The Sphinx, with decorations by Charles Ricketts.

The Sphinx, with decorations by Charles Ricketts.
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London: Elkin Matthews and John Lane, 1894. Small 4to, [22] ff., unpaginated, illustrated throughout by Ricketts. Original full vellum gilt-designed by Ricketts, printed on Arnold unbleached hand-made paper, all edges untrimmed. An impossibly fine copy, with the gilt on the covers still in bright state, the original prospectus loosely inserted, and in the original slipcase and then housed in another slipcase. Blue quarter morocco slipcase. First edition, one of 200 copies on small paper. One of the very few indisputably great illustrated books of the 1890s. “In 1894 Ricketts produced a masterpiece for Matthews and Lane with The Sphinx. Ricketts was evidently given a free hand not merely to illustrate the book but to design it from cover to cover. The book is brilliantly successful. The use of brick red for the illustrations and the bright green for the decorative initials and catchwords and the black printed text in large and small capitals throughout, provides an ideal setting for the artificiality of Wilde’s text.” (Muir, Victorian Illustrated Books, pp. 192-193). And Russell Taylor, in his Art Nouveau Book in Britain is also fulsome in his praise: “Whichever way one looks at it, Ricketts seems somehow to come out as the hero of any study of the art nouveau book -- each [of his books] is conceived freshly in terms of its literary materials, the design sometimes chiming with, sometimes counterpointing the qualities of the subject... in The Sphinx, the extreme elaboration of the book’s form mirrors exactly the luxuriant and self-consciously perverse exoticism of Wilde’s text; perversity, indeed, is even indulged graphically to the extent of having a left-hand title page.” Mason 361. Ray 262. J.R. Abbey’s fine copy sold at auction in 2017 for £8125. (Item Id: 109942)

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