The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer 1896 (£100,000-200,000). UPDATE: THIS WAS UNSOLD
The Pre-Raphaelite archive of Robert Catterson-Smith (1853-1938), the Irish artist who worked alongside William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones in the 1890’s, comes up at Sotheby’s in London on December 15. It comprises 48 lots of illustrations, photographs, letters and even a lock of William Morris’s hair. The archive offers a rich insight into Catterson-Smith’s prominent, but frequently overlooked, role in the production of the Kelmscott Chaucer, considered one of the greatest achievements in the history of the printed press. Employed to assist with the preparation of Edward Burne-Jones’s celebrated illustrations for books produced by the Kelmscott Press, William Morris’s private publishing house established with the aim of reviving the traditional technique of hand-printing, Catterson-Smith worked on preparations for The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, later described by W.B. Yeats as “the most beautiful of all printed books”. Then a relatively unknown artist, he worked from photographs of Burne-Jones’s delicate illustrations, tracing over and embellishing them, in order to make them conform to the thick, medieval wood-cut style designs Morris envisaged for his books.
Morris never publically acknowledged Catterson-Smith’s role. A controversy began in 1898, when an anonymous contributor to the London Daily Chronicle suggested that Morris had been unfair and dishonest. Another commentator even went so far as to claim that, in his old age, Burne-Jones’s hands were too unsteady to properly execute the drawings, and that Catterson-Smith in fact redrawn them all. Years later, a much agitated May Morris sought reassurance that Burne-Jones was the proper artist to credit and that her father had not been unjust, but she received only half-assurances. An examination of this archive invites us to reassess our understanding of the Pre-Raphaelite’s working practices as they embraced photography and new techniques, apparently in contravention of their purist doctrines.
Catterson-Smith went on to become the Headmaster of the Birmingham School of Art during the peak of its reputation as one of the world’s leading Arts & Crafts centres. Aside from this collection, he has left behind a unique legacy in London: when working as an apprentice in a sculptor’s studio he was chosen as the model for the hands of Prince Albert, and they can still be found on the famous memorial in Kensington Gardens today rendered in gilt bronze. Born in Dublin he was the son of Stephen Catterson Smith (1806-72), portrait painter and President of the Royal Hibernian Academy. Robert studied at the Royal Hibernian Academy and Dublin School of Art where he became an assistant teacher. He moved to London in 1874.
Illustrative material relating to The Well at the World’s End (£2,000-3,000). UPDATE: THIS SOLD FOR £6,875
Illustrative material relating to The Tale of the Clerk of Oxenford (£800-1,200). UPDATE: THIS SOLD FOR £2,750
Illustrative material relating to the The Frankeleyns Tale (£4,000-6,000) UPDATE: THIS SOLD FOR £8,750.