peter. Burne-Jones, The Pre-Raphaelites and Their Century. London: Peter Nahum, 1989.

Last modified 2 October 2017