The Artwork of Charles Haslewood Shannon
Born in Sleaford, Lincolnshire in April of 1863, Charles Haslewood Shannon was an English artist best known for his portraits. The son of Reverend Franklin William Shannon, Rector of Quarrington and Old Sleaford, and Catherine Emma Manthorp, he received his primary education at St. John’s School in the town of Leatherhead, Surrey. Shannon received his art training at the City and Guilds of London Art School, which emphasized a strong connection between fine arts, craft and design.
In October of 1882, Charles Shannon met his lifelong partner Charles de Sousy Ricketts, a fellow student who was studying wood engraving under the prominent engraver Charles Roberts. Inspired by a meeting with the French artist Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes in 1887, Shannon retired from the world to focus on his painting while Ricketts provided an income through work as an illustrator. Over the course of their lives, they collected Old Master paintings and drawings, Egyptian and Greek antiquities, Persian miniatures, and Japanese woodblock prints. Shannon and Ricketts moved into Whistler’s house, The Vale, in 1888 and lived together in London’s Chelsea community for over fifty years until Ricketts’s death.
Shannon’s work was influenced by painters of the Italian Renaissance’s Venetian school, which gave primacy to color over line, and his partner Charles Ricketts’s work inspired by Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix and Symbolist Gustave Moreau. Abandoning his early heavy-toned works, Shannon painted his new works in clearer, more transparent colors. He achieved success with portraits and classically-styled figure compositions distinctive for their color and mood. A gold medal was awarded to Shannon for work entered at Munich’s Annual Exhibition of Fine Arts in 1897.
Although known for his portraits, Charles Shannon also created lithographs and etchings. He was particularly interested in woodcut illustrations and experimenting with different lithographic techniques. Many complete sets of Shannon’s lithographs and etchings have been acquired by London’s British Museum and the print collections at both Berlin and Dresden Museums.
Shannon and Ricketts collaborated on the design and illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s 1891 “A House of Pomegranates” and 1894 “The Sphinx”, as well as wood engraving for editions of “Daphnis and Chloe” in 1893 and “Hero and Leander” in 1894. Influenced by Arts and Crafts designers William Morris and A. H. Mackmurdo, Shannon and Ricketts founded the Vale Press in 1896 with assistance from investor William Llewellyn Hacon. Through this celebrated London establishment, they published fine art journals and books, including the last year’s issues of their own art portfolio “The Dial”. While Shannon and Ricketts did all the design and typographic work for all books issued by Vale Press, the actual printing was entrusted to Ballantyne Press, the work of which was supervised by Ricketts with fastidious care.
Charles Shannon painted Ricketts’s portrait “Man in the Inverness Cape” in 1898, a striking portrayal of the bearded Ricketts now housed in London’s National Portrait Gallery. Among the many portraits by Shannon are the 1904 “The Lady with the Green Fan”, depicting Amaryllis Roubichaud-Hacon, a leading Scottish suffragist; the 1922 portrait of theatrically-dressed actress Lillah McCarthy as the character “The Dumb Wife”; the 1928 “Portrait of Hilda Mary Moore”, the stage and film actress; and the 1917-1918 portrait of Queen Victoria’s grand-daughter “Princess Patricia of Connaught”.
Shannon was elected as Associate of the Royal Academy in 1911 and, in 1918, became vice-president of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers. In 1920 he elevated to Royal Academician at the Academy. In January of 1928, Shannon became disabled after a fall while attempting to hang a picture at their house in Regent’s Park. The neurological damage suffered from the fall was permanent and halted his successful artistic career.
Devastated by his partner’s poor health and working ceaselessly to support their household, Charles Ricketts died at age sixty-five of heart failure in October of 1931. Charles Haslewood Shannon died in March of 1937 at the age of seventy-three. At Shannon’s bequest, their extensive art collection was given to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
“Oscar Wilde had taken me to the Vale to see Ricketts and Shannon before I came to live in Chelsea, when I was charmed by these men, and by their simple dwelling, with its primrose walls, apple-green skirting and shelves, the rooms hung with Shannon’s lithographs, a fan-shaped watercolor by Whistler, and drawings by Hokusai – their first treasures, to be followed by so many others.”—William Rothenstein, 1893
Note: A short article entitled “Celebrating History’s Unsung Creative Couples” by Sara Davis, which discusses the lives of Shannon and Ricketts, can be found at the Rosenbach Museum & Library’s website located at: https://rosenbach.org/blog/celebrating-historys-unsung-creative-couples/
An extensive article on Shannon and Ricketts’s connection with Ballantyne Press, the printer of Vale Press published works, can be found at Paul van Capelleveen’s Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon blog located at: http://charlesricketts.blogspot.com/2013/08/107-vale-press-books-printed-on-hand.html
Top Insert Image: George Charles Beresford, “Charles Haslewood Shannon”, October 13 1903, Half-Plate Glass Negative, 15.9 x 11.3 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London
Second Insert Image: Charles Haslewood Shannon, “The Young Bacchus”, Date Unknown, Oil on Canvas, 89 x 69 cm, Private Collection
Third Insert Image: Sir William Rothenstein, “Charles Haslewood Shannon”, 1896, Pencil and Colored Chalk on Light Brown Paper, 38 x 29.8 cm, Private Collection
Bottom Insert Image: Charles Haslewood Shannon, “Robert Gregory”, 1906, Oil on Canvas, 101.6 x 101.6 cm, Dublin City Gallery, Dublin, Ireland