The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
Home > On-line Edition > Biography

Charles de Sousy Ricketts, 1866-1931

Nationality: British
Date of Birth: 1866.10.02
Place of Birth: Geneva
Date of Death: 1931.10.07
Place of Death: London


Charles de Sousy Ricketts was a painter, designer, writer and collector.


Ricketts trained as an illustrator at the City and Guilds Technical Art School, Lambeth, London. There he met the painter and lithographer Charles Hazelwood Shannon. In 1888 they took over Whistler’s house, The Vale, in Chelsea. Ricketts' artistic inspiration came from the Renaissance, the Aesthetic Movement and the French Symbolists, particularly Gustave Moreau and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (see Orpheus and Eurydice (oil, c. 1905–7, Tate Gallery, London). Influenced by A. H. Mackmurdo and William Morris, they set up a small printing press, producing art journals and books, including their own magazine The Dial and Oscar Wilde’s A House of Pomegranates (1891) and The Sphinx (1894). He was later involved with illustration and design for the Vale Press (1896–1904).

Both Ricketts and Shannon were members of Whistler's brainchild, the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers. Whistler was elected its Chairman in February 1898 and its President in April 1898. Shannon painted Ricketts' portrait in this year, Man in the Inverness Cape (National Portrait Gallery, London). The muted tonality owes much to the work of Whistler. Both Ricketts and Shannon were mentioned in an 1892 notebook of Whistler's.

In 1915 Ricketts declined the Directorship of the National Gallery, holding strong views on the hanging of paintings within the gallery. From 1918 he turned to theatre design. He was elected A.R.A. in 1922 and R.A. in 1928. With Shannon, he formed a substantial collection of Egyptian and Classical antiquities, Persian ceramics, Japanese prints, drawings by Titian, Tintoretto and Rembrandt, and works by contemporary artists. The majority of their collection was left to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.


Ricketts, Charles, A Defence of the Revival of Printing, London, 1899; Ricketts, C., The Prado and its Masterpieces, London, 1903; Ricketts, C., Titian, London, 1910; Ricketts, C., Pages on Art, London, 1913.

Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Lewis, Cecil (ed.), Self Portrait taken from the Letters and Journals of Charles Ricketts, R.A., London, 1939; Darracott, J., All for Art: The Ricketts and Shannon Collection, Cambridge, 1979; Darracott, J., The World of Charles Ricketts, London, 1980; Cooper, Emmanuel, 'Charles Ricketts', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 3 July 2002).