Friday, July 18, 2014

Teddy Roosevelt Checks In With Mrs. Pyle

If you scroll through the Theodore Roosevelt Papers at the Library of Congress, you’ll find this kindly letter to Howard Pyle’s widow - written one hundred years ago today:
SAGAMORE HILL

Oyster Bay, N.Y., July 18, 1914.

My dear Mrs. Pyle:

Mrs. Roosevelt wrote you some time ago and had no answer. I am writing you now merely to find out how you are and how you are getting along. You know how I valued your husband, and I do wish to know a little bit how life is going with you.

Faithfully yours,

Theodore Roosevelt

Mrs. Howard Pyle,
Wilmington, Del.
When I went a-scrolling myself a long while back, I was unable to find a copy of Mrs. Roosevelt’s letter, or one Mrs. Pyle may or may not have sent in reply to this one. But I like the idea of the former president remembering his friend - and reaching out to his widow - that summer day.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Howard Pyle’s Werewolf


“The Werewolf” by Howard Pyle in The Ladies’ Home Journal for March 1896

Werewolf? There wolf. (There - no, there, in the middle foreground of the picture - just squint a little and you’ll see it.)

Yes, who knew that Howard Pyle had painted one? But so he did, to illustrate “The Werewolf” by the Chicago poet and humorist Eugene Field, who perhaps is best remembered for “Wynken, Blynken and Nod” and “The Duel” (also known as “The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat”).

Pyle met Field at least once, at a dinner honoring Thomas Bailey Aldrich at The Aldine Club in New York on March 24, 1893, where the other guests included James Whitcomb Riley, Frank R. Stockton, Charles Dudley Warner, and William Dean Howells - all of whom had made significant contributions to the “juvenile literature” of the period. Whether they had met before or after or regularly corresponded, I don’t yet know, but on November 3, 1895, Pyle inscribed a copy of his newly-published novel, The Garden Behind the Moon, “To Eugene Field, My fellow worker in the world of Art” and added (in his confusingly hifalutin way):
For as the spoken word is like a breath of wind that maybe stirs the world around to agitation that soon is still again, so is the written word like a stone of rock cut out from the bosom of humanity, to endure for generations and for ages.

And as a pebble cast into the sea shall cause a movement to be felt in the uttermost parts of the waters for ever, so shall our work, cast into the bosom of futurity cause its motive to be felt to the furthermost ebb and flood of Eternity.

How great then, O! brother, our endeavour for good and for truth.


Inscription from Howard Pyle to Eugene Field, November 3, 1895 (via Bonhams)

But Field never read this: the day after Pyle inscribed the book, Field suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 45. Shocked, Pyle sent both the book and a letter “expressing his deep sympathies and fond memories” to the Field’s widow on November 10th. “That you appreciated his lofty aims[,] his nobility of thought[,] his humane efforts and the success that crowned them is shown in your words,” wrote Mrs. Field later that month, and she assured Pyle “of a lasting place in my thoughts for Gene’s sake” and called The Garden Behind the Moon “a story after my own heart.”

Then came “The Werewolf.” According to a syndicated news item, Field had been writing and rewriting the story since 1884:
His last revision pleased him and he decided to print it. But death came too suddenly, and the story was found, unpublished, among his effects. Mrs. Field, concluding to have the story appear, gave it to the editor of The Ladies Home Journal, in which magazine all of Mr. Field’s work, outside of his newspaper articles, was presented to the public.
And of course it needed to be illustrated. An article in the January 3, 1943, edition of The Sunday Morning Star of Wilmington, Delaware, quoted “a Wilmington man” who had been an associate editor of the The Ladies’ Home Journal and who recalled his 1895 visit to Pyle:
It is remembered that Mr. Pyle’s working quarters were crowded with costumes, guns and ships of the Revolutionary era. I was advised that Mr. Pyle was always busy, and it was a difficult assignment for the youthful editor of a magazine. However, the artist consented to make the picture after learning that it was to illustrate the last literary work of the Chicago poet and humorist. Mr. Pyle admitted that he was an admirer of Field, and inasmuch as the story suggested just the type of drawing that he had been anxious to make he accepted the commission and was authorized to write his own check.

The illustration was for “The Werewolf” and it was believed that it represented the best work of Mr. Pyle as well as the best story by the author of “Little Boy Blue,” and it was so regarded by admirers of both artistic and author. The illustration was lauded greatly, for Mr. Pyle had drawn the ghost of a snarling wolf, fitting the text admirably.
The fee is not known, but it included publication rights and “The Werewolf” painting itself. And Pyle must have painted it sometime between mid- or late November 1895 and January 1896, since by February it was on display in Chicago in a travelling exhibition of illustrations made for the Journal. In a review of the show, the Inter Ocean of Sunday, February 1, 1896, called Pyle’s painting “a weird, uncanny-looking thing, possessing strange fascination.” The next day, the same paper noted:
In this work Mr. Pyle experimented using red and black oils on canvas. The result is something weird and fascinating. In the foreground is the fabled monster, the “were-wolf,” a horrible creature dimly outlined; in the background is a party of pleasure-seekers, terror-stricken, fleeing for their lives. The scene is laid in a dark and dreary wood.
That same day, the Chicago Tribune said:
A striking picture in oil by Howard Pyle to illustrate “The Werewolf,” an unpublished tale by Eugene Field, is the strongest thing in the collection. Indeed, it is said Pyle himself regards it as the best work he has ever done.
It was admired by other attendees of the exhibit as well, including members of Field’s family. On February 27, 1896, his sister-in-law Henrietta Dexter Field wrote Pyle “to express the admiration and deep appreciation both my husband, Roswell Field, and myself have for the beautiful illustration you designed for ‘The Werewolf’”:
We saw the painting at “The Ladies Home Journal” exhibition of pictures here and were more than gratified that the public seemed to appreciate its beauties, as there were always crowds standing before it. If Eugene were here I feel sure that he would be more than pleased that you caught his idea so beautifully, and he doubtless would write you words of appreciation more suitable than these, whose only merit lies in the expression of the love of a sorrowing brother and sister.
The Chicago exhibition slightly pre-dated the publication of the picture in The Ladies’ Home Journal for March 1896, where - in a halftone plate engraved by Albert Munford Lindsay (who, I might add, attended some of Pyle’s illustration classes at the Drexel Institute and visited Pyle at his home at about this time) - it was wordily titled, “The werewolf skulked for a moment in the shadow of the yews, and Yseult plucked old Siegfried’s spear from her girdle.” Echoing the Inter Ocean, The New York Times of March 11, 1896, called it “a weird drawing...that is mystic and suggestive while thoroughly original.”

And, indeed, Pyle liked it enough to borrow it back from the publisher for his one-man shows at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia and the St. Botolph Club in Boston in 1897. The following year it was exhibited in Washington, D.C. - and perhaps elsewhere - again under the auspices of the The Ladies’ Home Journal. The Curtis Publishing Company (publisher of Journal) also issued it as a 12 x 15" print around the same time.

But then a fog rolls into the painting’s history: the anonymous associate editor quoted above also said, “It was long carefully displayed in the editor’s office” - and I assume, here, he was referring to editor-in-chief Edward W. Bok - “but [then it] mysteriously disappeared, and all attempts to relocate it have failed.”

Somehow, however, it wound up in the possession of Charles William Hargens, Jr. (1893-1997) and his wife Marjorie Allen (Garman) Hargens (1895-1978), illustrators both, who lived for many years in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. And then it went to their son, engineer Charles William Hargens III (1918-2013), and then to his estate.

And now it’s for sale: Freeman’s will auction the painting in Philadelphia on June 8, 2014. The estimate is $8,000-12,000. I consider that to be conservative, considering its size - 18 x 24 inches - and relative importance - but we’ll soon find out!


“The Werewolf” by Howard Pyle (via Freeman’s)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Howard Pyle and Arthur Conan Doyle, Part 1


My interest in Howard Pyle owes a lot to my interest in Arthur Conan Doyle. When I was 11 or 12, I became obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and soon began collecting everything I could find - and afford - that had even the slightest mention of either the character or his creator (and of course by “creator” I mean “Dr. Watson’s Literary Agent”).

A few years in, I bought a bound volume of Harper’s Monthly from 1893 because it contained the serialization of Conan Doyle’s The Refugees with illustrations by Thure de Thulstrup. Although I didn’t read the novel nor did I find de Thulstrup’s illustrations that intriguing, I was drawn to - and kept revisiting - some other pictures in the book and I wanted to find more pictures and to learn more about their maker, Howard Pyle. So I did, and near my Sherlock Holmes-Conan Doyle shelves a little “Pyle pile” started to form.

Some of my initial Pyle purchases were “crossover” items like that bound Harper’s Monthly, or Collier’s cheap editions of The Green Flag, or the only two Conan Doyle pieces ever illustrated by Pyle - the novella The Parasite and the poem “A Forgotten Tale” - but, before long, my Pyle obsession had superseded all others.

Still, I’ve never completely shaken my initial addiction, and I often wonder what Howard Pyle’s illustrations for the Sherlock Holmes stories - or for Conan Doyle’s historical fiction - would have been like. I also wonder if the two ever met or corresponded: after all, the publication of Pyle’s Conan Doyle illustrations coincided with the latter’s visit to America in the fall of 1894, where he met a number of people Pyle knew. But, so far, I’ve come up with nothing.

Shown here is one of Pyle’s four illustrations for The Parasite, which was serialized in Harper’s Weekly. This piece - “‘Austin,’ she said, ‘I have come to tell you our engagement is at an end’” - appeared in the November 10, 1894, issue and the 10.2 x 8.4" halftone engraving was by William Kurtz. I think it hints bittersweetly at what could have been, if only Harper & Brothers had picked Pyle instead of (meh!) William Henry Hyde to illustrate the miscellaneous Sherlock Holmes tales published in the Weekly in 1893.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Howard Pyle Meets With John Sloan, May 1, 1906

According to his diary, John Sloan met Howard Pyle on this day in 1906. Sloan, then, was making his living as an illustrator, but also painting and etching like mad on the side. Howard Pyle, meanwhile, was enduring an odd stint in his life as the Art Editor of McClure’s Magazine, located at 44 East 23rd Street in New York City. (Incidentally, another probable occupant of the offices that same day was Willa Cather, who had recently joined the magazine’s staff and who had also recently presented Pyle with a copy of her book The Troll Garden.) After meeting with Pyle, Sloan wrote:
Made my first call on Howard Pyle, who is now Art Editor of McClure’s Magazine. Showed him my proofs, illustrations, etc. He treated me with courtesy. Said my work was good in “character” but just at present, you know - everything - not giving out much work - supplied ahead, etc., etc. Call again.
The two men may have met before, perhaps during one art function or another in Philadelphia in the 1890s, though this is the only documented encounter I’ve been able to locate. And Sloan’s sister Marianna is rumored to have been one of Pyle’s students (at least according to the Syracuse Post-Standard of February 14, 1904). Even so, Sloan didn’t sound very encouraged. Two weeks after that meeting - and in the wake of a crisis at the McClure offices - Sloan noted that, despite the exodus of a large chunk of the staff, including muckraking superstars Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell: “H. Pyle remains, I fear. Little chance for my work under the ‘boilermaker.’”

Ouch. Was Sloan reflecting on the steady stream of illustrators from Pyle’s “big art manufactory [sic]” (as Pyle student George Harding referred to it), who virtually flooded the market with what some artists no doubt deemed a clichéd way of making pictures? Maybe so.

The magazine did, however, publish a story, “The Debts of Antoine” by W. B. MacHarg, with Sloan’s pictures - dated ’06 - in the December 1906 issue. Whether Pyle commissioned these or not, I don’t yet know, but Sloan considered it “joyful news” when Pyle resigned from McClure’s that August.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Some “Occasional Comics” by Howard Pyle

“I used to earn a little odd money by drawing an occasional comic,” wrote Howard Pyle in his scrapbook about some of the work he did when he first moved to New York in the fall of 1876. “The Night Watch” (above) was one such drawing, published as “Family Cares” in Scribner’s Monthly for April 1877. “Bliss” (below) was another, which appeared in the same magazine the following month.

From Pyle’s letters home, we know that he drew these two in November 1876. Another picture - so stylistically close to these that Pyle most likely made it at about the same time - was printed in the July 1877 issue of Scribner’s Monthly with the vague title, “A Quotation from ‘King Lear’”.

The original pen-and-ink was, I thought, last heard of when it was sold at auction by Scott & O’Shaughnessy in New York City on April 27, 1916. But, in poking around online, I came across it, semi-misidentified - but viewable here in a nice, high-resolution scan - in the collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC.

Along the side of the drawing we see - in Pyle’s handwriting - what was probably his intended caption: “‘Take physic, pomp (Pomp)’ (King Lear: Act III: Scene IV.” I can’t explain the double “pomp” or why the caption wasn’t printed. Perhaps Scribner’s Monthly’s editors - either Josiah Gilbert Holland, Richard Watson Gilder, or Robert Underwood Johnson - assumed their magazine’s readers were versed well enough in Shakespeare to get the “joke” without the quotation itself. I, for one, am pretty thick-witted, so I can’t gauge how funny it is - or if it’s funny at all. And when it comes to his Shakespeare-themed pictures, it’s sort of a shame that Pyle - who loved Shakespeare’s works and times and long-wished to illustrate the Sonnets, but never did - left only this crude, stereotype-ridden “comic” behind.

The extended quote, by the way, is from Lear himself and goes:
Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.

Howard Pyle and Teddy Roosevelt Do Lunch Revamped

I revamped a post I wrote four years ago about Theodore Roosevelt’s day 110 years ago today - which included lunch with Howard Pyle. I even added some pictures.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Queen of Ireland seeks to slay Sir Tristram

A semi-desperate attempt on my part to post something “Irish” on this St. Patrick’s Day: “The Queen of Ireland seeks to slay Sir Tristram” comes from Howard Pyle’s second volume of his Arthuriad, The Story of the Champions of the Round Table, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1905.

As far as I know, the original pen-and-ink has yet to surface on the market or in a museum. It’s an interesting composition and it takes some staring at to make sense of what’s going on. Or one could simply read the passage it illustrates:
Now whilst Sir Tristram was in that bath, the Queen [of Ireland] and Belle Isoult looked all about his chamber. And they beheld the sword of Sir Tristram where it lay, for he had laid it upon the bed when he had unlatched the belt to make himself ready for that bath. Then the Queen said to the Lady Belle Isoult, “See what a great huge sword this is,” and thereupon she lifted it and drew the blade out of its sheath, and she beheld what a fair, bright, glistering sword it was. Then in a little she saw where, within about a foot and a half from the point, there was a great piece in the shape of a half-moon broken out of the edge of the sword; and she looked at that place for a long while. Then of a sudden she felt a great terror, for she remembered how even such a piece of sword as that which had been broken off from that blade, she had found in the wound of Sir Marhaus of which he had died. So she stood for a while holding that sword of Sir Tristram in her hand and looking as she had been turned into stone. At this the Lady Belle Isoult was filled with a sort of fear, wherefore she said, “Lady, what ails you?” The Queen said, “Nothing that matters,” and therewith she laid aside the sword of Sir Tristram and went very quickly to her own chamber. There she opened her cabinet and took thence the piece of sword-blade which she had drawn from the wound of Sir Marhaus, and which she had kept ever since. With this she hurried back to the chamber of Sir Tristram, and fitted that piece of the blade to the blade; and lo! it fitted exactly, and without flaw.

Upon that the Queen was seized as with a sudden madness; for she shrieked out in a very loud voice, “Traitor! Traitor! Traitor!” saying that word three times. Therewith she snatched up the sword of Sir Tristram and she ran with great fury into the room where he lay in his bath. And she beheld him where he was there all naked in his bath, and therewith she rushed at him and lashed at him with his sword. But Sir Tristram threw himself to one side and so that blow failed of its purpose. Then the Queen would have lashed at him again or have thrust him through with the weapon; but at that Gouvernail and Sir Helles ran to her and catched her and held her back, struggling and screaming very violently. So they took the sword away from her out of her hands, and all the while she shrieked like one gone entirely distracted.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Testimonials to Howard Pyle

In honor of Howard Pyle’s 161st birthday, here are a few kind words from some of his friends and admirers:

“You write about a beautiful sheet in the Graphic by Howard Pyle. If you mean a composition that reminds one of Terborch or Nicolaas Keyzer - ‘Penn and the Colonists’ - yes, I was struck by it too, so much so that I have ordered the issue. Yes, it is a damned fine thing.” (Vincent Van Gogh to Anthon Ridder van Rappard, c.May 9, 1883)

“It was not so much the actual things he taught us as contact with his personality that really counted. Somehow after a talk with him you felt inspired to go out and do great things, and wondered afterwards by what magic he did it” (Maxfield Parrish to Richard Wayne Lykes, March 28, 1945)

“I haven’t before had a chance to express to you my very heart felt admiration for your noble series of illustrations for my ‘Washington.’ They dignify and illuminate the work in every way.” (Woodrow Wilson to Howard Pyle, October 27, 1896)

“The virility and poetry and the beauty of it are remarkable” (Augustus Saint-Gaudens to Howard Pyle, June 20, 1902)

“It was a great idea, a fortunate idea, to re-write the Round Table Tales, & I am your grateful servant. You are giving them a new charm & grace & beauty; they have gained, not lost, under your hand. They were never so finely told in prose before. And then the pictures - one can never tire of examining them & studying them. Long ago you made the best Robin Hood that was ever written, & your Morté d’Arthur is going to be another masterpiece. It was a great idea; I am glad it was born to you.” (Samuel L. Clemens to Howard Pyle, January 1, 1903)

“Will Mr. Howard Pyle accept through me the love of seven big and little children to whom he taught the beauty of language and of line, and to whom, in a desert place, he sent the precious message of Romance.” (Willa Cather inscription to Howard Pyle in The Troll Garden, April 26, 1906)

“Eleven and twelve years old we were, most of us, but I’ll wager no one of us has forgotten him, no one of us but has looked back on those wintry afternoons in the pleasant fire-lighted studio many times, realizing how vital a part of our background, literary and artistic, it has become. I was at boarding school when the news of his death in Florence reached me, and I knew then I had lost a very real friend.” (Virginia Kirkus in The Horn Book Magazine, November 1929)

“One of the very best men I know anywhere, one of the pleasantest companions, stanchest friends, and best citizens, is Mr. Howard Pyle, the artist.” (Theodore Roosevelt to Gifford Pinchot, September 9, 1907)

“I think that pirate duel is the most terrific thing I ever saw. I had almost all the sensations I have enjoyed at a prize fight. Oh if I were only a pluto I’d have that in the middle of my shack and when I wanted to be lifted out of the dreary run of existence I would take a look.” (Frederic Remington to Howard Pyle, November 13, 1908)

“There are many in this world who radiate the feeling of love and earnestness of purpose, but who have not the faculty or power to impart the rudiments of accomplishment. There is nothing in this world to inspire the integrity of youth like the combined strength of spirituality and practical headway. It gives the young student a definite clew, as it were, to the usefulness of being upright and earnest. Howard Pyle abounded in this combined power, and lavished it upon all who were serious.” (N. C. Wyeth in The Christian Science Monitor. November 13, 1912)

“I myself have always wondered that more people were not affected by Mr. Pyle’s piercing fineness of spiritual vision.... I don’t know any other American who had his extraordinary combination of fine qualities.” (Dorothy Canfield Fisher to Charles David Abbott, May 20, 1925)

“The battle picture at St. Paul is absolutely one of the most remarkable pictures of modern times.... You, of course, know of Mr. Pyle’s work through his illustrations, but unless you know the man personally you cannot realize what a perfectly charming fellow he is and how very beautiful and strong his paintings. He seems to cover a very wide range of subjects with absolute surety, and while preserving historic detail he never loses vitality and intense personal quality, while his sense of the decorative and the picturesque is most remarkable.” (Cass Gilbert to Ralph Adams Cram, December 31, 1907)

“It is quite unnecessary for you to talk to me about Howard Pyle, for there is no man in the United States for whom I have a more profound admiration.” (Ralph Adams Cram to Cass Gilbert, January 2, 1908)

“I have never valued a friend more.” (William Dean Howells to Gertrude Brincklé, October 17, 1919)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Howard Pyle’s Boots

I’ve mentioned my mini-obsession with Howard Pyle’s boots before. They’re the ones that show up again and again in over 25 years’ worth of Pyle’s pictures - and then, perhaps more famously, in Andrew Wyeth’s “Trodden Weed.” Well, now you can see the boots themselves in a BBC documentary on Wyeth hosted by Michael Palin - at about the 17:25 minute mark. (Later on, too - starting at 47:58 - Pyle’s summer home at Chadd’s Ford is featured when Palin visits its later owners, the Sipalas.)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Howard Pyle Didn’t Sleep Here


“Ruins of Old Post Tavern” by Howard Pyle (1879)

In the summer of 1879, two 26-year-olds set off to Maryland to gather data for an article on the Old National Pike. One was Liverpool-born writer William Henry Rideing, who would supply the text, and the other was artist Howard Pyle, who would illustrate it.

As documented in “The Old National Pike” (Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, November 1879), Rideing and Pyle’s westward journey began in Frederick, Maryland, and more or less ended about 125 miles in Cumberland. Incidentally, some better-informed historians have argued that that stretch of road wasn’t even a part of the National Pike, since Cumberland officially represented its eastern terminus - but that’s a debate for another time or place.

At any rate, in Frederick they hired a coach and driver to take them Cumberlandward, stopping here and there along the way so Rideing could interview people who knew the “Road” and its history, and so Pyle could draw the interviewees and old buildings.

Unfortunately, Pyle’s published illustrations of those buildings are, for the most part, vaguely titled, like his “Ruins of Old Post Tavern” (above). Rideing’s text, however, shows it to be the remains of the elusive “Mrs. Bevans’s” - where they had hoped to find a bed and a meal or two:
Between Hancock and Cumberland the road is almost deserted, and there is no tavern in over forty miles. We were told that we might find accommodations for the night at “Mrs. Bevans’s,” and as the day sped, and our horses showed the effects of toiling over mountain after mountain, Mrs. Bevans became a tremendous object of interest to us. Near sundown when the silent valleys were flooded with the golden light of the afternoon, it was evident that our team was unfit to go much farther; but no habitation was in sight, although from time to time we saw an abandoned toll-house or tavern, and once we met a freckled boy, who said it was about five miles to “Mrs. Bevans’s.” We continued on for over six miles, and then we met a freckled and angular man, who said “Mrs. Bevans’s” was about three miles farther. We labored over another mountain and down a rocky road, inclosed by the gloomy pines. At the foot, in a hollow, was a splendid old tavern, unroofed, moss-grown, windowless, and doorless. This was “Mrs. Bevans’s” in the past, and at one side of it, in contrast with its massive masonry, was a small cabin of two rooms, with some six or seven unappetizing children about the door; this was the “Mrs. Bevans’s” of the present. It was out of the question; the children took the edge off our hunger, and we urged the horses farther on, being informed that we would find a farm-house on the summit of the next mountain.
Since “Mrs. Bevans’s” was already a ruin in 1879, I thought that finding any subsequent trace of it was hopeless. But Thomas B. Searight, in his The Old Pike - A History of the National Road (1894), states:
At the foot of Town Hill, on the west side, Henry Bevans kept a tavern. It was a wagon stand, and likewise a station for one of the stage lines. The house stood on the north side of the road, and enjoyed a good trade.
Then after some more searching, I came across a photograph of the very same site, taken five years after the Rideing-Pyle trip by another pair of travellers, Thomas Dwight Biscoe (1840-1930) and his brother Walter Stanley Biscoe (1853-1933).


“Old ruin of a grand house near bottom of Town Ridge looking back on our road” (1884)

The photo (owned by Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library, where you can see a higher-resolution scan) is titled “Old ruin of a grand house near bottom of Town Ridge [sic] looking back on our road” and in parentheses “Bevansvill[e].”

To the left of the ruin is the same white-washed cabin Pyle depicted. And in the window and foreground we see, perhaps, a few of the same “unappetizing” children Rideing described.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Howard Pyle Brokaw (1916-2013)

I just learned that Howard Pyle’s oldest surviving grandson, Howard Pyle Brokaw, passed away. I’ll collect my thoughts and write more about him soon, but for now here is a brief obituary.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Howard Pyle on Rome


Michelangelo’s Moses in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome

“As for Rome, I hate it,” wrote an ailing Howard Pyle to Stanley Arthurs on December 16, 1910. “I was in my room all the time but twice, and when I went out then I saw the Roman ruins, and not St. Peter’s and the great pictures and statues. The Moses was the only thing I saw. As for the Roman ruins, they are without shape, weather-worn, and channelled by the rivulets of centuries of rain. They are black in some places and white in others, and are, I think, ugly and disagreeable. I saw nothing beautiful in them, but only the weather-worn remnants of a past and forgotten age.”


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Howard Pyle in Wisconsin

“I feel very much gratified indeed that my pictures should attract such favorable attention in Green Bay. They seem to have been a great deal cared for in the West and I do not think that they have anywhere met with a warmer reception then they have with you…”
—Howard Pyle to Deborah B. Martin, June 11, 1904

For those of you lucky enough to find yourselves in Wisconsin this winter, a major exhibit of Howard Pyle’s works will be on view from December 2, 2013, to February 7, 2014, at the Bush Art Center of St. Norbert College in De Pere, just outside of Green Bay.

On view will be some twenty-two original paintings that were acquired in the early 1900s by the Kellogg Public Library (later known as the Brown County Library), but which have since been purchased by the Green Bay and De Pere Antiquarian Society.

This is the largest collection of Pyle paintings west of the Mississippi - or the Susquehanna, for that matter. And the history of how it got there is interesting, if rocky, and involved lots of letter-writing, hand-wringing, and a lawsuit. But it ended well, since Pyle’s pictures illustrating Woodrow Wilson’s “Colonies and Nation” were kept almost all together as a set (a few from the series had been sold prior to their journey to Wisconsin in 1904) - as were those for his “Travels of the Soul.” (Pyle, by the way, made a special trip to Green Bay in 1905.)

So, go see the show! I only wish I could.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Howard Pyle Proto-Selfie


Howard Pyle’s 1906 Self-Portrait (Collection of the National Academy of Design)

Howard Pyle took lots and lots of photographs - at least according to his daughter Eleanor - but I don’t know if he ever took the equivalent of a “selfie.” That is, unless you count the ones he “took” in ink and paint.

Pyle’s earliest known self-portraits date from 1884 and decorated his verse “Serious Advice” in Harper’s Young People; the last known one came along over two decades later.

In May of 1905, Pyle was elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design and was required to present a self-portrait to its permanent collection. Francis Davis Millet (who had notified Pyle of his election) assured him that “a portrait head is all that is needed & this isnt difficult for you, one of the pupils would be glad of the chance, I know.”

But Pyle didn’t get one of his pupils to do it - and he didn’t get around to doing it himself for almost a year. “I had thought ere this to have had the portrait in your hands,” wrote Pyle to the clerk of the Academy on April 16, 1906, “but many things have intervened to interfere with my purpose.”

At the time, Pyle was deep into his Art-Editorship of McClure’s Magazine and his large picture of “The Battle of Nashville” - but somehow he managed to deliver the painting on April 25th.

It’s funny, though, that - to my mind, at least - Pyle’s less “serious” self-portraits resemble him more than this one does. I assume he used a mirror in the making of it, so I flopped the painting and parked it in between photos taken in 1902 and 1906, and 1907 and 1910.


As you can see, the eyes and pince-nez are almost identical to the photo immediately to the right (which, I confess, I photoshopped to remove his hand), but Pyle doesn’t quite capture his slight underbite, nor the proportions of his mouth, nor the shape of his nose, and so on.

Then again, Pyle was a reluctant or resistant portrait painter - this despite the fact that he incorporated plenty of portraiture into his illustrations: just look at his depictions of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, or Oliver Wendell Holmes. The challenge of capturing the likeness and personality and spirit of someone seated directly in front of him (or reflected in a mirror) seems more than Pyle could handle. As he told his friend Cass Gilbert in a 1910 letter, shortly after sending what he considered to be a failed portrait of Mrs. Gilbert, “I do not like portrait painting; indeed, I hate it.”

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Katharine Pyle’s 150th Birthday

Four days after Abraham Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania - and about 100 miles east of there - Howard Pyle’s youngest sister Katharine was born.

The exact location of her birth hasn’t yet been confirmed, but it was either - and more likely - at 621 Market Street in Wilmington, Delaware (at the southwest corner of 7th and Market streets), or at “Evergreen” (or “Evergreens”), a farm on the Philadelphia Pike, about a mile north of town.

Like Howard, Katharine grew up to be an author and illustrator, and here and there they worked on a few projects together. The Wonder Clock, published in 1887, remains their most notable collaboration, but an even earlier joint effort can be found in the pages of The Continent. The July 4, 1883, issue of this short-lived magazine featured John Sartain’s article on “Wood-Engraving as an Occupation for Women” - which in turn featured an engraving by Katharine Pyle “from a drawing by Howard Pyle.”

At that time, nineteen-year-old Katharine was indeed studying wood-engraving at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women in anticipation of turning it into a career. But, fortunately for her, she soon abandoned this handicraft (which was effectively killed off by halftone printing by the turn of the century) and, fortunately for us, she turned her attention again to writing and drawing.

Monday, October 7, 2013

“The Dancer” by Howard Pyle


“The Dancer” as it appeared in Harper’s Monthly for December 1899

There are certain Howard Pyle pictures which I’ve only ever seen in poor reproductions, but which I know must be great in the flesh. “The Dancer” is such a picture. Until I saw a photo of the original painting the other day, I had only ever seen it in a 114-year-old magazine, in the background of a photo of Pyle’s students, and in the pages of a 50-year-old catalog. And Pyle’s oil on canvas doesn’t disappoint.


“The Dancer” by Howard Pyle, 1899 (via Heritage Auctions)

“The Dancer” was reproduced for the first time - and as far as I know the only time during Pyle’s life - in his “extravaganza” called “A Puppet of Fate” in the December 1899 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. A while ago I talked about one of Pyle’s marginal illustrations for this story which features the same two characters as in “The Dancer” - namely, the Reverend Enoch Miller (who soon gets drunk on a mysterious “elixir”) and the Princess Zurlinda Koniatowski. Here’s the passage the painting illustrates:
Again the young lady shrieked with laughter, clapping her hands in immoderate applause; then snatching up the lute that lay beside her, and having struck a few chords of delicious melody, she began singing a foreign song in a voice of such exquisite sweetness as had never before greeted her hearer’s ears. But if this song pleased him so ineffably, how much more transcendent was his delight when the fascinating charmer, having ended her melody, and having struck up a livelier air, began a dance of such graceful and airy lightness as our young clergyman could not have conceived of in his wildest imaginings! The past and the present were alike obliterated from his mind.... The dancer’s hair, in the exquisite mazes of the measures, fell in an ebony cloud to her shoulders and about her face, and from it her beautiful eyes shone like twin stars. The bright and delicate fabric of her draperies floated about her graceful figure like mist about the moon, and her feet twinkled and winked with an incredible swiftness. When at last she flung herself upon the couch, our hero burst forth into such a paroxysm of applause as the wisest essay could not have evoked from him.
Pyle exhibited “The Dancer” in several places over the years: first at his exhibition of work made for the Christmas periodicals at the Drexel Institute and his own studio (and perhaps elsewhere) in 1900, probably at Yale in 1903, definitely at the Art Institute of Chicago later that year, then in 1904 at the Toledo Museum of Art, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Detroit Museum of Fine Art, the Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, and possibly at the Kellogg Library in Green Bay. It was priced at $200, then.

Although “The Dancer” may have shown up in subsequent exhibitions, by 1906 Pyle appears to have retired it from his roster. (Its later travels - if any - are muddied somewhat by his painting for the story “Lola” which was also called “The Dancer” or “The Spanish Dancer” - for which a young Estelle Taylor, later Mrs. Jack Dempsey, posed in 1908.) However, in a photograph taken in 1906 or later, we see the painting hanging on the wall of one of Pyle’s students’ studios at 1305 Franklin Street in Wilmington.

Pyle’s pupils in their studio, c.1906 (left to right are - I think - P. V. E. Ivory, Herbert Moore, George S. Du Buis? Edwin Roscoe Shrader? Help identifying these men would be greatly appreciated).

“The Dancer” was sold, eventually: the title plate on the frame says "Loaned by P. T. Dodge" - and although I don’t yet have further proof, this was possibly Philip Tell Dodge (1851-1931) sometime president of the Mergenthaler Linotype Company. And then fifty or so years after Pyle’s death Helen L. “Teri” Card featured the painting - priced at $1200 - in her landmark Catalog 4 devoted to Pyle.

I don’t know where “The Dancer” lived since then, but now, at least, it’s out in public again, albeit briefly. It goes on the block at Heritage Auctions on Saturday, October 26th, and if you find yourself in New York later this month, you’ll be able to look at it up close for a couple of days. The estimate is $20,000-$30,000.

The painting measures 24 x 16 inches, by the way, and the frame, although old looking, is not the original one.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Song of Captain Kidd

In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day here is something from Howard Pyle.

“The Song of Captain Kidd” is, in fact, one of Pyle’s earliest known pirate pictures, and it’s one of eleven illustrations he made at the tender age of twenty-six for Lizzie W. Champney’s “Sea-Drift from a New England Port” which was published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine for December 1879.

Pyle hand-lettered the title, but the rest of the text was typeset. The song isn’t the work of Champney, but was an “oldie” even in 1879 - and lo and behold there’s at least one site devoted to its history and where you can hear the tune. Pyle himself later wrote of it:
Maybe two hundred years have passed since Captain Kidd took his leave of the world at Execution Dock in London, yet even at this day, I suppose, seven or eight out of every ten people who read, remember at least a part of the famous ballad that has drifted down to us from that far away past - “The Song of Captain Kidd.”...

It is such popular songs as this more than almost anything else, that makes the name of an adventurer popular upon the lips and to the ears of the great public. So it is now that after 200 years, the name of Captain Kidd is that above all others suggestive of sea-roving, of the Black Roger, with its white skull and crossbones, of buried treasure, of death and of terror.
Now talk like pirates amongst yourselves.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Glimpse Inside the Howard Pyle Studios

This link probably won’t be viable for ever, but it gives us a look inside the Howard Pyle Studios in Wilmington - particularly of the seldom seen upper floor. As the article says, the studios’ owner is having its first major outdoor fundraiser – 100 Artists Helping Artists – September 14-15 in Greenville, Delaware - to help with costs of upkeep and preservation of the buildings.

Friday, August 23, 2013

“Her native songs for him she sung”

Another seldom seen Howard Pyle illustration. This one was Pyle’s sole contribution to The Inca Princess by Mrs. M. B. M. Toland, published by J. B. Lippincott Company in 1885. Pyle’s original hasn’t yet come to light, but most likely he painted it in black and white oil on board.

The reproduction above was engraved on wood by Frank H. Wellington, who, you may recall, also engraved Pyle’s equally Thomas Wilmer Dewing-esque “Thereupon the poor woman screamed aloud, and cried out that he was a Murderer” several years later. Wellington was particularly adept at capturing the softness or murkiness of Pyle’s atmospheres.

Note of June 8, 2014: Since writing the above, I’ve learned that the author herself owned Pyle’s painting - along with many of the other illustrations made for her poems - and following her death her collection of 119 originals was bequeathed to the San Francisco Art Association / Mark Hopkins Institute of Art in 1896. But then the 1906 earthquake happened and, according to Wikipedia, “Accounts differ regarding how much of the collection [the entire collection, not just the Toland bequest] was saved from the 1906 fire.” So whether the Pyle survived, or wound up in another institution, is an open question.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

“The young fellow lounged in a rattan chair”

A long lost, modern, summertime scene from Howard Pyle. “The young fellow lounged in a rattan chair” illustrated his own story, “A Modern Magian,” published in the August 1894 issue of The Cosmopolitan. The original of this has yet to turn up, but Pyle made it and its companions with ink wash on paper, probably in February 1894.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Howard Pyle on Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial


This past July 18th was the 150th anniversary of the Second Battle of Fort Wagner. In 1883, Augustus Saint-Gaudens was commissioned to create a sculpture honoring the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry - commanded by Robert Gould Shaw - which suffered heavy losses in the battle.

Some fourteen years later, on May 31, 1897, the sculpture was unveiled on Boston Common. About four months after that, Howard Pyle, returning from a visit to Boston, sent a note to Saint-Gaudens in which he said:
Will it interest you to have one so much out of the world as I tell you how great is your Shaw Monument?

It impresses me now as the greatest and the most distinctly American achievement and I can forsee to reason to alter my opinion in the future.
(On Pyle‘s letter, by the way,which is now at Dartmouth College, Saint-Gaudens wrote, “I value this highly” - confirming yet again that Pyle’s opinion was indeed important to him.)

And in subsequent years, Pyle the teacher repeatedly referred to the sculpture to illustrate a point. During his September 5, 1904, composition lecture, for example, he said:
One can take an unpicturesque fact and, by emphasis, make a picturesque fact of it.

...for instance, take something I have often cited - the Shaw Memorial by St. Gaudens.

St. Gaudens had the problem before him of a row of marching soldiers with their guns all on a level.

Most artists would have broken the line of the guns by making some higher than others trying to get variety, but St. Gaudens, defying all rules - frankly put them straight across the composition. And so by insisting upon an apparently ugly fact he strengthened his work.
National Public Radio recently ran a story on the memorial in case you’d like to hear more.

“Malvern Hill” by Howard Pyle (1896)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Maxfield Parrish Turns 143

It’s Maxfield Parrish’s 143rd birthday today, so here are some Parrish-related posts, in case you’ve overlooked them.

Howard Pyle Photographs His Family at the Beach

Delaware Today posted a photograph taken by Howard Pyle of his wife and children at Rehoboth Beach. They date it 1890, but it was more likely taken in 1894 or 1895. If you take a look at the image, you’ll see, from left to right:

Howard Pyle, Jr., born August 1, 1891
Theodore Pyle, born August 19, 1889
Phoebe Churchman Pyle, born December 28, 1886
Eleanor Pyle, born February 10, 1894
Anne Poole Pyle, August 1, 1858

Friday, July 12, 2013

Andrew Wyeth and Howard Pyle

Andrew Wyeth - who was a huge fan of Howard Pyle’s work, who owned quite a few originals (including this amazing one) as well as Pyle’s oft-used boots, and who spurred Pyle's grandson Howard Brokaw to amass the largest Pyle collection in private hands (since presented to the Brandywine River Museum) - would have turned 96 today. Here are two (only two?) past posts which reference him. Here, too, is a video of Wyeth’s studio with glimpses of two Pyle-related items: a 1900 poster for To Have & To Hold (hanging low on the wall, about 26 seconds in) and a 1910 photo of Pyle taken by Paul Strayer.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Howard Pyle: My Heart Goes Pitter Pat

This great op-ed by Shelly Reuben recently appeared at HuntingtonNews.net - and also, apparently, in The Evening Sun of Norwich, New York.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

N. C. Wyeth’s “Big” Cover Design


On a Friday night 107 years ago this month, N. C. Wyeth wrote to his “Mama” back in Hingham, Massachusetts:
This week has gone past like lightning. - Really, I never experienced such a “fast” week in my life. I've bent every effort, poured every bit of my inner self into my work this week, endeavoring to reach a much higher plane in my work, and secondly to satisfy Mr. Pyle in his wish for a “big” cover design. I have, I am positive, reached a higher plane, according to those opinions about me, including Mr. Pyle’s. I would like so much to have you see the picture. It’s one of an Indian chief with his right hand up, palm forward showing friendship. He is on his mustang with his feathered lance across his saddle.

The week has been very individual. I know I shall always remember it because it has been one of intense seriousness of purpose and more or less of a victory for me.
I should note that in the invaluable book, The Wyeths: The Intimate Correspondence of N. C. Wyeth, 1901-1945, this letter is dated July 2, 1906 - which was a Monday, not a Friday, as Wyeth states outright and implies twice, so its more probable date is July 6, 1906 (though I suppose there’s also a chance it could be June 29, 1906).

At any rate, Wyeth was writing in the midst of turmoil both personal and professional: he was a new husband, had a new house, had his first child on the way, and his work was in dizzying demand. He also had a very demanding teacher: “Mr. Pyle expects so much of me,” Wyeth had written a few weeks earlier. For better or worse - probably worse - Howard Pyle had taken charge of the art department of McClure’s Magazine that February and ever since had been pressuring his prize pupil to illustrate more and more for it.

But Wyeth was remarkably resilient, full of energy and ideas, and the pressure resulted in the creation of some of his strongest pictures, at least in these pre-Scribner’s Illustrated Classics days. And he was only 23-years-old!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Mother, Howard Pyle and Me

Howard Pyle, sometime poet - or, rather, writer of “jingling verses” as he called them - was also the unwitting subject of several poems. I already talked about an unpublished poem written by Joseph A. Richardson in 1883 and another written by Edwin Markham in 1900.

Now here’s one more, which I only discovered today. It’s by the Virginia-born author-illustrator-painter-stained glass artist (and “charming gadfly” according to Katharine Graham) Marietta Minnigerode Andrews (1869-1931) and it was published in the Washington, D.C. Evening Star on November 10, 1906. The credit line says it came from Andrews’ Echoes From a Washington Nursery, which I assume was a book, copyrighted that same year, but which I have, so far, found no trace. I also assume that a newspaper artist made the accompanying picture; Mrs. Andrews had been a student of Pyle’s old friend William Merritt Chase and the (very, very) little I’ve seen of her work is stronger than the crude illustration shown here.
MOTHER, HOWARD PYLE AND ME

I very much admire the style
Of tale that is told by Howard Pyle.
I think, somehow, it makes me good
To read about brave Robin Hood.

The fact is, I myself have see
That yeoman bold in “Lincoln green.”
I saw him when I went one day
With father to the matinee.

I thought the music very fine -
It made my eyes just dance and shine;
Yet by the fire I'd rather be -
Just mother, Howard Pyle and me!

Monday, June 24, 2013

They Fluttered and Twittered

“It tickled a certain sneaking vanity to see how the girls fluttered and twittered at his occasional attentions. They made a pretence of laughing behind his back with the young men of their kind, but before his face they fluttered and twittered.”
—from “A Transferred Romance” by Howard Pyle
I’ve looked high and low for uses of “twitter” (not to mention “tweet”) in the writings of Howard Pyle, but the above is the only thing I can find. At any rate, please follow me @ianschoenherr on Twitter, where I invariably tweet links to these blog posts. Thanks!


Howard Pyle’s Don Quixote

Many of Howard Pyle’s pictures are well-documented. Some, not so much. For example, correspondence concerning the creation of “The Fate of a Treasure Town” series of pirate paintings - among the most notable of Pyle’s later works - has yet to surface.

The same - or even less - can be said of Pyle’s sole known illustration of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. In fact, the only documentation that I’ve seen are its entries in the two Pyle bibliographies and a note in the Pyle scrapbook at the Delaware Art Museum stating - rather vaguely - that the original painting was sold in Philadelphia. When or to whom it was sold is not indicated and the original has yet to turn up, so we don’t know its size, its palette, or anything else. One day, maybe.

Until then, here is Howard Pyle’s “Don Quixote’s Encounter with the Windmill” as it appeared in the November 1901 issue of The Century Magazine, part of a special feature titled “Three Pictures of Don Quixote” (the other two were by Arthur I. Keller and André Castaigne). Engraver Frank H. Wellington sweetened the 7.6 x 5.0" duotone plate, which, unfortunately, was printed out of register.