Saturday, June 20, 2015

Return in Ten Days to Howard Pyle...

That’s good advice, and I really ought to take it - at least when it comes to this blog. Somehow I’ve been neglectful for four months.

The fact is, I return to Howard Pyle every day, rain or shine, and in the past few months I’ve been so deep in my research that I haven’t had the chance or been in the mindset to write anything up. But I’ll come around again, soon. If anything, there’s too much to talk about - and I have trouble choosing.

(The image, by the way, is from the upper left hand corner of one of Pyle’s specially printed envelopes, which he used for several years.)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Another Picture for Arthur Conan Doyle

This Howard Pyle picture went untitled when it appeared in Harper’s Weekly for December 1, 1894, illustrating Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Parasite.

However, in the book version (published in mid-December 1894, after the four-part serialization) it was called “‘Struck me with both fists’” - and indeed it shows the spellbound hero of the novella, Austin Gillroy, beating the stuffing out of his friend Charles Sadler.

When the magazine showed up on newsstands - about a week before the issue date - Dr. Doyle easily could have picked up a copy himself: he was, then, at the tail end of a whirlwind lecture tour in the United States (plus a brief stop in Canada) - a trip which is thoroughly documented in Christopher Redmond’s Welcome to America, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

But I can only speculate where Doyle was when he first saw Pyle’s picture: Schenectady, Niagara Falls, Toronto, Buffalo? Or while he was enjoying Thanksgiving with Rudyard Kipling in Brattleboro, Vermont? Or maybe when he was in Morristown or Paterson, New Jersey?

Or maybe he never saw it at all - unless Harper & Brothers sent him their edition of The Parasite with Pyle’s four illustrations. I wonder if they did - and what he thought.

As I mentioned in my previous post, no correspondence surrounding this picture - or anything regarding Pyle’s involvement with The Parasite - has been located. I still hope something will turn up. The original painting, too, is missing, though I assume Pyle painted it in black and white oil. Again, it hints at what he could have brought to illustrations of the Sherlock Holmes stories, if only Harper’s Weekly had asked Pyle to make them - instead of the lackluster William Henry Hyde. Oh well.

Now, for want of anything more to say, here is a long except of what Pyle’s picture illustrated:
...To-night is the university ball, and I must go. God knows I never felt less in the humor for festivity, but I must not have it said that I am unfit to appear in public. If I am seen there, and have speech with some of the elders of the university it will go a long way toward showing them that it would be unjust to take my chair away from me.

10 P.M. I have been to the ball. Charles Sadler and I went together, but I have come away before him. I shall wait up for him, however, for, indeed, I fear to go to sleep these nights. He is a cheery, practical fellow, and a chat with him will steady my nerves. On the whole, the evening was a great success. I talked to every one who has influence, and I think that I made them realize that my chair is not vacant quite yet. The creature was at the ball - unable to dance, of course, but sitting with Mrs. Wilson. Again and again her eyes rested upon me. They were almost the last things I saw before I left the room. Once, as I sat sideways to her, I watched her, and saw that her gaze was following some one else. It was Sadler, who was dancing at the time with the second Miss Thurston. To judge by her expression, it is well for him that he is not in her grip as I am. He does not know the escape he has had. I think I hear his step in the street now, and I will go down and let him in. If he will -

May 4. Why did I break off in this way last night? I never went down stairs, after all - at least, I have no recollection of doing so. But, on the other hand, I cannot remember going to bed. One of my hands is greatly swollen this morning, and yet I have no remembrance of injuring it yesterday. Otherwise, I am feeling all the better for last night's festivity. But I cannot understand how it is that I did not meet Charles Sadler when I so fully intended to do so. Is it possible - My God, it is only too probable! Has she been leading me some devil’s dance again? I will go down to Sadler and ask him.

Mid-day. The thing has come to a crisis. My life is not worth living. But, if I am to die, then she shall come also. I will not leave her behind, to drive some other man mad as she has me. No, I have come to the limit of my endurance. She has made me as desperate and dangerous a man as walks the earth. God knows I have never had the heart to hurt a fly, and yet, if I had my hands now upon that woman, she should never leave this room alive. I shall see her this very day, and she shall learn what she has to expect from me.

I went to Sadler and found him, to my surprise, in bed. As I entered he sat up and turned a face toward me which sickened me as I looked at it.

“Why, Sadler, what has happened?” I cried, but my heart turned cold as I said it.

“Gilroy,” he answered, mumbling with his swollen lips, “I have for some weeks been under the impression that you are a madman. Now I know it, and that you are a dangerous one as well. If it were not that I am unwilling to make a scandal in the college, you would now be in the hands of the police.”

“Do you mean - ” I cried.

“I mean that as I opened the door last night you rushed out upon me, struck me with both your fists in the face, knocked me down, kicked me furiously in the side, and left me lying almost unconscious in the street. Look at your own hand bearing witness against you.”

Yes, there it was, puffed up, with sponge-like knuckles, as after some terrific blow. What could I do? Though he put me down as a madman, I must tell him all. I sat by his bed and went over all my troubles from the beginning. I poured them out with quivering hands and burning words which might have carried conviction to the most sceptical. “She hates you and she hates me!” I cried. “She revenged herself last night on both of us at once. She saw me leave the ball, and she must have seen you also. She knew how long it would take you to reach home. Then she had but to use her wicked will. Ah, your bruised face is a small thing beside my bruised soul!”

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Forgotten Tale by Arthur Conan Doyle!

Pardon the clickbait title, but I couldn’t resist after yesterday’s “news” that a “lost” Sherlock Holmes story “by” Arthur Conan Doyle had come to light. Fortunately, last night, Mattias Boström, a bona fide Doyle scholar, wrote an article which dismantled the hastily made claims. (Before being eclipsed by Howard Pyle, Doyle and Holmes were the objects of my obsession, and I still dip into their worlds from time to time.)

Now, about “A Forgotten Tale” by Arthur Conan Doyle...

It was a poem, not a tale per se, and it has no Sherlockian content. Evidently, Dr. Doyle (as he was often referred to, then) wrote it not long before he visited the United States for the first time, in 1894. In fact, the manuscript of “A Forgotten Tale” seems to have sailed from England just a few weeks - or even days - before the doctor himself did: Scribner’s Magazine accepted it on September 27, 1894, and Doyle arrived in New York on October 2nd. As the poem was scheduled to appear in the January 1895 issue (which would be on the newsstands by mid-December), Scribner’s must have commissioned Howard Pyle to illustrate it almost immediately.

I assume Edward L. Burlingame, editor of Scribner’s Magazine, communicated by letter or in person with Doyle about the poem - and possibly its illustrations. He may even have put Doyle in touch with Pyle, seeing as he had done just that with Rudyard Kipling regarding Pyle’s illustrations for “McAndrews’ Hymn” [sic] - soon to be printed in the December 1894 Scribner’s. Then again, Kipling had asked outright “if you could kindly place me in communication with your artist as it is possible that he might see his way to using some of my suggestions.” But Doyle may not have cared as much, or at all, about the pictures for “A Forgotten Tale”.

And, unfortunately, there’s no paper trail to answer that question. I hunted extensively through the Scribner Archives at Princeton and found nothing. Equally frustrating is that, when Doyle arrived, Pyle may very well have been in the midst of - or had recently finished - illustrating Doyle’s “The Parasite” for Harper’s Weekly, which was to appear in four installments (and in book form) while Doyle was in the United States! There, too, however, I have yet to find any correspondence between Doyle and Pyle or Harper & Brothers concerning the project.

What’s also maddening is that, during his travels, Doyle met “Howells, Cable, Eugene Field, Garland, Riley” - all of whom Pyle had met, and some of whom he knew very well - and was feted again and again by folks in Pyle’s social or professional circles. And, lo and behold, Doyle and Pyle were even in Philadelphia on the same day! Saturday, November 10, 1894, found Pyle lecturing at the Drexel Institute that afternoon and Doyle lecturing that evening - but, again, who knows if they encountered each other, or if Pyle attended the Doyle event?

And later, after Doyle spent Thanksgiving with Kipling in Vermont, he wrote to his mother, “Have you read his poem, McAndrews Hymn, in Scribner’s Xmas number. It’s grand!” But God forbid he should say anything about Pyle’s illustrations. Pyle, meanwhile, must have written down something about Doyle’s writings, but so far nothing has surfaced. I’ll keep looking.

My frustrations aside...

If Scribner’s Magazine accepted “A Forgotten Tale” on September 27, 1894, they probably didn’t get Pyle on board for upwards of a week or more. And as the printed magazine would need to be out in mid-December (and factoring in time before that to prepare photo-engraved plates of the illustrations), it’s safe to say that Pyle made his drawings sometime between mid-October and late November 1894 - all the while Doyle was travelling across the United States.

I have to admit that I’ve never been overly fond of Pyle’s “A Forgotten Tale” pictures. The first one feels too Daniel Vierge-like: but Pyle may have deliberately tried to inject some “Spanish” flavor into it, since the poem is set in Mediaeval Spain. And the second drawing is somewhat hampered by the backlighting. Then again, Pyle’s pen-work was in a sort of transitional phase, and he may have done these in a hurry: he was his usual busy self, writing and illustrating, and he had also just started teaching. His original pen-and-inks haven’t turned up, by the way, nor have his oil paintings for “The Parasite”. Somehow I’m not surprised.

Anyway, after two exhausting months, Doyle sailed off on December 8, 1894. I assume Scribner’s Magazine for January 1895 was still in production at the time, but surely Doyle saw a copy of the finished product (either the American or British edition) not long after he returned home.

Incidentally, Doyle’s departure date conflicted with the Authors’ Reception at the Juvenile Order of the Round Table in New York, to which he had been invited. And who was also invited and - reportedly - attended? Howard Pyle. Of course.

In the end, since Doyle didn’t return to the States until 1914 and since Pyle didn’t go to Europe until 1910-11 - and stayed almost entirely in Italy (where Doyle wasn’t) - they never met again, if they ever met in the first place.

However, the Sherlockian in me takes some solace in the fact that while a sickly Pyle was recuperating in a Rome hotel room in December 1910, his secretary noted how he “was soon absorbed in the Strand Magazine” - the Christmas issue of which featured “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot” by Arthur Conan Doyle.


A FORGOTTEN TALE
by Arthur Conan Doyle

There still remains in one of the valleys of the Cantabrian mountains in northern Spain a small hill called “Colla de los Inglesos.” It marks the spot where three hundred bowmen of the Black Prince’s army were surrounded by several thousand Spanish cavalry, and after a long and gallant resistance, were entirely destroyed.


Say, what saw you on the hill,
Garcia, the herdsman?
“I saw my brindled heifer there,
A trail of bowmen, spent and bare
A little man on a roan mare
And a tattered flag before them.”

Say, what saw you in the vale,
Garcia, the herdsman?
“There I saw my lambing ewe,
And an army riding through,
Thick and brave the pennons flew
From the lance-heads o’er them.”

Say, what saw you on the hill,
Garcia, the herdsman?
“I saw beside the milking byre,
White with want and black with mire,
A little man with face afire
Marshalling his bowmen.”

Say, what saw you in the vale,
Garcia, the herdsman?
“There I saw my bullocks twain
And the hardy men of Spain
With bloody heel and slackened rein,
Closing on their foemen.”

Nay, but there is more to tell,
Garcia, the herdsman.
“More I might not bide to view,
I had other things to do,
Tending on the lambing ewe,
Down among the clover.”

Prithee tell me what you heard,
Garcia, the herdsman?
“Shouting from the mountain side,
Shouting until eventide,
But it dwindled and it died
Ere milking time was over.”

Ah, but saw you nothing more,
Garcia, the herdsman?
“Yes, I saw them lying there,
The little man and roan mare,
And in their ranks the bowmen bare
With their staves before them.”

And the hardy men of Spain,
Garcia, the herdsman?
“Hush, but we are Spanish too,
More I may not say to you,
May God’s benison, like dew,
Gently settle o’er them.”

Friday, February 13, 2015

Mark Twain and Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood


Mark Twain and G. W. Cable via www.twainquotes.com

On February 13, 1884, author George Washington Cable - then in the midst of an extended stay at the Hartford, Connecticut, home of Samuel L. Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) - concluded a letter to his wife with this comment:
Mrs. Clemens is reading aloud to Mark & the children Howard Pyle’s beautiful new version of Robin Hood. Mark enjoys it hugely; they have come to the death of Robin & will soon be at the end.
The Clemens children were Susy, 11, Clara, 9, Jean, 3, and the “beautiful new version” was The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown, in Nottinghamshire, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons just a few months earlier. The first edition was bound in full leather, embossed with Pyle’s own designs.


Clemens’s fondness for the book endured: on New Year’s Day of 1903, he sent what was essentially a fan letter to Pyle, saying, “Long ago you made the best Robin Hood that was ever written.”

The particular copy from which Mrs. Clemens read that winter evening might still be around: a copy owned by Clara (which also contains a bit of marginalia in handwriting resembling that of Clemens: on page 145 the word “goodliness” is crossed out and changed to “godliness”), which was subsequently presented to the actress Elsie Leslie, now belongs to the University of Texas at Austin.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Nice Trade


“A Dream of Young Summer” by Howard Pyle (1901)

“As you know,” said Howard Pyle to the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens in a letter of January 2, 1902, “I have always admired your work extremely - have always considered you as a representative of that steadfast and lofty effort toward an Art that cannot condescend to tricks and effects to catch the eye, but that speaks with a deeper intonation to the hearts and the souls of men.”

Saint-Gaudens seems to have felt much the same way about Pyle, and for several years the two had intended to exchange works. Finally, at the end of 1901, the sculptor sent a bronze cast of the “Head of Victory” - a “sketch” for the allegorical figure in his wonderful Sherman Monument.


“Head of Victory” by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Pyle received the piece on January 2. “I shall regard it as one of the treasures of my life,” he wrote the same day. “I care for it much more than I should for a more finished work; it is, as it were, a pure and noble thought from a large, and I am sure, a noble mind.” He also vowed to send “something in return that shall represent an earnest, even if an inarticulate effort of my Art.”

At last, on February 10, 1902 - after having trouble getting the 22 x 12" oil on canvas framed to his liking - Pyle shipped “A Dream of Young Summer”:
Now that it has been sent I feel horribly conscious that it is no adequate return for the beautiful “Victory” which I possess. The only thing that reconciles me to it is that it is sent with the most friendly good wishes in the world. Moreover, whatever its short-comings it is a sincere effort to express a thought.
“A Dream of Young Summer” wasn’t a custom-made piece, but something Pyle already had on hand: it had been published the previous year, in Harper’s Monthly Magazine for June 1901, accompanied by Edith M. Thomas’s poem of the same name (which may have been written for the picture, instead of the other way around - but I’ll explain myself in a later post, I hope).

The painting - which, by the way, Pyle and inscribed “To Augustus Saint Gaudens this Picture of Young Summer with the Fraternal Greetings of His Brother in Art” - eventually wound up in the hands of Pyle’s grandson, who presented it to the Brandywine River Museum, where you can see it today.

Unfortunately, I don’t know where Pyle’s particular copy of the “Head of Victory” is, but it was the topic of this news item in The Evening Journal of Wilmington in March 1904:
AN INTERESTING ART TREASURE

A great many people of Wilmington have doubtless seen the equestrian statue Sherman that stands in the Plaza at Fifth avenue in New York, for that work is not only local but national and it is, moreover, regarded by those who should know as being one of the five great equestrian statues of the world. Perhaps the finest part of the entire group is the figure of Victory and it is rather interesting to know that the study for the head, cast in bronze, is now in possession of an artist in Wilmington to whom it was given by Saint-Gaudens.
And Pyle’s student N. C. Wyeth mentioned it in a letter of October 29, 1905:
Mr. Pyle has gone to Chicago today to lecture, etc. Enclosed you will find a photo of him. The cast is a head St. Gaudin’s [sic] gave him. He had a photo taken of it so as to use it in an illustrated lecture in Chicago and Milwaukee. He considers the piece of sculpture (original study for the figure of “Victory” on the Sherman Statue, NY) a masterpiece.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

“A mug, a pipe and a pleasant Friend or two”

In his 1918 history of New York City’s venerable Salmagundi Club, club librarian William Henry Shelton recalled a proposal he had made at the turn of the last century “which was the beginning of one of the most interesting customs of the club and one which has furnished the library with an ample income from that day to this.”
The idea suggested was that twenty-four mugs or steins be decorated each year and sold at auction at the library dinner for the benefit of the library. Each member of the club at that time had his own private mug, decorated by himself, or for him by a professional friend, with his name burned in under the glaze at the Volkmar Pottery. These suggested the library mugs, and limiting the yearly output for the library sale was a plan to keep up prices.
Although Howard Pyle was not a particularly active Salmagundian, he decorated at least two such mugs, the first in 1902 (which I discussed here) and the second on Saturday, December 30, 1905. We know the exact date because he hand-lettered it thus:
A mug, a pipe and a pleasant friend or two. Pray God send me the three. Drawn by Howard Pyle Dec. 30, 1905.
It’s not clear, however, if Pyle did his decorating at the club itself or in Wilmington and then shipped the unfired mug to New York, just as Edwin Austin Abbey (and perhaps other out-of-town contributors) had done. Pyle may well have been in New York that day - either to lecture at the Art Students’ League, and/or to hammer out his plan to take over McClure’s Magazine’s art department - but I have yet to find corroborating evidence.

At any rate, the mug was finally auctioned off on April 17, 1906. Shelton remembered:
There was a sharp contest in the bidding for the Abbey mug and also for a mug by Howard Pyle. Mr. George A. Hearn had sent in a bid of two hundred and fifty dollars for the Abbey mug. The two coveted pieces of delft, however, went into Mr. Saltus’s collection, the Abbey for four hundred and sixty-one dollars and the Pyle for two hundred and sixty dollars. This was real bidding, which was not always the case, as, for instance, in the following year a mug decorated by F. Luis Mora sold at the dinner-table for five hundred and five dollars. This was a sum sent over by Mr. Saltus, who was then in Nice, with the simple direction, “Buy me a mug.” He wished to place that sum in the library and he wished to do it in his own way. As it was known that he always wished his undivided contribution to be expended for one mug, it was the custom to begin the sale by offering the first choice, and when these large sums had to be expended on one mug there was an amusing competition of irresponsible bids, by such of us as were in the secret, until the desired sum was reached.
A syndicated news item about the sale noted that “Mr. Howard Pyle’s mug shows the fat and rosy face of an old time drinker and smoker.” And The New York Times of April 18, 1906, said, “Howard Pyle’s contribution shows the round, rosy face of a high roller of olden days, who looks as if he enjoyed his pipe and the flowing bowl.”

A number of the mugs J. Sanford Saltus purchased were given back to the club, but this one fell through the cracks and its present whereabouts are a mystery. Let’s just hope it didn’t fall on the floor.

The photo above - from the Salmagundi Club’s mug record book - is the only one that I’ve seen.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

“No American Writer Can Come Within Touch of You”

Howard Pyle’s fondness for the writings of William Dean Howells is well documented - mostly in Pyle’s own correspondence. On October 30, 1895, Pyle wrote yet another glowing letter to his literary idol, mentor, and friend:
My wife and I are reading your Shaker story together. I was so much impressed with the first number that I sat down immediately and wrote Harry Harper what I so strongly felt - that it only added to my already formed opinion that no American writer can come within touch of you. The measure of your success lies far beyond the radius of the present into the vaster cycle of the future....

The first number of your story was startlingly true to nature, the succeeding numbers are charmingly idyllic.
“Your Shaker story” was “The Day of Their Wedding” which appeared in seven weekly installments (or “numbers”) in Harper’s Bazar between October 5 and November 16, 1895. And “Harry Harper” was J. Henry Harper, a friend of both Howells and Pyle, and a member of the publishing firm.

Pyle had, in fact, expressed a similar sentiment in a letter of February 26 that same year: “I do not of course know what are your present rewards of popularity but I feel very sure that you are writing for future readers.” Over the past century, however, Howells’ stock hasn’t performed quite as well as Pyle thought it would.

But now, future readers, why not read the novel yourselves and put Pyle’s assessment to the test?

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Birthday Card for Theodore Roosevelt

Although I have yet to find out when exactly Howard Pyle and Theodore Roosevelt first met (the earliest known in-the-same-room-at-the-same-time instance was at a January 1896 dinner in honor of Owen Wister), by 1898 Pyle was referring to the then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy as “my friend”.

Their bond, I gather, had its roots in their mutual love of history, but after 1901 Pyle also became an enthusiastic supporter of then-President Roosevelt’s policies. In addition to Pyle’s occasional visits to the White House, the two exchanged letters and favors over the years, and on the eve of Roosevelt’s turning 50, Pyle sent him the drawing shown here, which prompted the following thank-you note:
October 27, 1908.

My dear Mr. Pyle:

Who could have a more beautiful birthday card? I shall prize it always for its own sake and still more for the sake of the donor.

Always your friend,

Theodore Roosevelt
Pyle’s original pen-and-ink drawing now belongs to the Theodore Roosevelt Collection in the Houghton Library at Harvard University.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Pyle on Barye and Wyeth

In a post two years ago, I quoted Howard Pyle’s thoughts on the sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye, but I want to expand on that post to show why he brought Barye up in the first place.

On August 29, 1904, 21-year-old N. C. Wyeth brought in the charcoal drawing seen here for Pyle’s weekly composition lecture.

According to Ethel Pennewill Brown and Olive Rush - who took notes during these lectures - Pyle said something like this that day:
Now, Mr. Wyeth this lacks just a little of being a great composition. In the main it is well told, but you have been a little overdramatic with your figures.

A panther crouching to spring on his victim is not possessed of passion but merely a desire to eat. He is cool, calculating, hungry.

Barye is one of the very few who have rightly expressed the animal nature.

I recall a thing by him of greyhounds killing hares. One of the hounds had a hare in its strong jaws and was crunching it in a cold-blooded way - absolutely without any feeling or passion.

A wild beast devouring another take its food in a way natural to it, as a tree absorbs moisture, rather than as a creature bent on revenge.

When you throw your own self into the animal you make him human. You should consider him a being different from yourself.

The action of the Indian, too, is overstated.

He knows escape is impossible and his only hope lies in meeting the attack. So he would not lean back [sic] as you have him but would instinctively brace himself for the blow.
It’s possible that Wyeth subsequently altered this composition, but I’m inclined to think that it looks now as it did 110 years ago - despite the fact that the Indian is leaning forward, not back.

“Greyhound and Hare” by Antoine-Louis Barye

The picture of Wyeth’s drawing comes via the Brandywine River Museum. The original belongs to the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art (Paulus Leeser, photographer; Courtesy of Nicholas Wyeth, Inc.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Valley Forge Picnic, 1899


There are few more iconic photographs of Howard Pyle and his pupils, perhaps, than the one shown here. Its appeal has a lot to do with Miss Bertha Corson Day’s over-the-shoulder gaze, inviting countless viewers into the scene, ever since the photo was taken 115 years ago.

In fact, by my reckoning, the photo was taken 115 years ago today, on August 20, 1899, in or en route to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

At the time, Pyle was conducting the second Summer School of Illustration under the auspices of the Drexel Institute. Their home base was Chadds Ford, but frequently they would mount their “wheels” (including a recently acquired tandem bicycle or two) or climb aboard a carriage and set off to explore the surrounding countryside, to observe the effects of color and light on the trees and streams and hills, to sketch - and to eat.

In a letter of Sunday, August 6, 1899, Pyle’s student Frank Schoonover wrote:
Next Sunday we all go to Valley Forge, some on wheels others in a 4 seated carriage - two tandems, Mr. Pyle steering one, I the other, he considers so he says, me the most skilled and strongest rider among the boys - except [Philip L.] Hoyt - who is a hard rider. Mr. Pyle’s ideas sometimes are a bit off color, and while I’m very far from being the best rider, still he thinks so - let him think.
“Next Sunday” indicates August 13, but the plans changed - The Philadelphia Record’s forecast that day was for “weather unsettled” - and Miss Day noted in her diary that the trip actually occurred on Sunday, August 20, 1899. It also happened to be the day she turned 24, but for some reason she “told no one here that it was my birthday.” Instead, she secretly celebrated it by “riding the tandem with Mr. Pyle in relays from here to the Forge and back. 50 miles. Home by moonlight” [the moon was full or nearly so on August 20, by the way] and they “did not reach home till after midnight.”

This photograph has been reprinted several times over the years, but some of the sitters have been misidentified. Here is my take, from left to right:
Philip L. Hoyt (with glasses)
Frank Schoonover (with cap)
Anna Whelan Betts (with turned-away face)
Howard Pyle (with cap and white turtleneck)
Robert Lindsay Mason (with dark hat)
Bertha Corson Day (looking at us)
Sarah S. Stilwell (with braided pony tail)
Annie Hailey (holding glass)
Emlen McConnell (with necktie)
Ellen Bernard Thompson (in profile)
faceless woman: probably Pyle’s secretary Anna W. Hoopes
Missing from the group are Stanley Arthurs and Clyde DeLand - one of whom was probably the photographer.

In researching this post, I noticed that the Bertha Corson Day Bates’ papers at Delaware Art Museum contain a print of the above photo, titled “Howard Pyle and students, picnicking par terre” and also one called “Pyle and students at picnic table, Valley Forge” - a cyanotype version of the photo below, which I spoke about here.

Having assumed the photo was taken somewhere in Chadds Ford, I didn’t trust the title, but now I see that it was indeed taken at Valley Forge and - I’ll wager - later in the day on August 20, 1899. The setting is the rear or east side of the Isaac Potts House, better known as Washington’s Headquarters.

Here is a photo of that side of the house (via fineartamerica.com), taken around the same time, but in winter and from the opposite point of view. But note the leaning tree, the stonework and shutters, and the white path:


Here, too, is another shot taken on the west side of the house, but showing the clapboard building seen in the Pyle class photo. That building can also be seen on page 88 of this document.

But why do I think the two photos of Pyle’s class were taken the same day? Because - as indicated in the papers of Schoonover and Day - it was the only journey to Valley Forge taken by the entire class in the summer of 1899. Plus, although folks didn’t change their clothes all that frequently in those days, there are many similarities in the outfits seen in both shots.

By the way, among other work being done by Pyle’s students at this time, Frank Schoonover was making his very first book illustrations for A Jersey Boy in the Revolution by Everett T. Tomlinson, published later that year by Houghton, Mifflin & Co. In fact, that same week, Schoonover - who had turned 22 the day before the Valley Forge trip - was painting the picture seen here, “A ball had crashed through the side.” It was the second of the set of four and his letters indicate that Pyle himself added a few brushstrokes - or more - to it.


Of course, Valley Forge was not unfamiliar territory for Howard Pyle: his earliest known visit was in 1879, when he was illustrating “Some Pennsylvania Nooks” by Ella Rodman Church for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (April 1880), and perhaps he went again in 1896 for his picture of George Washington and General Steuben, or when painting “My dear,” said General Washington, “Captain Prescott’s behavior was inexcusable” for “Love at Valley Forge” (The Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1896); and he had also visited earlier that summer of 1899 (on July 9, with Arthurs, Hoyt, and McConnell - perhaps on a test run). Some ten years later, he returned again with his wife, son Godfrey, and a few friends and left “his mark” in the Washington Memorial Chapel guestbook.

And not long after Pyle’s death, a few of his historical artifacts wound up there, too: according to the 1912 Historical and Topographical Guide to Valley Forge by William Herbert Burk, “The most recent acquisitions are from the Howard Pyle collection - original uniforms and costumes used by the artist in his studies of Colonial life.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Howard Pyle Filled Out His Son’s Birth Record

Howard Pyle’s third child, Theodore Pyle, was born 125 years ago today. His birth record (via Familysearch.org) was filled out by Pyle himself:

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.